UNB and UNBSU presidents share outlooks on new year
It might be easy to guess how students feel about the start of a new academic year—excited, scared, maybe a little bit anxious—but how about the individuals responsible for guiding and assisting students in their academic journeys?
The Brunswickan sat down with UNB president Eddy Campbell and Student Union president Herbert Bempah to ask about their thoughts and plans for the new year and what it means to be a president. We also got a small glimpse of their non-presidential sides.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
EC: Well that’s an interesting question; I was a scientist or a musician. I still sometimes revisit that. I chose mathematics coming out of high school, but I almost went off and tried to become a musician … I do play the piano every day, but I only play it for my family.
HB: Funnily enough, when I was a child I wanted to be a pastor for some weird reason. Because I remember there were a few times when my parents would take me to church and it was this particular pastor and—in as much as now I don’t necessarily believe everything that I was being told—at the time, I found that man to be extremely inspirational and motivational … I mean now, obviously, that has changed, but the ability to be able to inspire hope in people; as a child I was really a big fan of that.
What’s your favourite place in Fredericton besides UNB?
EC: Oh, that’s a hard one to pick. I love going to different restaurants with Diane, and I wouldn’t want to pick between the restaurants. The Harvest Jazz is always fun—I don’t know if that qualifies as a place … I managed to be out of town for the Rib Fest, but I’m sure if I had even managed to make it once I’d be able to say that that was a favourite.
HB: As cheesy as it may sound, I think the walking bridge is a great place to be … But aside from the bridge I like the Abbey [Cafe]. It’s a very chill place. So sometimes I go there by myself and just eat and chill.
Switching to a more serious note: in light of recent events in the US, particularly around Charlottesville and kind of the presidential response around that, how would you respond to bigotry and division among your constituents?
EC: I think you have to speak out against it … We’re an educational institution, and we should look for what people call ‘teachable moments. So it is possible for folks to make mistakes and we’ve all said stupid things in various times in our life … I don’t like the idea of this public shaming and so on—that makes me feel very uneasy, particularly. But, particularly when it seems there’s this big rush to judgement, you know, that happens immediately; I find that those aspects of what we see today troubling. On the other hand, there really is such a thing as hate speech, and that’s actually a criminal activity. And so, you know, there is a line that gets crossed and then we’re not talking about somebody who’s made a mistake—we’re talking about somebody who’s committed a crime. The difficulty we all have is that line is pretty blurred … I don’t think we’ve sorted this out as a society, for sure … There is this idea of the university as a marketplace for ideas, and I think in particular that means we have to build an environment where we can talk about difficult topics, but that doesn’t mean that we should be tolerating hate speech. And again, everybody is struggling with these issues. For me, there are some lines in there: treating everybody with respect, behaving in a civil manner, not shouting, not screaming … These are ways in which I think we can arrive at a better understanding of how to deal with these issues.
HB: Well I think what happened in Charlottesville— personally, I think it’s extremely unfortunate, but I do think that the events that happened were also a true reminder of the fact that racism isn’t necessarily, you know, obsolete. I think from time to time we try our best to convince ourselves that there aren’t fascists or bigots existing anymore—but what happened, as unfortunate as it is, is a true reminder of the fact that it does. And I think for me as an international student, as an African and as a Black person living and studying in Canada for the past three years, I’ve come to realize some of—especially some of the students here at UNB— are some of the kindest and most open-minded people that I have ever met. But, that does not mean that there aren’t people that are perhaps racist or bigots … I think as president of the Student Union, to tackle this issue [it will] just be up to myself and the team to come up with constant, innovative campaigns and messages like the Breaking Stereotypes project [spearheaded by Bempah last year] to, you know, combat these issues.
More generally, how do you view your role as president of the university/president of the UNBSU?
EC: I try to be aware that I’m president of the entire university community—including those people who would disagree quite strongly with either what the administration is doing or what the administration has planned … I think it’s important that we behave in a collegial way—that we try to make decisions at the university in a collegial way. One of the words I like that I’ve talked to people that do not like it is the word ‘professionalism.’ I would like our university to be professional about the way we go about making decisions, about the way we treat people. And again, it goes back to these concepts of civility and respect … To give you an example, I like the idea that when we’re making important decisions we consult people; for somebody like me, it’s important that I not make up my mind early, that I’m open to ideas that are different … I think we are obligated to try new and different things.
HB: I feel strongly that my role as UNBSU president—and this is one thing that I want to really be able to focus on this year—is communicating the relevance of the student body. I think that oftentimes UNB students fail to realize the power we have together as students. And the Student Union is such a powerful organization on campus that can really revolutionize and represent the interests of students, and that’s what we try to do. It’s like we have so many asks and needs of [the] administration, but we can only do this if we’re unified through a body—and that is the relevance of the Student Union, I feel. But oftentimes, a lot of students don’t necessarily realize this power that we have and so apart from, you know, leading the executive team and spearheading council in a way that we’re coming up with—with policies that affect positively the quality of life of students here on-campus, I feel like it is truly my responsibility to communicate the relevance of the Student Union to all undergraduate students.
[To Bempah] What is your strategy for working with [the UNB admin] over the upcoming year?
HB: I think the UNBSU is one of the very fortunate student organizations—not just in the province but in the country—because I feel like since the time I joined the SU, we have actually had a really good relationship with [the] university administration and that I’d like to commend them on. They’re absolutely willing to open their doors to us anytime we have proposals and project ideas for them—but again, our strategy has, you know, always been coming up with a strategic plan and essentially consulting with members of the admin and having a good discussion on some of the things we’d like to achieve and how they can assist us in achieving those things. And that’s what we’ve done so far—and so far, actually, and i’m very happy to say it’s been fruitful and very positive and the administration is, in some capacity, most certainly willing to support all of our project ideas this year.
[To Campbell] In regards to tuition, it has been increased this year and students are always generally upset with that. What factors might students not be considering for why tuition has to be raised?
EC: The context for us is that we are running financial deficits and our Board has given us until [the 2019-2020 fiscal year] to arrive back at a balanced budget. To be candid, I think tuition fees at our universities in NB have become too much of a political issue. I don’t think our government should be involved in regulating tuition fees, I think our boards hold that responsibility—and I think our boards discharge it ably and well. You have to remember that the current government froze our operating grant in the first year it came to power, and it did again in the second year they came to power … I’m not happy about that, but I don’t point a finger of blame. The government is struggling with a really significant fiscal deficit of its own, and its ability, whatever its desire, to help post-secondary education is therefore constrained. But at the same time, you know our legislation puts very strict limits on the amount of debt we can carry from year to year.
I don’t know if you’re aware, but we have a tuition review task force underway at the moment; it’s been looking at all aspects of tuition: by term, by course, by credit hour, by faculty, by program … But it is in this context that the university has to be financially sustainable. And we have been around for more than 230 years; I’m confident that we’ll be around for another 230 years or longer, but that means we have to do the things today to preserve the university for those who come after us.