The Board of Governors is the highest decision-making body at the University of Alberta when it comes to financial decisions like domestic and international tuition, residence rent increases, and meal plan rates. Out of the 20 voting members on the board, two of them are undergraduate student representatives: the Students’ Union president and the Undergraduate Board of Governors Representative.
This year there is only one candidate who is seeking re-election this year: Dave Konrad, a third-year environmental and conservation sciences student and current Board of Governors representative.
Follow this link to watch Konrad’s candidate pitch video.
The following interview has been condensed and simplified for clarity.
In one minute or less, can you tell us why you are running for the position of Board of Governors Representative?
Konrad: Staying for another year allows me to be more effective than last year because I’ve already endured the learning curve that comes with the Board of Governors Representative position. I have a working relationship with the board members, I’m well educated on current student issues, and there are projects that require more time than a single year, like working on a business representation or reducing mandatory non-instructional fees.
Additionally, I’m well situated to advocate more effectively for next year’s budget vote because I’m currently undergoing the research and advocacy process of this year’s budget. Throughout the last year, I learned more about marginalized communities at the U of A and saw how poorly they’re treated in some contexts. I want to advocate on their behalf, consult with them, and speak to senior administration on the board about implementing more equitable policy and initiatives that care for marginalized communities.
Can you briefly and concisely describe your platform?
Konrad: I’ve broken it into three groups: finances, representation, and communication. In regards to finances, I want to relieve tuition costs. Some ideas I have are increased bursaries for students, looking at full-load equivalents, looking at spreading out tuition increases across a projected enrolment increase of students over the next several years to lessen required increases right now, and opposing provincial tuition deregulation. I also want to look at mandatory fees and ensure the money students pay comes back as a benefit to them. I also want to look at deferred maintenance, how it hurts students and damages inclusivity at the university.
The next category would be representation. I’m looking at being student-centric in the performance-based funding metric development that’s currently underway. I also want to oppose board consolidation into super boards, which is something that the provincial government’s been talking about, and continue the fight for Indigenous representation through a policy direction. I’m looking to do consultation with student representative associations and faculty associations through emailing my biweekly Students’ Council reports to them and then also doing topical consultation as needs arise. I also want to look at diverse recruitment at the board and bring forward student environmental initiatives to the board and administration.
Looking at communication, it’s about considering better university communications in every situation for all the big university initiatives. I am also looking at including demographic information in the U of A student census because it’s currently absent.[ I want to] look at equitable teaching in the remote learning context [and] at Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) standards being publicized in university restructuring. Lastly, I want to sit down with board members and talk about student issues over kind of a podcast, and look at being involved in Week of Welcome.
The Board of Governors can be an intimidating space. Why can students trust you to advocate on their behalf to the board?
Konrad: Well, I am a third-year student — I’ve been in student governments for two years. I see it as a form of service born out of privilege because as a white male with a steady family, I’ve had the opportunity to have a phenomenal summer job in a construction company, I have a stable home life and all of those factors give me the confidence to better push for opportunities for all at the U of A, which I understand many people may not be able to do partly because of the colonial nature of our institution. You could touch base with councillors last term, you can look at my attendance at Students’ Council and Board of Governors committees — I’ve been committed to that work.
I’m concerned about learning about not only approaching very controversial issues from hopefully a logical standpoint of carefully considering the pros and cons of both sides but then also being sensitive and humble in the context of learning about Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) communities as well as climate issues. There’s a lot of assumptions thrown around and I don’t want to lean too quickly to either side. I want to acknowledge that I’m here to learn as well.
How will you make sure students’ voices are heard on the fiscal decisions the board makes for the university, especially as we face provincial budget cuts and academic restructuring?
Konrad: I’m always working with student colleagues on the board — that’s the Students’ Union president and the Graduate Students’ Association President. This past term and going forward I expect to do the same. We’ve met around issues before meetings and we’ve discussed how to strategically approach advocacy with different board members. When we think about something like tuition or budget votes, you’re talking about specific strategies like publicizing the budget votes over social media. We’re also looking to invite students to an open session with board members. In terms of any participation in activism or demonstrations, I was there to help make those penguins for the Penguins for Post-Secondary Education campaign and obviously, COVID-19 throws a wrench into that kind of that participation piece.
I think that the big narrative is that we don’t want the Government of Alberta or the university to believe that students will take this lying down. I want to reach out to different student caucuses of different boards in Alberta to garner more feedback and consultation, consult Students Council, consult the Council of Residence Associations, which I did this year and will continue to do. I will ensure I meet with board members one-on-one to hear their position while also communicating that student case to board members in a one-on-one context, which is often more meaningful than in the board context. In regards to the student voice, I was thinking of initiating a survey through the SU or possibly the dean of students or provost’s office.
Our 14 per cent tuition increase over the next two years is the biggest deal for the people at the margins. These are the people who will have to drop out, who will have to take a second job, who will have cut a meal when they’re already on a tight budget. Those are the people we want to uphold in this process and so I would be very interested to run a survey around those kinds of metrics.
There has been a lot of talk about university collegiality on campus. What does this mean to you and where does BoG fit in this discussion?
Konrad: Collegiality means that to the best of our ability, everyone makes decisions on a relatively level playing field, where all voices are carried as equal as possible. In the context of academic reconstruction, for example, it would be the idea that GFC holds the same amount of decision making power influence as the Board of Governors does. That’s the idea, but the problem in this context is that’s not actually about what legally exists according to the Post-Secondary Learning Act, but governing bodies ultimately have to act in the best interest of the university and in this case, that wasn’t what happened.
Where the board fit in — it’s a very controversial space. Leading up to the December 11 vote on academic restructuring, I was talking to different students, I was talking to board members and I had a position for College Deans, but the majority of students didn’t and so I supported the student voice at the board even though it contradicted my personal preference. But the board didn’t completely overturn GFC’s recommendation. They compromised with the GFC recommendation of a Dean’s Council. So in that sense, where the board fits into collegiality is a very delicate situation that’s context-specific because there’s also an understanding that the board’s job is to make strategic decisions and the administration’s job is to be specialists in their field and to implement the recommendations the board gives them.
An example would be that was often made during academic restructuring was GFC is the academic specialist, the board is not. It was then confusing to some people why the board was making the final call and that they didn’t call and that they didn’t just agree with GFC. But the other part of the situation was that this was a very budget-centric decision and so I think in many ways the board did respect collegiality by acknowledging GFC and then ultimately compromising with what they believe was the correct answer.
There was controversy last semester over BoG’s decision to reject GFC’s suggestion to omit executive deans from the college model for academic restructuring. What did you make of this decision and what would you do if a similar situation occurs in the future?
Konrad: One of the biggest failures in communication because it was poor communication of the standards by which the Academic Restructuring Working Group was operating— poor communication on EDI standards and their processing of consultation consultative material. Their failure to effectively communicate that they were doing that they were thinking deeply about what people were telling them resulted in people thinking that the consultation was fake or meaningless and that the working group wasn’t responding well. I was sad about that. I think student-centric communication would look like putting a lot more data on Instagram, fun attractive infographics, or having short videos of President Bill Flanagan or Provost Steven Dew. Something where people feel that they’re hearing from the people in these high-level decision making spaces. Ultimately, I think the decision could have gone either way, and I think, although they were cons in both cases, both spaces are an opportunity to care about students, to show compassionate leadership, to respect subordinates and report well to your superior.
I’m not as broken off about it as maybe the rest of my student counterparts are and I would like to say that in private conversations there were quite a few students who felt similar to how I felt because when you look at what the Post-Secondary Learning Act says, a lot of the polarized language around what happened isn’t quite accurate. I think administration could have done a better job at communicating. There’s been some criticism around how quickly BoG’s decision was made to make a compromise and I think we could have held a special meeting a few weeks after or given a week or two for GFC to deliberate. The reality is we’re a very large institution, and there are a lot of moving parts in that specific decision making process, so I think in that sense we could have taken more time.
Going forward if we had another context like this, I would encourage the board to slow down, go through more meaningful consultation, or even hand it off to GFC. I would want to see some kind of higher-level details based collaboration between GFC and the BoG, even if it was just a temporary working group because I do feel that even communication between GFC and the board really failed there. It was also very hostile and I’m still trying to understand because I am not sure that the board made an unreasonable decision and I do feel that some of the inflammatory response from some GFCs members didn’t seem reflective of the facts. So alongside that joint venture idea, I’d want to sit down with some of the GFC people who are really angry and just really hear them out and try to work through those issue with them.
At the General Faculties Council there was discussion about making governance more transparent to the U of A community. Do you think BoG needs to be more transparent to students and if so, how would you improve this as BoG rep?
Konrad: Closed sessions are very interesting thing to me and I know there’s value around them, especially very controversial things that are very sensitive if the final decision has been made yet. But as a blank principle yes, I absolutely believe BoG should be more transparent. Some things I’m looking at is better communications, the idea of having board member biographies, with a picture of them, listed on the U of Alberta BoG website, but also ideally pushed through on a U of A Instagram account. That way people can see these people’s faces not to hate them necessarily but to humanize them, hopefully.
I think another thing is creating a podcast, where I would sit down and hear from board members on a student sensitive issue. In all my conversations with the board members, they are sensitive, for example, to something like tuition vote. I sent an email inviting Board members to chat with me and one of the things I included there was that I was interested in hearing their perspective as I’m aware they were all students at one point or probably have children right now in university. All of them were sympathetic to the reality that this is hard for students, but that has to be coupled with the budgetary reality and the Government of Alberta making these cuts. I feel could be very valuable to you to have this recorded sound like for a student to hear and say, ‘okay, this person is human, they do have a thought process behind this.’
Fun Question: If you could have any TV or movie character chair BoG, who would it be and why?
Game of Thrones spoilers ahead.
Konrad: Honestly, I think it would be John Snow from Game of Thrones because I just recently binged the series and finished it — it was outstanding. Some of the key things that I took from him, which I just so deeply respected, was his adherence to a strict moral code in himself like he had to be true to his word, which is obviously a very valuable trait. As well as his leadership and self-sacrifice in the name of the greater good like when he chose to bring Wildlings into the Night’s Watch and then bring them south of the wall because he knew the Army of the Dead was coming. He worked very hard to unite the kingdoms of men even when it came at cost to him — he even got killed by it by the Night’s Watch. That’s incredible. I feel that’s a phenomenal trait to have — the desire to bring groups together and I think fundamentally, that’s what we need here at the U of A, especially after very controversial votes and with further budget decreases coming. We need that unity in a way that I don’t think we have right now.
UPDATE: This article was updated at 2:41 p.m. on February 24, 2021 to reflect more accurate information from the candidate from the time of original drafting.