Dear Students,

My time with the Students’ Union has been enriching, eye opening and a time of great learning and growth. As your UASU President of the last year—a year that has presented one of the most significant crises of our university’s 112-year history—I have witnessed first-hand the many challenges students have faced, but have continuously been humbled by the incredible resiliency I have witnessed among our campus body from faculty, staff and students.

I officially assumed my role as President in the midst of sweeping changes and challenges. We quickly pivoted our advocacy efforts, services, and businesses to best support students in the era of COVID-19, with many essential student supports your UASU provides being moved online. Your health, safety and needs as students remained at the core of every difficult decision. Your Students’ Union Building, as your living room of campus, and an essential space for studying, health, nutrition, and so many other important services, remained open with limited hours, social distancing, and increased sanitary measures. Our facilities staff worked tirelessly to ensure your health and safety.

More than one hundred years ago, during the Spanish Flu of 1918, The Gateway archives tell a story of a similar, yet very different experience at the University of Alberta:

 “During the Session of 1918-19 there was no issue of the Gateway until December 20th owing to the influenza epidemic, the University being closed during that period.” Things were empty and quiet.

There are many moments in the past year that have felt like this. At the annual President’s Address, I delivered a speech at the Myer Horowitz Theatre looking into an empty audience with a live-streaming camera pointed at the podium—a stark juxtaposition from being on stage last year as your previous VP Academic, surrounded by many friends and people in my classes. In September, I saw what is usually a packed main quad during Week of Welcome with live music, food, drinks, and clubs fair, sitting empty as a new online series of events replaced these activities so we could all participate from home. Unlike during the Spanish Flu, we were able to use technology in ways that helped connect us to each other when we needed it most. I’m grateful for the many ways that various people within our organization—from UASU Events, to services like the Peer Support Centre, to UASU Perks, and our marketing and communications team—have worked incredibly hard to help keep our community connected and supported. 

Of course, this strange year has also presented significant obstacles and challenges, some brought about by our new reality in the COVID-19 pandemic, and others that have taken years to accomplish and overcome. 

One of the more pressing concerns was the quality and accessibility of online learning. Never before in our University’s history had there ever been such a sudden and mass exodus to online learning. With the shift to “zoom lectures'' came the onset of additional unforeseeable challenges, both for students and faculty. Faculty were now required to turn their in-person lectures into an online compatible format, many of whom struggled greatly with these formats and technology. Students struggled to have the same kind of academic social life and available support online as they do in person. A proportion of students were without proper technology and internet access. In addition, many students with accessibility needs in their studies had great difficulty in these learning environments. International students who were stuck at home across the globe were often required to attend lectures at odd hours of the night.

Due to these significant issues, we spent a lot of time advocating to ensure that your online learning is of high quality and accessible for all students—and therefore we focused on issues including online proctoring, asynchronous content, participation grades, and concessions for students without laptops, among others. Throughout this, we were grateful to have worked closely with the University, though there were moments we needed to push hard to ensure adequate actions were taken for particular online learning issues, especially those  primarily pertaining to International students and online proctoring. 

Further, mental health took a sharp turn for the worse while students struggled often alone in their homes. We worked hard to ensure that our mental health services such as the Peer Support Centre were moved online, and worked closely with our health and dental provider to launch EmpowerMe, a mental wellness service available to students 24/7 all year.

In addition to these challenges imposed upon us by the pandemic which have been consistently reported on throughout the year, the University of Alberta witnessed additional large scale initiatives and disruptions. From Academic Restructuring, to a government review of post-secondary education, and crippling budget cuts that we continue to fight against. 

This year the University of Alberta saw the largest scale academic and administrative restructuring in history within an extremely limited timeline.  Throughout this process, as the sole undergraduate student on the Academic Restructuring Working Group, it was my goal to bring student-focused feedback to the table, and ensured the proposal included students' voices. The three colleges created and approved at the Board of Governors are the (i) College of Health Sciences (ii) College of Natural and Applied Sciences and (iii) College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

I held the position early on and continue to hold the notion that any College Dean (or Executive Dean for that matter) must report to the Provost, and there must be a clear and transparent reporting structure by Faculty Deans to the College Dean. It is therefore inconceivable to me that the current approved model whereby each college will be led by a collegial council of deans, would be effective in achieving the desired outcomes set forth at the onset of this endeavour.  

My hope is that the outcome of such transformations to the University of Alberta will lead to further interdisciplinarity, excellence in teaching and research, improved collaboration, and accountable and efficient leadership to further increase quality and accessibility of student learning at this great institution.

Though the year has been a challenging one, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the student body throughout this time. I am grateful for the team I have had the privilege to work alongside who have been so good to me. I am grateful for the incredible staff who work for the UASU who keep the ship afloat. I am grateful for the many exceptional student leaders I have been able to learn from. I am grateful for the incredible work of UASU alumni who have carried the flame before me, of which I will pass on to my successor in just a few weeks. Though it is difficult to move forward to what is next, I move on knowing that the flame will continue to burn bright, and continue to carry the student heartbeat. 

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your University of Alberta Students’ Union President for the 2020/2021 year. It has been a deep honour and privilege, one that I will keep for life. 

Yours Sincerely,

Joel Agarwal
University of Alberta Students’ Union President


Here are just a few highlights from the 2020/21 UASU Executive Team:

  • Lead UofA students through COVID-19 global pandemic

  • Advocated strongly for online learning accessibility and quality

  • Successfully pushed for and achieved an extended Winter break by one week

  • Advocated for mental health resources during this pandemic. Successful launch of EmpowerMe, a mental health and wellness service available 24/7 yearly

  • Shifted the Peer Support Centre & other services online 

  • Academic Restructuring leading to the creation and  implementation of 3 Colleges 

    • College of Health Sciences 

    • College of Natural and Applied Sciences and 

    • College of Social Sciences and Humanities

  • Advocated extensively provincially and federally to MLAs, MPs and others regarding PSE issues students are facing 

  • Strong contribution and participation in Alberta 2030 PSI review / McKinsey successfully leading to likely deconsolidation, no sector level board, and lack of tuition deregulation

  • Renewed emphasis on sexual violence prevention on campus, launch of new university website

  • Integral in the International Students’ Association becoming an SRA

  • Got the University to hire the Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator (SVPC) after years of UASU advocacy, through a $1.50 MNIF increase, partly funded by the University 

  • Secured a guarantee that 15% percent of tuition will be set aside for student financial aid for the second year in a row

  • Passed the Myer Horowitz renovation project, improving sustainability within the theatre, construction to commence in next few months

  • Launch of the Sustainability & Capital Fund where student projects can receive up to $10,000 in funding

  • Free menstrual products dispenser installed in SUB

  • UPass Referendum passes with 86% approval rating. Historic four year price freeze deal with ETS including expanded jurisdiction to Beaumont

  • UASU Governance Restructuring Task Force report of recommendations for governance changes

  • Implemented an alternative health and dental basic plan for cost-effective alternative to the comprehensive plan

  • OER Advocacy: creation of Zero Textbook Cost signifier set to launch August

  • Partnered with Kids & Company, for affordable daycare options for students

  • Creation of the UASU Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force (EDIT). Survey created, and final report to be completed.

  • Launch of UASU Perks app on iPhone in addition to web and Android. Community grown to thousands of students