This Saturday, Tembusu College heads to the polls to elect the 9th College Students’ Committee (CSC). This year, there are three teams in the running for the positions of President (P) & Vice-President (VP). They are (in no particular order): Terence Mak (P) & Loe Min Si (VP), Imaan Rowter (P) & Adam Gan (VP), Kevan Chew (P) & Alicia Lim (VP). Treehouse gets into the cut and thrust of the campaign, posing 9 questions to the the 9th CSC Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates.
1. How did you and your running mate decide to team up?
Terence: Actually, Min Si and I are fellow Welcome Group Leaders (WGLs) during Tembusu Welcome Week. So we were hanging out with our fellow WGLs, just talking about our experiences in Tembusu. And Min Si was sharing about her house captain experience, and telling us about how she adapted and learnt through her term how to handle issues. I was struck by her self-awareness and reflectiveness – to give some context, I was considering running for President for a while, but couldn’t think of a suitable running mate whom I felt could complement my working style, while being adaptive enough to respond any challenges. So when Min Si shared that experience, I felt that I could work well with her, and asked her whether she is interested in running as my Vice-President. We discussed more about our vision for Tembusu from there, and we realised we aligned very well on these issues.
Min Si: Uhm. This is a pretty long story for me, but long story short, I agreed to run for the CSC with Terence because I felt that we had a common vision for Tembusu College, and I felt that he was genuine in his intentions to give back to the college and to ensure the following batch has just as good – or an even better experience than himself. I also felt that I trusted Terence to pick up from the previous CSC’s work, you know, hailing from there, to be able to quickly pick up from where they left off to refine details and build upon good things.
Imaan Rowter & Adam: Our decision to pair up was based on our perception of good chemistry, both in the capacity of friends as well as working partners. We are able to understand each other, and have resolved numerous conflicts among ourselves. Furthermore, we think that our strengths and weaknesses are complementary. For instance, when examining a particular situation, Rowter tends to be more detail-oriented while Adam tends to look at the larger scheme of things.
Kevan & Alicia: We decided to team up because we shared the same vision and we had some experience working with each other, which allowed us to have a clearer sense of each other’s working style. Our working style also complements as Kevan tends to be more of a “macro” person who sees the big picture, whereas Alicia tends to look into the details of how to get something done! On top of our working style, we have a good friendship as well, after being friends for a year!
2. In your opinion, how well has Tembusu College lived up to being a “Home of Possibilities”? Explain your assessment.
Terence: I think for many Tembusians, Tembusu has indeed been a place where we can pursue their passions and our interests largely uninhibited. If you look around, Tembusians are actually very involved in college activities and have a strong college pride. To me, this suggests that Tembusu truly is home to Tembusians, and the fact that we have a vibrant student life scene demonstrates that the college has been supportive of the possibilities dreamt up by students.
Min Si: Picking up on the point of having a strong college pride, I think Tembusu has indeed earned its reputation of being the “Home of Possibilities”. Here, Tembusians are able to pursue what they feel is important to them and have the avenues available to them to make it happen. We want to continue this “Home of Possibilities” by making sure each person, regardless of the absurdity of their ideas, feels that they are able to voice out their dreams and ideas, and feels that they have a CSC who supports them.
Imaan Rowter & Adam: Tembusu College is to a large extent a “Home of Possibilities” for us. Both of us have experienced a lot within the college, which we did not think was possible prior to being a Tembusian. For instance, living within a like-minded yet different community of friends, and even forging friendships with our professors who teach our modules.
The range of activities in Tembusu has been really diverse as well. We are able to find an interest group which fascinates us, and are encouraged to set up new interest groups if our interest is not specifically catered to. This has led to us leading a vibrant and dynamic student life, with activities which interest us almost every single day, on top of the academic workload which we are exposed to in school. This contributes to work-life balance in a great way.
Kevan & Alicia: In our opinion, being a “Home of Possibilities” means providing all of the residents of the college a safe space to explore as many interests, ideas and friendships as they are interested in, within a supportive environment. By such a metric, we believe that our community has by and large lived up to these expectations, especially In terms of providing students access to exploring these interests through the many Interest Groups, Out of Classroom Learning projects, house events and student’s teas throughout the semester.
That being said, looking ahead, we believe that for Tembusu to continue to be a Home of Possibilities for all of us, there is a need to ensure that every individual and student group in Tembusu continues to receive sufficient support, especially in the face of challenges that arise throughout the year. At the individual level, we believe that this can be achieved through encouraging more student wellness and academic support initiatives, especially during high stress periods such as finals. At the student group level, this can be achieved through ensuring every group has access to the resources and guidance they need, to continue doing what they do best.
3. In your opinion, what is the biggest threat to Tembusu College being a “Home of Possibilities”? What role can the CSC play in response to this threat?
Min Si: I think that the biggest “threat” to Tembusu College comes in the form of external ideological differences. It’s a tough question to answer without feeling like I’m shifting some tectonic plates, but I shall try. What I mean by “ideological differences”, essentially, is people who do not subscribe to being as liberal as we are to certain ideals. The CSC’s role therefore, is to represent the students’ interests, including the minority groups in our college. It is not a threat that we can “fight” against, so to speak, but one that must be negotiated with.
Terence: Our Home of Possibilities is the result of Tembusians coming together to realise the vision they have for the college. It is not a top-down, college or University-directed project. So I think if students remain passionate and driven within Tembusu, there will always be seeds of ideas that are just waiting to flower. Our job as the CSC is really to ensure that these ideas get the resources they require to germinate, to really negotiate the bureaucratic side of things to support these ideas. This is why what Min Si mentioned about representing the student body is important. The CSC has to be in touch with the concerns of the student body to be able to fulfil this function. And that really is the direction Min Si and I want to take with this CSC.
Imaan Rowter & Adam: The biggest threat to Tembusu College expanding its full potential of being a “Home of Possibilities” is in the event that there is a conflict of interests among various student groups within the college. This conflict is likely to lead to animosity amongst different factions and could lead to the college being very polarized and hence unable to reach its maximum potential. For instance, the allocation of venues, funding or even advertising space tend to be more competitive in nature due to it being a limited resource, and the process of vying for it may cause unhappiness amongst different groups, which may sometimes be difficult to resolve.
This is amongst the fundamental reason as to why we wish to run for the CSC as well. Our main goal is to invoke change in the culture of the CSC, such that it becomes even more democratic and participatory, where the perspectives and thoughts of our fellow Tembusians will actually be taken into account in the policies and schemes which we enact. We do not intend to impose our ideas on others, and will not assume a superior stance when interacting with the rest of the student body within Tembusu.
Kevan & Alicia: We believe the biggest threat to “Home of Possibilities” lies in potentially having limitations imposed on students’ abilities to pursue their interests and voice their opinions. If students are not free to pursue what they desire to, to construct their very own college life, then the “Home of Possibilities” has essentially disappeared.
In response to such a threat, the CSC has to play an active role to be on the ground to listen to the student population and thoroughly understand student needs so as to be in a good position to negotiate these possible limitations with the relevant bodies. In times of a threat to the College’s identity, the CSC should also remain as a stabilising force that is able to keep the community united.
4. What are your guiding principles when allocating budget to the various Interest Groups (IGs)? Should any IG be afraid that your administration would reduce its budget?
Terence: Perhaps I’ll address the second question first. I don’t think IGs should be worried that their budgets will be reduced such that the existence of the IG is threatened – the CSC does not want to close IGs down. IGs form the heart of Tembusu’s vibrant student life, and the CSC is invested in caring for the IGs’ interests. If we are thinking about how certain IGs might gain at the expense of other groups during the budgeting process, I want to highlight that that is a dangerous way to think of things. Because this implies an ‘us vs them’ mentality, that Tembusians have to fight each other for resources, to protect their own turf.
Min Si: This is where our guiding principle of ‘One Tembusu’ applies. What we mean is that we want the IGs not to see themselves as competing entities, but as a community that grows together. Yes, as Terence said, it may involve some give-and-take in particular years when a particular IG is in need of materials, but we want the IGs to see it as a collective growth in the long term and not a yearly competition. Budgeting isn’t about the short-term benefits – in that way, no one gets what they need and want – it’s about planning for the future, and that is that we hope to achieve in the 9th CSC to ensure longevity for all IGs and in turn for Tembusu’s vibrant student life.
Imaan Rowter & Adam: Our guiding principles when we allocate budget to the various IGs would be based fully on the concept of pragmatism. As the budget for the college is limited, there has to be some give and take going on in order to ensure harmony amongst the various IGs in the college. We will improve the whole budget allocation process such that it becomes more transparent, so that every IG know the reason why they are getting the amount of funding they get. It will be based on pragmatism, which would be in line with the college’s mission and vision.
We understand the concern of Tembusians regarding a limited budget, given that there are so many events and activities ongoing within the college. However, we are open for the various IGs to source out for their own sponsorships in other organizations. There are many external organizations which give sponsorship for events – NYC, Lee Foundation. IGs should use such additional avenues to raise their funds. In this respect, Rowter possesses experience in dealing with sponsorship issues. Any Tembusian can feel free to approach Rowter for any ideas on how to go about doing this.
Kevan & Alicia: While budget decisions for every individual IG will be subject to various unique considerations, these are some of the preliminary guiding factors that will drive our decision making process:
- Financial records of the IG
- Current financial needs of the IG
- Total amount of financial resources available to be distributed among the IGs
- The current needs and interests of the student population
- Equitability of distribution between the different IGs
As much as possible, we will not go out of the way to reduce the budget of any IGs. Ultimately, the final decision will be made based on a holistic consideration of the factors above.
5. How would you manage disputes between the college’s various social groupings – IGs, Out-of-Classroom Learning (OOCL) projects, Houses and others?
Min Si: In my experience as a House Captain, and as an IG head in sports and enrichment, there have not been many disputes among these groups. We, Tembusians, usually just discuss and work out any differences together. Maybe from the CSC’s point of view, the potential dispute issues would be venue bookings or perhaps budget, which we have touched on before. To us, I think the best solution is to find alternatives to satisfy both parties. As mentioned before, we want to build a community that works to recognise the common good. We feel that Tembusians shouldn’t feel that they need to compete for space – Tembusu is a big place and there is a space for everyone to work in.
Imaan Rowter & Adam: Disputes is an inevitable process, and we do expect to see a healthy level of dispute among the various social groupings in Tembusu. Our conflict resolution method involves a process of understanding the root cause of the conflict as well as focusing on the larger picture. We intend to reach out to the heads of all the social groupings within Tembusu, and ensure that we understand their various demands, which will then aid us better in the future when we try to align their demands with one another. To us, resolving conflict is not just about focusing on our commonalities, but also understanding why we differ and embracing our differences.
Kevan & Alicia: We believe that for the most of such disputes lies two central causes – a conflict of interest between the two (or more) parties, and miscommunication (or a complete lack of it in some cases). As such, while every dispute will be unique and subjected to their own circumstances, we believe that our general approach should be to first understand the interests and concerns from the individual stakeholders of the dispute. Following this, the CSC can act as a mediating party to bring all involved parties together to resolve any underlying misunderstandings, and co-create a solution which all parties can agree on.
6. How would you manage disputes between the students and the college administration?
Terence: First and foremost, our priority in these circumstances will be to represent the interests of the student body. By this, I mean raising up to the college administration what the students think, regardless of our own personal take on the issue. We do work closely with the college administration, and I do think the college administration is genuinely supportive of Tembusians. What the CSC has to do is to make sure that the college administration is aware of Tembusians’ concerns, and takes that into consideration when making decisions.
Imaan Rowter & Adam: The college administration and the students may have different goals at times. However, we ultimately wish to do the best for the college, which is to fulfil the concept of Tembusu being a ‘Home of Possibilities”. It will be the CSC’s prerogative to understand how a particular issue is being perceived by both sides, before we step in with resolutions and proposals as to how we can achieve a middle ground. We will encourage compromise and restraint on both side, and encourage both sides to remain moderate, while we will remain neutral brokers in charge of brainstorming win-win resolutions.
Kevan & Alicia: We believe that for such disputes, the crux is to first understand the interests and concerns from both the students involved, and the college administration. To achieve this, it will be necessary for us to build and maintain sufficient channels of communication between the CSC and students, as well as between the CSC and the administration, so that such conversations can happen. Once a clearer picture about these differing interests and concerns has been built, the CSC will then have to act as a mediating party to convey the interests of the students to the administration, work out a solution to the best of our ability, and communicate the outcome of these discussions back to the students involved.
7. What checks and balances are there to prevent any CSC from going rogue?
Terence: I think within the CSC all the CSC members are elected separately as student representatives of Tembusu (barring the President-Vice-President pairing, of course). It means that each CSC member is equally accountable to the college, and the CSC members should represent students impartially without fear of censure from their fellow CSC members. I think our role as President and Vice-President is to really foster that culture within the CSC. The CSC also works in close conjunction with other student partners, groups (Residential Team), House Committees, and with our staff advisor Yee Han. I think this ensures that students have alternative channels to raise feedback in case the CSC fails to live up to its duty to represent the interests of students.
For Min Si and I, we want to enable students more than we direct. This means that students really take charge of their respective interests and develop it how ever they want, and the CSC plays an enabling and supportive role in this. Our CSC would not dictate what each group should do, and we want to institutionalise that as the way the CSC should work. This, in the long run, ensures that the respective groups are never under the CSC’s beck and call.
Imaan Rowter & Adam: This is the most important reason why we are running for elections. The only way the CSC can go rogue is when there is no balance of power. The fact that we were not initially from the CSC is our unique selling point, as there is no consolidation of power. We are coming in from the outside, with fresh perspectives and concrete frameworks which we intend to execute.
It is also unlikely that we will adopt an authoritarian approach, given that most of the directors who are already within the 9th CSC are also from various social groupings within the college. Furthermore, our positions entail our responsibilities in facilitating the will of the student population within Tembusu and not achieve our objectives by force. Instead, we would encourage an unofficial group of neutral Tembusians to be set up, to offer constructive criticism of our policies within the unofficial Tembusu Facebook group, for all to see. This ensures transparency in our processes, and our responses will be for all to see. Tembusians will then know if we are being defensive of our approaches, or whether we are truly integrating the feedback of Tembusians in future ideas for the well-being of the college, which is a goal all of us are striving for.
Kevan & Alicia: Actually, this election itself serves as an important mechanism to prevent such a situation from happening. With three core positions being up for contest, it is extremely important for everyone to vote for the individuals that you believe will best safeguard your interests, and the interests of the college. So make sure you place your votes this weekend!
Additionally, the President and Vice-President also meet up with the college administration regularly to provide updates regarding the proceedings within the CSC, which also provides the administration with an opportunity to intervene should they feel that certain processes are not gone about appropriately. Internally, major decisions within the CSC are also made after consideration of opinions from all members of the CSC, which helps to serve as an internal check and balance.
8. How do you plan to minimise the effects of burnout among CSC members, particularly towards the end of semester?
Terence: I don’t think burnout is an issue limited to the end of the semester actually. If you think about it, the major college events – Open Day, Tembusu Welcome Week, Inter-College Games, Tembusu House Games, Arts Week, and so on – they do not take place between week 9 to exam week. The events during this period is usually lower intensity for the CSC, and so I think it is actually manageable. What I am more concerned about is really the small, unseen tasks the CSC takes on that over time wears out the CSC members. I’m talking about things like venue bookings, external meetings, and coordinating with external stakeholders. These things subtly suck up your time and energy, and before you know it, you have little left to offer. For Min Si and I, therefore, it is important that we streamline these processes to ensure that they are sensible, efficient, and purposeful, so that with minimal work we achieve maximal result.
Min Si: In addition, I think that the best way to minimise burnout is by making sure the CSC feels like a team – like they have support behind them in what they want to do. Burnout is a result of more than just pacing problems – sometimes it’s because team members lose their way or feel that they’re alone. Our goal, as President and Vice-President, I think, is to make sure no one feels like that. I want to make sure each and every member of the CSC feels like they have a team behind them on top of their subcommittees – that they have friends that are in it with them to the end to make our dreams a reality. We also want to keep our CSC members motivated to the end, no matter how much things get – to constantly drive them not solely for excellence and prestige, which becomes empty, but for passion which tends the flame of the hearth.
Imaan Rowter & Adam: We will encourage CSC members to work closely with their subcommittee members, and work hand-in-hand to get tasks executed rather than carrying out their work alone. Also, we intend to open up ad-hoc roles for passionate Tembusians who wish to contribute in their various capacities. This collaborative approach ensures not only less workload on the part of our committee members, but also delegation which signifies a teamwork mindset.
Kevan & Alicia: Indeed, the CSC has to handle an extensive and intensive amount of work during the term, which will definitely lead to stress and possibly feeling burnout. Hence, it is important for us to (a) check-in with them regularly in terms of their workload and stress levels; (b) ensure that they get to fulfil their goals and plans for their term and (c) foster a culture of care and support within the team. By regularly checking in with the members, we can provide any forms of support when needed. Ensuring that members get to fulfil what they intend to do during their term can keep them motivated and a strong team can help to spur each other on in times of difficulty.
9. How would you measure the success of the CSC?
Min Si: I guess I would measure the success of the CSC in how innovative we were and how many people feel that we’ve listened to them and spoken to – and for – them. Another important metric to me is how Tembusians feel after our term ends – whether or not they feel fulfilled in their own college journey in Tembusu. I don’t think success has to be qualitative, I think it’s about how the College sees the CSC after our term ends, and how Tembusians feel when they leave the college.
Terence: Since Min Si covered the Tembusu aspect of our measure of success, I will share more about my goals for the CSC. I think for one, we both want to make the 9th CSC a closely knit team. So I hope to see that my CSC members are good friends during and after their term. I also want to leave the CSC in a position such that the next CSC (the 10th) can easily take over knowing that the 9th CSC have tidied up a lot of the loose ends. That will really leave them with a gentler learning curve, and they can really come into the CSC ready to implement their new plans and ideas without worrying too much about all this administrative stuff. So to me, it is really about making the CSC a sustainable student group that can continue to contribute to Tembusians well!
Imaan Rowter & Adam: We would measure the success of the CSC based on student satisfaction surveys, which we will implement at the end of every semester. This will be a feedback mechanism which is an evaluation of how well we have performed. We would encourage ideas, suggestions and constructive criticism from all Tembusians so that we could serve everyone better. Our ultimate goal is not to prove ourselves that we are successful based on numerical terms. We wish to achieve happiness among Tembusians, as well as harmony. These are intangible, but integral to the ultimate satisfaction of Tembusians.
Kevan & Alicia: Naturally, part of our measurement of the success of the CSC will come from how successful the CSC was in organising and executing key events and initiatives at the college level. Additionally, with the CSC being representatives of the student community within Tembusu, we also consider the CSC’s ability to reach out and communicate at every level of the college community as a key indicator of success.
Internally, we also believe that it is critical for every incoming member of the CSC to have goals that are related to their job-scope, as well as goals that are linked to personal development and growth, and hence we will also measure the success of the CSC based on how successful every member of the CSC was in achieving these goals.
External online voting will commence on 8 September (Sat) at 10am and will close on 10 September (Mon) at 6pm. The election results are determined by external vote (60%), internal vote (30%), and interview (10%). Election results will be released on 12 September 2018 (Wed).