The Science Undergraduate Society.

It seems to me that the current undergraduate society election taking place (link), which like many bureaucratized “representative” bodies suffers from self-prescribed self-importance yet in praxis reveals to be quite disconnected from its roots, has internally been turmoiled, yet externally invisible. Allow me to call this turmoil an internal collapse – an implosion, if you will.

As an “insider” twice removed from these ongoings, and as a former (and admittedly somewhat disheartened) executive of this very organization which seeks to re-perfuse itself with new or old human resources, I will attempt to describe the following positions and the candidates that seek to champion them. Before this, here’s how I’m voting:

President – No (or spoil my vote)
VP Internal – Jimmy Yan
VP External – Yes
D of Finance – Lois Chan/Aaron Sihota
Senate – Geoff Costeloe
Exec Secretary – Maria Jogova
PRO – Meghan Ho
D of Sports – No
AMS Rep – Maayan Kreitzman (top pick), choose two between Tristan Markle, Maria Jogova, Alex Lougheed and Clark Funnell

Candidates: Michael Duncan (incumbent). Yes/No vote. The role of president is an important one as it involves oversight of all operations of SUS and an influential leadership of the direction the society decides to take any given year. Technically, voters would vote on a candidate whose leadership direction they agree with. Personally I would like to see someone who is interested in moving away from the binary of beergardens and Science Week. While I understand the emotional attachment to both, and while I do not advocate the abolishment of the latter, I do believe the limited energy of the busy executive should be channelled to a more grass-roots connection to students.

This is why I am hesitant to vote yes for Mike Duncan. While I think he is a nice person and very very friendly, sociable and approachable, I fundamentally disagree with the direction he (and the past presidents after the legendary Reka Sztopa) have taken. In fact, I am suggesting that they have not had any refreshing direction for the organization at all. It is all too easy to slip into the automatic pilot mode as president, and simply chair SUS council meetings, attend AMS meetings, and sit on the committees and allow for things to simply take their course. And while it is under Mike Duncan’s presidency that the building came to completion, if it had been Mike Duncan’s leadership during which the planning and referendum of the building’s initial genesis took place five/six years ago, I seriously doubt whether this impacting initiative would have been realised at all.

What I am suggesting, then, is a fundamental uprooting of the structure and operations of the society in order to gain any sort of relevancy to the students. Yes the Ladha Science Student Centre was significant, and it received the administrative support of former president Martha Piper, and the Faculty of Science. But it is not enough.

Do the beer gardens SUS spends countless time and money on cater towards a student group beyond the incestuous crowd of AUS, SUS, EUS, AMS? Do these initials live up to their mandate or do their activity have a tendency to perpetuate the well-being of only this in-crowd of no more than 200 faces total?

The attitude whenever this issue has been raised has been quite constantly: get involved and join us. Become part of this clique. No one will be turned away. I translate: complacency, with the onus on the individual to enter this circle.

What I would like to see is a radical departure from this attitude. What I would like to see is SUS reaching out to students by using its financial and bureaucratic situation to become (gasp) relevant. And this starts with becoming in touch with what a non-SUS, non-student government type student needs.

If I were to disseminate this (and this is just one person’s view), it starts with support structure for a science student’s life. A member of the Commerce Undergrad Society enjoys a rich career resource centre and planning of conferences which broaden the experiences of the student. This to me is a gesture of the representative of a commerce student fetching its constituency an opportunity to enrich their undergraduate student life. But not every undergrad society can afford that kind of overhead fee. But there are substantial things SUS can do to connect itself to the students. For example:

- work very hard at establishing a centralized student resource guide on courses, course planning beyond what’s written in the calendar. I know from a livejournal community that plenty of people want the honest opinion on how to specialize in something, etc. This needs to be approachable, and most certainly beyond WebCT.
- the Science career fair is held every year and it’s mostly successful and helpful. I think it could be improved a lot by advertising it more. It can be bigger and better.
- Teaching evaluations. The undergrad societies have been very very quiet at their level of involvement especially in working with the AMS. Hello here is one thing that most students find important and the Science Undergraduate Society does not prioritize this. If I had to tell an exec about what I cared about more, which would I prioritize you to spend your time on?
- I seem to have a thing against beer gardens. I actually like some – the Chemistry one always attracts grad students, students and profs and is a great social venue for this particular department to connect. SUS beer gardens (held in the SUB/Ladha) are mostly of the elitist/incestuous crowd. That’s why it’s a different story. Unless you get the Associate Deans and the Dean to come out as well, I don’t think there is much value to them.

These are just small suggestions but should not be adopted on their own, without a shift in the general attitude and priority of the society. And no, this should not be all shoved into the VP Internal portfolio. The President, AMS Reps, PR officer, and VP External should be concentrating their efforts on this as well. It’s about allocation of resources and priorities.

I think this would start at an existential discussion of what the mandate of SUS really is and if their activities reflect them. We have seen undergraduate societies which work – Commerce, and the Land and Food Systems for example. They do have the advantage of being small, but they both capitalize on the fact that every member of their society has one thing in common – and that is, they are studying their respective subjects.

It is irresponsible, ignorant and regressive to presume that any given Science student would enjoy or find value in the activities of SUS. So it needs to undergo a critical reflection. I am unsure if someone already programmed in the normative system is able to achieve this paradigm shift to make the huge leap to take the society into a direction that is closer to the student that is aiming for a BSc.

Other positions:
VP Internal – this position is largely academic and therefore (in my biased opinion) a very important one. The only person who I see a little serious in grasping the scope of the position is Jimmy Yan.

VP External – Jamil is the sole contender, and as this is a slave-driving position (organizing Science Week) and he’s had exposure to the heaps of work he’ll be facing, I wish him all the best.

D of Finance – Out of the three contestants Lois Chan, Vishal Hiralal, and Aaron Sihota, the two candidates who stand out are Lois and Aaron. Lois seems very discontent with the current performance of the executive (for reasons listed on her write-up), while Aaron is harping on his ideas to be transparent and create a student initiative fund. I quite like the idea of a student initiative fund, but I question the dedication he will put in to create this. Having spoken with people who worked with him in the past, it seems as though he’s had an unpredictable performance record (being sometimes there, often not) and being much more concerned with stacking his resume for his medical/law school application. So we have here a candidate who has a pretty platform but with questionable dedication, and an angry platform with more reliable dedication. Your pick, people.

Executive Secretary – at first glance Maria Jogova and Alex Lougheed’s platform points seem identical: more transparency! Minutes timely posted online! they both scream. Luckily, both have websites. Alex, a current exec of SUS, has been on AMS Council and has done little to impress me. To his credit he’s shown up to council and committee meetings, but he has said little at council that shows me he has the visionary strength, leadership and passion to live up to his platform. He has, however, paid attention to how AMS Council is run and thus his platform from his website mirrors its operation through the creation of an oversight committee and having execs paid for their turnover and their year-long term. He is also looking to survey students and reform the executive portfolios. While I am unsure of his competence and ability to do this, I sense that he is the type of person who will try to do his best. I am unsure of how tactful and effective he will be, however, given his arrogance and ego displayed quite frequently, which has surmounted into a tension within the current executive. There is a fine line between being radical and repulsive, and I question how far he is leaning towards the latter.
Maria’s platform is rich with fresh ideas. The following I find quite appealing – “Draft an official Equity Policy- because one does not yet exist… there is no official policy for dealing with people who are purposefully offensive, or say derogatory things that are based on race, gender, age, etc. Granted, this isn’t a huge problem, but this is a project I would like to undertake (regardless of whether I am elected or not)”. She also lists the measures she has taken currently in trying to keep her constituency (Science One students) informed of SUS business. I find this encouraging and am therefore excited for her potential to do more. Alex already is an AMS rep and exec, and he has shown little results this past year. Maria has been quite active within a limited position to do so, and shows huge potential. Their platforms are quite similar, so my vote goes towards Maria.

Senate: Geoff Costeloe.
Diana Diao is a nice and quiet person, and my problem lies in the latter. I have seen her do nothing this past year while her position as PR officer of SUS has been one where she could have done LOTS. The lack of visibility of SUS lies largely on her shoulders. Martin Sing’s platform is a bit vague. From Geoff’s write-up he seems to have an informed and sensible angle. I want to pass my torch off to him.

PR officer - Meghan Ho. Lawrence and Meghan are the only ones who submitted a write-up on time, and out of the two Meghan seems more competent, excited and experienced. Easy.

AMS Reps – I’ve valued the dedication and involvement of Tristan Markle this past year, and his alternative voice which is much more progressive than Council’s. I fully admit I subscribe to his views, but my endorsement of him reaches beyond political ideology. He has offered a valuable perspective to the table which has been critical and grounding.
Maayan has been a favourite budding student politician of mine. Her blog is ridiculously entertaining and more importantly well informed. While I disagree with her stances politically at times, I respect her reasoning and have no doubt she will be an excellent councillor.
It’s noteworthy that I have seen Clark Funnell attend AMS Council meetings more than once, and this makes me believe he will take the position seriously.
Alex Lougheed has the experience, but as mentioned above, has added little valuable discussion at meetings (if any).

D of Sports – Hello, write up please? I’m voting No because I have no idea who you are.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

Comments are closed.

Please vote for us in the Continuous VoterMedia Contest