New year means new USC executive! We decided to take advantage of their 3 day e-mail policy, and give them a chance to answer some questions -and hopefully reflect on their roles within student government. Things could get pretty busy for the USC executive, so we appreciate all of them taking the time to answer students. (Stay tuned for interviews with your VP Internal, VP External, and VP Student Events)
Tell us a bit about yourself:
Greetings, deVOTED readers! My name is Matt Helfand and I have the distinct pleasure of serving this year as president of your University Students’ Council. I studied political science during my time at Western, focusing on various aspects of political theory, international political economy and a bit of local government. This is my second year in student government, having served in 2012/2013 as President of the Social Science Students’ Council. I have also participated in the UWO Debate Society and varsity intramurals. Sadly, I’ve never won a purple shirt.
What are your goals for yourself as a leader? (i.e. How do you plan on staying grounded/focused/relaxed?)
One of the most important things for any leader is to be surrounded by a good team. I have a great team. The role of USC president is challenging and the job is a daunting task for anyone, myself included. I place a lot of trust in the people around me – in the rest of the USC executive, our student leaders, and our full-time staff. The role has significant responsibilities, privileges and duties that should not be taken lightly. Decisions can be difficult, and not everything can be a win.
All that being said, my goal is to take everything in stride, work as hard as I possibly can, and try and make the Western community proud. My capacity to genuinely do well by those around me keeps me energized and focused.
What are your goals for the USC this year? (Anything in particular that you wish you see change from last year?)
My team and I have many goals for the year with regards to the entire organization. A few priorities among our many goals are:
1. Rethinking of homecoming celebrations.
2. Creating a new process for the Student Services Committee, to enhance access to, and quality of, health and wellness services on campus.
3. Developing an Appeals Board for the USC.
4. Increasing the efficiency of Council meetings.
With a one-year term, there is only so much that can be accomplished and there are a lot of unanticipated issues that come up throughout the year. One thing that I do control is the type of president that I am. I hope to be remembered as a president who was visible, energetic, helpful to others and someone who gets s**t done.
Fun question! – what is your Spoke order?
Turkey Club w/ Sprouts on Jalapeno Cheddar Bagel.
How do you plan to keep students informed and engaged with what you are doing this year? (Be specific)
This year, we’re placing a big emphasis on student engagement in our budgeting and strategic planning process. Getting feedback from the broadest swath of the student body means we’ll be able to prioritize the USC’s long-term direction along the lines of what students really want.
On a personal note, I’ve committed to answering e-mails from all students within three business days. I hope that, for students across campus, knowing the President of the USC is fully accessible will mean a greater willingness to engage with the organization.
How do you maintain focus on your original platform goals while accommodating the administration’s long term/larger goals? (Can you speak to the progress of some of your platform promises i.e. the USC fee freeze, or education surrounding the student donation fee?)
One thing that I learned quite quickly is that the role of USC president, or any USC executive for that matter, is WAY bigger than a platform. That said, I have always been confident in the points put forth in the Team Helfand platform and I remain confident in the Team Helfand platform. We will release a more comprehensive platform progress report in the near future. But, since you asked, a little preview:
Homecoming: The reviews are still coming in, but I think it’s safe to say that the USC’s Homecoming Celebration on Concrete Beach was a huge success. Western students rocked out with Gord Bamford, enjoyed a pancake breakfast courtesy of Alumni Western and basically partied their faces off… In a responsible and controlled manner.
Base Fee Freeze: This point was #1 on the platform for a reason. I am unwavering in my belief that the USC should avoid raising the base fee as a means to provide specific services (inflation notwithstanding… I’m not former London Mayor Joe Fontana). My arguments today are the same as when I first sought to implement a USC base fee freeze in 2013. I believe they are adequately captured in these gazette articles:
USC Base Fee Freeze (part 1)
USC reviews Fee Freeze (part 2)
This is my opinion. While I may be president, I greatly respect the authority of the Council and the Board of Directors in the budgeting process. I recognize that for the freeze to be achieved, I will be required to present a compelling case as to why this is the best decision the USC can make for students. We’re at the beginning of our budgeting process now and I look forward to providing more information as that process plays out.
Education surrounding donation fees: Student Donation Fees are faculty specific, with each faculty responsible for administering opt-outs. We’re exploring different ways that the USC can support an educational campaign that will make sense for all students and we will be continuing to have a discussion with faculty presidents on the matter.
Appeals Board: As this is being written and published, a draft by-law that would establish a USC Appeals Board has passed our Governance Committee and has been submitted to council. I am so proud of how the draft turned out and I look forward to seeing the input from the Council as a whole.
Municipal Outreach: I want to acknowledge the amazing work of Jen, our VP External, in putting together an amazing campaign to “Get Out The Vote” for the upcoming municipal election. Keep an eye out for it over the next month.
Microwaves and Food Indicators: I also want to acknowledge Emily, our VP Internal, who has done an excellent job of fulfilling our promise to roll out more microwaves across campus and redevelop our campus food-labeling at the Wave & the Spoke to better inform students about their options. There are also a number of other projects that Emily has been actively pursuing, that we look forward to releasing in the future.
How do you plan to get the smaller things accomplished when you have to prioritize bigger tasks? (Good job on the microwave promise – it does not go unnoticed)
You are indeed correct to state that there are a lot of large priorities within the University. As USC president, I often have the privilege of engaging in these topics at a very high level. That said, I do my best to remember the little ways that I can use my role to enhance the experience of students. I like to call these little things proverbial ‘potholes’, with reference to the duty that municipal political leaders have to keep the roads in good shape. A pothole can be a small item of a municipal leader’s agenda, but it is something that greatly impacts constituents. I do my best to try and bounce back and forth between the high-level conversations and the small items. It can be a challenge, but if you surround yourself with the right people it can be accomplished.
If you can say one thing to the undergraduate students at Western, what would it be?
Avoid mediocrity and complacency – those things are boring.