AMS Elections Great Debate coverage: VP Administration

This year’s candidates for VP Administration — Pooja Bhatti, Faraz Nikzad and Julien Hart — met once again this afternoon for the Great Debate. In contrast with the last one, this debate saw a deeper discussion of certain topics and more challenging questions from the audience.

The debate started off with an easy question about the biggest problem facing clubs, to which the candidates moulded the answer to their platform. Notably, Hart was able to clarify his plan of transitioning towards “a simple [and] more reliable booking system” as moving to an online system.

For the rest of the formal question period, the debate mainly revolved around the topic of controversial clubs and in particular, the balance between free speech and safety. Since this topic had already been asked in the last debate, the candidates were required to delve into the specifics of their answers this time.

As one common answer was to put the decision up for input from the wider student population, especially on Bhatti’s part, the moderator asked if this process would be done through a referendum.

“Referendum is an option,” said Bhatti. “But more so online surveys.”

On the other hand, both Hart and Nikzad firmly opposed the idea of a referendum, citing concerns about student safety. They were then asked to define “safety” as it applies to these club situations.

“This is something you have to talk to the individuals and groups who are directly affected [about],” said Hart. “It's important that students are feeling safe at school and not feeling openly attacked while they’re going to class.”

Nikzad defined safety as “having the basic peace of mind when [one] comes to campus.”

For specific examples, the moderator asked about the possibility of a white student union or a black student union becoming a club under each candidate’s tenure. In response, Bhatti remained committed to her idea that such a decision should be made with inputs from students. For Nikzad and Hart, that decision would hinge on whether the club’s dominant element is racial or cultural.

“I would embrace a European club, like an Icelandic club or a German club,” said Nikzad. “But a racial club? No.”

“There is not a need for people who identify as one racial group to have a club,” said Hart. “If they are embracing their history as one cultural group, I would be behind that.”

Moving into the open debate period, the candidates were met with a long lineup of questions from the audience. These questions both served as knowledge testers and touched on management issues that the VP Administration would face, to which the candidates responded with varying degrees of success.

For instance, Samantha So, the current VP Academic and University Affairs, asked the candidates about their “interest in building relationships with resource groups,” and for them to additionally name three resource groups.

This two-part question was initially met with confusion from the candidates, as they focused more on trying to identify what the resource groups were. However, after So clarified that the first part was more important, they all expressed that they would love to “work with” and “learn more” about these resource groups.

This same desire was also expressed by all the candidates in response to Sprouts’ concern about maintaining its community while lacking a proper space, as well as students’ requests for comment on spaces for minorities and clubs that aren’t AMS-related.

Lastly, Chris Scott, the current VP Administration, expressed concern that there has been little focus on sustainability and the art gallery throughout the race’s conversation. He then asked the candidates about how they would be able to manage all the different aspects of the role’s portfolio.

“I’d choose to focus on a few things,” said Bhatti. “[I’d focus] more to student life … I would work toward The Nest and sustainability, but they won’t be the focus.”

Both Hart and Nikzad noted that there would be a team to help out with the portfolio. Nikzad further asserted that “[he’s] graduating, so [he] will have tons of time to spare.”

Voting for the VP Administration race will take place between March 6 and March 10.