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

Beasley accomplished a lot in his term, but major successes rest in the hands of the budget release and announcements from the federal government.

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.

Chris Beasley: B+

The University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU) vice-president (external) (VPX) is responsible for outward-facing advocacy. This involves representing students to the government, lobby groups, and, often, media. 

Leveraging the media to work towards SGBV prevention

Advocacy in the VPX role is unique since it often requires a presence in external media. This is especially true when campus issues are rooted in those on the municipal, provincial, national, and international stages. For Albertan post-secondary students, the prominent example is sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which impacts students at post-secondary institutions across Alberta

In November 2022, the university launched a new SGBV policy, which governing bodies like the SU have since been working to implement. This policy was important, as it reaffirmed the university’s commitment to preventing SGBV, and provided new guidelines to navigate the issue. However, 64 per cent of students surveyed from January 30 – March 16, 2023 reported experiencing SGBV since attending the U of A.

It is clear that U of A students are experiencing SGBV, which is cause for concern. In our interview, Beasley said that “fighting sexual violence on campus” is one of the things he’s most proud of from his term. I agree that he should be proud. Beasley used media outlets across the province to bring this issue to the public, drawing the connection between viewers and a societal issue that is deeply impacting Albertan campuses.

Beasley made appearances on TV and radio, and interviewed with a wide variety of news outlets, from CTV to the CBC. In our interview, he told me that the issue of SGBV was picked up by all major news desks in Edmonton, Calgary, and Lethbridge. Beasley could have stopped there. However, he then emailed 108 rural newspapers to see if they could keep driving the conversation. As a result, Beasley brought a lot of awareness to SGBV, going above and beyond to advocate for students. 

In turn, the public has become more aware of SGBV at the U of A and other Alberta post-secondary institutions, with extremely good timing. On February 29, the Government of Alberta is set to release Budget 2024. The U of A campus community anxiously awaits this announcement to see if any changes will be made to the Campus Alberta Grant.

Without this funding, the U of A will struggle with providing the necessary supports against SGBV. By bringing this issue to the public, Beasley has put pressure on both the university and government to do something. That in itself is a feat, which Beasley should absolutely be proud of. However, we won’t know how effective Beasley’s advocacy actually was until the budget is released. But, I do know that Beasley has raised enough awareness that the conversation will continue, regardless how much money is allocated in Budget 2024.

Depending on lobbying as a course of action

Beasley is the current chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS), which represents undergraduate students from five universities, including the U of A. Beasley’s advocacy priorities aligned with those of CAUS 2023-24, which include affordability, supporting Indigenous students and honouring treaties, mental health, and reducing SGBV.

One of the main ways Beasley addressed these issues was through lobbying and making connections within the provincial and federal government. In our interview, Beasley said that throughout his term, he met with 11 members of the provincial government’s cabinet, and 80 of the 87 elected MLAs. He said that almost all of his meetings discussed affordability. Not only were student issues such as affordability brought to government — they were done in a personal way that humanized the issues we are facing as students. Plus, meeting with 92 per cent of MLAs is quite the accomplishment, and cannot be disregarded. It takes time and energy to have even one conversation like this — imagine repeating that an additional 79 times. That’s on top of the conversations Beasley had with stakeholders, other student associations, other politicians, and university administration. 

But, lobbying isn’t a new method for the SU. It has been the favourable approach in recent years, and isn’t without its flaws. Each year, the SU lobbies against tuition increases, but despite best efforts, exceptional they get approved regardless. Clearly, lobbying efforts aren’t enough, and students tend to agree. The SU has faced criticism before for not adequately mobilizing when the time came. To his credit, Beasley has arguably done more preparation in advance of proposed tuition increases compared to his predecessors. He’s written and circulated open letters, and organized town halls. We’ll have to see if 2024 will finally be the year that lobbying from the SU is enough to push-back against tuition increases, but I have my doubts.   

Despite general concerns regarding lobbying, Beasley deserves credit for meeting with as many people as he has. Especially while addressing his many other priorities as well, such as advocating for Indigenous students.

In our interview, Beasley said that he’s really proud of the networks and connections he’s made, particularly with Minister of Indigenous Relations Rick Wilson and Andrew Boitchenko, the parliamentary secretary for Indigenous relations. Beasley said they’ve had multiple discussions around funding for Indigenous students in post-secondary, which is a great first-step to effective change.

What’s more is Beasley has been pushing to get more federal funding for Indigenous students — especially those who don’t have access to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP). While we’re yet to see how this plays out, flagging gaps within PSSSP is a necessary step in the right direction. Hopefully, by getting this started, Beasley has laid out the necessary groundwork for his successor to secure more funding for Indigenous students. 

It’s important to note as well that amongst all this, Beasley has kept in touch with students to inform them of his advocacy. Although he had access to a lot of raw data from surveys, he told me he also prioritized stepping out of the office and visiting the Indigenous Students’ Union (ISU) lounge when possible, checking in on faculty associations, and attending as many events as time allowed. He said that this way, he talked with as many students as possible. 

Student engagement is very important for informed advocacy, so it’s great to see that Beasley prioritized it. Instead of staying in his office or exclusively talking to media and politicians, he made the rounds. He showed that he not only cares about meeting with important government officials, but also the students that he’s advocating for. 

International students find support under Beasley, some meaningful change occurs 

In recent years, issues affecting post-secondary students have only worsened. In response, everyone from student leaders to university stakeholders to government officials have gone to bat for us, ensuring we’re advocated for properly. However, this isn’t true for all university students — time and time again, international students are left out of advocacy initiatives, which means their conditions are left to worsen, with little to no support. 

International students at the U of A are no stranger to this phenomenon either, even though countless VPX candidates promise that they will support international students each election season. Beasley was no different — during his campaign, he routinely assured international students that if he were elected, he’d advocate for them. For Beasley, this was a campaign promise he readily delivered.

This year was tumultuous for international students, to say the least. With frequent changes happening to the international student program with seemingly no warning, international students had little time to prepare or adjust. On January 22, the Government of Canada announced a cap on study permits for international students. This change followed the December 7 announcement to the cost-of-living requirement for international students. Amidst all this is the looming threat of a 5 per cent tuition increase for international students, coming up for approval at the March 22 Board of Governors meeting. 

In our interview, Beasley told me that when he ran for VPX, “no one was really talking about international students.” Following all of the changes to the international student program, Beasley had to subsequently change his approach to advocacy. 

Despite the incessant, rapid changes that kept happening, Beasley stayed on top of his advocacy for international students. Compared to years prior, where international students were rarely acknowledged, this is a commendable start. 

However, many changes to the international student program have yet to be announced, which means Beasley’s work isn’t yet finished. Exactly how the study permit cap will be allocated to all the provinces is unclear. But, following the announcement of the U of A’s strategic plan, SHAPE — which aims to increase the student population by 16,000 over the next 10 years — this cap could be bad news for our enrolment growth. 

That’s not the only expected change, either. In 2022, the federal government temporarily lifted the limit on work hours for international students, allowing them to work unlimited hours off-campus. Historically, international students could only work 20 hours a week. This waiver was extended until April 30, 2024. In our interview, Beasley said that the federal government is looking to remove the waiver, and return to the previous limit on work hours. 

Beasley said that he has had to pivot his focus from proactive work to reactive work, in order to solve the issues that have been popping up. 

“I have been very proud of the reactive work that I’ve done,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things I’ve been most proud of.”

Some of this reactive work includes forming coalitions with other student associations in Alberta, and supporting his CAUS counterparts as they do media appearances. He should be proud of the work he’s doing, especially considering how little preparation he’s been allotted when it comes to addressing these concerns. 

We won’t know how effective Beasley’s advocacy has been until the announcements are made from the federal government. However, one thing is abundantly clear — Beasley has put a focus on international student issues in a way that previous VPXs have not been able to do. 

This has been a recurring theme for Beasley throughout his term. Although he likes to stick with the tried and true lobbying methods of the SU, he branches out in other ways that ensure his advocacy doesn’t stall. Like in previous years, the VPX position is hard to grade, since many success markers won’t get announced for some time. But, the work that Beasley has done is promising. 

TLDR: Beasley has dedicated great effort to spreading awareness about important issues that impact our campus community. Numerous media appearances and meetings with government actors allowed Beasley to advocate for affordability issues, sexual and gender-based violence prevention, Indigenous students, international students, and more. However, lobbying has yet to prove itself as the best strategy, especially when it comes to tuition increases. Ultimately, Beasley stayed true to students’ needs, and didn’t get lost in the spotlight.

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

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