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Administration Wrap-Up 2010

With exams just around the corner, everyone needs a study guide. Who actually runs the school? What have they done? The Watch takes notes. Study up!

PRESIDENT WILLIAM BARKER

What he’s supposed to do:
As president, Barker is the Chief Executive Officer of the school. His formal responsibilities are pretty vague – things like, “Exercise a general superintendence over every department of the University, and its officers, faculty and staff,” according to the Blue Book on the school’s bylaws, rules and regulations. In other words, his job is in all ways to be Head Honcho-Supreme Allied Commander-In Chief. Practically, he oversees the direction of the university and has made it his goal to increase the prominence of the school as a mini-Ivy League of the North, to attract more international – especially American – students, and to vigorously fundraise for the school.
What he’s done:
Finishing up his eighth and final year at King’s, Barker’s overseen some big changes at the school: sewage and bar renovations, snagging former Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm as chair of the Board of Governors and, most impressively, steering the school through a recession and a significant drop in our endowment. For these accomplishments (among others), he should be commended. Speaking with Barker can sometimes be an exercise in sifting through all the—ahem—tact. And while we don’t envy his task of working through the recession, he certainly didn’t do himself any favours by agreeing to spend half a million dollars to purchase a house on Coburg Street in 2008, a unilateral decision by the senior administration without any student input which left an unavoidable mark on his legacy. But despite these problems, Barker has opened up the President’s Lodge to the King’s community, generally made himself available to the King’s students, and supported student initiatives, like the King’s College Choir.

VICE-PRESIDENT KIM KIERANS

What she’s supposed to do:
The vice presidency is perhaps the most nebulous job. Traditionally, vice presidents have served where there are administrative holes to fill, and former VP Chris Elson’s term was spent working on faculty relationships and chairing the Wardroom Board of Management (WBOM).
What she’s done:
If you’re noticing the work that Kim Kierans is doing this year as the university’s vice president, that says two things: it shows her passion for her work and the King’s community, and it highlights the low-key approach that past vice-presidents have settled on. She’s a firebrand of juggled commitments, from cracking casks in the Wardroom for Firkin Wednesdays to knowing students by first name, and pushing forward with a landmark policy on racial equity and accessibility for the school (landmark in so far that we should have had this a decade ago). She’s on about 30 committees, including one dedicated to redefining the relationship between King’s and Dalhousie. And she’s only been doing the job for five months. Many of these duties, though, fall outside of her position’s responsibilities. In fact, she currently serves as our school’s interim racial equity and sexual harassment officer—a handful to whoever holds the position, let alone the vice president of the school. Certainly, it’s not her fault that she’s been forced to take on commitments that shouldn’t fall under her purview. Our only worry is that she’s doing too many things that might eventually overwhelm.

BURSAR GERRY SMITH

What he’s supposed to do:
Most of us only know the Bursar’s office from the corners of our eyes when we humbly line up to pay tuition at the Student Accounts office. But Gerry Smith has an enormous hand in many of the school’s affairs. Apart from dealing directly with the university’s finances (under supervision of the Board of Governor’s treasurer), the Bursar is responsible for the employment of the administrative and domestic staff at the school, as well as the maintenance and repair of the school’s buildings, grounds and movable properties.
What he’s done:
Ask most King’s students who he is, and chances are you’ll get a blank look. Smith has some of the university’s most important responsibilities, but because he doesn’t occupy a more recognizable office, he tends to have less accountability to the student body. He’s in charge of maintenance and facilities, which is why he saw the Board get taken to court this Fall for endemic fire code violations (SEE “King’s in Court”, from our October issue). And though that may seem an odd job for a bursar, the Blue Book says it’s in his job description. He also played a large role in both the acquisition of the Coburg Street house, which isn’t in his job description.
A lot of stuff falls in Smith’s lap. In March, he promised the King’s Students’ Union picture frames throughout the link between the A&A and the NAB to showcase student art, but as of late November, nothing has happened on that front. There’s also on the Property, Grounds and Safety Committee, which is composed of alumni, members of the Board of Governors and professors, none of whom necessarily have any experience in property, grounds, or safety at King’s. The final say is often ceded to Smith, making the committee a sort of soapbox. This relegation of power to the Bursar is commonplace at King’s. It points to a more systemic problem: we’re a small school, and big decisions are often made by an even smaller group of people.

THE KING’S STUDENTS’ UNION EXECUTIVE

What they’re supposed to do:
As the highest decision-making body of the students’ union, the KSU council has the final say on many of the things that students are involved in, from assigning society funding to discussing bar operations to hiring and firing union employees.
What they’ve done:
Though they have always succeeded in making quorum this semester, doing so is usually pretty touch-and-go, despite the fact that just 10 people on the 18-person council need to be present. Councilors are often late, and don’t inform the executive when they won’t be able to make the meetings. And while it’s understandable that councillors also have their lives as students to juggle, their first priority every other Sunday morning should be attending these sometimes four-hour-long meetings, even if they meander distractedly or wade into personal conflicts.
Are we asking for a perpetually professional attitude from a group that volunteers their time for the job? Not necessarily. But when dialogue becomes personal and not reflective of the interests of the people who voted for them, council becomes ineffective. With a few exceptions, councilors need to do a better job speaking to their constituents and bringing their thoughts and interests to the table. Councillors have also acknowledged that they should be friendlier and clearer about the proper procedure to King’s students attending the meetings.
But there are stars, and Financial Vice President Nicholas Gall has been the executive’s best. Despite a decision to use the more than $20,000 in projected budget surplus as a contingency budget line (read: “slush fund”), Gall has been sure-handed in distributing society money with an eye for future society needs. And while it’s unsexy work, he’s also cleared up years of unpaid bills, often seen staying in the office long into the night, which will save the union a huge amount of time and money in the future. One King’s grad referred to him as “the best financial vice president since Graham McGillivray,” who is generally considered the gold standard for the position, and we’re having trouble disagreeing.
Another star is First-Year Representative Anna Dubinski. First year reps traditionally keep to themselves, unlearned about union operations and nervous about stating their opinions. But Dubinski took the initiative of seeking out the advice of past first year reps. By never missing an office hour and by reaching out regularly to find out what her constituents are doing, she has gone above and beyond traditional expectations. The past three have gone on to serve as executives of the union; we can only hope that Dubinski follows suit.
 

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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