By Judy Goh
Six positions, five candidates. Such was the response to the call for leaders to step up to the plate for this year’s USC 14th Management Committee (MC) elections, which leaves one seat – that of Vice President (Community Life) – vacant.
The candidates are: Goh Seng Chiy (Year 2, Engineering + USP) for President, Gloria Pang (Year 2, FASS + USP) for Vice President (Student Welfare), Lim Ni Min (Year 2, Business + USP) for Honorary Financial Secretary, Lim Cheng Lei (Year 1, Computing + USP) for Honorary General Secretary and Wang Jialiang (Year 1, Business + USP) for Freshmen Orientation Director.
With marked changes in streamlining the 14th MC, and notably the loss of the Community Pillars, the roles of the MC are to tackle more policy-driven challenges like facilitating ground-up initiatives instead of a top-down approach of organising student events. The lack of contested positions was brought up early in Tuesday night’s Q&A Session. The candidates’ speculations on the possible reasons ranged from the MC failing to get its message across to the freshmen, to negative perceptions perpetuated through word of mouth, and pragmatic reasons such as going on student exchange programmes during the one-year term. As a result of the dearth of candidates, each election candidate is required to obtain at least 50% of the votes of confidence in order to be instated into the 14th MC.
The Q&A Session brought together all five candidates for almost two hours of grilling by an engaged community of voters in the comfort and familiarity of Chatterbox. Each candidate first gave a short campaign spiel about their intentions for running and how they envision themselves fulfilling their chosen roles, before fielding questions from the floor.
As campaigning is limited to a very short period of three days before voting commences on Thursday (Aug 28), The Cinnamon Roll asked each candidate to give themselves a campaign soundbite to succinctly describe their platforms and visions:
Seng Chiy hopes to build a cohesive community of leaders and thinkers that transcends university.
Gloria has the broad vision of engagement and ownership.
Cheng Lei highlights the reconnection with spaces.
Ni Min aims to make information more accessible especially in terms of finances.
Jia Liang says, “I’m a people-centric person.”
These platforms were elaborated upon in greater detail as specific issues that are presented below topically:
On facilitating ground-up initiatives
There has been a landmark shift in the role of USC this year with student events that are mainstays of the USC calendar, such as Halloween, no longer coming under the purview of the MC – save for a few events identified as ‘baseline’, such as the Inter-Faculty Games. Instead, the new MC structure promotes ownership by the community in facilitating ground-up initiatives through the provision of support through financing, equipment and spaces.
Ground-up initiatives envisioned include interest groups (IGs), which have existed with varying sustainability and membership for some time. In addition, ad-hoc events can be organised without formalising them under interest groups, such as Confluence, the academic research conference organised by USP students each semester, or even one-off initiatives such as creating a book depository in the ground floor of Cinnamon lobby for unwanted books.
Cheng Lei describes this as allowing interest groups to flourish with facilitation, rather than micromanaging them. Those wishing to start ad-hoc events or interests groups can get started with the support that the MC hopes to provide instead of relying on their personal social connections to leverage on resources.
Notably, discussion of seeding and fostering activities was rejected in favour of a ‘hands-off’ approach. When asked if this shift towards greater ownership by short-term directors could backfire with lacklustre responses, both Seng Chiy and Gloria agreed that it would represent a community decision if that were the case. Gloria brought up the point that there was no need for additional incentives and that directors, like the candidates for MC, should run events out of a desire to be part of it. “If you can’t find people to run it, maybe it’s not worth having as an event,” she reasons. This is similar to the current stance towards members of the USP community who choose not to be engaged actively in community events. “USP is a space for everyone … platforms do not force people together, but are an avenue for them to fall back on,” she says.
The details of funding and other support for these ground up initiatives remain to be ironed out. Currently, the criteria for funding consideration is set as a “case-by-case basis” according to Seng Chiy. He also brought up an example of a financing mechanism that funds up to 60-80% with co-payment. Ni Min made the allocation of funds to these groups and event organisers her priority in her speech. Gloria proposes one potential yardstick or benchmark as based on the number of people that a ground-up initiative would affect.
On continuity of the 13th MC initiatives
One particular initiative helmed by the 13th MC and is the experimental Freshmen Floor structure, that has seen certain floors of the Cinnamon residential college designated as solely for freshmen. This discourse of the Freshmen Floors as a new community structure was consistently compared with the existing House system. Seng Chiy and Gloria described an integrated coexistence: the houses as vertical structures uniting USP students across batches and the freshmen floors as horizontal structures that span the entire batch. As this falls under the purview of the VP of Student Welfare, Gloria shared her ideas of obtaining feedback and facilitating community building through the urban form of Cinnamon College.
Another relatively new initiative is that of redefined and refurbished spaces, such as the floor lounges and theme rooms. Cheng Lei recognised that they tended to be inhabited and used by the same group of people – cliques and interest groups – that have cemented their identity around the space. He sought to reach out to freshmen, citing the innate desire that “everyone wants to be part of something”. He envisioned a centralised portal that allowed everyone in USP to have a calendar view of all USC initiatives and have functionalities such as booking places. “The current USP Life Facebook page is quite cluttered because of continuous posting that pushes each post down,” he says. According to him, this centralised portal would improve synergy between interested parties and organised groups in a small faculty such as USP, because everyone would be informed of ongoing activities.
This is not a novel idea, as was pointed out by seniors in the audience who had seen iterations and attempts to do just so, only to be hit with technical roadblocks. Cheng Lei’s response was a confident one. He shared how he had the technical expertise as a Computing student and knows how to design websites from an end-user’s perspective through past experiences: his internship with Microsoft where he maintained websites, and a similar student portal during his polytechnic days. However, when prompted, Cheng Lei recognised that as students “we already have a lot of links to remember”, and such a platform ought to be consolidated or incorporated into the existing series of communication engagement platforms, such as Scholars News email blasts, USCommunity on Twitter or even The Cinnamon Roll. He agreed that an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of outreach were necessary to observe how students interact with and perceive each platform.
On the related note of engagement, Ni Min discussed how she would try to improve information flows and getting people involved, particularly in the area of participatory budgeting. She foresees herself as making few changes but with large impacts.
On engaging faculty and alumni
In his opening speech, Seng Chiy introduced his plans to engage the faculty and alumni. The current teacher-student hierarchy bothered him as “not meaningful enough”, and so he aims to find ways to bring the faculty out of their offices and into student spaces particularly outside of official events. With the creation of the new alumni society, he hopes to integrate alumni efforts such as the We Will Dance fundraising campaign, networking events, and the alumni mentorship programme that is organised by the USP Admin office. Ultimately, his vision is that of a “USP that transcends university [life]”.
Engaging the alumni to foster long-term relationships, including potential sponsorships for interest groups (in a hope to lengthen their lifespan) is also something that Ni Min has set her sights on as Honorary Financial Secretary.
FOP Director candidate Jia Liang described his role as putting together “an enjoyable Freshmen Orientation Programme for freshmen”. Even as his supporters were present in the room, a significant number remained unconvinced of his vision for FOP, or lack thereof. Questions were prompted to nudge him into crafting his own direction of FOP, but he remained content in letting the potential committee members play a large role in doing this. Questions about the role of House committee members, who traditionally participate as orientation group leaders in Camp and Orientation Week, went unanswered as Jia Liang had not yet consulted or engaged them in dialogue before running for his position.
Rag remained a controversial topic that was discussed in terms of its aims as a community bonding event at the Q&A session. Within this line-up of candidates for the 14th MC, different positions were articulated. Outgoing 13th President Zhe Wen described Rag as an activity that costs “a couple thousand dollars’ worth of bonding and bridges burned”. Seng Chiy took a rather neutral stance, preferring to contemplate alternatives to Rag. Gloria had earlier brought up alternative suggestions such as using the money for a batch overseas trip, or conducting community service events before matriculation. To this, Jia Liang felt that bonding through hardship during Rag was more worthwhile than the alternatives raised by Gloria. His opinion was that Rag was able to unite freshmen in a dedicated project, and said that “bridges will not be burned” under his leadership.
This year’s MC elections may have seen fewer candidates putting themselves forward than usual, but the questions that sprung forth from a concerned, engaged community of USP students at the Q&A came swift and furious, and was oddly heartening. Even with less than the required number of candidates running for the 14th MC, it is hopeful that beyond these candidates, the larger student body of USC will step up and take ownership from a less dictative MC to create a truly vibrant community.
To learn more about the candidates and the 14th MC Elections, have a look at all our MC Elections coverage here.
Voting commences today and will continue till Friday.