Tuesday, March 27, 2007

AUS Presidental Slap-Fest

I don't like writing about elections. But it's kinda our bread and butter, and people seem to enjoy it. Hmm.

To begin, my colleague has taken the AUS to task for its elections administration. In short, I differ in her assessment, to a point. The voting has been highly visible, well-planned and well-executed; I suspect it's almost impossible for an Arts student to miss a voting booth over the course of the week. The downside? There's like NO information about candidates anywhere. Nothing in the Underground that I've yet seen (from the VFM contest winners, no less), nothing on the AUS website. Nothing except posters. Which are designed to get elected, not to inform. You have to be a Facebook friend, in which case you already know the candidates. (I pretty much blame the candidates. They're just as responsible for getting the word out as Elections staff. The staff in this election have been first-rate.)

So what info would be out there? Well, that's the problem. It's a very thin gruel, at best. There's AJ Johal's site, which really just reads like a resume of a high school student councillor. AJ, love ya, but you've gotta leave high school off the qualifications. Seriously. His site has another major weakness. He doesn't tell us why we should vote for him. "Because it matters," he says. Unfortunately, his definition of why it matters is merely the stock "we have your money" argument.

Then there's Steph Ryan. She's produced a platform, impressive only measured in relation to her opponent's. Problem is, most of it can be really better done by someone else. Free tutoring? AMS rep. Don't promise things you can't personally deliver. She promises to publish meeting times and use the AUS web site to get this information out. But big friggin' deal - you find me a student who's interested in committee meetings and minutes, and I'll show you a student who's already involved. Listening to students is a good idea, to be sure. But the first post on her web site is devoted to what she's heard from students. Either her own past consultation has been inadequate, or her future consultation wasteful. And SUB Concourse office hours? Good idea. But you have your own MASS space that it's probably more important to leverage.

But at least she has a platform. And she's done very good work with the Faculty to provide services and help drive Arts engagement. Unfortunately, neither candidate, though, has really taken stock of the true measure of the irrelevance of the AUS, both as a political and non-political entity. What are the problems?

  • Physical space. They don't fully leverage MASS, certainly not as effectively as Ladha. MASS is designed in such a way as to give the prime, interior space to AUSers, while ordinary students float about the periphery. As physical space, it makes the AUS users into the insiders, while everybody else is an outsider. Literally. There are better ways to use the space, and to get students using the rooms. They get a gold star for the events calendar, though.
  • The size of Arts. It's huge. Just too big. And there's no sense of identity. Why? Probably because of the size. An AUS President needs to consider how best to address this, and to build a coherent sense of Artsiness. How? I suspect it involves working with the departments, as they're far more likely to be a driver of student engagement. Faculty reps on AUS are woefully under-used (just an ACF clean-up crew, basically) and that's a communication link that needs to develop.
  • The relationship with the Faculty. It's strong right now. But there's a danger of being co-opted. I recall hearing something about the AUS using the MASS student levies (since the mortgage is paid off) to fund Arts Advising. That's fucked up. It's a core academic service - the University has no business making students pay. So it's an important existential question - how close ought the relationship be between the Society and Faculty? Sure, co-operation is good, when it comes to Last Lecture etc., but is that meaningful co-operation, or just titular, consultative input? And is there a danger of co-opting the student voice?
I'm an Arts grad. I never had any affinity for the AUS; I only voted for my friends, and sometimes Spencer. (I kid, I kid. I actually never voted for Spencer. Fa fa.) (Okay, that's a joke too.) But it's an organization too often dominated by the politically ambitious (PoliSci students, of course), fighting an uphill battle in a faculty whose student engagement is probably among the lowest on campus.

There's an existential conversation that needs to happen, and I don't see that.