profile of Liam Roche
Image: BOG candidate Liam Roche/Provided.
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Roche talks about his vision for the Board of Governors

The University of Ottawa and the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) are currently holding elections for the Board of Governors. This article will shed light on the candidates participating in the race.

The BOG is responsible for the university’s overall management and governance; it is in charge of finances, policies, and procedures. Two undergraduate students sit on the BOG, they are elected to two-year terms.

In June 2020, Saada Hussen was elected to her second term on the BOG where she will serve till 2022. The current BOG election will determine who joins her on the board; the elected candidate will serve until 2023.

The University of Ottawa’s Liam Roche participated in a question and answer with the Fulcrum to discuss his platform. For those who wish to get familiar with Roche, the following is a transcription of the interview. All answers have been edited for length and clarity 

The Fulcrum (F): Who is Liam Roche and why are you running for the BOG?

Liam Roche (LR): My name is Liam Roche. I’m a third-year chemical engineering and computer technology student at the University of Ottawa. I’m bilingual, my first language is French and I’m running to be the University of Ottawa’s next undergraduate representative on the Board of Governors. I want to do that because I think that COVID-19 moving us virtually has given us the opportunity to reset our habits when we come back to school, and to really have a reset to institutional habits.

F:  Do you have previous involvement within student government or any relevant experience that you think will help you in this role?

LR: Yeah, so the [student representative] on the BOG is really in an interesting position, because it deals with the whole administrative side of things. So where the university gets their money, and so on the student side, we’re supposed to bring students opinions and the student experience to the BOG, which I have a lot and one of the advantages that I have is that I’ve done I’ve collaborated with every student group under the sun. 

I am somebody who is in chemical engineering but has a huge interest in the political and social science side of things. So I’m somebody that has very split personalities that gets to reach every single student across campus. And I also have a lot of experience on the administrative side of things for where the university gets their money. For example, the university’s budget line and the provincial government has not been increasing to the rate that it needs to be for their collective agreements for their inflation, etcetera. And that is something that we need to push to change. To leverage those relationships that I have with the provincial government, with the municipal and federal government to really get the university to the spot where we want it to be. So to summarize your question, I will take my experience dealing with students from across campus, and also my experience with the government to find where to get funding.

F: In your own words, how do you view your mandate on the BOG if elected?

LR: The role of Governor is weird … it’s very, very confusing to see what the actual role entails. I think that it’s to bring the opinion of as many students as possible to the board. And then to serve as a liaison between university offices, and different university departments, and the students that have issues with them. That requires you to be in touch with what students need to bring to these issues, and to be able to reach out to students outside of your little bubble, to reach out to as many students as possible and connect them if ever, they have an issue with the language barrier with a student rights issue, and to point them in the right direction.

F: How do you plan on working to improve mental health and wellness on campus?

LR: Yeah, so I am only one vote on this board. But the students can make a lot of noise and the student union can make a lot of noise that the university has shown that they listen to. So I want to be a source of empowerment and of direction for the student body and work with the advocacy commissioner at the [University of Ottawa Students’ Union] (UOSU) to show them like, ‘Hey, this is the person who needs to talk to you’ and set up a trilateral bilateral meeting with them to sit them down and to be like, ‘Alright, what are we going to do because the University of Ottawa Student Union really wants to be involved in those mental health initiatives?’ And I think that the [President’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health of Wellness] report, which was presented to the president in December, highlighted a few great things. But I think that we’re going to see a large spike in mental health issues and mental health problems when we start going back to campus. And the reason why I say that is because students are going to have that feeling of ‘fear of missing out’ if they’re put online. And with 30 to 50 per cent [of in-person courses], how are you going to ensure that a student in class gets the same level of education as a student virtually? Because we know that right now, we’re not getting the same quality of education as we did when we were in person? So that’s something that I think we need to also be conscious about and also to work for. 

F: So you touched on this in your previous answer, but how do you plan to advocate for a safe return to campus for students?

LR: I love this question. Because that’s really what my campaign is built around, it’s building back together. So when we go back to campus, we get to reset all of our habits. So that includes how we get to campus. So I had a plan on working with the municipal government to work so that students don’t have to pay for ridiculously high campus parking, I would work with the city to set up the parking rides at the [Light Rail Train] (LRT) stations, which is something that literally runs to campus. 

I also think we have an amazing opportunity to train campus security, so they are trained for how to deal with students in a COVID-19 environment. Why can also really mandate them to learn about anti-oppression training and profiling, because with a mask, they’re going to be asked to make a lot more assumptions. And we need to make them aware of those assumptions that they’re making. For the back-to-school, though, what I think that needs to look like, is the University of Ottawa needs to work with Ottawa Public Health to get a vaccine.

F: How do you plan on improving communication between the BOG and students?

LR: I’ve actually been to a couple of BOG meetings and I’ve noticed that they’re very procedural and hard to follow, especially when you don’t have the briefing documents to tell you what’s happening. Then because they go into camera and you literally get kicked out of the room where you can’t participate in or hear what’s happening. So how I would change that is, first of all, I’m going to be asking the UOSU to let me sit in their office and have office hours accessible to all students. That is number one. I think that’s one of the quickest and simplest ways to get that direct communication with our students. The next way that I want to raise more awareness, is to collaborate with Recognized Student Governments (RSGs). So what I want to do is, I want to work during 101-Week and during RSGs events, walk around, and hold different collaboration events, with the different RSGs, to introduce myself, if elected, as a member of the BOG, and to let them know what the university BOG does and can do for them. And that’s really what the role is, in essence, is to hear what the student opinion is, what the concerns are, from students and to voice them at the BOG meeting.

F: How do you plan on actively fighting racism on campus and keeping your fellow governors to account?

LR: I’ve had discussions with the administration through the different government channels on the governmental side of things, but that’s outside of my potential role as BOG. But still, I want to leverage those relationships, because the university admin really cares about what the government thinks of them. And if the government starts calling them out for those types of situations, that’s really bad. So whenever students have those types of concerns, my argument is going to be to have a multifaceted approach; it can’t only be students talking about it, it also needs to be the media and it also needs to be the government, which funds the university.

So as an example, I think that the ‘N-word’ incident in the fall was really well done from the student side of things and even got quite a bit of support from the university and from the media side of things but we were missing that political aspect where the government didn’t want to get involved. And I think that if the government decided to say something, and I know that they had Jagmeet Singh say something, but the fourth party in the federal government doesn’t really have as much influence as the Minister of University and Colleges Ross Romano. So we need more political involvement. 

F: International student fees are at an all-time high, how do you plan on advocating for them?

LR: Absolutely. One of the big things that we’ve seen from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we did not get a tuition decrease, but we got a service decrease. Now, I guess, at the university, what they need to do is they need to turn to the government and say ‘hey, we’re trying everything that we can, but we simply cannot cut anymore, we need your help, we need you to give us some extra money to help us stay afloat.’ And that’s where the provincial government and the federal government have stepped in. And that is why we’re not seeing a huge deficit with the budget this year because they have received that help from the federal and provincial governments. 

What needs to happen for future years to prevent that, from emergency funding from the province to hiking international students’ tuition prices, is for the province and the federal government are going to need to recognize that the universities are offering a public service. And they’re publicly funded, and they are a public responsibility of the provincial government. And what we can point to is other universities that are currently going through hardships like Laurentian University. And say, ‘look, you don’t want us to be in the situation.’ We don’t want to  have to increase tuition price for international students to the same rate that we get funding from the provincial government, which is ridiculously high, do we need to present that to the provincial government, and federal government and external stakeholders and say, ‘hey, can you help us out?’ ‘What are you going to do to prevent that from happening?’ And I think that’s the way that we can help lower international student tuition fees. And generally speaking, it’s a matter of consulting these international students and having their voices brought up to the table and helping them to set up those meetings with different stakeholders at the university. Even if it doesn’t have a direct impact on the role of the BOG representative, or that role is higher up at the university, a meeting between these two parties is going to be incredibly important.

F: Why should students vote for you?

LR: I have had varying interests that allow me to get involved with every single body on campus, from different clubs, to student associations, I have an interest in all of them. And I have been reaching out for the past three years to all of them getting involved with so many different clubs and associations on campus. I can bring a wide range of voices to the table. 

And I can also use those voices to bring it up to the different governmental representatives that are able to push my point from a very political and financial point of view, which will apply that additional pressure to the BOG to really get that decision made. And to really get what students have been fighting for passed.