The jobs that run Western’s student government have changed substantially, as the USC added a new executive student role after cutting back the election to just the president.
The University Students’ Council has split its vice-presidency in two: the role currently fulfilled by Cat Dunne has been divvied between its on-campus and off-campus work. Currently, the second-in-command executive will on some days lobby the provincial government, and on others draft policies with the university.
But neither of the VP internal or external roles will stand in February’s general election, as the USC voted in last year's Annual General Meeting. While Dunne was elected in a two-candidate slate with president Bardia Jalayer, next year’s VPs will be hired by councilors after the president is elected alone.
Other executives are elected this way; the councilors also each represent a faculty, and are elected by students in that faculty.
The change comes as the most recent to a government structure that is frequently redrawn by students who come and go every handful of years. And this blueprint, while largely strengthening the government, also slims down students’ choice in February to the president and their councilors.
The new structure also harkens back to the government’s structure of 2015-16, which had an internal and external VP.
The USC said both roles will be earmarked $80,000, making up a nearly $40,000 executive salary and then funding for its projects. Only one of the amounts is new, however, as one VP role already exists.
The vice-president of external affairs, the VP external’s full title, advocates for students on the municipal, provincial and federal levels. It has also long served on the Ontario University Student Association, Ontario’s main student lobbying group, and the new role would continue that.
Current vice-president Dunne serves as OUSA’s president, as did last year’s vice-president Danny Chang; Dunne said in an interview that she can’t remember a time council’s vice-president did not rank highly within the advocacy group.
Outside of a prominent role in OUSA, the new VP external would be responsible for local advocacy, including groups like the city’s Broughdale Task Force — a group of officials from Western University and London meant to tackle Fake Homecoming that reserves a seat for the student government.
The vice-president of university affairs, the new internal role, would focus on work within the school. They will be responsible for taking on on-campus projects, like Dunne’s role in Western’s new sexual violence policy.
The other three executive roles also got a face-lift, including brand new titles. All are now on a vice-presidential level, too. Before, the one VP was designated as the president’s senior-most adviser. Now, there are five VPs and the president.
The student programs officer, who oversees clubs and Orientation Week, will become the vice-president of student support and programming. Their responsibilities will remain mostly the same.
The title communications officer will be replaced by the vice-president of communications and public affairs, while the secretary-treasurer transforms into the vice-president governance and finance.
None of the vice-president roles will be elected by the study body: instead, the VP external and internal will be hired an anonymous council-wide ballot, while the other three executives will be selected by a hiring committee made up of the president, a council member and either a board member or student-at-large depending on the role.
The student programs officer in the past has been hired by council, but now that equity-based advocacy has been moved out of their portfolio and into the VP university affairs, the executives feel it’s more appropriate for the role to be hired by a committee.
Councillors and faculty presidents are responsible for selecting the new portfolios — and are all elected by the student body at the same time as the previous USC president.
As elections shift substantively onto the president, USC executives are hoping this change will allow more candidates to emerge, not needing to find a slate-mate. This would give students more choice, and bringing more voters to the polls, said one executive.
“The more choices voters have, I think that drives more people out to the polls,” secretary-treasurer Declan Hodgins said in an interview. “There’s more different people: each having a campaign, each reaching out, each getting out their own individual voting bases.”
Hodgins also said he thinks the change will make students more interested in elections for their faculty councilors.
“I do think it simplifies their choice,” he said. “What we’re doing is we’re giving council twice as much a role in picking the executives. So I think it’s going to really make students think when they’re voting for councilors.”
Correction (Dec. 5, 3:52 p.m.): this article has been corrected to clarify that the slate system and the VP split occurred separately, the latter after the former.