Monday, July 18, 2011

Student-Teacher Relationships

First off, I want to say that I am no longer using this blog for student politics issues. I have spent months debating whether I want to keep up the blog at all or not. I have decided that I will use it more as a journaling tool. So you will see some pretty random stuff that comes to my head, mostly focusing on how our society functions, personal growth, and spirituality/philosophy. Sometimes the posts will be fairly short, just getting a thought written down; and sometimes they will be more rambling essay type posts. If any of this intrigues you, great! If you are sad that I will no longer be writing about student politics, then you need to step back from student politics a bit, it is a black hole that will suck the life out of you.

So, student-teacher relationships. I was thinking today about how students and teachers interact and how society views student-teacher interactions. I feel like our society views student-teacher relationships as power relationships; the teacher has more power than the student therefore it is the student's job to learn from the teacher. It's definitely more subtle than this, but this is the gist of how our society views the relationship. I feel this creates a dynamic in our society where people are unwilling to learn from people around them since ackowledging that they have something to learn from someone else would create the feeling that the someone else is more powerful than them in a certain sense. This has the unfortunate effect of much valuable knowledge not being transferred throughout society that really needs to be shared.

Now I obviously have a different view of student-teacher relationships, otherwise there'd be no point in writing this. I view a formal student teacher-relationship as one where the teacher has previous experience in what the student is seeking to learn in a specific time and place and can act as a guide for the student. However, this is only the formal relationship. The ideal student-teacher relationship is one where both parties come out of the relationship having gained from the experience. The student learns whatever it is the teacher if offering, but the teacher can learn from the student how to become a better teacher. Also, either the student or teacher can learn things from each other that are comletely unexpected and unrelated to the original teaching. For example, I was in a class where the teacher was dealing with a problematic student and the way the teacher dealt with the student was in a very kind and compassionate way. I'm not sure whether the teacher already knew how to deal with the situation the he was faced with, but that student might have not only helped the teacher to learn how to react in the situation, the teacher also taught me how to react in dificult situations like the one I witnessed with grace and compassion. It was a totally unexpected lesson, but one that was far more valuable in my mind than the actual content of the class.

One thing we need to remember is that we are all students and we are all teachers. Always. We need to keep an open mind to any teaching that anyone around us has to offer, and at the same time we need to be conscious that other people are always observing us and learning from us, either in a positive way or a negative way. Because for every person that can teach us how to live our lives, there is someone that can teach us how not to live our lives.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Who Will Stand Up for Democracy?

The whole kerfuffle about Elizabeth May being excluded from the leaders debates got me thinking about democracy and who's job it is to ensure that it does not erode. Is it the government's job? Looking at the situation in Canada right now, it would be laughable for anyone to say that our current federal government is a strong upholder of democracy. Stephen Harper has no problems with Elizabeth not being in the debates, he even hinted that he wouldn't want the NDP or Bloq in them either when he suggested an one on one debate with Ignatieff.

So if its not the government's job, what about the media? The media has historically represented itself as an accountability mechanism for governments to make sure that people know what their government is doing. This is a big reason why the concept of freedom of the press is so important. But no with the decision to not allow Elizabeth May into the debates, the reason they are citing is that it is not their responsibility to keep people informed of all the major parties, their job is to make money. So it's clear that the mainstream media has reneged on its own previously self-purported responsibility to uphold democracy, who's left? There is independent media which does a great job of holding government accountable and espousing democratic ideals, but it's independent and thus doesn't get the exposure that the more well-funded and far reaching mainstram media gets.

Then there are the people. Us. But the problem is that most of us don't know how to access the type of information we need in order to hold the government accountable. Some of us know about the indy media sites and publications. Some of us are involved in the political process. But the vast majority of us don't have access to these resources and only hear what the government and the mainstream media tell them. Ans when that is all you get, you may come to believe that the status quo, no matter how corrupt, intolerable, or authoritarian it is, is just peachy, simply because they tell you it is.

This brings us back to the question: Who will stand up for democracy? Because the small group of us that are outraged enough to try to do anything about it aren't strong enough to hold the powers that be accountable.

The political system is broken. Our mainstream society is broken. I would love change it but don't know how and don't know where to start. How do you change important parts of the system when the people that have all the power don't want that change? This is the question I put out to all of you, and I look forward to your suggestions.

Rob McDonald

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Director Report Cards

I am writing these reports cards to give everybody my impression of how directors have represented students in the past year. In so doing I am putting my own point of view and bias into the conversation. I try to explain myself as rationally and objectively as possible, but realize that it is impossible to completely do either. With that said, it is obvious there will be people who disagree with me. I originally wrote this in December, but chose to hold off on posting it until after the elections and CFS referendum so it wouldn't be so political. So without further ado, here is my point of view.


Chair - James Coccola

James has done his job as Chair very well. He has done his best to remain as impartial as possible during board meetings on most issues and trying to keep meetings a civil space for everyone to participate. He has been a strong advocate for student's interests, lobbying on issues of tuition, student housing, and public transit. He was also probably the most instrumental person in getting the referendums to stabilize the student society's finances.

Grade: A-

Director of Finance - Kelsey Hannan

Kelsey worked hard to get the new health plan and make it cheaper for students, but at the same time, he was often late for work and even missed some meetings in which he was supposed to chair. It is behaviour such as this that has caused other executives to have to pick up his slack (which they have done quite well), and he was censured in late November for not meeting his responsibilities. He was an instrumental part of getting a lawsuit against the CFS to get a referendum on whether UVic should stay with the CFS or not. Another issue many board members have with Kelsey is that they feel he takes over meetings by dominating conversations and not listening to others. This is not a good trait when your job is to listen to students and representing their needs.

Grade: C-

Director of Academics - Rajpreet Sall

Rajpreet works hard and doesn't say overly much or overly little during meetings. The way she does her job as an executive is very much how I think I would do it if I were in her position. I definitely have disagreed with her on some issues, but that is bound to happen with anybody. The only issue I have is that she can sometimes get set on a certain outcome and doesn't seem to allow for any other perspectives. Overall, I respect Rajpreet and would be willing to work with her in the future.

Grade: B+

Director of Services - Remy Hall

By his standard, Remy has done a great job delivering on his campaign promises, though I'm sure he would have liked to thrown more events. In this regard I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do next year when he'll only have events on his plate. He has organized very successful events on campus, and has made the Clubs system more organized. I have disagreed very strongly with Remy on many issues, but he is always well reasoned and willing to look at the other side of the argument, and this is all one can ask for.

Grade: A-

Directors at Large

Jose Barrios

I will start by noting that I disagree with Jose on almost every big issue that comes to the board, so my bias will clearly be against him, so take this as you will. Jose was by and large the number one driving force behind the CFS referendum push. Unfortunately, other than that, I have not seen Jose do much. He has attended the bare minimum of committee meetings, and they only seem to be when an issue comes up that concerns him personally. For me, this is unacceptable, as it is a director's job to represent students on all issues, not just a director's pet issues. I understand a director can't be everywhere and go to every committee, however, directors are mandated to regularly attend at least two committees and Jose does not do that. This is one of the reasons that I feel that Jose Barrios only cares about Jose Barrios.

Grade: D

Jenn Bowie

When Jen first got elected to the board, I thought "How in the world did that person get elected???". That is the not very nice way of saying my first impression wasn't very good. However, between then and now, it has been a pleasure to get to know Jen and discover how hard working she is and how much she cares about student issues. She has been a tireless campaigner for every issue I can think of and she works hard on events and on committees. I have to say that Jen has been the biggest surprise for me and it has ben an enjoyable experience to see her growth as a person in her time on the board. She has become much better able to deal with the political pressures of the board and has exhibited and increasing willingness to engage with different points of view.

Grade: B+

Laura MacLeod

Laura is the opposite of Kelsey as she is the most quiet person at meetings. Don't let this fool you, I have sat next to Laura several times at meetings and can attest to the fact that she is very engaged in the meetings in her own way and does care about the issues. She has worked hard campaigning on student issues and attends numerous committees regularly. She is also one of the nicest people on the board and I feel she helps the group get along better.

Grade: B

Jaraad Marani

Jaraad is one the hardest working directors on the board. Always controversial, he was very active campaigning against sororities and fraternities on campus as well as combating racism in regards to the McLeans magazine issue. He was also the lead person for creating the "Passed up WTF" campaign to bring more attention to transit issues, and he is very active during board meetings. I feel that Jaraad is too negative sometimes and that he needs to work on being less distracted by the petty issues are always bubbling beneath the surface of student politics, but overall I feel he has been a great student representative.

Grade: A-

Rob McDonald

Who does this jerk think he is writing report cards on everyone he works with on the board? This guy is way too full of himself. In all seriousness though, I can't really write about myself here. How I have done in my position is up to you. Read my blog, read other blogs if you must, talk to people that are on the board, there is lots of information will let you know what I have done, and you decide from there. If I had to compare myself to anyone it would be Tara, I feel I have done a good job especially on sustainability issues, but there is definitely room for more.

Mehak Mehra

I don't like to have to write about Mehak because I get along with her very well personally, and we have common ground on several issues. However, Mehak has done nothing that I have seen in her time on the board. I think she might have attended one committee meeting and I haven't seen her do anything else outside of board meetings.

Grade: F

Caitlyn Pal

Caitlyn is difficult to write about as I feel that her interests are very much different from my own; as such, she probably does a lot of work that I don't see. That being said, I can only comment on what I know, and Caitlyn has seemed pretty average in her time on the board. She attends her committees, and volunteers for things (especially special events). She can get flustered at board meetings and sometime has a hard time articulating herself, but has grown into the role as the year has gone by. I see lots of room for improvement from Caitlyn, but I also feel that she does have the potential for that improvement.

Grade: B-

Tara Paterson

It's funny, I haven't really thought about how Tara has done her job very much. She is just solid. She is very strong on the issues that she campaigned on such as ensuring women's rights on campus and equality in general. She is an active member on her committees and at board meetings. I feel that her only weak spot is that she hasn't devoted much time to issues that wouldn't be considered her pet issues.

Grade: B+

Karina Sangha

To me, Karina is the biggest enigma. She contributes to board meetings and is on the personnel committee, but otherwise I haven't seen much from her. I feel like she is active behind the scenes, and does more work than what I see, and I am told she does care passionately about the issues she takes on. I have not gotten to know Karina that well, and she hasn't given me much to really like her or dislike her. Like Caitlyn, I feel she has been pretty average.

Grade: B-

Dylan Sherlock

I feel that Dylan is the hardest working Director at Large. He seems to take on every issue and is chair of the student services committee, co-chair of the Environmental Responsibility Committee, and was the CFS representative on the board. He attends most committees regularly, and works closely with Kelsey on the finances of the board and with James on various student issues. My only critique of Dylan is he can sometimes talk down to people when he disagrees with them and can also lose his temper if things don't go his way.

Grade: A

Nathan Warner

Fail, just Fail. Take everything negative I said about Mehak but worse. He has done nothing that I have seen. Not only have I not seen him do anything for students, he also took a leave of absence for most of the fall semester, but was here the entire time and taking advantage of the benefits directors receive. He was also censured for stuffing the ballot box during the elections. Just fail.

Grade: F-

Advocacy Reps

Robyn Spilker - Women's Centre

Robyn has done a wonderful job representing women's interests on the board and it has been a real pleasure working with her over the year. She always knows who she is representing, but is also very considerate of other points of view. She has been a very calming influence in tense situations for everyone else who is there. She is a very hard worker and I genuinely hope she continues in the same position next year.

Grade: A+

Jessica Humphries - Students of Colour

Jessica is another person I don't know that well. She is not incredibly active at board meetings, but has represented UVic, and her constituency in particular a few times at CFS meetings. I feel she generally does a good job, does a lot of constituency work that I don't see, and cares about student issues in general.

Grade: B

Gabrielle Sutherland - Pride

Gabrielle is a tough person for me to understand. She always votes the way Pride instructs her, even when it conflicts with her values. The problem I see is that her values conflict with Pride often enough that I wonder if she is the best person to be representing Pride on the board. On the plus side, she does campaign tirelessly for Pride as an organization, and was a leading factor in getting increased funding for Pride this year.

Grade: C

Tanille Johnston - Native Students Union

Tanille has done a wonderful job representing the NSU. She consistently brings up the concerns of Native students and issues of colonialization. She has at times spoken incredibly eloquently at board meetings to calm tempers and facilitate a more respectful atmosphere for making decisions, although once in awhile she'll say something that doesn't make sense to me. Overall, I think whoever is NSU rep next year has big shoes to fill.

Grade: A-

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Big Thank You

I want to send out a big thanks to everyone who voted for me for senate, and for the entire FUSE gang for the UVSS, and an even bigger thanks to those who helped out with the campaign. I did not get elected to the senate, but all the FUSE candidates did get elected to the UVSS. I'm looking froward to a lot of good things from the UVSS next year, and I hope everyone on the board works hard for student's interests. As for me and my blog, I'm not sure what I'll do with it next year. Perhaps I will still cover UVSS issues and hold the board accountable for their actions, but without the ridiculousness of the current blogs that claim to fill that role. Along that line of thought, I will be releasing report cards for all the current board members next week. I wrote them during winter break, but didn't want to release them until after the election as I didn't want them to become political. So make sure you look out for those!

Rob McDonald

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Updated bio of Rob

I thought I'd write a little history about me so that those of you who don't know me very well can have a better idea of where I'm coming from.

I was born in New Westminster and lived in Vancouver until I was seven years old. Then we moved up to Quesnel BC for half a year before moving 55 miles outside of Quesnel in the middle of the woods. It was November and below -20c and we lived in a tipi for a month until we got the walls built on our one room trailer with an addition. Needless to say this was quite the culture shock. We moved around to different places out of town until I graduated from high school. My best friend growing up was our 3/4 wolf dog named Grizz. Other pets included at times a baby bear, a racoon, and a cat named Homer who liked to beat up coyotes.

After graduating from high school with straight A's I had planned to go to BCIT to do a broadcast journalism program. Instead, I changed my mind and decided to join the carnival to save up money to go to a Wilderness Survival School. I still rate the courses I took there as the most amazing experiences I ever had. I took me two years to save up for my first course in California, which was focused on physical survival skills, and then one more year to save up for two more courses in New Jersey, which focused more on Native American Philosophy.

I then moved back to Quesnel where I worked at Panago, studied Nutritional Consulting through Alive Academy of Nutrition, and got involved with the Metis. I sat on the North Cariboo Metis board of directors as a youth rep, and got involved with traditional Metis step-dancing, performing at various venues and eventually teaching it. I grew tired of the cold Quesnel winters and moved to Mexico for 6 months to teach English. I found I wasn't a very good English teacher and moved back to Quesnel. I soon discovered internet poker and learned that I could make an acceptable amount of money at it.

Based on the knowledge that I could make money anywhere as long as I had an internet connection, I decided that to move to Victoria where the winters are very mild. I also moved here with the intention of getting involved with the Green Party. I quickly got involved with the party and became the campaign manager for candidate Ariel Lade in the 2006 federal election. Around the same time the competition in poker became much tougher so I had to get a real job again after the election. I ended up going to Panago to manage the Shelbourne location. After a year of that I moved to Toronto, Ontario for a few months to work in the MMP campaign for a proportionate electoral system in that province. When that campaign finished I came back to Victoria and took over the management of the Panago in Esquimalt.

It was at this time that I knew I needed a career instead of hopping from one thing to the next, so after a year at Esquimalt, I decided to go back to school and applied to UVic. I am now finishing my 3rd year at UVic and I enjoy it very much. In the past two years I have started my own club where I teach wilderness survival skills to students. I have been involved in the Model UN Club, and I now sit on the UVSS board of directors.

In my time on the board over the past year, I have been very active on sustainability issues. I worked very hard to get students a referendum on whether we should phase out bottled water on campus or not. I have been working with the management of the UVSS to move the UVSS to more more ethical and environmentally friendly bank, and I have been a strong advocate for environmental groups and issues in general. This year I am running for the University Senate so I can push for a more sustainable campus and more scholarships and bursaries for students.

Hopefully this has been a fun read for everyone!

Rob McDonald

Friday, January 21, 2011

Where did the bunnies go??

This post is an agreement/response to the opinion piece found in the Martlet this week. I am very against a "rabbit free" campus. The rabbits on campus are definitely part of what makes UVic the great place it is. If we were to completely eliminate the rabbits from the campus, the students and community would lose one of the biggest things that we associate with the campus and with ourselves. I personally love the rabbits on campus, and have gotten to know several of them throughout the years. I am saddened by the fact that I will no longer get to see those rabbit friends that I made in the past.

I agree that there were too many rabbits on campus last year, but that doesn't mean we have to remove them all. There has been a balance found in the past, and it can be found again. It would not take that much effort to determine a population that would be able to sustainably live in this area. This way we could keep many rabbits here and alive, UVic wouldn't lose it's greatest charm, and the administration can look like it actually cares about student's concerns.

I do take issue with one thing the Martlet piece said though. It questioned why students were petitioning about bottled water issues and not the bunnies, intimating that the issue of bottled water is not as important. First of all, it takes awhile to build a campaign, and the bottled water one is something that has been in the works for over a year. It will also take time to build an effective bunny campaign. Secondly, as much as I care about the rabbits at UVic, I feel the bottled water issue is far more important. It has tangible effects on the majority of earth's population, and definietly everyone here at UVic. Plastic from water bottles ends up in our oceans, and from there the chemicals from the bottles end up in the food chain, and eventually into us when we eat seafood. Privatization of our water sources undermines public access to clean water, which eventually leads to everyone having to pay exhorbitant rates for something that should be a human right and free to everyone. This hasn't happened much yet in Canada because of our abundant water sources, but it has happened in other countries around the world.

In short, I'm not saying that everybody should jump on the water bandwagon and ignore the lack of bunnies. I'm saying there is room for both. I definitely want to see students put pressure on UVic to take a balanced approach to the rabbit issue at the same time we deal with water issues on campus. There are so many issues that our society needs to deal with, and if we get mad at people for dealing with one instead of another, all our in-fighting is not going to get us anywhere. We need all of us working on all of these things cohesively in order to achieve all the good things we want to do.

Rob McDonald

Saturday, January 8, 2011

UVSS goes to court with CFS

On Thursday and Friday the UVSS had their court date against the CFS to try to procure a referendum on our continued membership with the CFS. I was only able to attend the proceedings for a short time on the first day, for complete coverage, go here. I am glad, however, that I was able to witness the part of the proceedings that I did.

What happened while I was there was the CFS tried to get an affidavit accepted regarding an alleged debt owed by the UVSS to the CFS. The problem was, they only filed the affidavit on Tuesday, even though they have been conceivably aware of the debt since 1999, and certainly since May. The judge rightfully threw the affidavit out because the CFS had no reason to delay the submission of the affidavit for so long for any purpose than to try to disadvantage the UVSS.

My longstanding position on the CFS is that I supported our right to have a referendum (though my mind has changed many times on how to go about doing that), but would vote to stay within the CFS because I feel the services they offer are worth the money we pay to them. However, the dirty and petty games played by the CFS during this process, as evidenced by the affidavit issue, has moved me more in the direction of not wanting to be in the CFS. I don't like being part of an organization that pulls underhanded tactics that the CFS is trying to use. I think that until the CFS can fix its heirarchical, autocratic, and ethical issues, it might be best for the UVSS to leave the organization.

Perhaps if in the future, the CFS can become a more democratic organization that gives it's members more powers to decide their own fates, the UVSS can look at rejoining. In the meantime, I feel that we should take a stand and say this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and we don't want to be part of it.

Rob McDonald