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Your WUSA President bids farewell
While this year's Exec transition is not how any of us would've expected, we wanted to bring you something you have come to expect. Each year at the end of their term, our outgoing Exec share a blog, recapping their time with us and all they accomplished. We're beginning this series today with our outgoing President, Michael Beauchemin.
Michael, I know everyone here at WUSA would agree, it's been a pleasure working toward the goals you brought to this position and this organization. We wish you the very best in whatever comes next and will continue to follow your journey from afar. Come back and visit us anytime!
Now, his message to you:
It’s been an absolutely memorable year. I came into office in May and it felt a little like jumping onto a running treadmill, which has somehow only ramped up as the year went on.
Broadly, my team inherited a rebranding effort that we successfully completed in the spring term, began the process for an organizational Long Range Plan that will see us all the way to 2026, successfully adapted to life under the Student Choice Initiative, took several steps to ensure the long-term financial health of our organization (while increasing our service to students and now, we are guiding WUSA and students through an unprecedented pandemic. Through all of this, we have put an emphasis on student consultation, ensuring they always come first. We have reprioritized student advocacy within WUSA and dedicated more resources to increase our effectiveness in this area.
We have the utmost faith in the incoming team you elected. We have spent the past month beginning their transition and are pleased to know they intend to continue the efforts we have begun.
Below, I’ll talk a little about my highlights from the year. At the end of this series, we’ll release our year-in-review, of which people got a sneak peak at the General Meeting.
I came into office this year with one goal in mind – give the organization a year of stability to bridge to the next executive team. Sure, I had lots of other goals, but they all drove back to the point of simplifying and refocusing our actions for the benefit of students as a whole and trying to come to terms with the massive growth that WUSA (then Feds) has undergone over the past decade. Little did I know that when I entered office it would be one of the most interesting years we’ve had in recent memory, with a number of external stimuli impacting directly on WUSA and on students in the post-secondary sector.
In all that I have done this year, I have tried to build a positive reputation and act with respect toward the student voice and to fairness. When approaching new situations, I kept an open mind and consulted with students to ensure they were engaged with the process.
When I entered office, the outgoing executive team had already decided to move forward with a rebrand. My team and I were pulled in, but didn’t feel we had any real control over decision making at that point. This was not a great way to start the year, but it did help us find our feet with our Board and Council in terms of what they expect from us and how we can work with them to most benefit students.
In our first few meetings, we quickly realized it would be imperative this year to ensure Councillors knew they were part of the decision making, rather than simply approving a direction. In the end, the Council saw the value in a new name and brand for the organization, which has since allowed us to be more flexible and change our approach.
The old brand didn’t resonate with people for many reasons, and we have worked hard to address those with the rebrand. "Feds" has provided many a cautionary tale that now, as WUSA, we are listening to and learning from. We feel reinvented as an organization and I can only hope this revitalization is cemented by my successor.
Student Choice Initiative (SCI)
One of the aforementioned external stimuli was announced shortly before my term of office began. The provincial government implemented certain measures that were challenging for students, Universities, and student associations to adapt to. The government action forced an arbitrary classification of some fees as mandatory and others as optional. This also led to the creation of a central point of an opt-out system on Quest, which was something that we had been advocating for, for years.
Regardless, we had to adjust to the reality of life under a system where people could opt out of portions of our fee. Suddenly, we had to adapt to a world in which our fees income was not guaranteed. This allowed students to vote with their wallet where they believe we should focus our efforts, but it also meant we had to figure out a whole ton of things!
We made the decision early on to forego an advertising campaign that would attempt to convince students to pay the fee and instead decided to run an awareness campaign to inform people what they were paying for (or not). There were some impacts, but overall, the transition was smooth and students responded well to the introduction of optional fees. It was this response that convinced us not to change back once the government’s regulation was overturned. We continue to explore optional fees within our organization, but in a way that makes sense for our students and our operations.
Provincial and Federal Lobbying
In late 2019 and early 2020, I had two opportunities to tag along with Matthew Gerrits, WUSA VP Education, to take part in some lobbying with the provincial and federal governments. In November, I went to Toronto and spent a week talking to members of provincial parliament with friends from other Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) schools. We lobbied on student debt and post-graduate employment, among other things, and it was a great experience to see commitment from the representatives of different political parties. I had a similar experience in February when I went to Ottawa to talk to members of parliament about similar topics with the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU).
Societies Agreement + Associated agreements with Faculties
Another goal of mine for the year was to do a proper review of the Societies Agreement. After 10 months, we are very near to signing onto a new agreement that both expands WUSA’s oversight over the legal requirements for Societies and gives the Societies more powers explicitly to help eliminate wrongful assumptions on how we can carry out business. Protecting and enshrining Society authority is important to the long-term success of our advocacy efforts at the University, as the Societies play a unique and crucial role in student engagement and success while at Waterloo.
To that end, I have also received preliminary commitment from the University to formalize the informal agreements that go back decades between the Societies and their respective faculty or school. This will be a helpful tool that all parties can lean back on when talking about what Societies need to be able to function effectively.
Long Range Plan
The previous Long Range Plan expired this past year and fell on me to develop and seek approval for the next one, that will take us into the future as an organization. We got off to a slower start than I was prepared for, with the org rebrand and the implementation of the Student Choice Initiative at the beginning of my year. Nevertheless, I was able to make significant progress on the consultation elements of its development. I have been working with my successor, who has been a long-standing Long Range Planning Committee member, and we have a unified vision for the Long Range Plan, which itself aligns with the responses we’ve been receiving from students so far.
We are planning for the Long Range Plan to be approved by the end of August, so we can begin actioning it at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year. It’s something I was super excited to be working on and I’m glad my successor has committed to continuing to consult me, as the Plan is drafted and finalized over the course of the spring term.
When I was an Engineering Society VP Finance, I often ran into difficulties with University Policy. I thought it was often too strict and immutable, so I sought to change some of that as President. Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time as I hoped to action some of those changes I had wanted to see. I will need to entrust this work to my successor.
I had talked to the University administration earlier this year about improving University Policy 21: Alcohol Use and Education with an expansion to substance use, while easing up on strictness and adapting to our changing student culture around drinking and ensuring student safety is considered and balanced alongside student desires. This would also see Cannabis use removed from Policy 29: Smoking, to allow for a more focused effort on smoking reductions on campus. I have received commitments on these items from the University, so I am not overly concerned with having to push them off another year.
Of course, this blog would not be complete without acknowledging the serious impact that COVID-19 has had on me and WUSA as a whole. A few weeks ago, we were still worried about our day-to-day and preparing for transitioning the new team, but ever since March 12, the situation has accelerated significantly. Taking charge of WUSA’s response and heading our response team has been an engaging learning experience. We have had an excellent opportunity to engage with students and work on some direct advocacy for student benefit. We have created and maintained a webpage for keeping students informed on our actions and those of the University. Constant communication with the University has been key and has allowed us to ensure the student experience and academic opportunity is top of mind.
It’s been an honour and a pleasure to serve as your president this year. It was a long, wild ride and hundreds of meetings later, I wouldn’t do it again, but I also wouldn’t go back and change it. It’s time for someone else to take over now. My sincere hope is that I’ve set them up for success in their job, but only time will tell. This has been an excellent capstone to my time at Waterloo and I wish all of you all the best in pursuing your degrees. I hope that you, like me, can find your passions and be engaged however you want to be at Waterloo.
“You see things; you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?” - George Bernard Shaw