SU Report Cards 2023-24: Board of Governors Representative

Increased engagement in governance and with students defined a successful term for Raitz.

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.

Stephen Raitz: A

The Board of Governors (BoG) representative is responsible for being the middle-person between undergraduate students and BoG. In their role, they advocate on behalf of students to the university. 

Prioritizing engagement across campus 

Because BoG is the highest governing body at the U of A, the BoG representative has a big responsibility of not only advocating for students, but doing their best to make sure that advocacy doesn’t fall on deaf ears. In the past, BoG representatives have faced criticism for not being engaged with the student body and their needs, ultimately impacting their ability to adequately advocate.

Raitz’s term can fortunately be defined by his strong engagement with the campus community, mainly through his popular TikTok account. On it, he would critique university decisions — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — as well as bring student issues to attention. 

This only amplified during his term. Raitz used social media to stay in-tune with students’ needs, engage students on issues, and keep them in the loop. For example, when the Humanities Centre (HC) shut down, Raitz informed students on class rescheduling when little information was available from the university. His advocacy didn’t stop at concerns that fell into his portfolio, however — Raitz increased awareness to broader topics, too, such as tuition deadlines and the Clean Air Strategy proposal.

Aside from his engagement through social media, Raitz emphasized in our interview his communication and involvement in governance channels. Whether it was through his monthly reports to Students’ Council, or meeting with students and student groups on campus, Raitz has been engaged across the board. 

“Social media is great, but you can be chronically online and hear nothing because it’s an echo chamber,” Raitz shared. Prioritizing meeting with people in-person and being available through governance allowed him to have a well-rounded approach to advocacy, only furthering his successes.

Throughout his term, he addressed his volunteer position like a paid one, successfully balancing engagement and advocacy, which has been a long-term struggle for those in the role. As a result, Raitz has set a high-bar for future BoG representatives when it comes to outreach and engagement.

Balancing advocacy with a limited influence on university decisions 

Unfortunately, Raitz’s role is very limited by the lack of decision-making power he has, which he acknowledged in our interview. While he can advocate strongly for students, decisions are ultimately left up to BoG. This means that the successes Raitz could have seen are often hindered by university politics, which can directly go against what students need most. But, this did not stop him from flagging as much as he could.

Last year was no exception, when U of A students saw the BoG vote in favour of exceptional tuition increases yet again, despite protests occurring during the meeting. We were shown that our voices and issues don’t matter to the university, even in the ongoing affordability crisis. 

Getting BoG to listen to advocacy is a BoG representative’s biggest hurdle. Raitz, however, made them listen to the best of his abilities, which is easier said than done. For example, during the HC and Edmonton Clinic Health Academy (ECHA) building fiascos, Raitz told me he successfully pressured BoG to ensure that classes were rescheduled within a reasonable time to alleviate stress and confusion for students.

In our interview, Raitz said that institutional improvements take years, making advocacy easier over time. As such, he hopes that his advocacy this term will provide future representatives with a plan to hold administration accountable. 

One of Raitz’s platform commitments was working with BoG to optimize under-utilized spaces to be oriented toward students. One related advocacy point is deferred maintenance, which impacts the student experience at the U of A and limits the amount of student-oriented spaces on campus. As a part of his advocacy, Raitz gave feedback to the SU Policy Committee, pushing for the prioritization of advocacy around student-oriented spaces.

Unfortunately for Raitz, space optimization engagement was delayed because of the prioritization of SHAPE, the U of A strategic plan, he told me in our interview. Raitz said that he’s “frustrated by that,” but “it’s not something that the university is actively working on right now.” I can only hope that the conversations Raitz started will continue after he’s gone.

Raitz clearly understands the importance of a quality campus for the student body, and has started an important conversation for his successor to take-on. However, that understanding only extended so far, meaning that some potential advocacy points ended up falling to the wayside. One such area I was disappointed to see in Raitz’s term is his approach to academic restructuring.

In his platform, he promised to work with BoG to monitor and respond to issues created by academic restructuring. In our interview, Raitz told me he had “open ears” for feedback. But, he had also referred to restructuring as the “new normal” that students had to get used to. While he was able to bring some feedback to BoG regarding the quality of education, it concerns me that Raitz seems to have accepted the university’s restructuring policies as good enough for the student body.

Academic restructuring has defined the U of A over the last few years. This has been an adjustment made to save costs at the university in the face of extreme budget cuts. As a result, resources have been pooled, often leaving them stretched-thin. The university has claimed this will not impact the student experience or quality of education, but students have been finding that to not be the case.

A lot of the concerns that have been a priority for Raitz during his term stem directly from academic restructuring, including deferred maintenance and space optimization. Raitz is right that academic restructuring is our reality, and he did well telling BoG when issues were negatively impacting students. But, what good does that do when the root cause goes ignored? 

There’s no doubt that advocating to the university is hard, and that Raitz did well with what little resources he had. However, it seems to me that Raitz let that deter him from pushing the BoG on issues he felt would never get solved anyway, like the impacts of academic restructuring. If Raitz addressed the main issue more, his grade would’ve been an A+. 

Diversifying his advocacy past the limitations of his role to address sexual and gender-based violence

While much of what Raitz worked on won’t be accomplished right away, he has also seen success with the implementation of many of his advocacy efforts. One of the main issues the SU advocated for this year is sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) prevention on campus. While not a part of the SU executive, Raitz extended his advocacy to address this issue alongside them.

In November 2022, the university launched a new SGBV policy to address this prominent issue. In coordination with SU Vice-president (external) Chris Beasley and Vice-president (student life) Michael Griffiths, Raitz was able to secure more funding for further policy implementation. One of the key focuses of this was advocating for the rehiring of the Sexual Violence Response Coordinator, Deb Eerkes. While it has not been announced whether or not this role has been made permanent, Raitz seemed confident that Eerkes isn’t going anywhere.

Raitz told me he pushed to make Eerke’s role an agenda item at BoG in the first place. According to him, it originally wasn’t even on their radar. Additionally, the current funding model means that students are primarily the ones paying for the position. 

This shouldn’t be happening. “Why are students primarily paying for this position?” Raitz asked in our interview. I am inclined to agree. Funding for such important initiatives shouldn’t be coming out of students’ pockets — it should be the university footing the bill. It is the bare minimum for the university to be funding supports for their students on campus, especially those concerning SGBV. While it’s currently unclear whether Eerkes will be hired permanently, Raitz clearly helped set the plan in motion, which is a good start.  

A common theme throughout Raitz’s term is his ability to advocate despite limited influence. His engagement with students and the campus community allowed him to set important groundwork for future BoG representatives, and his advocacy was ultimately successful. Although he could’ve done more in addressing core institutional issues such as academic restructuring, Raitz was well-aware of his limits and what to prioritize. Raitz did a stellar job advocating for students’ needs to an institution that is known to ignore them.

TLDR: Raitz did his best within the limited scope he has. It does concern me that Raitz seemed to accept academic restructuring as a new normal, despite concerns from the student body. However, Raitz did do a lot of good work, keeping the student body involved the whole time. Advocating for the permanent hiring of Eerkes and having classes successfully rescheduled without much disruption were wins throughout Raitz’s term. On top of all that, I think he did an excellent job of making the position more accessible to students than ever before. 

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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