Representing student interests when it comes to issues of textbook affordability and teaching quality falls onto the vice-president (academic) of the Students’ Union. Part of that work involves collaborating with the various faculty and departmental associations in the university, as well as attending a number of academic committees.
This year, only one candidate is running for this position: fifth-year biology student and current science councillor: Joel Agarwal.
The following interview has been condensed and simplified for clarity.
In one minute, can you tell us why you are running for Students’ Union vice-president (academic)?
Joel Agarwal: I think we have an incredible opportunity to study at such a great institution, but there are still barriers in place for students in terms of truly experiencing academic success.
My platform is generally consists of learning outside the classroom, so experiential learning, trying to get rid of the outrageous costs of textbooks, and then strengthening the academic community. Improving academic advising because a lot of students have raised concerns about that. Transitioning academic support, including more Indigenous content in courses. Finally, really talking about student leadership cause I think that’s really important for us on campus is raising a generation of leaders. Especially in our academic setting but also outside of academics. That’s kind of a gist of my platform.
Can you concisely explain your platform?
Agarwal: There are just three points: learning outside of the classroom, strengthening our academic community, and encouraging student leadership.
This year marked the third annual GovWeek event. What is your opinion on GovWeek and, if elected, would you run the event next year? If so would you change anything about it?
Agarwal: I think GovWeek is important. We need to be encouraging students to be more involved in student governance at all levels. But I do recognize there were some issues with GovWeek, especially in the first year. But I think this year, we have had more people come out to more interesting panels and more discussions. I think like any new thing, and this has only been the second year, it takes time to get better and better. I would be in favour of hosting GovWeek again next year.
STRIDE, which aims to improve diversity in studentgovernance, has been an initiative under the vice-president (academic)portfolio for several years. Considering how only two out of 10 candidates thisyear are women, do you think STRIDE need to be improved?
Agarwal: I think STRIDE is great at getting individuals who may not be interested to get involved in student governance. It kind of gives them the training, encouragement, and the courage they need. I think the current vice-president (academic) has put in a lot of time and I think we would be working towards improving it in whatever way possible.
This year, the current vice-president (academic) placed alarge focus on affordable textbooks by starting a Be Book Smart Fair and establishing an SU Open Educational Resource Policy. If elected, is this something you would continue?
Agarwal: Absolutely, yes. I know some first-year students in some faculties pay up to $1,700 in textbook costs, and that’s ridiculous. We need to be removing barriers of costs for students and open education resources are a great opportunity to start moving towards course packs, online free content, stuff that is more accessible to students. The Be Book Smart campaign went well, I’m thinking of expanding it to Augustana and Campus Saint-Jean as well.
Hypothetical: if a faculty association told you there was a dispute between themselves and the faculty, what would you do to help?
Agarwal: I think it’s my responsibility to foster a healthy relationship. Not only between the SU and the faculty associations, but also between themselves. I always say listen to the issue and allow people to speak and kind of go from there and play it out by ear. I think every situation is different and we have to take it case by case.
Joke question: You have the choice of creating a brand new faculty or department at the university. What department or faculty would you create?
Agarwal: A faculty of student leadership. I know we have the Peter Lougheed Leadership College, but that’s not necessarily a faculty. A faculty that we can encourage students to be leaders on campus in their academics, and that would translate into leadership in research, leadership in innovative technologies.