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SU Elections 2021: Gateway Forum Recap

Candidates discuss the No Cops on Campus Collective, online proctoring, keeping the SU's funds afloat during COVID-19 and much more in this forum recap.

The third forum of the University of Alberta Students’ Union Elections 2021 was hosted by The Gateway.

The forum mostly consisted of asking candidates questions based on The Gateway’s Student Issues Survey, which asked U of A students what topics they would like covered during elections and gathered questions students wanted to ask candidates.

Here is the TL;DR version of this forum:

  • President: reducing non-academic fees during remote learning
  • Vice-president (student life): position on No Cops on Campus Collective
  • Vice-president (operations and finance): funding during COVID-19
  • Vice-president (academic): continuing the fight to ban online proctoring
  • Vice-president (external): the best way to advocate for students
  • Board of Governors Representative: board transparency for students
  • U-Pass: how it protects students from high transit fees
  • Golden Bears and Panda legacy fund: student job creation through the fund

Looking forward to Fall: Presidential candidate answers questions surrounding COVID-19 and online learning

Rowan Ley, a fifth-year history student and current Students’ Union vice-president (external), was asked whether he would pursue reducing the athletics and recreation fee in the Fall, as the university has predicted some courses will remain online.

“Certainly there is a level of unfairness and understandable frustration that students have with the fee being charged this semester, but I think that … the athletics and recreation fee is not necessarily the best fee to fight in that situation,” he said.

Ley pointed to other “unfair” fees students are charged that they “never get any value for,” naming the instalment fee charged to students who pay tuition in two separate payments and the student academic support fee that students on practicum and co-op still need to pay 70 per cent of it.

“Those are more productive places to focus our energy on trying to save students money,” he said. 

Ley was also asked what he would do to ensure that the return to campus is safe and enjoyable once more classes are in-person during the Fall. 

“Above all else, we do need to respect that public health comes first,” he said. “That being said, we do need to constantly push for the university to be as open as possible while still being safe.”

One way he said this can be done is by providing a venue for reporting and complaints. 

“We need to make sure [students] can come forward so that we can make changes on their behalf so they do feel safe on campus.”

— Rachel Narvey

VPSL candidates discuss action on EDI, criticize policing on campus

When reflecting on the approach taken by the Students’ Union and the U of A towards Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) so far, both vice-president (student life) candidates were critical about work done in the past. 

Talia Dixon, a fourth-year political science and women’s and gender studies double major and current Students’ Council arts councillor, said previous Students’ Union work made strides in the right direction, but claimed there is large room for improvement. 

“When we speak about LGBT+ people, The Landing [does] a lot of excellent work, however that work does need to be strengthened and taken on as a personal issue by the Students’ Union executives, so that it’s actually tackled,” Dixon said.

Dixon described one of her goals to create a pronoun campaign to help educate students and staff about what pronouns are and their proper usage.

Daniela Carbajal, a third-year psychology student and current Students’ Council Augustana councillor, called out a lack of diversity and inclusivity in the Students’ Union executives team.

“When you look at the individuals who sit [on the Students’ Union] year after year… executives have been predominantly white,” Carbajal said. “We need to implement EDI training within the Students’ Union council to address these inequalities. EDI needs to be more than a word.”

Both candidates also spoke on the ‘No Cops On Campus’ collective at the University of Alberta, which aims to divest from policing on campus. 

Dixon spoke on previously working to promote the collective within student governance, saying that the Students’ Union should not only “sign on” to the collective but take “more dramatic action surrounding policing on campus.” 

“The number one thing that we all know University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) does is simply remove homeless people who are hiding in -30 weather in HUB or SUB,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the proper solution. We need to work with our university to find a way that we can stop criminalizing people and start developing fulsome community supports.”

Carbajal also voiced her full support of the collective, sharing that she believes the funding could be put to better use elsewhere, like with mental health initiatives. She shared her own negative experience with policing on campus.

“I myself have not had the best experience with the police,” she said. “I have experienced things such as carding, so I am a strong supporter of this initiative.”

Carbajal did not attend the forum live because of a prior commitment, but submitted her answers to the questions in advance of the forum.

— Areeha Mahal

COVID cash: VP Opsfi candidates discuss making up for loss revenue

A key focal point in the Students’ Union vice-president (operations and finance), candidates were asked how they would address the loss of revenue the Students’ Union is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic without relying on student fees.

Julia Villoso, a second-year psychology student and current Students’ Council arts councillor, said that she would focus on the IT projects the Students’ Union currently has, such as SU TV and SU perks. She also mentioned expanding upon the Studnets’ Union’s fundraising capacity

“I think the Students’ Union has little to no good method for fundraising and donations,” she said. “There is a lot of money that the Students’ Union leaves on the table by not reaching out to different organizations and alumni for financial support.”

Emily Kimani, a fourth-year immunology and infections students and current Students’ Council science councillor, similarly touched on the use of SU TV, alongside student handbooks.

In the debate portion of the forum, Villoso pointed out that her opponent’s platform relies on renting out the Myer Horowitz Theatre and its catering service for funding, and asked how she would generate revenue as it undergoes renovations next year.

Kimani responded that though the theatre may be closed, this doesn’t mean opportunities to create revenue in the future doesn’t exist.

“It is clear that most of the revenue is going to be generated when the theatre opens,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t advertise the newly renovated theatre so that when we do open, our doors are open and our business can thrive.”

Kimani asked Villoso how she would secure external funding during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is one of Villoso’s main platform points. She also asked how her opponent would fund Studnets’ Union businesses if external funds fail.

Villoso said that because of the Students’ Union’s underdeveloped fundraising structure, she isn’t sure if external funding is certain. However, she cited SU TV and Perks as her back up plan.

— Khadra Ahmed

Vice-president academic candidate on banning online proctoring, improving USRIs

Abner Monteiro, a fifth-year kinesiology student and current Students’ Union kinesiology, sport, and recreation councillor, was asked about his stance on online proctoring.

“It’s inaccessible, it’s not an equitable, diverse or inclusive service and it adds so much stress to student’s lives when they are just trying to go through school and learn the material they need to learn,” Monteiro said.  

He said he will continue to push to have online proctoring banned while also looking into alternatives.

“If I can’t have it banned, [my goal is to] at least be able to develop a process where professors need to apply to be able to use online proctoring,” he said. “[This is] so we’re encouraging an environment where professors are looking at creating alternative assessments and not just trying to use [online proctoring] as a fallback.”

Monteiro was also asked how he would advocate for student’s rights in regards to exam feedback and inquiries with professors. 

“I think the biggest problem with student feedback, especially with exams, is [students] think they just give their feedback and nothing comes from it,” Monteiro said. “Students have lost faith in thinking their voice can be heard.”

Monteiro also proposed restructuring the Universal Student Ratings of Instructions surveys (USRIs) which are done by students at the conclusion of a course, to instead be completed throughout the semester. He believes regular feedback for professors will show students their considerations are being actively implemented. 

— Disha Hazra

The “impact” of the every day: VP external candidate covers advocacy, mental health, and performance-based funding

Vice-president (external) candidate Christian Fotang, third-year biological sciences student and current Students’ Council science councillor, explained what he sees as the most effective strategy to advocate for students to the government. 

“I think sometimes we undervalue the impact of people’s everyday experiences,” he said. “[It’s about] taking those stories we hear both on campus and throughout the province and bringing it to ministers … and showing that the decisions you are taking at the legislature are having impacts everywhere.”

Fotang also elaborated on his stance on performance-based funding, saying he understands that the government and taxpayers want accountability from institutions receiving funding, but that he disagrees with the “punishment aspect” of performance-based funding. 

“I will work with the ministers to reform [performance based funding] and also … hear what [student] experiences are and … push that into the strategy of forming the overall policy.”

When asked to clarify his plans to reach out to mental health organizations in Edmonton that he mentioned last forum, Fotang said he didn’t have any specific organizations in mind. 

“In terms of how we can enlist their help, maybe it could be up getting services in terms of psychology to come in and deliver [those services], so we have a reduction and waitlist times,” he said. 

— Paige Miller

Broadcasting from BoG: BoG rep discusses increasing Board transparency

When asked how he would increase BoG’s transparency and accessibility to students, Dave Konrad, a third-year environmental and conservation sciences student and current Board of Governors (BoG) representative said he is planning to meet this upcoming Friday with the chair of the Board Reputation and Public Affairs Committee, which is a BoG subcommittee. At this meeting, he hopes to discuss “advertising board member identities.”

He also mentioned a plan to sit down with board members and have 30-minute conversations surrounding issues that matter to students. 

“[I would release these in] podcast form for students to listen back on and reflect on what board members feel [and] think,” he said.

Konrad was also asked how he would fulfil the promise he made during last year’s campaign to advocate for Maskwa House of Learning, a place for Indigenous students to participate in programming and ceremonies. 

“The project was initially announced back in 2015, and there has been sparse progress. How do you plan to get the board to make this a priority?”

Konrad called the issue “challenging,” noting that he has already spoken with Andrew Sharman, the university’s vice-president (facilities and operations) about the building. 

“If the government of Alberta doesn’t prioritize Indigenous reconciliatory initiatives or valuing Indigenous culture and centralizing it, there is little we can do [for] this space,” he said.

— Rachel Narvey

U-Pass Protection: U-Pass called “only” protection from high transit costs

When asked about the possibility of the U-Pass failing, Alana Krahn, current Students’ Union vice-president (operations and finance) and U-Pass representative, described it as “grim thing to think about.”

“In terms of what would be available to U of A students… the alternatives are to pay full price fair products,” she explained. “You would be paying $75 to $100 monthly passes and for all of those full proceed fare products as well.” 

Krahn stated that the U-Pass is the only source of protection for students from the fair policies that could increase fairs at the discretion of the Edmonton Transit Service and city council. She also believes the U-Pass contract would be jeopardized for all post-secondary students in Edmonton.

One of the conditions of the U-Pass referendum an exemption for students who’s classes are completely online. With the possibility of a mix of in-person and online classes in fall 2021, Krahn clarified the exemptions will continue to be based on individuals and the university will likely begin assessing the fee once more students return to campus.

“It will benefit students who are attending in-person classes and not be harming those students who will be online. That would probably be the time when the university would bring [assesment] back.”

— Doha Hamied

Guba gets gigs: job creation discussed by legacy fund

The Golden Bears and Pandas Legacy Fund was asked how the fund helps non-nutrition or kinesiology students. 

Samantha Chapman, a third-year classics and anthropology double major student, represented the fund. 

She emphasized the importance the fund has in providing jobs and educational services to students.

“The impact of this cannot be undervalued in an economy where jobs are hard to find and student debt has risen to an all-time high,” Chapman said.

When asked what the outcome would be if the plebiscite were to fail, Chapman said that the jobs generated for students would become volunteer positions. 

“All additional game days, and the fun opportunities that we have … will diminish,” she said. 

Though the fund has largely gone unused this year, Chapman said it is sitting in a trust for when students return to campus. 

“[Having that fund] is essential to maintaining the campus community we have and love,” she said.

— Doha Hameid

The Gateway plebiscite

A representative of The Gateway‘s plebiscite was not present at the forum due to a conflict of interest.

Correction: On February 24 at 11 a.m. the Gateway corrected the article to clarify that the BoG candidate is planning to meet with the chair of the Board Reputation and Public Affairs Committee, not the chair of BoG. The Gateway regrets the error.

Khadra Ahmed

Khadra is the Gateway's 2020-2021 News Editor, dedicated to providing intersectional news coverage on campus. She's a fifth-year student studying biology and women's and gender studies. While working for The Gateway, she continues the tradition of turning coffee into copy.

Rachel Narvey

Rachel is the Gateway's 2020-21 Staff Reporter. This summer, she will complete her MA program in English and Film studies before returning to the U of A in the fall as an Education student. In her spare time she writes poetry and watches Jeopardy. You can often find her sitting alone, eating a burrito.

Areeha Mahal

Areeha Mahal is The Gateway’s 2020-21 Deputy News Editor and a first-year Biological Sciences student. When she’s not learning the Krebs cycle for the millionth time, Areeha enjoys stargazing, baking pies, and stalking Chris Hadfield on Twitter.

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