Juris Diction Hosts LSS Core Election Town Hall
Improving student engagement and revitalizing smokers were the key themes of Juris Diction’s LSS Core Town Hall on Tuesday evening, as candidates answered questions from Queen’s Law students ahead of the LSS Core elections on March 8th and 9th, 2017.
This year’s group of candidates include two returning members of the current Core, as well as several new candidates. Current Vice-President Administrative Emily Metcalfe is running for LSS President, the only contested position, while Jaimie Singleton is once again running for Vice-President Activities. The new candidates for the Core are Kishan Lakhani, who is running for President against Metcalfe; Shira Levine, running for Vice-President Academic; Matthew Stumpf, running for Vice-President Finance and Lucy Sun, running for Vice-President Administrative.
The town hall was moderated by Juris Diction Co-Editor-in-Chief Adnan Subzwari, who asked the candidates to offer opening remarks and to answer a few introductory questions before opening the floor for questions. The twenty students present asked questions ranging from why there was no coffee maker in the lounge to what should be done with the LSS surplus.
In response to a question about events sanctioning, Kishan Lakhani touted his experience as a member of the SGPS executive as a way of resolving issues regarding events sanctioning. “I think there’s a balance to be found. I think the insight I provide because I understand the core issues the SGPS faces when it comes to event sanctioning, but I also understand the significant interests that we have in throwing great events for our class and for our school, so I think I can provide a great balance in finding that middle ground where the SGPS’s interests and Queen’s interests when it comes to event sanctioning and insurance could be met.” Lakhani promised to work with Jaimie Singleton through the summer to streamline the sanctioning process.
Emily Metcalfe emphasized the importance of communicating to students about the events sanctioning requirements and the need to plan early for events be sanctioned. “Personal liability is not an option for QL students”, she said. “I don’t want anyone to be personally liable for something that happened… it’s something we really need to talk about.”
Singleton added that while there is not much that can be done in terms of pushing back against SGPS due to the insurance requirements, now that new guidelines have been implemented in the constitution and posted on the LSS Portal, she will be looking into ways to be more flexible next year into what can be done with the limits of sanctioning.
Engaging the Student Body
Metcalfe also stated that the disconnect between the student body and the LSS is “the largest problem that we face.” She proposed that before each council meeting next year, she will have a 10-minute meeting with herself or the VP Academic with each of the year presidents to improve communications. “I think that sitting down with each year assembly president and asking ‘what is your year concerned with right now’ and ‘this is what I need your year to know right now’. To have that responsibility divided amongst us so that we can conquer this together will be a great move forward, because we don’t like to read emails.”
Lakhani pointed to a shift in the culture of Queen’s Law away from direct engagement by students, and the feeling that the LSS was in a rut – “a level of stagnancy in the things that we do.” To respond to that issue, he suggested encouraging discussion from all students, not just the year presidents. “It’s about getting to everyone…I think that embracing the dissenting views will allow engagement because it will increase conversation once those dissenting views are able to have a more open discussion.”
Shira Levine mentioned that the 1L Council created an online anonymous suggestion box for 1Ls, and proposed that it should be made available to the entire student body. Shira further suggested that the LSS should engage 1Ls earlier in the school year. “We can get the Core to go to their ILS class and introduce themselves and let them know that while elections were happening at the end of the month, they should really start thinking about it, because it kind of seemed a little rushed this year, and not everyone really knew what the deal was…we didn’t have that much information about it,” she said.
Lucy Sun noted that the push for engagement had to come both ways. She said that “We tried to do cool and fun things [on 1L Council], but people themselves were only willing to commit to a certain amount of things as well…we tried to force feed it on some occasions, but it didn’t work. It’s about promoting an inclusive environment, but to recognize that there are limits to that as well.”
Being Smoked Out
With regards to a question about smokers and their lower attendance this year, Lakhani said he would push for entertainment at the beginning of a smoker – such as QL bands, comedians and other acts – to bridge the gaps between “people who like drinking” and “people who don’t feel comfortable in a drinking environment”.
Singleton said that she will continue the practice of scheduling less smokers, to encourage more attendance at the ones that are scheduled. “Reducing the amount [of smokers], just so that they become more special events, and changing up the venues” have been good moves, she said.”I would like to work on a more hands more approach with the councils and the clubs who are hosting the events each week.”
In response to Subzwari’s question about the possibility of eliminating admission fees to smokers to encourage attendance, Matthew Stumpf felt that it was a bad idea. “I would shy away from abolishing for cover fees. I don’t think that $5 is unreasonable and is a barrier for people to attend…I think that it is important to have these fundraising outlets for clubs and more importantly for councils, because at the end of the day we are raising funds for grad formal and events like that, and the barriers to those events would be a lot larger to just a $5 cover charge.”
For Metcalfe, the aim of smokers should be to bring the years together. “There doesn’t seem to be that smoker that I felt happened last year where it was the 3Ls, 2Ls and 1Ls, and you got to meet people in upper years and make those connections…that’s supposed to be what it is, which is to bring Queen’s Law together as a whole and I think that there is a bit of breach between the years that I would like to aim at fixing next year, and I think smokers are a great way to do that.”
One topic in which both presidential candidates also spoke strongly about was what happened if LSS leadership were in a situation of conflict with the faculty. “I’m not adverse to that, so long as it is in the interest of the students,” Lakhani said. “We are student representatives. The LSS is the Law Students’ Society. I think that maintaining and protecting that is essential to our operation.”
Metcalfe aims to take a balanced approach to conflict. “Being on the LSS is like walking through quicksand. If you’re thrashing at people, you’re going get nowhere. But if you go with the flow, pick your fights, make sure you have very clear, nice, ways of getting what you want and saying what needs to be said – it’s not a war, it’s a discussion…and we’re all lawyers,” she said. “I think that you need to both advocate for their [the students] opinion and even if they are not what the faculty wants to hear, and protect them against potential consequences.”
Dealing with the Surplus
Another topic that was raised was the ongoing existence of a surplus at the LSS, the use of which was the subject of much debate in 2015-2016. Both Stumpf and Lakhani felt that the appropriate steps were being taken to deal with the surplus. After noting that the surplus is a product of clubs not spending their allocated funds, Stumpf said that “All we can do with the surplus is to think of creative measures to spend it equitably and spend it in a manner that benefits Queen’s Law in general.” Lakhani thought that current President Nima Hojjati and VP Finance Max Xiao took good steps to reduce the initial allocation for clubs and enabling the more active clubs to claim more funds throughout the year.
Responding to a question regarding the costs of grad formal and the recent vote to give them some surplus money, Metcalfe said that an increase in the line item for the grad formal will be considered at the upcoming BAGM at the end of March, and that the vote in favour of giving the formal surplus money came as a result of arguments regarding both the increased class size and a change to a different venue. She also did not feel that it was a huge issue that there was a surplus, but that the issue has been whether the surplus has been used to benefit the most students.
The LSS Core Election continues through March 9th, 2017 from 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM in the student lounge. Please come out and vote, and keep an eye out for the year council elections that will also be happening shortly.
Jason Liang (3L) is Managing Editor of Juris Diction.