The vice-president (operations and finance) (VPOF) is in charge of the Students’ Union (SU) budget of over $13 million.
This budget is directly implicated with student life, so candidates must consider student life in their campaigns. This was raised at the Myer Horowitz forum, when VPOF candidate Levi Flaman questioned his opponent, Fateh Arslan’s focus on student life.
“Are [VPOFs] instructed to lead and coordinate efforts on academic or non-academic initiatives? No. Those are mandates given to the [vice-presidents] academic and student life respectively,” Flaman said.
However, this is a route that his opponent, and previous VPOF candidates, have taken in their campaigns.
Flaman quoted bylaw, which states that the VPOF must maintain transparency about and oversee the budget, and provide financial advice to the executive committee.
If elected, Flaman said that he would be focusing on getting “back to basics” with respect to the SU budget. However, bylaw only covers one small portion of the VPOF portfolio. The VPOF also manages the Students’ Union Building (SUB), which naturally involves student life.
As well, Flaman claims that proper management of the budget will result in increased access to student services. This seems like a way for Flaman to incorporate student life into his platform, without concrete plans.
But, can the student body support a candidate who has not listed these plans for what the budget will actually be spent on in their platform?
Arslan took a different approach in both the forum and in his platform. Instead of saving students money, he focuses on using the budget to increase the student services he deems most important to the student population. At the forum, Arslan cited the goals outlined in his platform to improve accessibility in SUB. Notably, these included installing ramps and braille signage in common areas.
When asked about balancing accessibility with budget considerations, Arslan said, “at the end of the day I am not working … to grow the SU, I am working for students.” To me, this shows Arslan’s ability to adequately support students using the SU’s budget.
The current VPOF, Julia Villoso, marketed her campaign in a similar way.
Regardless of previous failed-attempts to revitalize SUB, managing the vendors and overseeing the operation of the building is inevitably related to student life. Whether Flaman thinks it is important to his role or not, it is a part of the VPOF portfolio. If elected to serve as VPOF, he would have a significant impact on student life through his involvement with SUB — especially if he chose to put it on the back burner.
“In previous years, we have had VPOF candidates running on student life platforms, which is how we have ended up in a position where both have gotten worse,” Flaman said.
It is fair to say that Villoso faltered in her management of the SU finances. The estimated $145,000 price tag on the fall 2022 Break the Record attempt spurred mass concerns from students over the SU’s financial transparency.
However, Villoso’s engagement with student life was one of her successes, though not an official part of the VPOF portfolio. This is especially seen through the residential school memorial, which she coordinated in collaboration with vice-president (student life) (VPSL) Joannie Fogue. This was an extremely important event that would not have occurred without her engagement.
She managed to mold her portfolio to support initiatives she believed in. This is something I think Arslan is also capable of doing.
So, is a focus on student life something we should be necessarily writing off in our future VPOF candidates?
In my opinion, all members of the SU, regardless of their role, should be engaged in truth and reconciliation on campus. Last year’s executive team also indicated the importance of these efforts, deciding that each member would take on at least one of the Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Committee (ARRC) recommendations during their term.
Arslan outlined a plan to continue supporting the residential school memorial and expand the Indigenous Leadership Program. In contrast, truth and reconciliation was not mentioned in Flaman’s platform. His focus on the budget may come at the cost of sidelining the SU’s commitment to truth and reconciliation, as well as the overall improvement of student life.
The budget that Flaman is so focused on should be going towards providing student services, which he has acknowledged repeatedly throughout the forums. So, despite his insistence on prioritizing saving money, he is required to consider the impacts of the VPOF decisions on student life.
Arslan is the only candidate who has proven that he recognizes this in the VPOF race.
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