FIMS Presidential Debate 2014

The FIMS Presidential Debate was last Wednesday. OPENWIDE Editor-in-Chief Chris Ling  attended, and gives this thoughts on the event:

This coming Tuesday marks the FIMS presidential elections for the 2014-15 school year. Kevin Chao and Steph Schoenhoff are the two candidates running for next year’s position, both of whom are highly involved students in both the FIMS and larger Western communites. Schoenhoff boasts a FIMS-centric resume which includes first year rep, soph and street team coordinator in second year, and this year’s vice president academic. Chao’s university track record is less FIMSy, but nonetheless gives him a valuable, diverse skill-set coming into the election. He currently holds the position of World Editor for OPENWIDE, was a prominent staff writer for last year’s volume, is actively involved in charitable work for various local non-profits, and is completing a FIMS internship for Green Energy London. He is also a varsity athlete.

Acting FIMS president Jordan Pearson has set the bar high for his successor. Building on an advocacy-focused Jordan Coop administration, Pearson has effectively brought FIMS to the forefront of student politics, mobilizing his student council to advocate for student interests far beyond the reaches of the FIMS community. Pearson used his position to speak out loudly against the most recent draft of The Western Strategic Plan, a controversial administrative document that claims to have Western students’ best university experience in mind, but falls short in terms of student representation, a balanced approach to cross-faculty funding,strategies to combat ever-declining provincial educational funding and reconciling the tensions between corporate dependence and its effect on future academic research. Pearson has also been instrumental in mobilizing the FIMS General Assembly (GA), a form of direct democratic discourse that he models upon existing GAs and student unions across the country. Rarely has FIMS been so thoroughly engaged in the larger university public sphere, nor appeared in the Gazette so frequently to critique policy at both the USC and administrative level.

Not everyone agrees that Pearson’s actions have been beneficial for the entire FIMS student body, however. During the debate, the candidates were asked a pivotal question from council that indirectly criticized Pearson for using his position to his“own political ends”, and claimed that the electoral system is broken as a result of such actions. The candidates’ respective approaches to the question were largely reflexive of their platforms. Chao voiced his steadfast position on inclusivity: “It wouldn’t be my politics,” he insisted, “it would be everyone’s politics”. He believes in working “from the fringe inwards” to be receptive to all voices: “What we need is a truly representative electoral system”, he said, highlighting the personal difficulties he faced trying to “break into FIMS” from the outside during his first year.

Schoenhoff responded to the same question by saying that she didn’t have “an inherent political agenda,” and planned to utilize a political model largely based on student feedback. Like Chao, she believes in working towards better representation for the larger FIMS student body, but through a different model of governance. Hers is more Habermasian in tone: she believes that through existing FIMS platform like the GA, she will be able to facilitate both “congruent and contesting viewpoints”in order to arrive at collective solutions. Chao, on the other hand, believes that the FIMS student body is too heavily polarized, both politically and socially, to do so. He feels that fostering a stronger sense of community through social and cultural events is a necessary precursor to more effective student representation in political platforms such as the GA .

The  “defining culture” of FIMS proved to be the largest point of contention between the candidates during the debate, as each is informed by a starkly different background in faculty politics. Pointing to Schoenhoff’s entrenched position in what he called “FIMS inner circle” (sophs, street team, and student council), Chao said that his FIMS experience outside of council provides him with a less-partisan lens, a more encompassing perspective that would allow him to better represent the students of the faculty as a whole, whom he reiterated include more than simply “counter-culture liberals with a fuck-the-system attitude”. While this stance carries rhetorical weight, especially with those students currently uninvolved in student council or its initiatives, Chao seemed to ignore the fact that the small percentage of FIMS students who do vote, those who are genuinely concerned with issues facing the faculty, are also those sensitive to the political issues facing FIMS. With issues such as drastic programming and funding cuts to FIMS in the upcoming year, how many concerned students wouldn’t adopt a “fuck the system” attitude,or at least one heavily critical of systemic pressures? Chao’s mandate to decrease student apathy may be slightly idealistic, but it is nonetheless a noble one.

Schoenhoff came off as the stronger vocal presence during the debate, though many of the questions were framed around the current structuring of council and seemed to privilege a thorough knowledge of its inner workings. Her ideas were less focused on inter-faculty relationships, as Chao’s were, and focused more on strengthening FIMS as a unified voice for student advocacy than building a socio-cultural community. She noted that in terms of events, the current council hadalready fulfilled this mandate, and instead proposed new ideas for extending the intellectual climate beyond classroom. Using such initiatives as her Tea with TAs,she spoke about fostering a climate for FIMS students to enhance their intellectual lives, and to have more individual agency to engage in political discourse.

Keep watching OPENWIDE Online for Western Life editor Travis Welowszky’s exclusive interviews with our two presidential hopefuls.

**DISCLAIMER: The opinions reflected in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of OPENWIDE, the USC or the FIMSSC.

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