Supporting French-speaking students presidentially
- Read our introduction to the Presidential candidates and their platforms here: SU Elections Q&A: President
The presidential candidates focused on how they would support their French-speaking constituents at the Campus Saint-Jean forum.
Bashir Mohamed began by promising, if elected, to hire someone to translate the Students’ Union bylaws into French within the first 60 days of his presidency. The translation project has been started by this year’s council, but is being worked on by volunteers and isn’t slated to be completed until 2018, which Mohamed said isn’t acceptable.
Later, Mohamed added that he would implement each of his platform points at all U of A’s campuses. He would also hold monthly office hours at every campus, including Augustana Campus and South Campus.
Unlike the previous forums, the floor was opened to questions from the audience right after introductions. The candidates didn’t have the opportunity to ask each other questions.
One student asked the presidential candidates how they would get students, and prospective students, excited about studying at the U of A.
Donut answered that she would spend the entire $11-million Students’ Union budget on a parade across campus and down Whyte Avenue, including Donut sitting on top of a float. She added that the U of A would be the only university in the world with a cat as president, which would be a selling point for prospective students.
Marina Banister said that while campus orientation is effective, she would work with the City of Edmonton to have a city orientation as well.
“Students don’t always get to know our city,” she said. “And that makes it really hard to feel welcome here in the culture of Edmonton.”
In his answer, Mohamed focused on engaging high school students to show them that it’s possible to attend university.
“I went to Queen Elizabeth (High School) and I didn’t think that university was possible,” he said. “If I was applying now I probably wouldn’t attend.”
When prompted by a question from the floor, all the presidential candidates said they support having mandatory Native Studies courses.
Mohamed said that when he was on Students’ Council three years ago he put forward a motion to study the possibility of having mandatory native studies courses, but it wasn’t popular at the time. Although it isn’t included in his platform, which he regrets, Mohamed said he will work toward implementing the requirement.
Banister said she thinks native studies requirements should be specific.
“I don’t believe every single student should be taking the exact same native studies course,” she said. “I think it should be catered so it’s relevant to the particular content in their degree.”
Finally, an audience member asked Banister how she plans to find out what students want addressed in her proposed student charter of rights. She said the charter would be created and implemented similarly to the new sexual assault policy, and would be a two-year process.
In her year as President, Banister said she would create a draft of the charter, which would involve a working group including stakeholders from “all over campus” to outline which rights should be included in the charter. Her successor as president would then need to push the charter through the governance stream of the university.
Forum moderator Donald Ademaj allowed the other candidates to address the question as well. Mohamed said that as someone who has worked as an ombudsperson with the university, he knows there’s a document stating students’ rights in the Code of Student Behaviour.
“I’m not really clear about this platform point,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good use of our time to reinvent the wheel. If so I would like clarity on what exactly this new document would entail and what additional rights would be protected.”
Banister did not have a chance to respond during the forum.
- Read our introduction to the Vice-President (Operations and Finance) candidates and their platforms here: SU Elections Q&A: Vice-President (Operations and Finance)
With Vice-President (Operations and Finance) candidate Chen Liang still not in attendance, current VP (Operations and Finance) Robyn Paches took the time to expand further on his platform points.
Paches touched on the Myer Horowitz Theatre renovations and programming for businesses like Dewey’s, going into greater detail about his plans for student maintenance priorities such as drafting a student report with consultations from faculty and residence associations.
“When the university is doing maintenance, the university asks deans and the administration what their priorities are,” Paches said. “I think there’s a gap there in that the students aren’t being asked.”
With the forum focusing largely on the Vice-President (External) and Vice-President (Student Life) races, Paches received only one question about what he didn’t achieve or would like to improve upon from his first term as VP. He said he had initially wanted to increase meal plan acceptance in his original platform, but found out afterwards that there was no way to do so due to the university’s contract with Aramark. He also said he was pleased with how his sexual harassment campaign in gyms has expanded after working with the Landing and other student groups; the campaign will now expand to all fitness centres on campus.
This is the third forum that Liang has missed as he is currently in Montreal for an engineering case competition. In response to a comment by Arts councillor Victoria DeJong on his Facebook campaign, Liang said he is currently on a co-op term that will end in August. The Gateway has contacted Liang, and has learned that he will return to Edmonton on Sunday night. Liang plans to participate in forums on Monday and Tuesday.
Pushing for funding
Read our introduction to the Vice-President (External) candidates and their platforms here: SU Elections Q&A: Vice-President (External)
The VP (External) candidates reinforced their support of French language education and the unique needs of Campus Saint-Jean students. Separating the candidates were their respective approaches of advocacy for the French satellite campus if elected.
The candidates first focused on how they would protect French language rights for all Campus Saint-Jean students.
Lisa Zhang said any advocacy should begin with consultation with Campus Saint-Jean students.
“I believe diversity is important,” she said. “Language is what shapes us. It’s important to protect that. We should have the right to study our degree in French.”
Arts councillor and candidate Reed Larsen said studying in French adds value to a student’s degree and protecting that is important to him. He added that portions of his platform have been translated into French and promised to take the time to work with representatives at the Francophone campus if elected.
“I do not speak French,” Larsen said. “However, I do take working with French speakers and students seriously so that you can take that French degree to work.”
James Thibaudeau, the past VP (External) for the Education Students’ Association, said he would accommodate Campus Saint-Jean students by regularly consulting with their representatives.
Another question focused on how the candidates plan to address the deferred maintenance of Campus Saint-Jean laboratories and classrooms.
Zhang said she would ensure mandatory non-instructional fees are spent on areas that need it. She added that she would “gear funding to what is important to students.”
Candidate Pandey answered that student safety is a major priority.
“After the debate I will personally take a look at these classrooms and what their conditions are,” he said.
Thibaudeau said he knows that these are “major issues.” If elected, he said he would bring concerns about deferred maintenance to the provincial government in order to “support the weaknesses” of post-secondary education
Larsen said Campus Saint-Jean receives federal funding as well. He said he wants this funding to be granted on top of what the U of A budgets for Campus Saint-Jean.
“I will push for this to the greatest extent of my ability,” Larsen said. “I hope to fix some of these issues. I will make sure it comes up in my federal conversations so that the funding can go to the projects it should be.”
“I certainly don’t want to be one of those people sitting up at North Campus and telling you what to do, and I don’t think the Students’’ Union should ever be doing that. There’s nothing I can advocate for here that I just know. I need to work with (Campus Saint-Jean) and ensure that what I’m doing represents what you want.”
- Read our introduction to the Vice-President (Academic) candidates and their platforms here: SU Elections Q&A: Vice-President (Academic)
Vice-President (Academic) contender Shane Scott opened on the forum stage by telling Campus Saint-Jean that one of his main focuses was to support student groups and recognize diversity. He added that this applies to the French campus, as one of the constituents that adds to the university’s diversity.
Scott said he wants to make sure he’s representing Campus Saint-Jean by working with the faculty association, and meeting with students there.
“I certainly don’t want to be one of those people sitting up at North Campus and telling you what to do, and I don’t think the Students’’ Union should ever be doing that,” Scott said. “There’s nothing I can advocate for here that I just know. I need to work with (Campus Saint-Jean) and ensure that what I’m doing represents what you want.”
Livin’ la Vida Saint-Jean
- Read our introduction to the Vice-President (Student Life) candidates and their platforms here: SU Elections Q&A: Vice-President (Student Life)
VP (Student Life) candidates Rabib Alam, Kyle Monda, and Ilya Ushakov were drilled for their predecessors’ inconsistency when following up with Campus Saint-Jean after being elected.
“Every year, you guys come here, you say, ‘Your culture is great, you have great events, everything’s awesome, yay,’ and then we never hear from you again,” said one of last year’s VP (Student Life) candidates, Jordan Simao. “Then we try to bring you guys here for a barbeque and you show up an hour and a half late.”
Simao concluded by questioning candidates what they would do to support events on the 1,000-person campus, and how they plan to make the events better.
Alam said volunteers and small programming equipment for main campus events could be shared with Campus Saint-Jean to support events such as Week of Welcome and Orientation. Meanwhile, Monda claimed the French campus community would be supported by his platform point of promoting a different student group every week, and Ushakov said he’d create a section on the Students’ Union website that features French campus events.
A residence assistant at Residence Saint-Jean, a residence of 200, took her own problems from this year to the candidates. Earlier this year, the residence coordinator, who supervises residence assistants, left, and their replacement had a number of other commitments causing them to work in the office for four hours every Friday. The assistants, all in their first time in the role, were working with little supervision; the senior residence assistant, meanwhile, took up the roles of the coordinator. She asked how the VP (Student Life) candidates planned to work with the Non-Academic Staff Association to ensure there would be a coordinator in the residence for the upcoming year.
Monda, a current residence assistant in HUB Mall, explained he was one of the people who moved student residence staff into the Non-Academic Staff Association this year, and encouraged the questioner to reach out to the association for support.
“I would definitely advocate to make sure there is proper support for student staff and for students living in all residences,” Monda said. “That includes having a residence coordinator.”
Ushakov, who has been a residence assistant, said that with the unionization happening, “there will be cuts made in training and in staff, potentially.” He said that working with the Non-Academic Staff Association would be important to meet residence assistants’ needs.
“I’ll approach this by keeping up with all residence associations to make sure residents have the full support they need,” he concluded.
Alam, who worked in HUB Mall residence as its association’s president, said he would ensure there are backup plans so that residence assistants are supported when there are vacancies on staff. He added that suicide prevention training for assistants are one hour long, which “isn’t enough” for handling crises.
“You can’t train someone for one hour and have them be the first point of contact with someone having a mental breakdown,” Alam said. “We need to make sure there’s proper training to these people so that even when there are vacancies, they can fill in those roles effectively.”
Is the student always right?
- Read our introduction to the Board of Governors Representative candidates and their platforms here: SU Elections Q&A: Undergraduate Board of Governors Representative
Armand Birk, former president of the Association of the Residents of Campus Saint-Jean, spoke in French for the entire forum, while Mike Sandare introduced himself in French before switching back to English.
During open question period, the Board of Governors Representative candidates were asked how they would ensure that students from all campuses, including Campus Saint-Jean and Augustana Campus, are represented at the Board level. Birk answered that he would collaborate with councillors from Campus Saint-Jean and other small constituents.
Sandare said he would conduct confessionals, wherein students talk candidly about their experiences at the university, and would work with the associations that already exist at each campus to find out what the specific, everyday issues are at the different campuses.
Finally, a student asked the candidates if students are always right when it comes to issues at the Board of Governors. Sandare said the representative has to remember that there are a variety of student opinions on campus, and that decisions shouldn’t be based on the opinion of one student. He said his goal would be to reach out to as many students as he can.
Birk replied that the Board of Governors Representative’s every word is backed up by students, and his job is to represent their interests. If he were to put an opinion forward that wasn’t backed up by research on student opinion, he said he wouldn’t be doing his job.
- Read our introduction to the APIRG Plebiscite “Yes” and “No” campaigns here: SU Elections Q&A: APIRG Plebiscite, UPass Referendum
Both “Yes” and “No” sides of the Alberta Public Interest Group (APIRG) plebiscite repeated the same points they’ve made in the past.
“Yes” campaign manager Laura Kruse reiterated the work APIRG does for the community as well as the optional nature of the $7 fee. Following Kruse’s introduction, “No” campaign manager Alex Rodd asked how many people in the audience has heard of APIRG, eliciting a large number of hands from the crowd.
“Okay, more than usual” Rodd said.
Rodd argued that APIRG’s fee is larger than any other student group’s DFU, citing the Landing as an example, and said that the Landing has better outreach than APIRG.
“I feel that after 15 years, with a budget over $100,000, if you haven’t made yourself a household name you’ve failed in your mission,” Rodd said.
Towards the end of the forum, the representatives were asked why the option to opt-out should be revoked. Rodd answered that he’s not trying to take the option away from people.
“It’s only a plebiscite, it’s not a binding decision to the Students’ Union” Rodd said.
Kruse responded by saying that the purpose of the plebiscite is to test student support for APIRG and the services they provide.
“If you don’t want to use them, absolutely opt out,” Kruse said. “However, voting yes enables those who need to access the services to be able to.”
No data for now, check back later
In a response to a question from the public, Campus Food Bank representative Heinrich Piodos told Campus Saint-Jean that he had no data on how many members of the French campus use the service. His referendum campaign to become a dedicated fee unit is asking students for a $1 fee per semester, which would allow the bank to move to a more stable funding model.
Piodos said that the food bank’s new director has suggested that a priority going forward will be collecting data on who is being fed and how satellite campuses can be reached out to.
Bus routes and breath holds
- Read our introduction to the U-Pass Referendum here: SU Elections Q&A: APIRG Plebiscite, U-Pass Referendum
Save for one sentence in his introduction, U-Pass campaign representative and current Students’ Union President Fahim Rahman managed to give his entire speech in French.
Rahman was only asked one question at the very end of the forum, when a student asked him about further expansion of transit services.
“There are lots of students here that live in Sherwood Park that have to leave at no later than 6 p.m., or else they can’t get home,” the student said. “I’m wondering if there is any way to get later bus routes or new bus routes.”
Rahman responded by saying that later and wider transit service will happen, but couldn’t confirm how and when.
“I wouldn’t hold your breath for too long looking for improvements,” Rahman said. “But because I’m not a City of Edmonton official I’m not sure exactly when that’s going to happen.”