Saturnin Ndandala, PhD student in Management and Higher Education, currently serves on the PGSS Policy and Structural Advisory Committee. According to Ndandala, his primary goal if elected would be to improve transparency within the PGSS. Other goals Ndandala lists include establishing minimum funding for all post-graduate students, and organizing a pairing program between Canadian and international students.
“Some post-graduate students are struggling, and some departments […receive] more funding [than] other departments,” he said. “I have no funding, for example [….] So I want to make it so post-graduate students have a much more equitable experience.”
While McGill is currently facing budget cuts from the provincial and federal governments, Ndandala stated that he felt the university could cut administrative costs to improve its financial situation.
“McGill can balance the budget if they can cut the administrator teams and use that money to increment the funding of post-graduate students,” Ndandala said. “We can also [group with] other universities’ post-graduate societies here in Quebec to lobby with the federal government and to the provincial government in terms of incrementing the funding of McGill.”
“Intrinsically, McGill can cut the budget of the administrative costs,” he elaborated. “Extrinsically, we can lobby with the federal and provincial government in terms of boosting the funding of provincial universities and especially McGill.”
Ndandala proposed to increase PGSS’s budget by establishing a funding program with private sectors.
“We are quite restricted by our budget,” he said. “We are limited in terms of being proactive in […] issues concerning students because our funding is not quite enough.”
Ndandala pointed to issues within PGSS, including communication and the lack of participation from members.
“As a [committee] member, I never received any emails about any meetings, so there is a communications problem I’m thinking to resolve,” he said. “[Another problem is] hindering most PGSS students from being interested in […] governing [events….] If I’m elected, I’m going to reconnect with the grassroots of the society, [hold] meetings with postgraduate associations with each faculty […] trying to be closer and implementing a more participatory approach, trying also to collect their concerns and structure new programs based on that.”
Ndandala cited his extensive previous political experience as qualifications for the position.
“I have been the chairman of the […] National Congress party in South Africa at the University of Cape Town,” he said. “I was also president of the student society of the University of Cape Town. In France […] I was part of the campaign team of François Hollande [….] In Canada, I was the chairman of the NDP party in University of Toronto.”
Ndandala also explained why he believed that his experience with political parties would not bias his participation in a non-partisan organization like the PGSS.
“I’m a very international person, based on my travelling around,” he said. “I have skills in diplomacy and […] I’m very impartial and objective in my leadership and judgement [….I have learned] regardless of our background, ethnicity, social status, we all want fairness and transparency. It’s a kind of universal human value.”
Yony Bresler, a PhD student in Physics, currently serves on McGill’s Appeal Committee for Student Discipline and Grievances. He explained that his main aim, if elected, would be to aid the rest of the executives in accomplishing their portfolios in the remainder of the academic year.
“I really think there’s an opportunity to help this current [PGSS executive], I think many aren’t staying next year; there are many things they want to get done, but between this turmoil and the CFS stuff, it took a lot of their time,” he said. “Even though it’s short-term, I think, having talked to lots of [the PGSS executive] about it, there are lots of things they want to push forward. My vision for what I want to do—the number one is just to help them do that, which is effectively the job of the secretary-general—to help coordinate things, and to try to help them accomplish their goals and fulfill their portfolios.”
Bresler identified increasing transparency in PGSS as a goal he wanted to work towards.
“There’s stuff that’s already in place, for example, releasing minutes,” he said. “Technically, it’s in our bylaws, but there’s no strict timeline on it. So specifically and broadly, we can look at that topic [and] what we can improve: Strict deadlines for minutes so they can actually be released. Also more broadly, looking at transparency, looking at places we can improve.”
In light of McGill’s financial situation, Bresler also anticipates working toward reducing the impact that budget cuts will have on students.
“In the climate of [austerity], you have to try to preserve, to the best of your ability, student services […] especially mental health services, which is a big issue for post-graduate students,” he said.
Bresler explained that his two and a half years of experience in PGSS provided him with the experience necessary to take on the position.
“Starting out, I had to learn my way through Council, but over time, I became an active member,” Bresler said. “Through [that], I’ve learned about PGSS, governing bodies, and such. Outside of PGSS […] I was in the Physics PGSA. I was the VP Social for two years, planned a lot of different events, and this year I was the chief returning officer of the PGSA.”
He emphasized that his prior experience with the PGSS would help him minimize the transition period and integrate into the executive team quickly.
“I definitely see the value of new ideas, but I think in this situation, you don’t have the month to get your bearings straight,” Bresler said. “They’re already going full speed and you’re jumping in there. So I think in this situation […] the value of me having the experience and knowledge of how all these different parts work is going to outweigh the [benefits] of a new perspective. Also, given the time, I’m not sure with the new perspective, how much time you might have to actually do any of the things by the time you figure out how things work.”
Tribune's endorsement — Yony Bresler
Both candidates have identified organizational transparency, communication, as well as McGill’s budget cuts as primary issues to address. Ndandala brings a diverse array of experiences in previous non-McGill leadership capacities and has the potential to bring a renewed perspective to the position. However, in a three-month mandate, it is essential that the secretary-general comes into the role with an intimate understanding of what is required at Council in order to succeed this year. Bresler’s previous experience as a councillor will aid him in this role. Furthermore, Bresler is more realistic in what he will be able to accomplish and is the Tribune’s endorsement for the PGSS interim secretary-general position.