Proposed Executive Restructuring aims to increase USC’s advocacy capacity

Cam Wong, USC News | Posted: Monday, November 25th, 5:00pm

“The fact that we are asking for Council’s support to allow us to grow demonstrates the strength of our organization,” remarked USC President, Bardia Jalayer, when discussing the proposed executive restructuring that will come to Council during November’s regular meeting on Wednesday night.

The current USC Executive is moving amendments to numerous policies, most notably By Law 1, By Law 2, and the Executive Terms of Reference policy that proposes restructuring the current five-student executive team by adding a sixth executive, shifting responsibilities between existing portfolios, and renaming the existing officers to vice presidents.

The proposed new structure includes: President, VP University Affairs, VP External Affairs, VP Student Support and Programming, VP Governance and Finance, and VP Communications and Public Affairs. 

See the proposed role breakdown here, including the associate structure and hiring model.

The key changes, Jalayer explains, is creating another vice president responsible for advocacy. “Currently, we have a single vice president who is responsible for advocating to university administration and all three levels of government simultaneously. We believe this model is limiting what the USC can accomplish in advocacy because the vice president portfolio is juggling so many files and responsibilities. We’re proposing that the USC moves to a model where we have two designated advocates, distinguished by their audience – the university or external stakeholders.”

“This is a strategic restructuring that realigns the organization’s priorities across five vice president portfolios in order to better serve our students,” he adds.

The VP University Affairs would be responsible for advocacy on all things related to campus, such as academics, academic counselling, equity, mental health, jobs, residence life, athletics, and gender-based violence. The VP External Affairs would handle all advocacy directed at the municipal, provincial, and federal governments, including local transit, cycling safety, local job programs, landlords and renting, financial aid, intercity transit, labour standards, open educational resources, undergraduate research, and immigration. 

USC Vice President, Cat Dunne, shared her perspective on the restructuring in advance of Wednesday’s Council meeting. 

“Historically, the Vice President has tended to take on leadership positions with external advocacy organizations or lead sector-wide initiatives on behalf of the USC. This shift will allow them to dedicate more time to being an effective external advocate without having to miss important meetings and priorities back home on Western’s campus. This allows both the VPUA and VPEA to take initiative and grow our advocacy capacity, without being held back by time, geography or resources.”

“There is so much more we could do proactively if we had another vice president dedicated to advocacy,” she adds.

“Our executive has spent the last few months reflecting on our portfolios and thinking about the strategic direction of the USC in a unique time for Ontario student associations,” Jalayer explained, “we decided we were going to move forward with proposing restructuring to Council at the end of October. The whole organization is really excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.” 

“This isn’t about anyone on our executive team doing anything wrong or slacking off. On the contrary, our team is incredibly competent, passionate, and hardworking. The unfortunate result is that the holistic wellness of our team – that we preach as critically important for our students – is seriously compromised. You can’t have a work-life balance when you’re working 12, 14, or 16 hour days as our team does regularly. And we usually do that six or seven days a week. It’s not sustainable and actually can be very harmful to our student leaders.”

Adding another executive would help alleviate these capacity concerns, Jalayer confirmed.

When asked to comment on the fact that the current executive is proposing a move back to a similar structure that existed until 2016/17, Jalayer reflected on the cyclical nature of the USC and most student associations.

“We joke with our alumni, who are still very engaged and interested in the USC, that the USC just recycles good ideas every four or five years,” he said, “but in all seriousness, the demands of our students change and the overall university, political, and societal environment changes too – the USC is such a strong organization because we always respond to these changes quickly.” 

Jalayer and Dunne both noted that the USC has significantly developed its advocacy capabilities since 2015, with the addition of research interns, the further development of the associate program, and changes to the staff support side of the organization.

“We’re positioned now more than ever to effectively advocate in all four advocacy areas because our organization is more mature. This is actually a really good sign for the USC because we are at a point in our development where students have told us they want more advocacy and as an organisation we are ready to deliver on that request,” said Dunne.

Other changes included in the proposed restructuring include a shift of some responsibilities between portfolios. For example, the VP Student Support and Programming (formerly Student Programs Officer), would still oversee the peer programs, but all equity-based advocacy to the university would be the responsibility of the VP University Affairs. This function was previously shared between the VP and the SPO on an informal and ad-hoc basis, and the move formalizes the USC’s priorities in its executive structure. The VPSSP would still be responsible for Orientation, peer support, peer programs, and general programming. 

The VP Governance and Finance (formerly Secretary-Treasurer) would remain unchanged, having recently absorbed oversight of the USC’s Clubs System in a different restructuring last spring. In addition to clubs, the role would still oversee governance and finance functions, serve as Secretary of Council and the Board, and be responsible for the undergraduate health and dental plan.

Lastly, the VP Communications and Public Affairs (formerly Communications Officer) would relinquish oversight of the Student Feedback function to full-time staff, as the USC transitions the associate role to an intern role and builds professional support for an increasingly important capability. Otherwise, the portfolio would remain unchanged and focus on branding and storytelling, public and media relations, and organizational strategy. 

The President’s portfolio would continue to play a vital leadership role for the now-five vice presidents, and lead both corporate and executive strategy. The President serves as the conduit between students and the USC and is the chief spokesperson for the organization. 

“These proposed changes would allow the executive to better respond to the demands of both students-at-large and our councillors,” said Jalayer, “it would also bring us in line with the standard and best practice of student associates across the country.”

On the renaming of officers to vice presidents, Jalayer explained that it is a symbolic change to demonstrate the model of a flat hierarchical structure of vice presidents on the executive team.

“The five VPs execute projects, campaigns, and initiatives in their respective portfolios that work toward achieving a collective vision that is led by the President.” 

Jalayer expects some students might have questions about the financial side of this proposal, especially given the current uncertainty around the Student Choice Initiative. He explained that in response to the announcement of the Initiative last January, the USC reduced their fixed costs to shield against risk from a range of opt-out scenarios. He claimed this decision put the organization in a strong financial situation and positioned this year’s executive to propose restructuring.

“We’re now in a position where we’re ready to invest into the organization again and our team thinks the best place to do that is in student leadership positions because at its core, the USC is a student-led organization,” said Jalayer.

The new role is expected to cost an additional $80,000 per year in incremental costs, accounting for salary, office expenses, and an additional associate position.  

The current executive have spent the last two weeks having conversations with each USC councillor about the changes, gathering feedback and answering questions. Two-thirds of the USC’s 46 councillors will need to vote yes for the motion to pass, but the executive is hoping for much more broad support, explained Jalayer.

“We’re hoping all of our councillors truly see the value in this change and make a bold decision to support this restructuring and invest in the future of the USC.”

Should the motion pass, the changes would come into effect for the 2020 USC student elections this coming February, and the next executive team would reflect the proposed restructuring. Regardless of the outcome of the motion, communication related to elected and hired student positions will begin next month and will reflect the will of council.  

Wednesday’s Council meeting is in the UCC Community Room (UCC 269) at 7:00pm. All are welcome to attend.