The Vice-President (Academic) represents and advocates for student academic matters within the university community and beyond. The VP (Academic) is also responsible for encouraging and facilitating involvement in student government via faculty associations, General Faculties Council and other university communities.
1. Give us an overview of your platform and your goals for the coming year as VP(Academic)
Shakiba Azimi: There are three main goals I’d like to focus on … mental health, transparency and accessibility. I believe these are the three main things that will affect students in their time at the U of A.
In terms of mental health, I’d like to start a centralized mental health website where 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, students can get the help they need.
I’d like to focus on accessibility to education. I want to reduce costs by moving towards an online course pack based system as opposed to heavily relying on textbooks. I’d like to increase transparency by improving the course registration process.
I’d like to give more students more public information, including the course syllabus in advance to course registration so they know exactly what they’re enrolling in.
Fahim Rahman: My platform focus is on four particular things, and that’s making sure we have affordable and high quality post-secondary education, supporting mental health and making sure that the Students’ Union really knows what’s causing an unhealthy amount of stress on campus.
And then developing programs based on that to best support student mental health, supporting other student leaders, because I know that the Students’ Union really focuses a lot of time on getting a messages out, but I think there needs to be a bit more two-way communication.
And then finally, I want to be developing and supporting.. I want to be delivering diverse educational experiences, making sure that a lot of the work students get outside of the classroom that are still related to their degrees, such as internships and practicums or community service learning projects are appropriately recognized by their faculties or their programs so it’s clear their students are picking up skills both within the classroom and outside the classroom that will benefit them in their careers.
2. What are your thoughts on the Peter Lougheed Leadership College and its early programming?
Azimi: I think the Peter Lougheed Leadership Program is really great in its concept, but I feel like there’s some fundamental flaws. The Peter Lougheed Leadership College wants to create great leaders, but the issue is that you need to be a great leader to be accepted into the program. It seems like a “rich get richer” program we shouldn’t be funneling. It needs to be much more inclusive and provide more access to that information.
Rahman: The university said that they were going to go forward with developing a brand new college that was only going to accept a select number of undergraduates with no notice whatsoever and no consultation. And when you have a process like that that’s operating at a university, it’s really tough for students to really trust what’s going on, or trust the process of how this college is going to be proceeding forward.
I think the college has a lot of potential to serve undergraduates on campus, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the best way that all undergraduates on campus can be supported in extracurricular commitments.
3. What’s one thing you would have done differently from the VP (Academic) this year?
Azimi: I know a lot of different faculty associations such as the LSA who were asking for the market modifier, but the Students’ Union can’t ask for tuition increases because they deem it as inappropriate and it would reduce affordability and accessibility.
It seemed that the law students had come to that conclusion based on a lot of research anat’d consultation, but VP (Academic) Kathryn Orydzuk was very against what was going on. I think that’s something that must be changed in the future.
Rahman: One thing that I wished the Students’ Union VP (Academic) did was during the summer, when it became clear that some faculty associations were clearly supporting a market modifier.
I wish that all faculty associations were called in by the Students’ Union to have just an open conversation to see who was in favour of market modifiers and who was opposed to market modifiers, and what the consequences will be in all faculties if one faculty agrees to market modifiers.
4. What skills or experiences make you the best candidate?
Azimi: Currently, I’m the Vice-President (Academic) for the Interdepartmental Science Students’ Society. I’ve had the opportunity to sit on a lot of committees, work with deans, faculty members and the whole works of that and advocate for students. I’ve been working with faculty associations by making sure student voices are heard. I started advocating for students on an academic level from the very first year. I came from a small program called Science 100, and in the face of budget cuts, they said it was one of the first things that should be going. Immediately, as one of their alumnus, I said we should retain these kinds of things and grow the program from there.
Rahman: What I’ve been doing ever since second year was making sure I was involved in as many opportunities that I could to best represent students. And so I’ve done that by sitting on the academic relations group for the past three years, as well as serving as the Vice-President (Academic) of the Interdepartmental Science Student Society last year, and as the President this year. Being president has been a real eye-opening experience, where I have been able to work with other student leaders to make sure that I understand on a high level what an organization needs to succeed and what an organization needs to best support students who are who we’re here for at the end of the day.
5. The VPA is responsible for advocating for student interests within the U of A community. How do you plan on doing that?
Azimi: I think we need to do more consultations with the faculty associations. The faculty associations sit at the ground level and do their own time to understand the needs for their students. They do a lot of consultation, they work with their departmental associations, meet with their deans and faculty members and students to work to understand what the needs of students are. Right now it feels like the needs of the faculty associations and the SU aren’t very strong. It feels like there isn’t enough communication between the two to make the goals they discuss and lay out at the beginning of the year a reality. I’d work on fortifying those relationships.
Rahman: I’m going to quote Kanye on this one — I’m going to say that “No one man should have all that power,” — and it’s not just a man, it could be a woman of course, but I think that it’s really important that the Students’ Union VPA, or any university Students’ Union executive for that matter, has a group where they can go to students. And the way I do that is by making sure that I appropriately consult both Faculty Association executives through the Council of Faculty Associations, as well as students at large through the Academic Relations Group … making sure that my decisions or my intentions are really in line with what undergraduates want to see on campus.
6. If you were to create one faculty on campus, what would it be?
Azimi: Faculty of Yellow. Yellow is my favourite colour, because I think seeing yellow on campus is really cool. Or maybe a Faculty of Orgami, because students need to un-wind and relax.
Rahman: I think that I would create something like a Faculty of Extracurricular Engagement or a Faculty of Leadership where you actually can’t be enrolled in the faculty, but you can take courses that are offered by the faculty. And the reason I’d do that is because I know that a lot of students on campus really enjoy getting involved with student groups more so than they even like, enjoy going to classes, and so I think it’s really important that the university recognizes that and makes that there’s a venue for students to take on extracurricular activities in a more for-credit manner or in a more meaningful manner.