While it’s not an executive position, the Students’ Union Board of Governors Representative goes through the same electoral process as the President and Vice-Presidents. The elected representative is not paid (unlike their executive counterparts) and represents students at Board of Governors meetings — meetings that decide annual tuition and residence rent rates, parking fees, and meal plan costs. The only other student representatives at the Board of Governors are the Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Association Presidents.
The following interviews have been condensed and simplified for clarity. Full recordings can be heard on SoundCloud.
The Gateway: Why are you running?
Armand Birk: That position is the most appealing to me because I want to go into a position where I’m not motivated by personal reasons, such as a salary, to be there. I’m going into the BoG position because I’ve had a lot of varied experience and it feels like the next step in the way that I can give back to the university. I started as a president of a residence association and I was a president of a frat this year, and I just see the university from a lot of different viewpoints. I think that will be advantageous at the board when you’re trying to advocate on behalf of students.
Mike Sandare: There are a lot of things I got done this year as Vice-President (External) and what I want to do continue that at the university level. Advocating to the government is one thing, it moves a bit slower. At the university, there are direct impacts and direct changes that I can do. With things I did last year like EMPFest, one of the things I wanted to bring was one of the key things that I advocate for at the provincial level to students. In that same way I want to be able to bring the issues that are happening at the governance table to the students here on campus.
Can you concisely explain your platform?
Birk: I’d like to formalize the position a bit. Right now, the BoG Rep and the Students’ Union President don’t actually need to talk to each other outside meetings. But you can have mandatory meetings with the exec, mandatory consultation processes, as well as mandatory office hours so you can actually meet with students. This way, when you go to the BoG, you’re saying what students actually want. The other main thing that I’m running on is that I want to improve student consultation. Right now the exec has a budget to put out things like surveys and Facebook ads. But when Students’ Council’s asked to consult students better, it can be really difficult. So having a budget for Council and the BoG Rep to administer their own consultation will help them speak to students.
Sandare: I’m focusing on residences, consultation, and issue awareness. With residences, we’ve seen high rent, we’ve seen a meal plan that went to the Board of Governors and failed. The thing is, now we have a board that does want to listen to students. So with things like the meal plan, I want to ensure that it’s a fair one. With rent, I want to ensure it’s on or below market average. With cost of education, one thing I was working on with the government is the Future Ready program, which I’m sure will be used to help develop a tuition model for universities. If that happens next year, I want students to have someone on the Board of Governors who understands tuition. The last thing is issue awareness. I don’t think it’s very hard to put together a focus group, consultation, or different safe space and conversational places. Another thing I want to do is create a better rapport on the University Relations Committee. If the university has more of a dialogue around race and inclusion, then changes can be made.
The Board of Governors is known to be an intimidating place for student representatives. Knowing this, how would you prepare for board meetings?
Birk: One of the promises I have is that once I know what is going to be debated, I will make a point to go physically to the place or to the issue that’s being debated. For example, if the political science students are having a budgetary change, and that’s being debated at the BoG, I’m going to make sure that I go sit down with the Political Science Students’ Association and find out exactly what they want, so that when I go to Council and say, “Hey, this is what the political science students want,” I have some backing to it. I don’t want to go into a BoG meeting and just say what I want, because that’s not what’s important. What’s important is what the students want, so as long as I have properly consulted them, I think the BoG will be less of a scary place.
Sandare: I personally don’t think it’s going to be that intimidating. I have pretty good rapport with the members of the Board of Governors already. The Chancellor is the same chancellor on the Senate, I’ve spoken to him quite a few times. Michael Phair, we’ve had a few conversations this year. David Turpin, Steven Dew, we’ve all met with. I have already met with most people on the board. It’s one of those places that to me, isn’t so nerve-wracking, and the good thing about that is that if I don’t feel intimidated sitting at a table at the Board of Governors, then I can make clear and concise decisions that are best for students.
Given that this is an unpaid position, how do you plan to budget your time if elected?
Birk: I think it’s going to be a learning process when I get into it. If I’m elected, there’s going to be a lot of transitioning with Colin Champagne to figure out how he budgeted his time. I think the best thing is to establish proper office hours where I will mandate myself to be there. I’m the kind of person that, in terms of scheduling, works better when there’s a little bit of structure. If I just say, “Well, I’m going to spend at least 15 hours per week on the position,” or whatever the number needs to be, I need to make sure that I set aside time for it and make it public so I can be accountable to students who want to say, “Hey, I have something important to say about the meal plan and I want you to know about it.”
Sandare: I plan to budget my time in the best way possible. When it comes to things like issue awareness, that’s something that I want to work on with other student groups and the Students’ Union. So if I can work as a liaison between what the full-time executives are doing, what Council’s doing, and what the board is doing, I think I can bring all those things together. It’s a year-long term, I can get a lot of things set up during the summer, especially when it comes down to building consultation, a new meal plan, or rent increases in Lister. So, budgeting my time I’ll do everything I can do, spread out — I’ll do some stuff in the summer, I’ll do some stuff in the fall, and continue on to the winter.
The board approves residence rates, meal plans, tuition, and other charges on students every year. How would you show the board what your constituents think of motions that affect them?
Birk: I think that goes back to the consultation process. I learned this when I was the president over at Residence Saint-Jean, but you can provide testimonials. I went to one residence meeting with Residence Services, and this one meeting stuck with me because I had at least 15 different testimonials there. I wasn’t able to read them all, because you only have so much time, but so many testimonials don’t matter because if you’re speaking on behalf of students and you use their exact words, sometimes the university will throw that against you. What I want in a consultation process is to go with statistics and numbers to say, “This many students disapprove of this decision.” I don’t want it to be, “The general students feel this way,” I want to go there with numbers. When you’re talking budget, you’re talking money; you should be able to back that up with actual research.
Sandare: So that’s the issue I’ve been saying with the whole issue awareness piece. So what I want to do, whenever there is something like that that’s coming to the Board of Governors, I want to get actual student voices, so students who are beyond me. When there are students who have lived in Lister, and they’ve eaten food on the meal plan, they best understand how that works. So last year we saw greater steps taken with the Students’ Union in consultations that happened there and I want to be able to continue that on, not through consultations but more of an in-person conversational place.
JOKE: The Board of Governors decides that its name is too boring, and it tasks you with coming up with a new name. What would you rename the Board of Governors?
Birk: Supreme Executive Board of Important Governance at the University of Alberta, Canada, International Supreme.
Sandare: Reservoir BoGs.