SU Exec Report Cards 2023-24: Vice-President (Academic)

Throughout his term, Almeida has advocated for affordability, transparency, and mental health supports.

Each year, The Gateway publishes an evaluation of the Students’ Union Executive and the Board of Governors representative. It’s impossible to discuss every aspect of their tenures, so these reports are largely based on the major components of the platform each executive campaigned on, and the most significant responsibilities of their respective positions.

And if you’re short for time, check out our TLDR for a bite-sized breakdown.

Pedro Almeida: A+

The University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU) vice-president (academic) (VPA) is responsible for academic advocacy and working toward creating a positive academic experience for students. 

Students’ needs reflected in Almeida’s advocacy 

Affordability is top of mind for students right now, especially amidst the proposed tuition increases coming to the Board of Governors this March. Typically, affordability is less of a focus within the VPA portfolio, as it normally falls under those of the VPX or VPSL. The connection this year, however, was hard to ignore with the proposal of the Academic Materials Program (AMP), which has been a defining moment of Almeida’s term. 

If implemented, students would pay a flat rate — estimated around $300 — for textbook costs each semester. Now, not all students use or read textbooks, let alone pay for them. Many professors opt to provide open educational resources (OER) on eClass, and lots of students avoid readings altogether. In an ongoing affordability crisis, AMP was a threat to the few affordability measures the U of A has when it comes to educational resource costs. When AMP was proposed, I had many concerns about the impacts it would have on my wallet as a student. 

And clearly, I wasn’t the only one. AMP was widely opposed, including by the SU Students’ Council, largely due to Almeida’s advocacy. Leading up to AMP coming to council, Almeida worked tirelessly to highlight the potential negative impacts of AMP, as well as promote already-existing resources that do help students. In the end, the university’s plan to implement AMP by fall 2024 failed.

When faced with a program as poor as AMP, Almeida took necessary action in order to ensure students’ needs were not disregarded. He then went a step-further to promote and empower a much stronger substitute — the ZTC program.

When I asked Almeida what he was most proud of, he answered the work he did surrounding OER advocacy. Through ZTC, classes with low-cost textbook options are identified on BearTracks. In our interview, he mentioned that ZTC had the highest usage they’ve seen at 31.3 per cent. 

ZTC has been a focus for previous VPAs, so not all of its success can be attributed to Almeida. However, it’s undeniable that he successfully increased awareness of the program, while advocating against AMP, a program created by the UAlberta Bookstore. This is no small feat, since lobbying and advocacy haven’t been entirely well-accomplished by recent VPAs. Almeida’s success has set a new bar within the VPA role, while also setting the groundwork for his successors.    

Mental health and academia: navigating supports in times of crisis

Because so many of the issues students’ faced this year fall into other executive portfolios, it would’ve been easy for Almeida to pass the buck and stay uninvolved without impacting his performance. Instead, Almeida approached each issue by understanding how it fit in with the work he was and could be doing. I felt this was seen most strongly during the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine.

During times of crisis, students rely heavily on university support to get by. However, awareness of these supports is always a struggle, and information about them is hard to find. This is something Almeida acknowledged both in his platform and during our interview. A focus during his campaign was advocating for clear communication and accessibility for students. 

To address this, Almeida advocated for the creation of a webpage that centralizes supports offered both on and off-campus. 

Mental health has a greater impact on our studies than is often acknowledged — international crises only exacerbate those effects. In the fall, students were in-need of supports that they just weren’t able to access. Almeida was able to start the work by advocating for putting the information in one easy-to-access place. In our interview, he said this work isn’t done. He’s currently making a list of all SU-related supports, which he will pass on to the Dean of Students. 

In a time of crisis, students need help and they need it right away. Effective advocacy to fix any issues with these supports would have taken a long time, which the SU didn’t have. Almeida did the next best thing through this webpage.

Bringing awareness is always hard, and has been a persistent struggle for the SU. Many executives in the past — across all positions — have highlighted this in their platforms, but few have actually achieved it. Almeida managed to not only overcome a historic hurdle, but did so through the university — an organization that’s hard to advocate to, let alone with.  

Making academic issues more accessible: academic misconduct and syllabus bank

For years, the Code of Student Behaviour has been criticized by students for being inaccessible, unclear, and hard to follow. That has only been exacerbated with the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI). No clear lines are drawn — especially when it comes to AI — which only makes the threat of academic integrity that more stressful.

Through his advocacy, Almeida worked to make the policy more accessible, honing in on the appeals process. The Code of Student Behaviour was often referred to as “a crime and punishment model” — students would commit academic misconduct and often face an extremely harsh punishment, no matter what the misconduct actually was. But, the problems leading to and following academic misconduct were rarely addressed. 

Now, following Almeida’s advocacy, students are presented with options and a clear path forward following academic misconduct. In our interview, Almeida highlighted the changes he advocated for, including ensuring students are able to understand the process ahead of them, have the right to have their appeals take place in French, and have clarified disciplinary and non-disciplinary routes. 

However, there is still work to be done. Big sweeping changes to university policies are never perfect, and there will always be a learning curve. Yet, support for students who don’t fluently speak French or English should have been considered.

I acknowledge that it would be impossible to provide an appeal process in every language. In our interview, Almeida told me that accessibility was top of mind when reworking the policy — he wanted students to be able to understand the processes available to them. However, he didn’t really specify how. 

Defending yourself for violating the Code of Student Behaviour, knowing full-well you could face serious consequences like expulsion, sounds like a frightening prospect. I imagine it’s even scarier if English isn’t your first language. 

The win for French-speaking students, however, is hard to ignore and needs to be commended. French-speaking students have wanted these changes for years, which Almeida was able to deliver. But, the option of a French appeal process is the bare minimum — students should be able to have access to this policy in the language they are most comfortable in.

In fact, in the policy, l’Association des Universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean (AUFSJ) is listed as a potential resource. But, the policy is still only available in English. Although there is still work to be done, the work Almeida has done should not go unnoticed.

Another step in accessibility that was much needed is a syllabus bank, which students have been requesting for years. A syllabus bank would allow students to read through past syllabi before enrolling in a course. Through Almeida’s work, an early version of a syllabus bank — called a syllabus management tool — has come into fruition.

In our interview, Almeida said it will be available for student use in the fall 2024 semester. The tool will stretch across all faculties, and act as a centralized system. Future work still needs to be done to ensure all instructors use the tool. After years of asking, a finalized system would’ve been nice to see, but some headway into this project is at least something. But, I can give credit where credit is due — Almeida was able to deliver on a historic VPA promise, a running theme during his term.  

Almeida redefined what advocacy can look like within the VPA role. Throughout his term, Almeida showed that he can advocate effectively, and bring students’ needs to fruition — while addressing any curve-balls thrown his way. Often, executives have to pick between finishing old projects or starting new ones — Almeida successfully did both. Not only did he achieve the most important parts of his platform, but he did so while juggling other important advocacy measures.

TLDR: Over his term, Almeida saw win after win, with the increased use of ZTC, changes in the Code of Student Behaviour, the implementation of the syllabus management tool, and increasing awareness of supports offered to students during times of crisis. Very few changes could’ve been made to Almeida’s term to improve the work he did.  

A-range: This person has fulfilled the promises they campaigned on and more, has created tangible change during their tenure, and has shown a commitment to improving the lives of students. Their GPA is top tier.

B-range: This person has done their job consistently well, but has not made any remarkable changes, or has fallen short on important goals they set out in their platforms. They’re doing fine, but it’s nothing to phone home about.

C-range: This person has done their job sufficiently, but has failed to make significant progress in the areas most relevant to their portfolio, or has essentially abandoned a major part of their platform. They’re still passing with a safe buffer though, and Cs get degrees!

D-range: This person has done a very lacklustre job, and has not sufficiently fulfilled their campaign promises or the responsibilities of their position.

F-range: This person has not done their job, has not represented students, and has not fulfilled their campaign promises whatsoever.

Anna Bajwa-Zschocke

Anna was the 2023-24 Opinion Editor and is in media studies. Usually she can be found amongst colour coded sticky notes, nerding out about European history, bad reality TV, or some new book

Related Articles

Back to top button