The members of Party Pleb, The Dean’s List, and The Approachables look on as party leader Stijn Wilbers discusses Synergy’s policy plans.
By Maxime Garcia Diaz and Martin J. Hoffmann
— During the Tuesday lunch break, the four parties running for the 2015-2016 AUC Student Council (AUCSC) faced each other in an Elections Debate. For the first time, this year’s candidates by far outnumber the five positions on the council, and the nearly 100 attendees seemed to indicate that student body’s interest in university politics has reached a high point. The debate, hosted by the current AUCSC and moderated by outgoing AUCSC chair Aqsa Hussain, was held in the common room of the academic building.
In order to run for AUCSC, candidates must organize themselves in parties, in an electoral system very similar to Dutch parliamentary politics. Competing for students’ votes this year are The Dean’s List (DL), Party Pleb (PP), AUC Synergy (SYN), and The Approachables (APP). The parties total 24 candidates, which is a steep increase from last year’s six, Hussain said. Twelve candidates in total participated in the debate, with four members of DL, two from SYN, and both APP and PP represented by three. Each party was given the opportunity to answer questions from each other, the audience, and the outgoing Student Council
The first round of the debate consisted of the parties addressing each other, on topics such as the value of the Voices of AUC event or how the proposal for a Student Life Officer was passed. Isi Frey and Tanushree Khausal from PP asked some critical questions regarding Synergy’s idea for a student petition right. In turn Lia Den Daas (APP) questioned Party Pleb’s emphasis on student power, asking how students would even be able to implement such far-reaching plans as new courses without management involvement. “The AUC management,” Den Daas pointed out, “is just as much AUC as the students.”
Asked about their stance on how to improve student influence on management decisions, the answers were very divided. Danielle Wagenaar (DL) said that the Student Council should avoid confrontations, and that “the AUC management wants the best for AUC.” The Approachables called for more student initiatives and focus groups, while AUC Synergy was also very clear on their stance that no change in the management structure is needed. “We believe in a working relationship, not a dictating relationship,” Wilbers said. The most critical opinion came from the Party Pleb, with Isi Frey stating that there is a need for more binding powers for student representatives, staff, and more engagement with active members of the student body: currently the AUCSC has no veto right.
During the audience-questions section of the debate, however, Dean Muraya directed a question to all parties but Party Pleb about how they intended to deal with this non-binding nature of the AUCSC’s power, saying that the other three parties were avoiding this question. Wagenaar responded that if the majority of students wanted a change, the management would “probably do it.”
Another topic that came up was the red square, painted in front of the academic building a few weeks ago accompanied by the statement “neo liberal Arts & Sciences.” This action, which echoed similar red squares painted on UvA property all over Amsterdam, angered many students and incited a heated Facebook debate. When asked about their stance, Dondorp (PP) said that “[the perpetrators] have a right to do that,” but the other parties were strictly against acts of vandalism. The Approachables suggested taking the discussion around vandalism and activism off social media and into real life, while AUC Synergy called for more places for students to voice their opinions. The Dean’s List’s position was that such forms of activism, along with putting up posters in the dorms, is forcing opinions on students.
Another critical issue was the involvement of private companies such as Shell, which sponsors scholarships, and Eurest, who run the cafeteria, in AUC. Recently students have become more vocal in disapproving of AUC being supported financially by Shell: in less than a week the Facebook page “Fossil Free AUC” garnered 164 likes. Meanwhile the high prices in the cafeteria remain an on-going point of criticism.
Daniel Bieckmann (DL) said that the Student Council needs to offer the management better options than what we currently have, and the AUC Synergy representatives repeated their statement that the council needs to listen to the students’ opinions before taking action. Again, the Party Pleb took the most radical stance and demanded to re-discuss corporate involvement in AUC.
Hussain said that the Student Council “will be more diverse,” since it is highly likely that at least one of every party will be elected.
This brings up some difficulties, as whichever five candidates end up on the council will need to find consensus on many issues in order to take effective action that represents the student body. Although she was happy with the large attendance and the increasing political interest among the students, Hussain said that “the Party Pleb is a bit exaggerated,” and insisted that the management and council cannot work against each other. Nevertheless Party Pleb, whose candidates are affiliated with De Nieuwe Universiteit movement, has the most Facebook “likes” out of the parties so far.
Whether this will translate into actual votes will be revealed on May 18th and 19th, when the 2015-2016 AUC Student Council is elected. Tuesday’s debate was part of an ongoing “promotion week”, from May 6th to May 13th, during which the different parties also set up information stands in front of the AUCSA office and, typically, hand out cookies. This year’s Student Council elections promise to be exciting, and will likely result in a diverse team, with more radical members who will want to question the way AUC goes about its politics.