Friday, January 12, 2007

Candidate Questionnaire - Aidha Shaikh

1) Why BoG?

Having been at the university for a while you realize how important the policies that are passed by the Board are to our everyday interactions at the University. Dealing with a broad spectrum of students, both undergraduate and graduate as both close friends and colleagues I hear about all the issues that concern them, that bother them greatly, and that need a strong but creative, reputable voice to speak out for them. I hear about how discontent students are about tuition, funding, housing, educational facilities. These are all the same issues all the candidates discuss because they are students’ main concerns. However, peers and students tell me that they do not know how these resolutions are passed, they do not know how they can input into the process, they do not know who their representative is. Well they can definitely look their representative up, but I feel we need to take a more proactive role; we are all busy students and may not have the time to actively search these things. If there is a dedicated site, or forum, or place where students can look the relevant policies up – in a “language” they can understand, then they will be more informed and will be able to contribute in a greater capacity. They will hopefully be able to see that our hard work actually gets them somewhere. I have been inspired by Lauren Hunter. She has worked very hard to get graduate issues represented and worked hard to get resolutions that have our best interests in mind. She has also worked hard to ensure that we are “in the loop” and are informed about her progress. I feel that I can do this for both graduates and undergraduates being connected to both groups and hopefully they will be inspired and grateful that we are trying and coming up with strategies that will benefit them and address their concerns which are ours too. To be honest, I am interested in policy…I do find that discussing strategies is stimulating and working with other people on challenging issues is rewarding and having sat on GSS and Grad council I have had exposure to a wide array of issues.

2) What two experiences (jobs, positions, volunteer, etc.) have you had that gave you the skills you feel necessary for representing students on BoG?

Dean of Science search committee graduate representative. Bringing students’ issues to the attention of the candidates and allowing for successful candidates to interact face to face with students provided an excellent opportunity to see how different methods of communication worked or did not work with getting ideas through. In addition this position centered around representing students and the best interests of the university and the faculty. In our case all three matched. The students who submitted feedback either anonymously or directly seemed to agree that Dr. Peacock, our current Dean, had visions that were inspiring and practical and that they were excited to see what he could do for us. We had constructive feedback for him; the things that did not work for us, our large class sizes, suggestions on constructing programs for students who are more research oriented than pre-med oriented, and promoting the physical sciences which is under-represented.

The chemistry head search was much the same idea, except I was voted onto the committee by the undergraduates and represented their voice; again facilitating meetings between candidates and the students. We had successfully hired Dr. Grant and again in that instance the feedback from students was supportive of his ideas and vision for chemistry.

I also have my roles on GSS and Grad council which I could bring into this—similarly we have critical issues that are discussed during these meetings pertaining to funding mainly and I obtain colleagues’ feedback regarding these issues and forward them to the council. This is a more indirect role, but it gives me the opportunity to be submerged in the students side and have a lot more time discussing issues with them on a personal basis. Please ask if you would like to know more about any of my other volunteer experiences, I do have a lot of people-interaction based volunteering.. ranging from orientations to mentoring and TAing so it develops a lot of people skills and group dynamics and communication skills which are important.

3) What would you identify as the area(s) on which you would focus your attention, at Board? Why?

I could paste all 4 pages of it here …it includes some strategies. To give you a run-down:

  • Tuition/ financial aid: why? The ratio of financial aid to incoming students is not remaining constant, it is decreasing. With rising tuition we need more funding. Graduate students also have heavy funding issues with the need of an increase in UGF’s and guaranteed graduate funding.
  • Educational facilities: we definitely need better classrooms, labs and instructional facilities. There is no shortage of agreement on this topic. We need to continue pushing for initiatives such as Chem Re-New to renovate buildings that are in need of improvements.
  • Housing facilities: students are frustrated over wait-lists, over housing that is not guaranteed, over the cost of housing on campus, and over the quality of housing on campus. We need a good living environment to foster a good learning environment.
  • A final issue that is in my opinion not addressed by other candidates to the same extent is: communication. How many of the students who wonder about policy even know who is on the Board representing them, how many students know what is being discussed, how many know that there is a Board to discuss the issues that are SO central to them and their discontent. People have this impression that the University will not act in the students’ best interest…but really students need to at least know what goes on so that we can see where progress is or isn’t being made and come up with strategies. And so that they can see whether their suggestions are being considered at all. While you can fish for the information on your own or look up who your Board representatives are and then try to talk to them, most students do not have the time to do this so they simply don’t bother. They are then not informed and even more discontent. We need to remain connected to the body we represent. As was mentioned in debate, it is a part of our job, it shouldn’t be a part of our platform BUT it isn’t actually being done and it NEEDS to.

4) What are your feelings on tuition, and tuition allocation/hikes and financial aid?

No one really likes the rising tuition. On that note, we cannot just say we must slash tuition by x%. There is a lack of funding in general and cutting tuition is not currently the most feasible avenue given the present time, deficit and situations. Instead, we need to increase funding for students, increase the number of awards and or the amount of awards. The number of students has increased significantly. The number of awards has not increased significantly. The ratio of awards to students is something we should strive on maintaining and not decreasing. As tuition increases we should look for ways to increase scholarship pools so that our best students do not get short-changed.

The provincial government used to contribute 90% 15 years ago, they now contribute 72% to post secondary education. We need to lobby for them to contribute a bit more. Obviously not the same as 15 years ago since the times have changed but to a reasonable amount more.

The graduate funding issue is a whole other spectrum. We also need to deal with the university scholarship funds with UGF awards which most certainly must be increased and efforts are underway to emphasize this. Guaranteed funding and tuition fee wavers are also a big ticket issue for graduates and I encourage you to visit my website for that or feel free to chat with me in person =D

5) If you could change one thing about campus development, what would it be and why?

While this may also sound slightly naïve at first, I think it is important to ensure affordable student housing is increased (and that the forest/farm are not destroyed at the moment). I think current initiatives for renovating buildings are good and these should continue. I do think more educational facilities should be renovated/ built. However since a lot of current developments center around high-end priced housing we need to ensure that the students needs are represented first and then have some housing that can be bought after the students needs are addressed. With more students coming in, with greater enrolments from out of town or country students we need to ensure that they can have a place to live otherwise the undue stress will add to the negative reputation of the university. High density residences are not a bad idea as they will help to solve some of the waitlisting issues that we currently have. While yes the properties can generate revenue, if our students are discontent then our university’s reputation will suffer, our funding from alumni will suffer and external donators will not be as compelled to support our university.

6) The Board is composed of CEOs, Presidents, and people with decades of experience. How are you going to tell them they're wrong?

A lot of this is a matter of how you communicate. The best method of approaching this is to tell them why you are right or at least why your idea or strategy etc is better. To do this you need a rationale, some concrete ideas with reasoning. For example to simply tell the Board that they are wrong about increasing tuition would not aid students, nor would it motivate them to consider changing it. To tell them that decreasing tuition by 10% is absolutely necessary because it is, is also not sufficient. To do some research on the amount of funding received by students over the past years and compare it to the cost of education; to compare the price and quality of education elsewhere, to factor in how much the provincial government contributes to post-secondary government (28% is paid by students now whereas only 10% was paid 15 years ago) and to come up with a plan to lobby the government to pay a little more (not the same as they did 15 years ago of course because many things have changed), for the university to find more avenues for funding (perhaps increasing alumni relations and obtaining funds to put towards scholarships or partnering up with other educational initiatives that industries may offer etc, without selling out of course) would be a way to go. We need to come up with some ideas, some strategies and show perhaps how our living conditions are with some numbers and some concrete “evidence” perhaps comparing to other institutions if appropriate and then let the university know that our strategies indeed are what’s best for the university is what the Board will listen to. We all want what is best for the University because that is supposed to be what is best for the students.

If you would like some past experience in this avenue, I have had to hold discussion sessions between candidates for Head or Dean position (chemistry and Science respectively). A lot of the issues that students have tend to be raised at these sessions and one can really learn a lot from the way such questions or comments are posed and how seriously they are addressed. Where concrete strategies were discussed, such as implementing seminar/ lecture series’ to bring a sense of togetherness within the faculty of science and put society into perspective the candidates seemed much more enthused about pursuing such ventures than when students just critiqued how disconnected the faculty was and how “doing things the way they are being done is not the way to go”. What we need is constructive criticism and to show them that the issues we have ARE very important and critical to the University’s interests and that we are willing to work with them and develop better strategies.

7) Describe your ideal relationship with the UBC-O student rep

I understand that the UBC-O representative comes from a CFS institution and that we come from a CASA and that that discrepancy will lead to disagreements over proposals we may put forth. But of course my ideal relationship with the UBC-O rep would be one where we would discuss the issues directly for what they mean to the students at our campuses. How our strategies would benefit students. What the UBC-O representative wants to see and how that relates to what we want to see and vice versa. In the event of discrepancies, try to resolve them or come to a middle ground. It may sound naïve to say “my ideal relationship would be one where we could work together”. However, it is the goal and realizing that there will be difficulties and perhaps researching on ways that your strategy will appeal to a CFS member may assist. We need to build a friendship or at least try really hard to so that things can get done. Ask me if I need to be more clear on this point.

8) If you could change one thing about the University, what would it be?

Developing better educational infrastructures. Whether they be through the innovative renovation of current buildings to provide safer labs, more labs, more resource centres, better classrooms with adequate facilities, sustainable facilities, or through the construction of such facilities (on already developed land) this would greatly enrich students’ academic careers. They will have more of a chance to have a hands on experience with the material that they are learning in lectures. They will have more practical skills that will allow them to succeed in life after graduation. Right now the lack of lab space or room space limits the number of discussions, tutorials and practical labs that can take place and students are given out of date impractical apparatuses to work with. If we provide a memorable education for our students they will be more inclined to give back to the university that gave so much to them. In turn we can develop more resources for students.