Over the last months, I have become increasingly interested in the philosophy of higher education, reading much of Dr. Ron Barnett’s literature. Dr. Barnett is a professor from the University of London, and he coined the term “supercomplexity.” Basically, he means that universities’ ambitions are outstripping their resources. They’re taking on more and more without focusing on the development of student knowledge. Rather, universities produce highly specialized research, some of which is tied to the corporate world. Universities try to preserve different languages and cultures. And as one sees all the time when reading different university documents, there is the idea that universities contribute, or give back, to society. Through all of this, I have come to the following conclusion: although universities do so many different things – many of which are good and many of which could improve – a university’s ultimate goal should be to change a person’s life for the better. When a student graduates from university, he or she should be a better thinker: a person that is introspective and inquisitive. And a student should be an engaged citizen. When I write “engaged,” I mean a person that questions basic assumptions, that brings a healthy dose of skepticism to discussions and that evaluates and participates in society.
Considering these ideas, my actions as VPA have to be guided by the following goal: to transform the life of a student. That, to me, is the goal of the Students’ Union. It has to be. Thinking about the different topics that I will work on as VPA – grading and assessment, teaching evaluations, graduate attributes, the transfer credit system, peer mentorship, undergraduate research, etc. – each of these initiatives shares a common theme: the improvement of a student’s life. That is what our efforts come down to.
I am here today, ready to serve as VPA, because of a few key people. Two Fijis were instrumental to providing me with opportunities. They remain some of my greatest mentors. A former VPA got me very interested in the position, and continues to challenge and guide me. A former president of AUFSJ, the Campus Saint-Jean faculty association, told me about the vacant student council seat that I ran for in September of my first year. Based on this guidance, one can see that certain students drastically changed the course of my life. As I progress through university, and as I serve as VPA, doing this for others is my big goal. If I can leave on April 30 2012 at 11:59, knowing that my efforts improved the lives of University of Alberta students, then I will know that I have done my job.
My next post will discuss my goals for the upcoming year. Until then, take some time to relax, enjoy the beginning of summer and remember to vote! I am currently at the Students' Union executive retreat, but once I return, I will do my best to address any questions or concerns that you have.