Mustangs in Office: First USC Presidential Debate of 2013


First USC debate 2013

The UCC is bustling more than usual. You find pamphlets on the floor. Ads play before your YouTube video. It’s written all over the Gazette, Twitter timelines, and washroom walls. It’s election time once again! That is, for upper-year students; first-years like me are still finding their way through this election kerfuffle, and the icing on the cake is that this year the rules of the game have changed. Instead of choosing between a few presidential candidates, for the first time Western students are also able to vote in vice presidential candidates on the same ballot! And last Thursday, for the very first time, the Mustang Lounge got a taste of the election when the three presidential slates of Ashley McGuire, Patrick Whelan, and Vivek Prabhu, duked it out, VPs like pistols at their side.

It is without a doubt that all the candidates were determined to make an impact and in their own ways, they did. McGuire started off the night with a sweet anecdote about how her dreams of running a USC presidential campaign were realized in the Social Science Office when the council decided to unanimously endorse her campaign. Faculty student council president turned University Student Council president? Not necessarily a rags to riches, but it’s definitely a story worth writing. With that in mind, it’s no surprise at all that McGuire believes it all starts with council. She made it very clear from the get-go that everyone needed to know what the USC was—especially first-years who she worried forgot about everything after O-Week. Something McGuire stressed more than most though was her appreciation for Western Athletics and how it should remain at the forefront of student opportunity. After all, you only come to Western if you’re a hardened, CIS athlete—everyone knows that!

But does everyone really believe it? Definitely not Mr. Vivek Prabhu who decided to take almost the complete opposite approach to McGuire’s platform. In fact, he believed students not caring about the USC wasn’t a big deal at all, because, well… It just wasn’t. “I know you’re interested beyond us, I know you have a passion beyond us,” said Prabhu, who thought the primary focus of the USC should be on grant systems so that students could fund their passion.  His team, Western Momentum as they’re branded, had some pretty solid goals and many were wondering how many of them could actually be delivered on. Prabhu started his night off by making it known to everyone that the level of discourse on campus had to be raised; so much that he wanted to bring clubs, councils, and elective student representatives into O-Week—-now that’s discourse! But the strong promise which caught everyone off-guard: bi-weekly USC meetings in the ‘stang lounge. Was that even a thing? McGuire took it upon herself to voice everyone’s skepticism at which Prabhu curtly responded, “I’m not scared to face any decision that I made or the USC can back.” It shut everyone up for a few seconds, but the promise still sticks and if elected, Prabhu is going to have to wear that one on his sleeve.

Vivek Prahbu, Western Momentum

And then we have Pat Whelan who was as diplomatic as Obama and probably said “yeah” more times than Usher. Pop culture references aside, Whelan was committed to the idea of students being the driving force of change through initiatives like Change Camp. He advocated for reassessing and reforming post-credit tuition, mental health treatment on campus, and Project Learn. He summed up his essence quite well when he said he wanted to “institutionalize” listening within the USC. Your guess as to what that means is as good as mine. But take my word when I say Whelan is a true diplomat. His vision was to bring stakeholders, affiliates, and many more characters in to one room so that they could come up with solutions—-Oh, Whelan! What a guy!

When asked about where the line would be drawn in addressing student concerns, Whelan told the audience that everything in the USC is a service and that if students valued it, it was worth it. Prabhu followed with a warning to Whelan saying that although the student comes first, responsible governing (and we think by that, he means not spending fervently) is necessary to ensure student prosperity. But where does this money come from? McGuire plans on relying on the USC flex fund of $8000. I’m concerned with the fact she relies on a figure which means nothing to the student body considering the majority doesn’t even know where it’s going. Then came Prabhu with yet another bold promise: student fees will not increase. He made it clear that allocations will happen within the USC, and that if elected, he would advocate to the provincial government for a financial aid commission and improved financial literacy. Prabhu’s promises were almost too transparent though when he continued, saying that he’d encourage council members to take professional development courses with student money. Whelan respectfully disagreed with this stance while restating his position on student volunteers, saying that the money the USC has should be put back into volunteer appreciation. While this didn’t tickle everyone’s fancy, when he spoke about eliminating the IMS donation fee, you can be sure everyone in that audience was listening intently.

Clubs came into the equation last Thursday as well, with Whelan saying that he wanted to implement an online matchmaking sort of system called the Involvement Compass which matched students to clubs they’d fancy. Prabhu said he would send some of those grants to clubs to help them run events and promote themselves and McGuire took the administrative route in telling club presidents to talk to her directly if there were any issues. Prabhu and McGuire were pretty united with the idea that campus media was an important way to disseminate student concerns, but Whelan thought it was the USC’s duty to increase discourse on campus and if elected, wanted to strengthen the ties of the Gazette and administration.

Ashley McGuire for USC President

The director of the Student Success Centre also posed some interesting questions, asking how the USC would work with them to bring about, well, student success. Prabhu was big on pooling all of the university’s resources (nice buzzword, Prabs) together to bring about change, while McGuire said something about athletes again. Whelan seemed to be the only one who hit this question on the head with an interesting response, saying he was interested in shifting the idea of career counselling to post-Western counselling considering most Western students don’t jump in to office attire right after they graduate. Whelan definitely seemed more goal-oriented than career-oriented with this one.

The issue of non-students wanting to be part of the USC was raised. While Whelan and Prabhu thought it was best to let the London community, sororities, and others join the USC in its endeavours, McGuire reminded them that sorority members were still students and that non-students could also join clubs. To McGuire, it was imperative they were also notified of ways they could deal with clubs externally. Soph fees were a concern to which Whelan said there was a disclaimer on the application and that he is willing to help with miscellaneous costs. McGuire argued against this, stating every student had the right to be a soph and that a soph bursary would help cover them. Prabhu thought it ridiculous that residence sophs had to pay higher fees than a student and promised that he would increase benefits for sophs if he could not decrease fees.

The second part of the debate allowed for VPs to engage in the fray and one of the most important questions raised this time was how USC initiatives were expected to be followed in the future. Jordan Sojnocki, McGuire’s external VP, was confident that the next council would continue in the footsteps of the old USC government. Amy Wood, Prabhu’s external VP, echoed this and added that there should be external platforms that hold province-wide meetings discussing post-secondary education. She brought up the fact that this was an unprecedented opportunity and that we are recovering from a recession and living through a technology boom.

An arts student came up and asked the candidates how they would advocate for the Arts on campus. Blake Barkley, McGuire’s internal VP, said that cutting Arts and Humanities were not an option because they were there for a reason. Dan Bain, Prabhu’s internal VP, brought up the idea to hold job fairs on campus where for-profit and not-for-profit organizations could potentially offer internships for students. Sam Krishnapillai, Whelan’s internal VP, once again pushed the idea of post-Western counselling so that Liberal Arts students wouldn’t be forced into the job market immediately. Prabhu’s side argued that counselling services were already overburdened, but Whelan decided a re-evaluation was necessary and that a standardized FAQ could be moved online.

Team Whelan USCBut here’s a question: How do we immerse Western’s diverse population of students in Canada’s greatest university student experience? Wood believed the solution was creating a centre of advocacy and employing a Diverse and Ethnic Community Commissioner to handle issues of student incorporation. Amir Eftekharpour, one of Whelan’s VPs, motioned to introduce a London Youth Lobby, which would be in partnership with Fanshawe, in hopes to crush Project Learn. Sojnocki looked at this as a two-part question. He recognized that we have to look at our own student needs first and talk to groups who collectively have problems. He then went on to add, “Another issue is Aboriginals … I was actually talking to one today…” One, Sojnocki? Ah, now I see what you meant by “groups who collectively have problems”.

Whelan re-iterated the promise of the Involvement Compass, telling everyone that it should be implemented into SAO so students could fill out questions about themselves to see how they could get involved on council. McGuire further stressed the importance of students, suggesting a surprisingly non-athletics-related idea: provide more wet/dry programming so all students could get involved on campus. Drawing from experience, she used the recent Mac Miller event SSC hosted, and attributed its great success to the fact that it was a wet/dry event. The USC candidates all seemed to agree with McGuire’s proposition, so this is something we can definitely look forward to together.

Another question from the audience asked how the USC planned on bringing students out to organized financial literacy events, job fairs, and etcetera. All three external VPs had something different to say on the matter. Sojnocki has a BMOS background and reduced the complex issue to a simple marketing problem. In his eyes, the solution was to get people to talk, whether it be through word-of-mouth or Facebook. Eftekharpour proposed to make it “awesome, cool, and rewarding to get involved”. He urged for introducing a student appreciation service in which the USC Involvement Compass could track student hours and reward participants accordingly. But Wood wasn’t convinced, saying that “student empathy isn’t the problem” because student engagement were buzzwords. Her confidence lay within the fact that the USC’s multifaceted approach and cohesive vision would make the events worth coming out to. Wood also felt that constant student feedback and a simple understanding of priorities would be sufficient enough.

Time did not faze any of the three slates, who debated feverishly for three long hours. It became easy to point out flaws in their arguments, but maybe it was because we were all wondering who would really be the last slate left standing. Whelan is incredibly charismatic, Prabhu’s VPs were always on the ball, and McGuire brought a young-and-ready energy that the future of the USC could definitely use. They summed up what they were most proud of quite nicely. Whelan, the donation fee; McGuire, student athletics; and Prabhu; financial literacy.

After last Thursday’s debate, it is clear the outcome of this presidential election is far from certain. The final weeks promise to be grueling with all three slates vying for a run of the USC. So keep your eyes, ears, and mouths OPENWIDE, because it’s all up to you which Mustangs we put into office.

~~~

Samir Kashyap is a first-year MTP student and First-Year Representative on the FIMSSC, but more importantly, he has promised to be available to you 24/7, with coffee, and possibly with puppies.

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