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, two candidates are running for this position: David Draper, third-year honour political science and sociology student and arts councillor for Students’ Council, and Eric Einarson, fourth-year chemistry student and president of the Campus Saint-Jean faculty association AUFSJ.
The following interview has been condensed and simplified for clarity.
Can you tell me in one minute why you are running for vice-president (academic)?
David Draper: The reason I’m running is because this is where I feel like I can make the most difference and help people the most. I’m involved in a lot of different ways on council and on campus and on General Faculties Council (GFC). A lot of the stuff that I’m doing will tailor itself right to the role. There are a lot of issues I’ve been seeing in my friends and colleagues across campus that I really can’t sit idly by and let continue happening. I have to take a step forward and fight for those who need it and how I can help them. When you can and when you have the privilege to be able to do something like that it’s your duty to help those who can’t.
Eric Einarson: Over the last three years I have worked with AUFSJ. Progressively, issues have come up — whether it be academic advising, costs, or program issues — which happen at Campus Saint-Jean. Originally, I thought the vice-president (academic) was a desk jockey working on textbook costs. I realized the role goes beyond that. They really shape a student’s experience on campus, from the costs you pay to iClickers being removed from classrooms — thank god — to the quality of support services available. Those are all important, especially when students pay so much to be here at university.
Can you concisely explain your platform?
Draper: The first section of my platform is making university more affordable, which has three points. The first one being reducing reliance on high costs textbooks through open educational resources. The next one being advocating for more needs-based awards and scholarships from the university. And the third being pushing for open accessible and equitable experiential learning opportunities. That’s a big one for me because there’s going to be more regardless, but we have to make sure that’s done equitably and safely for students.
The next section is advocating for student needs, which has three points again. Banning weekend midterms, increasing access to accommodation and course descriptions, and reducing barriers to representation.
And my third overall point is revitalizing the student movement on GFC. To do this we have to reframe what the student perception of what GFC is. Next is working with faculties associations to fill all vacant seats if there are any after the council election. And lastly, leading an organized, engaged, and empowered student caucus.
Einarson: First is financial accessibility. If you cannot afford to be at university as a student then everything else is mute. What I propose to do is push for better and more open educational resources (OER). They are new and haven’t been around a long time, but they can be reused, retained, and adapted to whatever course use that is required. The beauty of them is they tend to be a cheaper resource than a textbook while retaining the same quality. Right now the faculty of business is working with department associations to boil down their class notes into a textbook which the association sells to students for a minor profit. On campus, we already have an OER committee and I want to work with them to create a website educating people on what OERs are to help reduce any stigma around them. As well, I want to promote teachers making advancements in their classes to use OERs. The Students’ Union has the Students’ Union Awards for Leadership in Undergraduate Teaching (SALUTE) awards. I want to dedicate more of them towards teachers using or developing OERs to incentive more of them to do so, which ultimately helps students.
Next is success beyond the classroom. For this, I want to work with the committee on the learning environment at GFC and department and faculty associations to start including all support services the Students’ Union and university offers within course syllabi. It is passed off as information on your campus tour that is glossed over. I want that to become knowledge that people actually know about. Additionally, I want to push for academic advising to become more of an open model. I’ve spoken to a lot of students who are frustrated with academic advising. When students are thinking about changing faculties or taking courses not within their program, they cannot see the academic advisor outside of their major. There are some advisors who make exceptions, however, that is not the norm.
Lastly, I want to work with the Science Internship Program (SIT) to open it to Campus Saint-Jean students. Currently, CSJ students cannot participate in the SIT program.
This year, the Students’ Union changed GovWeek’s name to Student Leaders Week. What is your opinion on GovWeek/Student Leaders Week, and if elected would you run the event next year. If so, would you change anything about it?
Draper: I think GovWeek and Student Leaders Week is an important part of the university and it’s important to have accessible and open governance. I think changing it to Student Leaders Week was a good idea because it made it more expansive and more people could see it as something that could impact them. Right now it seems a bit more garnered around people running an election and preparing for that. I want to continue stuff like that, with what STRIDE did this year for their election workshops, but I want GovWeek to be more of how do you use your positions to better those around you. I want to move it earlier into the year so that students who are elected can actually go in and understand it. So kind of taking what Gov Camp tries to be and expanding that for everybody.
Einarson: I think the change from GovWeek to Student Leaders Week makes it a lot more approachable. When you hear governance, you can hear people already sigh. Leadership is something everyone at the university shows. Student Leaders Week offered the opportunity for anyone who was interested in leadership as a whole to learn about it. I think that is really important. University offers the chance to get a valuable degree. But, when you get out of it what practical life experiences too, you get skills that people want and value more.
STRIDE, which aims to improve diversity in student governance, has been an initiative of the vice-president (academic) portfolio for several years. Considering how only four out of 13 candidates this year are women, do you think STRIDE needs to be improved?
Draper: I think STRIDE is doing a great job. I still think we need to as individuals tell people about STRIDE and expand that. Everything in student governance still needs improvement, not just STRIDE. When looking at the pool of candidates there’s a very very small percentage, I think it’s only three candidates are visible minorities. And one of the things I really want to do is I want to twin STRIDE for other minority groups on campus; for Indigenous people, for people of colour. That way STRIDE has its place for women and non-binary people, and we also have another kind of service and campaigning school for other underrepresented groups. Because there’s a lot of groups on campus who aren’t getting the representation they need.
Einarson: I really do think it needs to be improved. It is impossible for governance to be truly representative when you have people who aren’t representative of everyone running or in office. I get that I don’t represent the values of STRIDE. However, I believe governance needs to be more inclusively. There are many out there, I am certain, who want to run, but they just have anxiety about it. The STRIDE program is hugely valuable. Pushing for it to be improved, dedicate more resources towards it, and helping it flourish more is only going to benefit the university and every student here.
This year the current VPA placed a large focus on student research and hosted the Brain Pop event, promoting undergraduate research opportunities at the U of A. If elected, would you continue this?
Draper: Actually, I was on the Brain Pop planning committee, and that was quite a lot of fun for me to work with. I really got to see how his idea for the event changed throughout the planning process, and one thing that kind of lost its focus near the start is showcasing all the different types of research there are. Right now my role is vice-president (academic) of my faculty association. I plan Arts Con, which showcases all the different types of research in the faculty of arts. I didn’t see very much of that type of stuff at Brain Pop. I really want to expand Brain Pop to showcase that research is more than just sitting in a lab. Instead move it around and showcase that research is really whatever you want to be, and it applies to every and all disciplines.
Einarson: I really liked the idea. Yet, I would expand it. Not everyone wants to research during their degree. I would also include other work-integrated learning opportunities within the event to showcase research as one route but not the end all be all. Each opportunity is valuable to students. If we can promote all of them it will help students have the resources they need to make decisions. It is daunting to go around the university or its website and try to find everything. By centralizing these things together, it is easier for students to access what they need.
If a faculty association had told you there was a dispute between themselves and faculty what would you do to help?
Draper: This is a problem close to my heart, because in my role as OASIS vice-president (academic), I’ve had to deal a lot with stuff like that. I’ve been able to learn a lot from my role there. I think the biggest thing is a lot of the time faculty associations are worried that they don’t have the power behind them, or they don’t have the clout behind them. They’re also worried about the power the faculty has over them so they sometimes are not as focused on being able to push forward ideas that they need and are more focused about doing the best they can with where they’re at. So I would go in there and say if there’s anything that you want but you’re worried will get pushed back on or don’t want the blame going on you, I’m alright being the face of that ask so you don’t get pushed back on. I’ll go in there and give them the support they need anything they ask because this is first and foremost their own action.
Einarson: I have had to deal with situations like this before. It was really nice when the Students’ Union vice-president (academic) at the time came by and sat with us and talked through where we saw the disconnect. They offered to sit in on meetings and act as an observer or mediator sometimes between us. I would do the same. Having discussion is important. If there was a larger rift I would do one-on-one conversations with each of the parties and try to work on the situation that way.
In the past four years, every vice-president (academic) has created some kind of weeklong or day event. Are you planning on creating some kind of initiative like this why or why not?
Draper: I’m not. I think there are quite a lot of weeks around campus. I know students are busy with a lot of things so a lot of times these weeks don’t turn out to be as big as they think they would. And I think what’s best right now is focusing in on what we have going on and making those events as good as they can be for students. There’s just so much going on that I want to make sure that the services we already have are the best they can be, rather than trying to expand something that doesn’t necessarily need to happen.
Einarson: Right now, adding in another event takes away from what is already happening. The resources we have should be added and expanded upon rather than adding new things. It’s better to dedicate resources upon what is already there than to spread ourselves even thinner and risk losing what is good about what is already offered.
Joke: You have the choice of creating a brand new faculty or department at the university, what department or faculty would you create?
Draper: I’d would create a faculty of culinary arts. If you think about it, you have that one faculty they could run a lot of the student events cause everybody’s looking for some food. You can go there for school projects that end up being your lunch. So when you go around you get to have a lot of great chefs coming from the U of A. You could get to learn nutrition food science which I know is already in ALES but you can kind of twin that in. There’s always some overlap, there’s some room for interdisciplinary.
Einarson: I would do the faculty of memes. It would focus on the study of memes, the chemistry of memes, history of them, and so forth. They’ve really become their own culture and I think you could actually learn more about humanity from the study of memes. There could even be meme disciplines, like sport ones. I would switch over immediately. Not even a question for me.