Correction appended March 23, 2015.
Candidates for the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) executive positions convened in the Arts building on March 18 to defend and debate their platforms. As no candidates ran for the VP Finance position, six positions were left to be contested among the eight candidates.
Gabriel Gilling, VP External of the Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA) and candidate for AUS VP Academic, was the first to present his platform. He emphasized the need for regular data collection through surveys to be able to effectively lobby the administration on academic matters, and identified transparency in grade distribution as a major concern.
“Most of the time professors are very reluctant to go into [detail about grades] – they feel like their rights are being attacked, although they have a lot of rights,” said Gilling.
VP Social candidate Christine Koppenaal spoke next. She highlighted the need to establish “continuity” and good relations with the rest of the executive, noting that the position has historically been an isolated one. She listed “diversifying the events portfolio” and “rebranding the AUS student identity” as goals.
“Most of the time professors are very reluctant to go into [detail about grades] – they feel like their rights are being attacked, although they have a lot of rights.”
On the topic of Frosh, Koppenaal said that she intends to institutionalize recent positive changes, notably in terms of equity, following up on the work of the Frosh bylaw committee on which she currently sits. She added that the most inequitable aspect of Frosh is currently its cost, and suggested finding sponsors to fund free or subsidized tickets.
In response to a question from The Daily on the role of the AUS Equity Commissioners during Frosh, Koppenaal said, “There really just needs to be a conversation before Frosh happens, where we can agree on what the Equity Commissioners feel comfortable doing and what their role should be throughout Frosh, because, frankly, that conversation didn’t happen this summer.”
A debate between VP Internal candidates Ali Taghva and Maria Vedeshkina followed.
In his opening remarks, Taghva said that he intended to give students “opportunities to network” and get involved in AUS.
Taghva also highlighted a “five-year plan” for sustainability that would build on the Ethical Purchasing Policy adopted in 2014 by AUS. In response to a follow-up question from The Daily, he indicated that he would focus on education, but was not able to provide concrete implementation details. Questioning Taghva on his platform, current VP Academic Erin Sobat further noted that some of Taghva’s suggestions were “beyond the scope of AUS operations.”
Vedeshkina’s platform focused on improving the room-booking system, holding a departmental presidents’ roundtable for incoming presidents in April instead of only in September, providing better representation for the First-Year Events, Academic, and Representative Council (FEARC) at Discover McGill, and creating a FEARC event planning guidebook with guidelines on social activities, educational activities, equity, and sustainability.
In order to better liaise with departments, Taghva spoke in favour of meeting with the departmental presidents more often and in smaller groups, while Vedeshkina advocated for effective use of the presidents’ roundtable to minimize the need for constant communication.
VP External candidate Becky Goldberg followed with a presentation of her platform, which included continuing collaboration with organizations on campus – such as the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office and Healthy McGill – to foster safer space and accessibility during events, as well as working to alleviate tensions with other faculties, since the “long-term goal should be not just fostering community within AUS, but within McGill as a whole.”
Answering a question from Sobat on decolonization, Goldberg indicated that she would move beyond the recently adopted traditional territory acknowledgement by making people “more aware of the history” and emphasizing its importance, both on AUS Council and in the community.
VP Communications candidates Elaine Patterson and Thomas Cole Baron faced off in debate next.
Patterson centred her platform around “collaborative communication,” namely her desire to improve information outreach – in particular by making the listserv “appealing and concise” – while providing feedback channels in the form of surveys as well as through the recently launched AUS app.
Baron, who is currently the AUS Francophone Affairs Commissioner, emphasized community-building in his platform. “I do want to foster communication between different departments […] different clubs, and different activities,” said Baron. “That’s a huge part of community-building, that people know what’s going on around campus, and specifically within the AUS.”
Asked about the relationship with the francophone community, Baron highlighted planning francophone events and then promoting them to the anglophone community as a possible way to bridge the gap. Patterson, who is not fluent in French, indicated that she would utilize a team of translators to ensure that all AUS information was available in French.
Jacob Greenspon – current Arts Senator, former VP Academic, and AUS presidential candidate – was the last executive candidate to speak. Two of his main ideas were the replacement of AUS’ current Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs) with an endowment fund, and “democratic reform” that would involve students voting directly on budget proposals in addition to electing representatives.
Questioned at length about his endowment fund proposal, Greenspon admitted that it would mostly act as a centralized “rainy day fund,” and is unlikely to generate enough interest to fund services.
“Unfortunately, one of the things I’ve learned this year at Senate is that […] student voices are often discounted at McGill, but faculty voices are given so much power here. If we get profs on our side, which they already are […] the administration is going to listen to them.”
Sobat noted that many of the executive positions were uncontested and raised the question of their accessibility. Greenspon suggested that reducing the workload and increasingly delegating tasks to administrative assistants would help solve the problem.
On the topic of relations with the administration, Greenspon indicated that he would encourage greater attendance at events like the sit-in earlier this month as he negotiates to include SNAX’s right to sell sandwiches in AUS’s Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the University, and would gather “hard data” through surveys and petitions, and seek support from faculty.
“Unfortunately, one of the things I’ve learned this year at Senate is that […] student voices are often discounted at McGill, but faculty voices are given so much power here,” he said. “If we get profs on our side, which they already are […] the administration is going to listen to them.”
The voting period runs from March 22 to 26.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the VP Finance position would not be an elected position as of this year. In fact, because no candidates ran this year, the AUS Legislative Council was empowered to fill the position by appointment.