Wednesday, February 29, 2012

SU Elections: BoG Rep

The Post Secondary Learning Act of Alberta is a piece of provincial law that grants life to the University of Alberta and its Students' Union. As far as a legislation goes, this one is fundamental to all that goes on around our campus.

Sections 16-19 of the PSLA talk specifically about the Board of Governors at the University. It establishes in provincial law that the Students' Union is given two seats on the Board, for instance, and defines the authority of the board.

One particular sections reads as follows:

16 (5) The members of the board must act in the best interests of the university.


With that being said, let us discuss the Board of Governor's candidates for this year's election:

Rebecca Taylor: Unlike every other candidate in these elections, I have actually never met Rebecca. A quick background check, though, shows that she's been involved this year with the CBAS as External Communications Coordinator, and her website says she's been involved with the CBAS for a few years now. Her platform consists of Build Strong Relationships, Change Images, and Improve Advocacy.
Brent Kelly: I've known Brent for a year now, after he became an Arts councillor midway through a term. Having previously run as a councillor for the SUPA slate, I am not particularly surprised that his platform has a similar tone and message to Adi Rao's when it comes to advocacy. His platform features Advocacy, Accountability, and Action.

A good half of the two platforms are dreadfully similar. Both candidates want the Board to listen to student concerns, and both make sweeping promises to engage students in the decision-making processes. This promise comes up all the time, and this year it's wrapped up under fancy words like "implement student engagement methods" and "townhall-style meetings".

Yippee.

Where the candidates really appear to differ, though, is their approach to talking to the Board. The tone that Rebecca takes is one of forging relationships, being dependable, and taking into account the opinions of others. Brent's website, on the other hand starts with "It's time to send the Board of Governors a message" - suggesting a more hostile tone. Brent repeatedly mentions his unrelenting opposition to several previous Board decisions, and takes a tone that suggests he is unwilling to cooperate with the Board on certain issues.

In what appears to be a bit of a theme across some of this year's races, voters here are given a choice between outspoken, potentially uncompromising, and potentially hostile lobbying, and a measured approach to advocacy that involves compromises and reasoned discussion. Without explicitly saying which method I prefer, this appears to be a conscious decision that will have to be made by student voters about how they want the SU to represent students to the decision-makers both on and off campus.

Regardless of which candidate is picked, however, I believe their effectiveness will be severely limited by who is elected as president. As the president also gets a seat on the Board, having two advocacy styles that are similar and complement each other would be infinitely better than having two contrary approaches to dealing with the BoG. The only thing worse than having a loud, unrelenting, and upset (I use that word lightly) student voice on the BoG would be to have two differing opinions and approaches, but both telling the Board that they represent the opinions of students. That sort of confusion certainly cannot help any advocacy efforts, however well-intentioned. The SU does an impressive amount of preparation and briefing of its executives before they head into any external meetings, and the better coordinated the President and BoG rep are the better.

But what really drives me crazy is the approach to the Board where an individual is completely unwilling to even listen to the arguments of their opponents. Though it currently seems unlikely, it doesn't require too much imagination to picture a scenario where students are in favour of a small tuition increase, and having a board representative who is categorically opposed to any tuition increase suggests that they would be unwilling to listen to any students in favour of said increase as well as any other board members who may have a good reason for proposing one. It could also be argued that an increase to tuition at less than the rate of inflation is actually a decrease to the value paid for tuition, but a certain board candidate of ours would still be opposed to something like that.

Fundamentally, too, is that section of the PSLA I quoted earlier: a Governor of the University of Alberta must act in the best interests of the university. If the University needs to raise one dollar per student, otherwise some horrific catastrophe might occur, the Governors MUST act in the university's best interest. It's the law. Students fundamentally made a choice to come here, and are important, but the Board's responsibility is to ensure that the University itself does ok.

Summary of Promises:

Rebecca:2 X
1 X

Brent:2 X
1 X

What I think will happen
Fundamentally I'm not convinced either candidate has had a big enough profile on campus to make a very concrete prediction at this point - whoever wins may fundamentally come down to whoever comes across the best on one-to-one conversations, class talks, and (sadly) who's posters are prettiest. Having never met Rebecca, I can't even speculate on who would be better at one-to-one conversations. I'd hazard a guess that Rebecca will have a bit of an edge from being an executive on CBAS, though, and the people who were really paying attention to the Occupy protests may be polarized by Brent's platform (one way or another). Until I watch a few more forums, though, I'm going to hesitatingly suggest Rebecca is more likely to win. I'll make an edit after I get a chance to watch them go head-to-head, though!

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