The McGill Athletics Board could be facing major changes in the upcoming weeks. A new Terms of Reference agreement drafted over the summer proposed to turn the Athletics Board into an “advisory board” and could dramatically alter the accountability structure of the athletics budgetary approval process.
The Athletics Board is responsible for approving budgets, determining classifications of teams, and setting general policies to guide teams and the athletics department.
Last year, with the departure of Chancellor Richard Pound, the Athletics Board informally dissolved and never convened, violating the rule in the Board’s Terms of Reference that requires the body to meet at least twice during each academic year.
Ivan Neilson, last year’s Students’ Society president and a member of the Athletics Board, explained that the board still “existed on paper, but it was never called together in full format.”
“The administration saw it as an antiquated body which didn’t fit in their view of the governing structure,” Neilson said. “So they just decided not to have it [exist] because they didn’t feel that it was useful.”
SSMU VP University Affairs Joshua Abaki explained that the possible changes were drafted in a proposed new Terms of Reference that the administration shared with SSMU over the summer.
After consulting with numerous student athletes and members of the Varsity Council, Abaki sent a memo to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson explaining his concerns about the proposed rules.
“First of all, [the administration is] changing [the Board’s structure] so that it’s no longer within the purview of Senate, so it’s just become an advisory board that’s not even going to be accountable to Senate or any of the Senate committees,” Abaki said. “Most of the powers that the old Athletics Board had, they no longer [have].”
In the memo, Abaki stated that the changes violated both the Charter of Students’ Rights and the Athletics Board’s constitution, which require that the administration consult students and the board before making major changes.
Among several changes, one of the biggest adjustments for the proposed “Athletics Advisory Board” would involve the budget approval system.
“[The former board] had a huge say over the budget,” Abaki said. “The budget couldn’t go to the Board of Governors before it was approved by the Athletics Board. In the new structure, since it’s an advisory board, the athletics director can pretty much do whatever he likes, and for a fee that students are funding entirely, that’s not fair.”
Abaki said that this change is especially concerning since students fund Athletics entirely through ancillary funds.
“Students fund Athletics Services entirely, and for students not to have a say in where the money goes—it’s just not right,” he said. “Since students fund these services, they should have been consulted—so it violates, of course, the Charter of Students’ Rights.”
Abaki also expressed concern over the possible lack of accountability for the athletics director if the Athletics Board is unable to make the decisions it previously could and have as much power as it did in previous year.
“Basically, the director of athletics can do almost anything he wants, and there’s very little to stop him,” he said.
Drew Love, McGill’s executive director of athletics & recreation, said he sees the situation differently and believes that the changes will be beneficial to the accountability system and to students.
“Well, actually it doesn’t change my accountability at all because I continue to report through the deputy provost,” Love said. “All of the annual operating budgets that I prepare are presented through his office and on to the Board of Governors as part of a roll up of all budgets. I think in the end, the same student voice will be heard and a balanced representation is there on the new board.”
Abaki sees this move by the administration as a continuation of what he described as the “administration versus governance argument.” Abaki explained that the administration believes it should be separate from the governance so that it would be free to make budgetary decisions without consulting the student governance.
“The Deputy Provost basically told us that consultation on budgetary issues is not the direction in which the administration is moving,” Abaki said. “By and large they do not want to consult students when it involves money.”
On the other hand, Love explained that McGill has been spending time reviewing the terms of reference for various committees to ensure that they were relevant and well drafted. Love said that there were concerns that the original terms of reference of the athletics board had no real reporting or accountability structure.
“The changes that were designed were there to insure that students continued to have a balanced, represented position, on the board, but that the terms were written up as they correctly should be, as an advisory board, and not have the appearance of a stand alone corporate entity, which it never had, but some people may have perceived it to be,” Love said.
“In summary, we find it troubling that students were consulted only as an after thought and were not involved in the process of drafting the new structures,” added Abaki in his memo to Deputy Provost Mendelson. “There are the same students who have been incredibly kind in understanding the underfunded nature of the University, and who have over the years contributed millions to build, maintain, and refurbish our athletics facilities as well as support our athletics teams.”