By Olivia Robinson
Do you think first year textbooks should be cheaper? Are you getting tired of walking through clouds of cigarette smoke when going to class in Main building? Have you been thinking about what you are going to do after you graduate from UPEI?
Executive Vice President Travis Gordon has also been thinking about these things. Luckily for students, he has the power to do something about it.
At the Student Union Council meeting this past Sunday, Gordon presented the eight external Policy Statements and a Lobby Document that he worked on for the entire summer. These documents are a first for the UPEI Student Union and deal with prevalent issues that affect students, such as the Enforcing the Tobacco Use Policy, Creating a Needs-Based Grant Program, and Expanding the Graduate Mentorship Program, just to name a few.
I sat down with Executive Vice President Gordon yesterday to learn more about these Policy Statements and Lobby Document and what they could mean for students.
Cadre: How did you come up with these Policy Statements?
Gordon: “The idea started last year among the executive, specifically Kate (VanGerven ) and Danielle (MacDonald), that there was a clear need for consistency over several years of lobbying. So we investigated a few models of how people do their lobbying. We looked at models like OUSA, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, and CASA, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, and we came up with this model where we have Policy Statements on certain areas as well as a Lobby Document. The Lobby Document is the priorities for the year and the Policy Statements are active for a period of about three years each once they are approved to insure that we are keeping current. We had a policy planning meeting in April where people across the campus community were invited. We had some fantastic brainstorming sessions, and from there we asked people to rank some of the issues that really matter to them. Danielle and myself, as part of our transition, went over which Policy Statements would be researched and written on over the summer by myself.”
Cadre: Are these the first Policy Statements that the UPEI Student Union has written?
Gordon: “Yes, this is the first time the UPEI Student Union has ever done something like this that I know of. They’re our first set of Policy Statements and our first ever Lobby Document as well. This is a very new and defined role that the Executive Vice President is taking on. There’s a lot of change going on this year, and hopefully a name change for the Executive Vice President to Vice President Academic and External. So hopefully I will get a new name that is more reflective of what I do in my role.”
Cadre: Why do you think there haven’t been Policy Documents written before by the UPEI Student Union?
Gordon: “I think that in years past there has been a very unclear role for the Executive VP, despite it being laid out that they are the coordinator of all lobbying efforts. I think that looking at the successes that organizations like OUSA and CASA have had helped myself and Danielle realize that this is the direction we should be going in. I think it’s also just good for the organization. I’m coming at this from the advocacy perspective, that’s what I think the fundamental role of the UPEI Student Union is. Also, when we go to decision makers, it helps to have documents to back up what we’re saying. We have that back up now, and we know what we’re saying and why we’re saying it. So that’s the benefit of the policy documents. In terms of why we did not have them before, the Executive VP did not work over the summer so there was no time for them to do things like this because they do take a very long time to make.”
Cadre: Do you think the Student Union will keep the Executive Vice President working over the summer for years to come?
Gordon: “Well optimally at least for the next year. The motion did pass on Sunday to continue the Executive Vice President’s summer work in years to come. But this is an organization that essentially renews every year so who knows what’s to come. I really like the job I’m in. That being said, I do believe the organization could be doing more on the advocacy front.”
Cadre: What one of the Policy Statements do you think could be the most beneficial to students?
Gordon: “I think that they’re all good for students. I think the fundamental role of the Student Union is to be completely onside with students, no matter what. That’s our goal. We look at everything with a student focus.”
Cadre: What was the Policy Statement that you had the most fun writing?
Gordon: “I really enjoyed writing the one about expanding the graduate mentorship program. Coincidentally, it’s also the longest policy statement, at around five pages. As a note on the length, we did try to keep them readable but also full of information.
Cadre: Regarding the Policy Statement about the Needs-Based Grant Program, do you think there will be any negative feedback from Island students?
Gordon: “I think that sometimes the role of people in these positions is balancing competing interests. Certainly the George Coles Bursary is not the greatest piece of public policy I have ever seen any government implement. I’m not saying it’s bad but it’s probably not as effective as the government would like it to be at achieving its original goal. I have no doubt that some Island students will be upset. But I think that if we always go with what the majority wants, then we’re going to be disadvantaging a lot of people. It’s my opinion, and evidently it’s the opinion of the UPEI Student Union as well. By way of approving this they’re saying that there’s a more effective way of spending this money to increase access rates to those who are having trouble accessing post-secondary education. There will be students that are angry and there will be those who appreciate the change. Right now, we’re not arguing that we should take money away from island students. We’re arguing that we should redistribute the same amount of money to islanders who need it the most. I think it’s a more effective goal and we think it will work a lot better, and we think it’s a wiser investment. Any win on our part in terms of changing policy to reflect what we want would be huge.”
To see copies of these Policy Statements and Lobby Document, visit the website.