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Interview with Concordia Student Union president Lex Gill

Concordia NOW talks with the Montreal-native about governance, challenges and her vision for Concordia in 2011-12.
August 19, 2011
By Russ Cooper

Lex Gill and the Your Concordia team are set to improve transparency in student government. | Photo by AJ Korkidakis
Lex Gill and the Your Concordia team are set to improve transparency in student government. | Photo by AJ Korkidakis

In April 2011, Lex Gill was elected as president of the Concordia Student Union (CSU) for the academic year of 2011-12. The Montreal-native, who is completing a double major in Political Science, and Community and Public Affairs and Policy Studies, sat down with Concordia NOW to discuss governance, challenges, and her vision for Concordia.

What’s your vision for the CSU for this upcoming year?
Historically, many students have not felt in touch with their union. They weren’t really sure what the CSU was there for. I want students to feel like they are a part of something more than the classroom. [Gill’s party] Your Concordia was elected on the platform of reaffirming the CSU’s role as an advocacy organization. There are so many challenges students face beyond the classroom — abusive landlords, immigration issues … The CSU exists to help them through that process.

What’s your view of Concordia today?
When the university speaks simultaneously about being a place for accessible education and a community institution, that doesn’t really jive with the idea of being a top-tier research school, and there’s tension there. We’re either an open, accessible environment for community-based research or we run the university like a business.

Those two elements can’t co-exist?
We can do incredible research that’s driven by community needs, but we forget that the work there is happening on our campus. Some people say the universities are laboratories for social change, and I think Concordia is just that.

Students are here to get an education and, presumably, that means something a little bit more. I think the university could be empowered to see the students as something more than a revenue line. Students are building really powerful, exciting things.

What are the challenges Concordia faces in the next year?

Universities are chronically underfunded, and decisions are made based on this fact. My perspective is that we should be talking about how we deal with that underfunding crisis, rather than just saying that doubling tuition is the solution. It’s not going to get cheaper to run a university.

But Concordia does some amazing things. The Dean of Students office runs the Concordia University Student Parents Centre, which does outstanding work for student parents, and the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities goes out of its way with a tiny budget to help students with special needs.

Sometimes we’re afraid of highlighting these things because then there’s acknowledgment that there are sensitive issues to deal with. We should not be afraid to admit there are problems at Concordia, because these are problems many universities face. The difference is that Concordia does something about them. 

We are at an incredible time, in terms of governance and in talking about the purpose of this university. The thing that everyone at this school needs to reflect on is that we shouldn’t be afraid of change and criticism. That’s what a university is there for. Think about a university as a public institution working for the public good. Then from criticism and dialogue, we can find solutions.

If we can keep this open spirit of engagement and looking at ourselves critically, there’s nothing but good that can come out of it.

In a year’s time, what do you hope to leave for the next CSU president?
I hope that when I leave, people don’t see the CSU anymore as the big brother with all the answers, but instead as a peer.

What will be the Concordia of tomorrow in your opinion?
The governance review has been very powerful. The sense is that this is the right direction to move towards empowering the academic sector of the university, toward working for a more accountable governance model and a more effective renewal of Board members. Unfortunately it took a bit of a crisis to get to this point, but now that we’re here, I think there’s a lot of potential to fix things.

Concordia has incredible potential to grow if we start incorporating into the governance structure all the people that make this university run. There’s a place on the Board of Governors for artists, community organizers, parents … What makes Concordia different is that there is a really incredible network. People come here for that. I came here because I thought, ‘this is a school you go to when you want to save the world.’ I think a lot of students feel this way.

Related links:
•    Concordia Student Union
•    Your Concordia site

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