The eighth and final forum of the University of Alberta’s Students’ Union 2021 elections was the traditional Myer Horowitz forum, though like every forum this year, it took place on Zoom.
Candidates gave their final opening statements and spent the rest of the forum answering audience questions about why students should vote for uncontested races, how candidates would organize around recent budget cuts, and why students should pay Students’ Union fees automatically.
Here is the TL;DR version of this forum:
- President: fighting against provincial budget cuts and performance-based funding
- Vice-president (operations and finance): why they are qualified to run in this position
- Vice-president (student life): whether it’s feasible to promise hiring a Greek Life Advisor
- Vice-president (external): How to better advocate for students, both university and province-wide
- Vice-president (academic): why students should vote yes for this uncontested race
- Board of Governors Representative: Building communication and transparency with the Board of Governors
- U-Pass and the Golden Bears and Panda’s Legacy Fund: nothing new this forum
“Go to MacEwan”: President clarifies Instagram statement, stance on performance-based funding
Rowan Ley, fifth-year history student and current vice-president (external), was asked to clarify something he posted on his Instagram story where he discussed the U of A’s budget cuts which he said have lead to a decline in quality. In the Instagram story, Ley advised high schoolers who were not looking to do a professional degree to go to MacEwan.
“To be blunt, I said it because it’s true,” Ley said. “There is a strong and inaccurate perception in our government that the U of A is this massively bloated and wasteful institution, and that cuts don’t hurt the quality of education we receive here.”
Ley said this narrative needs to be undermined through sharing information about the real impact of the cuts, which he said are “destroying the U of A.”
“[These cuts], are massively reducing the quality of education that our institution can offer, are damaging to students, and if it keeps happening, people will not come here for an education,” he said. “Was I negative? Yes. But we need to stop putting a happy face on a horrible situation.”
When asked how Ley would advocate against performance-based funding, a model the Alberta government announced in their most recent budget will now be formally implemented, Ley said he is opposed to “the specific model being brought forward in Alberta.”
“To hold universities accountable for things they cannot control like graduate employment rates or that don’t accurately reflect the value of their contributions to society I think is very wrong,” he said.
On fighting against this model, Ley argued the current Albertan government is “starting to run out of time to make significant changes,” and that performance-based funding needs to be met with a “strong public outcry.”
“That’ll make them think twice about continuing this,” he said.
— Rachel Narvey
Realistic or Empty Promise?: VPOpsFi candidates questioned about financial experience and the feasibility of their plans
Both candidates in the vice-president (operations and finance) race were asked about what makes them qualified to manage the finances of a “$10 million” organization.
Julia Villoso, a second-year psychology and anthropology student and current Students’ Council arts councillor, emphasized that the vice-president (operations and finance) does not need to be a business student. She spoke about starting her own initiative, Bags of Hope, which delivered school supplies and COVID-19 support to families in the Philippines, alongside being on the Sustainability and Capital fund committee, audit committee, and the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) board.
“What I think really enriched my financial operations history would be my experience as part of the audit committee, and I had the opportunity to work with Student Representative Association (SRAs) and Faculty Associations (FAs) and review audit metrics and [choose] budgets for the year,” Villoso said.
Emily Kimani, a fourth-year immunology and infections student and current Students’ Council science councillor, also stated that the position does not require a business student. She highlighted her experience being a science councillor and her involvement on the Sustainability and Capital Fund Committee, in addition to her experience writing research proposals which involved budgets.
“I am confident that I do know how to deal with budgets, I know how to deal with financials and anything that I don’t know to do, I am willing to learn,” Kimani said.
Candidates were also asked what new ideas they would bring to the table,
“Both of you have said you would like to follow in the footsteps of your predecessor and have both put forward ideas similar to previous vice-presidents (operations and finance),” the question asked.
Villoso expressed her desire to create a scholarship registry for students, emphasizing the registry’s importance in the midst of university budget cuts and COVID-19.
“I really want to implement [the registry] this year and see if we can give students first-hand access to these funds,” Villoso said.
Kimani spoke about her plan to advocate for the recognition of Black History Month in the Students’ Union.
“As a Black student myself this is very important to me in paving the way for Black students, and to empower them to make strides at the university,” she said.
One question highlighted how the pandemic prevented the Students’ Union from fulfilling the promises made to students last year — like free menstrual products on campus — asking candidates how they would ensure their plans become a reality.
Villoso said that she made sure her platform was not full of empty promises, but was rather “realistic” for a “COVID-19 year.”
Kimani shared how she has had time to “work around” the challenges of the pandemic and assures her plan is “feasible.”
— Remi Hou
VPSL candidates discuss reality of re-hiring Greek Life Advisor, online school loneliness, anticipated challenges for the role
Vice-president (student life) candidates both voiced their support for the re-hiring of a Greek Life Advisor but diverged on whether this is a realistic promise.
Talia Dixon, a fourth-year political science and women’s and gender studies double major and current Students’ Council arts councillor, spoke to the importance of hiring this position.
“There are hundreds of people who are part of the Greek community on this campus, and they need extra support for different areas within their lives,” Dixon said. “I think the advocacy around this should look very similar to the hiring of the Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator.”
Daniela Carbajal, a third-year psychology student and current Students’ Council Augustana councillor, claimed promising the hiring of a Greek Life Advisor would be unrealistic.
“To make a promise that they will get hired this year is not realistic,” Carbajal said. “We can advocate for it … but we cannot make promises with the budget cuts. With the [sexual violence prevention coordinator] that just got hired this year, I think we need to work at ways, within the Students’ Union, [to get] this position. This would be a good opportunity to have a graduated member of the Greek community [involved] because they will know the community best.”
When addressing the loneliness that accompanies online learning during COVID-19, Carbajal mentioned that “events don’t solve everything” and talked about implementing a peer program for domestic students to help students feel more connected to campus. Dixon spoke on making campus “a safe space for every single student” through a pronoun campaign.
Candidates were asked on the biggest challenge they anticipated facing in the vice-president (student life) role. Carbajal mentioned learning to process heavier things that students might choose to confide in her, such as sexual violence and racism. Dixon spoke on being dismissed or not listened to while in the role, due to being a young woman.
— Areeha Mahal
VPX offers promises and trust in advocacy campaigns and performance-based funding
Vice-president (external) candidate Christian Fotang, a third-year biological sciences student and current Students’ Council science councillor, was asked to provide his plans for advocacy beyond continuing current campaigns like Penguins for Post-Secondary Education (PSE) and Stop the PSE Cuts.
Fotang responded by emphasizing his support for the two campaigns mentioned. He said he would continue to use their resources or create a new campaign, but that there is also an important “element of surprise” in creating new advocacy campaigns, suggesting he did not want to give too much information away.
Fotang was also asked how he would improve on the advocacy efforts of the Student’s Union in the past.
“Students are facing threats from multiple fronts [like the] provincial government, the U of A administration, [and] online learning. As a voter concerned about how students can fight back, should I trust that you will be more vocal, visible, and willing to call people out than the Students’ Union has been in the past?” an audience member asked.
Fotang recognized the failure of the Students’ Union to work with students in the past and expanded on his track record of advocacy against the cancellation of the U-Pass and fighting the consolidation of the faculties of arts and science due to academic restructuring.
“I offer you, at this point, my promises, but [also] my trust that I will work with you to get the job done,” Fotang added.
Finally, Fotang touched on performance-based funding, saying that he plans to advocate for increased transparency surrounding the metrics the government implements to measure university performance, and to give the university time to integrate the funding model, as well as making sure the funding model is attainable.
“It’s not effective if you’re trying to implement enrollment rates one year but then you don’t have the funding for it to achieve the goal the next year,” he said.
— Paige Miller
VPA answers why students should not vote “no” in uncontested race
Abner Monteiro, a fifth-year kinesiology student and current Students’ Council kinesiology, sport, and recreation councillor, began the forum by discussing the competitive academic environment of university and the inaccessibility of resources in his opening remarks.
“We come to the U of A because it is a world-class institution, but having that distinction should not come at the expense of a more equitable, diverse and inclusive classroom and campus,” he said.
He also touched on student concerns including expensive textbook prices, exam stress, and academic accommodations.
When asked how he would represent the interests of medical and law students who may have previously felt disconnected from the Students’ Union, Monteiro said he would consult with the Medical Students’ Association and Law Students’ Association to develop events targeted towards medical and law students.
Another question inquired why students should vote for uncontested candidates as opposed to a “no-vote.” Monteiro responded by highlighting the experience he has received sitting on General Faculties Council (GFC), the university’s largest academic governing body and its subcommittee on learning environments.
He also said that his platform is based on consultation with students, and takes into consideration “all the issues they faced over the past five years.”
“I’ve taken everything I heard from students to make sure I put it into my platform in tangible ways to get results for them,” Monteiro answered.
— Disha Hazra
BoG rep questioned about transparency and communication
Dave Konrad, a third-year environmental and conservation sciences student, was asked — alongside other candidates in uncontested races — why students should vote for him, instead of voting “no.”
Konrad outlined his main platform goals, for example, his plan to work for the “inclusion of marginalized voices,” adding that he wants to push for tracking data around systemic racism at the university “to begin quantifying that issue,” in addition to fighting for increased transparency among the Board of Governors (BoG), the highest governing body at the university.
“If I’m not elected in, you will not see these projects worked on,” he said.
Konrad was asked how he would increase the transparency of the BoG for students. He said he will continue to make his reports, be active on social media, and also introduce the board members through Instagram and a podcast, in addition to inviting them to Students’ Council.
“I think inviting the board to Students’ Council makes for a more welcoming space for students that aren’t already part of governance, because Students’ Council is less intimidating than the board, although I do understand students council can be intimidating as well,” Konrad said.
One question from the audience asked about Konrad’s delayed Spring/Summer updates, which he posted several months late. He explained that this was because of his busy schedule, citing a full course load in addition to already being occupied with academic restructuring.
“I realized that I couldn’t do [five courses] and fill this role well, so I dropped down to three,” he said.
— Amanda Dang
Voluntary Students’ Union fees: candidates asked why fees are not optional
Chanpreet Singh, the president of the International Studnets’ Association, asked certain candidates why Students’ Union fees are mandatory and are not subject to a vote, similar to Faculty Association Membership (FAMF) fees and dedicated fee units of certain student groups and services.
Rowan Ley said that while it is important that all fees be “democratic,” he said there are more ways to do this than to have a referendum.
He noted that most Dedicated Fee Units (DFUs) for things like campus services like the Campus Food Bank have a referendum because often, their board is not directly elected by students. Ley said that if students want Students’ Union fees lowered, candidates can run on that promise and students can then elect those candidates.
“There are mechanisms in place to lower student fees, if that is something a large group of students wants to do,” he said.
Kimani expressed her view that the Students’ Union membership fee is necessary to ensure that services, scholarships and awards are available for students. However, she highlighted that the Students’ Union should “optimize” their revenue through business and services, in order to “decrease reliance on student fees.”
Villoso also said the services funded by the Students’ Union membership fee are beneficial to students and should be in place. She said she wants to “enhance” the services and operations the Students’ Union offers, highlighting the sections of her platform focused on “inclusivity, maximization, and operational capacity.”
Monteiro maintained only a small portion of the fee is used for Students’ Union functions, while much of it benefits students.
“That money is important in order to make sure services are still maintained, and that we still have scholarships and bursaries for students to be able to apply for through the Student’s Union,” he said. “[It’s there so] we’re still maintaining essential health and academic resources.”
— Rachel Narvey, Remi Hou, Disha Hazra
The Gateway plebiscite
A representative of The Gateway‘s plebiscite was present at the forum. Due to a conflict of interest, The Gateway will not comment on this further.