Thursday, January 10, 2008

Candidate Questionnaire: Stefanie Ratjen

Stefanie Ratjen is a VP external candidate. Here are her answers.

Why do you want to be the VP External of the AMS?
I am aware of the issues affecting students both on and off the campus. While some people treat this as a popularity contest or a resume-padding opportunity, I am running because of the issues themselves. I know what needs to change, and I want to this opportunity to do it.

What personal skills and experiences could you bring to the portfolio?
I'm familiar working from "within" and "without" a governing body at UBC. I have been active with the AMS Resource Groups for years, with the AMS Student Environment Centre (which is hosting its annual conference this weekend!!!!), as well as the AMS Social Justice Centre, AMS Clubs such as Students for a Democratic Society, and I host student-initiated programs including Cinema Politica and the Radio Free ubc segment on News 101 on CiTR 101.9. I have attended AMS and UBC Board of Governor meetings to see how decisions are made first-hand. I am also involved with the ongoing Trek Park initiative, which has played a prominent role in ensuring that student voices are listened to in the U-BLVD project.

In my activities at UBC I have had the opportunity to converse with a lot of students. Many concerns have come up, and a lot of these issues, such as increasing tuition, decreasing quality of education, and lack of a student voice in decision-making, need to be addressed through real action. I believe that the VPX is not just about asking the right questions, it's about making sure that student voices are heard where and when it matters. I'm not just ready to work for students to ensure their interests are represented, I've already been doing this for quite some time.

If there was one thing you could change about the AMS what would it be?
The AMS needs to engage and inform more students about decisions and events that are taking place. Lack of AMS accessibility and awareness of current student-issues can be reversed by making real gains for students, and having the courage to tackle difficult but important high-profile issues. When the AMS stands up for students, students will notice the AMS and student apathy will disappear into thin air. The AMS and student issues matter. Students need to not only know that, but believe it. Previous executives have failed to make the AMS relevant. I won't.

What would be your approach to the CASA/CFS relationship? What are your priorities on federal higher education lobbying?
With the current state of affairs, I don't really see it as a "CASA or CFS" question. In regard to higher education lobbying, it's the provincial level that has the most influence over higher education. Via the BC University Act, this is the level where decision making structures and funding programs for post-secondary education are determined. This is where students need a stronger voice.

The thing is that CASA, while maintaining a strong federal relationship for UBC, does not lobby, as a union, on a provincial level. This is where the Canadian Federation of Students, or CFS, comes in. One of the major differences between the two student unions is that CFS does lobby, as a union, at the provincial level. Furthermore, the UBC Vancouver AMS is the only student union in British Columbia to choose CASA over the CFS. This is not to say the CFS is the ultimate alternative. One of the reasons that the UBC Vancouver AMS is not a member of CFS is because its executive was not transparent enough, and because it costs more to join, which would entail an increase in student fees. In addition, over the last year, some of the other BC student unions have left CFS, and are choosing to operate independently.

We need to have a strong voice at the provincial level. Neither national student union guarantees this. We need to have schools and students working together to be effective. Building a strong relationships and positive relationships with other BC schools is necessary. The outgoing VP External has already been working on this idea, and has established relationships with some of the other post-secondary education institutions in BC, particularly those that are now independent. I will work with other schools in British Columbia to establish a well-organized coalition to advocate for students, pushing for the necessary governance and funding changes through detailed recommendations (we'll do the work for the government).

What's your stance about access to higher education? What's your vision of a fair tuition and financial aid system for UBC, B.C., and Canada?
Education is a right, not a privilege. The burden of debt faced by half of UBC students averages nearly $25,000. The financial cost of getting a degree has a serious impact not only on students but on who gets to be a "student." Furthermore, unequal access to education is deepening the rifts in our society caused by sexism, racism, and financial background or class. This is completely unacceptable. All people should have access to the same educational opportunities. We need to look beyond "assistance" based financing towards affordable education. One of my top priorities is to restructure funding and an increase in government transfers for education. The provincial government is the body that makes the most important decisions regarding how much funding goes into what kind of financial assistance program for post secondary students. I will work with other post-secondary institutions in BC to address such issues at the provincial level, where it counts the most. Working with AMS policy analyst(s), I'll do a comparative analysis of grant and debt forgiveness models from across Canada (and the world) in drawing up concrete proposals.

How do you feel about the AMS passing principled policy motions on external political issues?
Maybe it's influenced by UBC's geographic location, but I feel that it's very easy to get wrapped up into a UBC bubble. However, what goes on outside UBC can affect what goes on inside UBC. The relationship between Vancouver housing costs and on-campus development, or transit fare hikes and the U-Pass, are just two examples. Global citizenship is a cornerstone of the UBC marketing strategy. We should be able to acknowledge our roles as citizens not only in the University, but in local and global social networks.

How will you build relationships with politicians for lobbying? Be specific
I believe that the AMS VPX should be representing the interests of students to the municipal, provincial, and national governments, rather than the other way round. Legislative governments need to listen to their voters, especially if that message is loud and clear. As I mentioned before, what I want to do is build strong relationships with other BC schools to establish a well-organized coalition to advocate for students, at the decision-making levels that have the most impact. We need to build and maintain solidarity with local and national universities to ensure that this happens.