Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Results!

Student Legal Fund Society:
Sadowski, Elizabeth 674
Escobar 623
Bird (?) 547
Sihota 545
Bendayar 497

Jaspreet Khangura 1588
Tariq Ahmed 430
Alfie Lee 1070
Hillson Tse 1059
Peter Pan 996

Board of Governors:
Jeff Friedrich 1386
Darren Peets 849
Aidha Shaikh 842 (7 vote difference! Recount=???)

VP Finance:
Brittany Tyson 1891
Peter Rizov 1260

VP Admin:
Sarah Naiman 1436
(Suvina To 992, Lougheed the Barbarian 567)

VP External:
Matthew Naylor 1017
Joel Koczawarski 915
Thomas Masterson 695
Chris Brush 670

VP Academic:
Brendon Goodmurphy 1510
Bruce Kraenhoff 810
Jerry Fan Fan 787

Jeff Friedrich 2653
Maxwell Maxwell 882

1) Underground
2) Thunderbird
3) The Knoll
4) The 432
5) Let them Eat Cake
6) Elections Erections Magazine
7) Elections Insider
8) Duncan Kearney Media Group

I'm drunk so I may have made spelling errors. I love you Antoine.

Lots of really good pictures tomorrow!

voter turnout was so low....


The Thank-You Post

We'll both have withdrawal symptoms and we hope you'll still read and interact with our discussion posts below. Play with them! We'll probably reply. Actually, I'm sure we will. And stay tuned for Elections Results tonight! We'll come back then, with commentary, of course. And photos.

End Transmissions. This is goodbye, because the election is almost over, and we've each neglected some parts of our normal life. Not that we didn't enjoy this (way too much at times). We've both invested a lot into this blog, the AMS, and the university, so writing this is cathartically bitter and heavy. But we're also happy, because this has been an incredible experience for us, and, we hope, for you as well. We've learned that engaging people in dialogue is as difficult as is presumed. It's a matter of approach. And more importantly, there's a demand for thoughtful discussion of student issues, and that demand exists outside the AMS clique. Students don't care? Bullshit.

So what would we ask you to take away from this blog? That student want to be engaged, they want places to engage, and they want to be able to inform themselves. Don't take students for granted, nor for idiots, and you'll be rewarded.

We didn't do this on our own. We have some people who need to be thanked:

First and foremost, Gerald Deo. He gave us the wonderful design for this page, made it functional for us who are largely computer and design illiterate, and was responsive to our sometimes annoying demands. (Sorry Gerald! - Gina)
Everybody who contributed, and responded to our questionnaires. We know it was time-consuming but, trust us, people read them. Especially the candidates - how else would they get such insight into the job they're aspiring to get?
The Candidates. This is an excellent, diverse crew of people who've responded well and really reached out to students. While we could only endorse a few, we'll be happy with (almost) any result tonight. We tried hard not to be mean; please take any criticism constructively. And stay involved. Students need your energy.
Everybody who supported us outside the blog. It's been a busy three weeks, and not insignificant chunks of time have been poured into this. For those who put up with us, had to suffer, or otherwise supported us, thanks so much. You know who you are. Vous etes notre raison d'etre.
Finally, you. All you 5500+ unique viewers logging in from all over the world! You helped turn this into a place of discussion, engaged us, challenged us, and contributed at least as much as you got out of it. This only succeeded to the extent it did because of your participation.

It's been so amazing. Thanks! We'll be in touch.

Gina Eom and Tim Louman-Gardiner


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

One more thing

Don't forget about the post below. We want your thoughts.

But there's another important question, too. Which is how ought this blog to live on? I think there's a demand for some AMS/student/UBC blog out there. Now Gina and I are graduating, but would be happy to help out anybody who wants to keep a blog going in some way year-round. And we chose an unfortunate URL for non-elections info. But if someone wants to use it for student info purposes...

It's kinda silly that these things only operate during the Elections period. And I'd keep going, but I'm pretty much out of here. So any thoughts as to how we can leverage this capital into producing a longer-term way of engaging students?


Issue of the Day: Systemic Reform

So, we can't publish tomorrow. And elections are up. So, this post is designed to have a great deal to chew on in our blogging absence.
In short, a few ideas requiring bylaw reforms have been floated this election. If we can amend bylaws for one of them.... why not all? To begin:

AMS Fees Linked to Inflation
Discussed before. Let's do it.

Turnover Change
The UBC AMS is pretty much the only SU in the country that runs its elections in January. The status quo has three major drawbacks:

  1. The summer is useless for getting stuff done, because no students are around. The spring term is useless because it's taken up with elections, lame duckery, and transitions. That leaves only one workable term, the fall, to get anything done and engage students.
  2. It requires execs to take three academic terms off school, instead of two. This limits the pool, and throws a scholastic schedule for a loop.
  3. Elections are in January, when school gets back. People don't know about them, and there's no natural run-up to build momentum.
Change the turnover to May 1, and give execs the summer to get used to the job, and a school year to make a difference.

Exec Re-Organization
President stays the same. Re-purpose the lobbying VPs, creating a VP University Affairs, and a VP External lobbying. That's basically the status quo. Conceptually easy.

The other two are more tricky. I propose a VP Admininstration and Finance, and a VP Student Life. VP Admin takes on the budget, and all renos/property, and questions relating to the physical space and business operations, in conjunction with permanent staff. VP Student Life takes on club administration. But there's a demand for more. This past year I worked on "student life"-y projects with both the VP Finance and the VP Admin, in separate capacities. They would have benefited from a single contact, one person whom I could contact. And create a go-to person, hopefully one with a vision for campus life, club activities, events, First week/Frosh, first-year students... there's just so much the AMS could do!

Council Re-Organization
I realise this is a pipe dream. But I don't care. I see two major issues with Council, as is. The first is that it's arbitrarily representative. There's an underlying assumption that constituency reps are representative of students. But that's just not the case! Students are engaged in their University in zillions of ways, including their undergrad societies. So I propose a student council with reps from residences, Greeks, clubs, resource groups.... yeah, that's less voice for constituencies. But to organize representation on that basis is kind of irrelevant.

The second is to eliminate ex-officio appointments to Council. Buy-in to Council is often a problem, and can be with people whose other, non-Council jobs make them reps to Council. Usually this means undergrad society Presidents, but it varies by group. But we should make sure that students on Council want to be on Council, that they've sought election specifically to that job. Why? Ensures buy-in, and hopefully makes it more likely that they'll get to committees, participate meaningfully, etc.

I realise that the above are fraught with practical improbabilities. But they're all reasonably philosophical in nature... thoughts?


Campaign Wind up

Today I saw Jeff Friedrich standing on the North Side of the SUB flyering, all by himself. I'm really curious to see what the voter turnout is going to be. I would not be surprised if it were lower than most years, because of the quiet campaigns which I've bitched about many times before.

Needless to say, tomorrow is the last chance to vote in the Elections. It'll be done by paper ballot - 9AM till 6PM at the SUB and other locations. Please tell anyone you suspect who hasn't voted yet.

There'll also be an election results party at the Gallery. Tim and I will be there, and we'll be drinking our hearts out but more importantly update our blog as soon as the results are announced. Come by and drink with us, or refresh this page around 10pm (Pacific time, Spencer). Pictures will be up the next morning.

Qu'est-ce qui s'est passé? Where did the time go?

There are so many more issues which we could write about, from different angles. I didn't even get to blog about the Farm, Campus Safety and its intra-politics, senate-specific issues, etc etc. But there's only so much energy Tim and I can put into this blog without losing our personhood.

Totally unrelated: am I the only one who's been ambushed by the Reiki lady at the busloop???


Thoughts on an Election

My computer has unceremoniously fried itself. This angers me. It also means my ability to respond to comments instantaneously is greatly reduced, as is my ability to create a thoughtful, well-reasoned post.

So, in the style of the "real" media, I present not-quite-formed thoughts, in short, digestible sentence form!

1) I'll bet The Thunderbird didn't get the permission of the copyright holder of the photo in this article. I'm not positive, but I doubt they have the right to use it. Way to go, J-school!
2) This blog has had hits from Rogers media in Ottawa, a gadzillion UBC administrators, and, most amusingly, Translink. Repeatedly. Searching for various U-Pass search terms.
3) Candidates have even stopped showing up to all-candidates debates. Apparently yesterday this was particularly acute. I wouldn't know, of course. I wasn't there either ;-)
4) Let Them Eat Cake has clearly educated himself about campus issues, and he, like, expresses opinions. That's, like, awesome.
5) The Underground also has interesting elections info. Worth a read.
6) I think we have to consider VFM to have been a success. Even though it won't boost voter turnout, it certainly helped drive debate, it differentiated candidates, influenced them, and created an actual discussion. Yay.
6a) We need to stop seeing turnout as the endpoint, as a goal in engagement. It's a symptom of an engaged populus, not a goal unto itself.
7) Last, a question for candidates: has all the extra time spent answering 'media' questions been worth it? I have my opinion, but I'm curious to hear that of the people whose time we all spent...


Inkless Insiders

Without a doubt, my favorite political journo is the intrepid Paul Wells; I get downright giddy when he posts about University affairs, which he does with some regularity.

Today's post is noteworthy. It explains quite succinctly why tuition reduction is a profoundly misguided way to increase access, and how lower tuition actually keeps the under-privileged out of universities. Call that access? (Click here for the article.)

The issue has been raised by Quebec Universities, trying to end that province's freeze, and using BC as an example. Read the G&M story here.

PS - Please visit the Radical Beer Tribune. We like them today.


Issue of the Day: AMS Accessibility - Language

This hit me the other day. I was having a conversation with a candidate, asking him (candidate wasn't necessarily male, I'm just using the pronoun because it's easier) about his ideas, and he was having trouble communicating, and verbalizing them, particularly when I'd ask him to relate them to abstract concepts. I tried my reassuring best to indicate my patience, but the candidate was clearly flustered and probably growing frustrated with his inability to communicate with me.

Yes, I have a propensity for verbosity. And that's partly to blame. But I couldn't help but realize how damn frustrating it must be for someone for whom English is not a first language.

Think about it. How many AMS Councillors, or even Executives, have been non-English speakers? It can't be easy to articulate relatively complex platforms, answer debate-style questions, and engage with dense blogs like this one, for someone whose comfort with English is not first-rate. I can see why it just might not be worth the effort.

Moreover, it goes beyond participating in politics. Consider services. Many English language speakers won't know what "Advocacy" means and how it's distinct from an Ombudsperson, never mind someone for whom the language does not come naturally. Peruse clubs days banners, or walk through the lower level of the SUB at lunch hour - many signs, publications, and conversations are in languages other than English. The demand is clearly there.

To me, it begs the question - how can we address language barriers to make the AMS more accessible? Of course I see the need for a lingua franca, a language of business, which reasonably should be English. But there are some simple things we can do, to make the AMS more accessible. And by making it more accessible, it becomes more welcoming.

  • Print one-page overviews of AMS services in, say, ten different languages. Wouldn't cost much, would greatly increase access to services.
  • Have the occasional sign in a language other than English; much more welcoming.
  • Ensure language support at Speakeasy and other "store-front" type services
I don't know how to address issues of political participation, though I note that's probably a problem in the "real world" as well. Any thoughts? Should the AMS take positive steps to be more language-friendly?


Poll Results

Now that online voting has closed, it's time to pollute the waters of the Sea of Democracy with that most undemocratic of innovations - the opinion poll!!

We had 80 responses, and this violates pretty much every law of polling - no random sampling, no random ordering of the numbers, self-selecting respondents... so it's pretty much worthless. But fun nonetheless! Check behind the jump.

Jeff Friedrich: 82%
Maxwell Maxwell: 18%

VP Academic
Jerry Fan Fan: 17%
Brendon Goodmurphy: 73%
Bruce Krayenhoff: 10%

VP Admin
Lougheed the Barbarian: 20%
Sarah Naiman: 39%
Suvina To: 41%

VP External
Chris Brush: 4%
Joel Kozwarski: 36%
Tom Masterson: 9%
Matt Naylor: 51%

VP Finance
Peter Rizov: 49%
Brittany Tyson: 51%

Board of Governors
Darren Peets: 67%
Jeff Friedrich: 65%
Aidha Shaikh: 24%
Tristan Markle: 11%
Rob McLean: 11%
Cris Marincat: 4%
Melody Ma: 2%
Hillson Tse: 2%

Jaspreet Khangura: 92%
Tariq Ahmed: 80%
Alfie Lee: 39%
Daniel Lin: 22%
Lawrence Song: 20%
Hillson Tse: 16%
Raymond Pang: 16%


Monday, January 29, 2007

Global Citizenship - where does the AMS fit in?

The AMS recently passed a motion to support the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. If you haven't read them/are too lazy to Google, they can be found here:

At first I thought the motion was out of order as this had no context or relevancy to the AMS. And then I re-read the 1948 declaration which stated "Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories." (see link above)

Within this spirit, I would like to make a personal appeal to the candidates running in this election. See after the jump.

To give some background I will borrow from an article which I wrote a while back:
We see an increasing trend in public universities and biomedical research institutes where the promise of future royalties from licensing agreements with private corporations (eg. pharmaceutical companies) has become a prominent alternative source of revenue. This severely cripples the social contract between a public research grant and subsequent publication of research, which could eventually be translated into a public good - such as a cure for a rare disease.

Furthermore, the lucrative idea of licensing new discoveries to private industry has caused areas of public research to be more and more catered towards the commercial market-oriented interest, away from neglected diseases and deeper into the select realm of profitability. Very little, if anything at all, has been done by the governments to move away from this trend.

Undergraduate, graduate, medical and law students across North America have come together to lobby for change. The Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) has recently launched a worldwide petition called the Philadelphia Consensus Statement, with a mandate to promote equal access to university research, promote research and development for neglected diseases, and measure research success according to impact on human welfare instead of the number of patents filed in a given year.

There has been measurable success in other universities such as the University of Washington and Yale. This has caused next to no profit loss to the pharmaceutical industries, as there is no market for their drugs in the third world countries in first place. Generic drug companies in these countries would drive down the costs of these drugs (since the patenting laws are lifted within those geographic borders) and provide them at accessible costs. The most common reaction is that there would be attempts to smuggle the drugs back into first world country. Case study after case study has shown that this has not happened.

The University of British Columbia, with an increased focus on research activities over the recent decade, and with the adoption of the Trek 2010 Document, bears responsibility to live up to the mandate of the Philadelphia Consensus Statement. As former President Martha Piper stated: ”The University of British Columbia…will prepare students to become exceptional global citizens, promote the values of a civil and sustainable society, and conduct outstanding research to serve the people of British Columbia, Canada, and the world”. If research produced at a public academic institution such as UBC is accessible primarily by select individuals with privileged monetary wealth, then we cannot in our right conscience call ourselves global citizens.

Last year, AMS Council passed a policy motion supporting this initiative.

I have brought this issue up with the President Stephen Toope last week and the UAEM (which I am part of) will be meeting with him, the VP Research John Hepburn, and the University Industry Liaison Office head Angus Livingston. However, this movement - to incorporate equitable access provisions in our licensing agreements and fostering neglected disease research - will require the further cooperation and lobbying of the AMS President, VP Academic, Board of Governors, and Senators. We the students will be playing an integral role. As Gandhi said, "we must be the change we want to see in the world."


Issue of the Day: First-Year Students

The AMS has done a terrific job in addressing issues of systemic barriers to access. (Note: by "access" I refer to the general ability to participate in the AMS, both in terms of services and in government.) See the gender-neutral washroom, its bursary fund, cab fares after midnight, and childcare for examples.

But take a quick glance at the demographics of AMS Council and, by extension, AMS executives. I note two glaring deficiencies. The first is an absence of first-year students, the second is the absence of non-native English speakers. Herewith begins my two-part series on AMS Access - First Year Students.

There are two ways to get involved directly with the AMS. The first is to sit on Council, the second is to win a campus-wide election. It's very very difficult for a first-year student (FYS) to achieve either. Since the undergraduate societies hold their elections in the spring, for a FYS to be on Council there pretty much has to be a vacancy at some point during the year, and some way to win the ensuing election. It's very difficult.

Some would argue that undergraduate societies (and their respective first-year committees) serve the purpose of engaging first-year students. That certainly may be true. But the situation begs for more first-year involvement, and we're doing them no favors by ghettoizing them in their faculty committees. The other argument is that FYS may not have enough of a grasp on campus issues, and need to learn a little before taking an active role. Again, that may be true. But consider the flip-side; by the time people get on AMS Council they are comfortably ensconced in the University, they have a place. They've forgotten what it's like to be a first-year, and the gut, visceral feelings it could inspire. And that's a valuable perspective we'd do well not to exclude.

(I should also note that the elections results will be held in the Gallery. I certainly hope that there is some arrangement whereby the underage candidates can participate in the Elections merriment, too.)

What solutions have been tried? We've attempted a first-year society in two successive years, each of which suffered from a lack of buy-in from various parties. Or maybe it was a doomed idea to begin with. The AMS used to have a frosh rep on Council; the position was once held by A. Kim Campbell, who would go on to become Prime Minister. Ought there to be some direct way to engage first-year students with the AMS? Or is the status quo sufficient?

The Candidates:
No candidates explicitly refer to first-year students in their platforms.
Alfie Lee (Senate) and Hillson Tse (BoG/Senate) are the only first-year students currently running for election. Jaspreet Khangura is in first-year Med, but that So doesn't count.
Jerry Fan Fan ran for President, BoG, and Senate as a first-year student.


Senate - Alfie Lee

A quick note - the Knoll has convinced me to vote for Alfie Lee for Senate. Why? First, he's actually showed up to all the debates. Second, he's actually getting out there, and trying to meet people and talk and engage... and that's really commendable. Finally, he's enthusiastic about representing students, and that enthusiasm is kinda contagious. He also has a web site, a rarity amongst wannabe Senators.

So I'm going to vote for him.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Issue of the Day: Services

The largest chunk of the AMS' discretionary budget, and their largest non-food/beer source of relevance to UBC students, is their services. (Full list here). It should be noted that Services are administered directly by the Executive Co-Ordinator of Student Services, a hired (non-elected) position that serves as the sixth member of the Executive Committee.

Some services partner directly with the University for delivery. These include Tutoring (LEAP), Joblink (Services), and First Step (Orientations). Others can refer to University resources, like Speakeasy (Counseling Services) and Safewalk (Campus Security); in these examples, they work closely with their University colleagues, but they don't program jointly.

Interestingly, though, many of the Services derive their value from the fact that they're not University services. The argument goes that AMS provision of the service serves a political/lobbying aim, by highlighting the University's weaknesses and addressing problems "our way." These include Safewalk and Advocacy.

It's Safewalk that often generates the most controversy. It's the most expensive service, simply because of staff time. Depending on whose numbers you use, it costs on average $30-$60 per walk. That's expensive. (They used to operate a van, but can't anymore for some "union reasons" of which I'm not aware.) There are times when Safewalk is rarely used, but those who use it and operate it swear by it, and argue strenuously that it makes a much safer environment. Every year there is discussion about reducing its cost or looking at a new model, but nothing ever comes of it, and it retains its operational efficiencies.

Services are constantly in flux. Three years ago the AMS canned Orientations, then the next year helped build First Step. VP Finance candidate Brittany Tyson advocates making the Student Tax Assistance Clinic a full-fledged AMS Service (it's currently an AMS club), which would guarantee it a year-round co-ordinator, but at the cost of staffing it.

We leave it to readers:

  • Which services give you the most value? What do you use/not use?
  • Which do you see as central to the AMS mission?
  • Ought we to re-visit the debate over Safewalk's efficiency?
  • What other services do you think the AMS should have?


Bettor? Barely knew her!

So, in honour of legal gambling everywhere, I'm proud to offer the following proposition wagers on the AMS elections. Note: these are for entertainment purposes only. And if you use them for any gambling purposes whatsoever, please report yourself to the nearest authorities. Immediately. As well, Elections Insider makes no warranties for any wagers, nor are we a bookkeeper in any way, shape, or form.

Friedrich 5 to 4
Maxwell 70 to 1

VP Academic:
Goodmurphy 2 to 1
Fan Fan 25 to 1
Krayenhoff 7 to 1

VP Finance:
Tyson 9 to 5
Rizov 11 to 5

VP External:
Naylor 4 to 1
Kozwarski 9 to 2
Brush 50 to 1
Masterson 11 to 2

VP Admin:
Naiman 9 to 4
To 7 to 4
Barbarian 50 to 1

Over/Under on number of votes cast for President: 4200
Odds that Darren Peets gets more votes than as hydrant: 3 to 2
Over/Under on time the elections results are announced: 9:45pm
Over/Under on number of beers Tim drinks: 7.5
Over/Under number of appeals: 0.5

Add your own wagers!! Test our ESP!!


Media on Media

Those of you who know me in real life know that one of my pet peeves is when the media talk about the media. But thankfully for my sense of dignity, this ain't the real world.

As you know, the Voter Funded Media (formerly TurboDemocracy... I much prefer that title) contest is running in parallel to the AMS elections. I, like most, am surprised at number of media that are involved. By my observation, they fall into four general archetypes:

1) Involved people who know a lot and write in-depth
I'd put ourselves and the Knoll in this category, for instance. We both have significant understanding of the AMS and UBC, hold strong opinions, and write (relatively) frequently. We're both insiders, trying to make our knowledge more accessible to those who aren't. My primary criticism is that sometimes it's very inaccessible. Much of our writing is geared to people who are already past square one - the high-information voter. (I note with amusement the Knoll's slogan - "We're like a slate that isn't running". It's odd, because the Knoll is running a slate!)

2) Serious coverage from people who aren't heavily involved
For this, look at Myrfield or the Thunderbird. Both collectives ought to be commended for trying to add some perspective and depth of coverage to the AMS elections. But it's clear that they don't know the issues much themselves. Which is fine, because they're more journalist-y than analyst. Their appeal is more towards the mid/low-information voter, and a baseline understanding of the candidates, if not the issues.

3) Joke coverage from people contributing to the discourse
I'd throw Eat Cake and the Radical Beer Tribune into this category. And I really appreciate them. While there's no serious issue-based coverage, they both engage with the candidates and the process, and in doing so contribute to the election. There's a huge value-added, and they bring something that I can't possibly hope to. Plus, look at the RBF photos. They're downright amazing. (Image at right courtesy RBT.)

4) Supid entries trying to scam money
Let's just call this the Duncan-Kearney media group. As far as I can tell, they're just after beer money. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but a far more deserving entry will finish ninth to the "name recognition" crew. Come to think of it, there's a profound arrogance required to say "I'm gonna win this based on how popular I am." And Directors, AMS Councillors, ought to treat the AMS process with a little more respect. It was put far more eloquently by an anonymous commenter: "I do have a problem with AMS councillors misusing their reputations and this money for doing absolutely NO work whatsoever with the elections."

I've also been asked to stop taking pot shots at the Ubyssey. Sorry guys, no dice. The Ubyssey is content to take pot shots at the AMS elections candidates with significant regularity, so I'm happy to return the favor. But a suggestion that AMS elections are full of tools (see: cover), and a "we don't care" endorsement for the person responsible for making sure the Ubyssey's offices still exist, tell me that they're not trying to earn students' confidence. But more importantly, guys, the 1980's called, and they want their hackneyed sense of disaffected cynicism back. It's often the last reserve of the uninformed. Maybe it's the AMS' fault for not issuing press releases like UBC Public Affairs - now that's a guarantee of Ubyssey ink! (Full faith/credit: their news coverage has improved significantly over the course of the election.)

So, what's the impact been of VFM? I'd suggest that it's influenced the candidates more than it's influenced voters. The occasional voter will be swayed/convinced by something they read here or in the Knoll (or the Ubyssey... see, that's my attempt at humour), but, more importantly, it's changed the candidates' perspectives on the race. There's actually been a discernible campaign of ideas in most races and, more importantly, these have evolved over the past two weeks. Now much of this hasn't made its way to most of the voters, but I can't help but feel it's probably producing better candidates.

More importantly, it's helped those who already want to be engaged. It can be very hard to get information about the AMS and UBC, and the issues. And for those who want to cast an informed vote, they had a bit more information this year. I guess that's a victory, right?

What are your impressions on the VFM, and on the candidates? Is it making a difference? I know most candidates would probably argue that they've been a huge time drain... so I'd ask those candidates, was it worth it?


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Elections 2007: where is the Movement?

I'd like to give my impressions on the election campaigns this past week.

First of all, I'm happy to see that the debates have improved by a lot - the debate structure has been changed to allow for elaborate answers, and the candidates in turn have done their homework.

The Wednesday VP Academic debate for example was highly impressive with Jerry Fan Fan and Brendon Goodmurphy having well thought out directions in terms of lobbying for student housing.

Despite of opponent Peter Rizov's objections from the last debate, Brittany Tyson moved away from the "experience vs nonexperience" spat and focussed on her ideas including the AMS card, end of the day price drop at AMS food outlets, 99cent Pizza Fridays at Pir R Squared with donations to services, more support for the TACS assistant clinic.

The Debate on Friday was distracting due to the Guitar Club having a full-out concert at the SUB concourse. To my surprise VP External Candidate Joel Koczawarski didn't show, and his opponents Matt Naylor and Chris Brush both finished strong.

However it was hard for Tim and I to believe it was campaigning period. Why? Because we've seen no active campaigns this past week, with the one exception of Jeff Friedrich and his partner standing outside the SUB with a sign.

Sure, most corkboards on campus have been plastered with posters, and I've received a handful of emails from candidates soliciting votes. But I have seen zero classroom announcements, no flyering, no spectacles. This is political lobotomy!

Risking the label of UBC Dinosaur, I want to reflect back to the days when slates were still around. I ran with a slate, namely the now legendary (and infamous?) SPAN slate - Student Progressive Action Network.

A look back at slates.... behind the jump.

Planning started in November.

Former VP Admin Josh Bowman and VP Academic Laura Best who were both elected the previous year on SPAN spent an entire day informing us on the issues. There was a 40 page long information package on all of the issues from tuition to campus development to waste management of the SUB. Regardless of which position we ran for, we were well-informed on all of the issues.

We booked a theatre and practiced classroom announcements. We spent hours taking the perfect photo for our flyers, coloured overheads, and posters. There was one colour and a logo which identified us all. There were patches to be worn on bags, sweaters, and our support network was encouraged to wear them.

There was strength in numbers. Each of us had signed up at least 20 volunteers who were willing to flyer, poster, make classroom announcements.

getting ready for a huge postering spree

We solicited the support from clubs, informal support from undergraduate society execs, and shook hands with sorority presidents. The campus was painted red - there were balloons tied to trees, patches, posters everywhere legal (and illegal?), we even had people flyering at the Broadway Skytrain station out in East Vancouver.

Our campaign schedule started at 8am, and ended at 8pm on an early day. There were events to be attended thereafter: beer gardens, concerts, anywhere where we would expect UBC students to be.

I'm NOT saying that it's impossible put on a similar campaign without a slate. It just takes a heck of a lot more work and a larger support group for one individual. The learning curve is ten times higher as there is no advice passed on in an institutional manner. Spencer Keys' presidential race is a prime example of a well coordinated campaign - it was realised through the strong support of his peers. But then again, Spencer Keys had been trained by a slate prior, when he ran for VP Admin in 2003 and the next year for VP External with Students for Students (SFS). Either way, everyone knew his name. People who I didn't know were interested in politics talked about Spencer Keys.

So it doesn't feel like there's a real election going on. There is no buzz in the air, and the energy seen in other years seems lost in antiquity. Where is the movement?


Issue of the Day: Athletics Fees

by Sophia Haque, AMS VP Finance

Currently, students pay $196.98 in student fees towards Intramurals and Athletics--whether they use the program or not. IF they choose to participate, they pay:

  • Approximately $300/year for a gym membership
  • $100 each for a fitness class (yoga, pilates, dance etc)
  • Approximately$65/team for intramural sports
It's not cheap being an active student on this campus. What's worse? UBC students pay more than most other schools across Canada to access fitness facilities.

This past year, Athletics asked the AMS to run a referendum asking for a $40 increase in athletics fees. Where would the fees go?
1) Towards building a bigger SRC and 2) towards lowering user fees by up to 50%.

More room and lower fees? Sounds great, but when the AMS approached Athletics to figure out how the money was currently being spent, Athletics became reluctant to share any information and was particularly wary of the information going public. After many conversations and much detective work, the AMS was able to obtain the numbers it was looking for.

Of the over $6 million dollars collected in student fees, less than $800,000 is dedicated to Intramurals/UBC REC activities. In other words almost 85% of student fees are going towards funding/subsidizing varsity sports--a level of sport that a very small percent of UBC students can ever dream to participate in.

What the AMS has done, and the plan for the future, behind the jump:

What has the AMS done about this?

The AMS took the stance that it would hold a referendum (and thus, give students the opportunity to decide for themselves) under two conditions: Athletics would be more transparent with their budgets, and would decrease user fees.

The second demand was made primarily because Bob Philip, Director of Athletics, commented at AMS Council that one of the main reasons fees couldn't be reduced without a new, larger building was because of the lack of space. Their underlying concern would appear to be lower fees means more people means poor quality of service/facilities. This implies that fees were kept artificially high, potentially preventing lower income students from having access to UBC REC facilities. The AMS argued, that before we ask students to pay more, Athletics should first decrease user fees (conversations with Bob had indicated that there was sufficient funding to do so) and give students the opportunity to access the current facilities.

Where do we stand now?
Bob Philip has agreed to make the athletics budget numbers accessible to the public. Athletics has also budgeted a $50,000 decrease in user fees for 07/08 with Bob citing plans for a 70% decrease in user fees over the next 2 years. However, after a recent conversation with Alnoor Aziz, Associate Director of Finance for Athletics, the chances of seeing the 70% decrease is slim. UBC Athletics, as an ancillary of the university, may be faced with higher overhead charges as part of the university's plan to cover its deficit.

Looking ahead, the referendum question is back on the table for discussion which poses both an opportunity and a threat for the AMS. It's an opportunity because an athletics referendum question can almost guarantee quorum by mobilizing the support of varsity athletics and UBC REC enthusiasts. And, it's a threat, since a fee increase question for athletics decreases the AMS' chances to increase fees (by indexing them to inflation, for example).

So what are your thoughts?


Friday, January 26, 2007

How the President is voting

How is Kevin Keystone (current AMS President) voting in the AMS Elections this year?

So I think it's about time that I put my name behind some people running in the AMS Elections. Congratulations to every candidate - it takes serious courage to put your name on a ballot. Without further ado...

President: Jeff Friedrich
VP Academic: Brendon Goodmurphy
VP Finance: Brittany Tyson
VP Admin: Sarah Naiman
VP External: Thomas Masterson
BoG: Jeff Friedrich, Darren Peets
Senate: Jaspreet Khangura, Tariq Ahmed, Alfie Lee, Raymond Pan, Hillson Tse

Wanna see why? Check behind the jump!

President: Jeff Friedrich

I think it's very obvious that Jeff is the better candidate, so I'm not going to elaborate much. It's been a real pleasure working with Jeff this year, and many times I felt like he was already doing my job. He'll make a memorable president - I'm looking forward to it.

A word on Maxwell: kudos to him for running and bringing some attention to the race and key issues. I'm not talking about the cheap beer, I'm talking about communicating with students, and he's absolutely right - the AMS does have shitty PR. On another note, Max is a friend of mine, and he's been a really important support for me during my term. Shame on the person who dared e-mail him with nothing but personal attacks, and sign off calling him a faggot. No-one deserves that, least of all Max.

VP Academic: Brendon Goodmurphy

Brendon has some great ideas, good politics, and although he isn't completely up to speed on the portfolio, he'll learn quickly. He has the additional benefit of sitting on AMS Council, though I don't think that's a prereq for this position. Bruce has an interesting idea with the Citizens' Assembly, and maybe it should be tried out, but the body who should be consulted on student opinion is AMS Council. That's what they're elected to do.

VP Finance: Brittany Tyson

Brit first joined the Finance Commission when I hired her to be my Vice-Chair. That was one of the best decisions I made my entire term as VP Finance. She's smart, passionate, hard-working and astoundingly charismatic. She'll make a terrific VP Finance. Although I was testament to the fact that VP Finance doesn't require much experience, Brittany has a huge headstart. And with all due respect to Peter, not having experience is no excuse for not having a platform.

VP Admin: Sarah Naiman

Sarah has the right idea about VP Admin: it's not just about SAC and the SUB, it's about campus life in general. Call it VP Student Life. Although the YouBC TV idea might be a little wacky, her ideas are all about promoting campus community, and that's what we need. I think SAC could be much more student friendly, and between Sarah and Suvina, I think Sarah's more likely to advocate for change.

VP External: Thomas Masterson (with a long explanation)

This is probably a big surprise, but I'm voting for the underdog. When Ian took the position, he knew very little about it, and about post-secondary education lobbying in general. That convinces me that with hard work and passion, the position can be learned. I think Thomas has that, and he's also really into school spirit, something close to my heart. Although it's not necessarily his portfolio, Jess Klug was into it too, and it made her all the better a VP External for it. So what about Joel and Matt?

I think they'll do great jobs too, which is why I'm not worried. Joel's and Matt's plans for a united movement are tried, tested, and haven't worked before - both the past two VP Externals have pushed for a united "Students for BC" and didn't get far. Doesn't mean we should stop trying, but the plank doesn't do much for me.

Joel's into decreasing the involvement of the private sector in the university - I'm yet to really be convinced that's a bad thing. I do think that the university's academic priorities need to not be swayed to only market-driven priorities (eg. science and tech), but I don't think that means shunning private dollars when they come. And I think the university is very concerned about protecting academic freedom, so I think you can have your cake and eat it too. In short, I think Joel has the right heart, but perhaps policies that are a little too, dare I say, radical for me (gasp!).

As for Matt, he's got the experience and the political background, but his platform is also a mix of current AMS policy and ideas that I don't think hold much water. I haven't yet been convinced that we could do much to convince the provincial government to pick appointees we recommend. I'd be interested to see the "long-term tuition proportion reduction agreement", but that essentially means either a tuition freeze and more government money, or tuition hikes and proportionally more government money. Both of those are pretty standard lobbying policy.

So to recap, I vote Thomas because I think he'll bring a different flavour, and he won't have trouble picking up the job. That said, I won't be disappointed if Joel or Matt win.

Board of Governors: Jeff Friedrich, Darren Peets

I think there's a whole lot of logic having the AMS President also sit on Board, and I think Jeff's already made the case. As for my second seat, I pick Darren. He's been around forever (really. since Strangway) and he's extremely well-versed in how the BoG runs, and how to make things happen. He also has the right attitude about the position: if you aren't willing to play the game, you'll get shut out. I think there's also value in having a grad student on BoG.

Senate: Jaspreet Khangura, Tariq Ahmed, Alfie Lee, Raymond Pan, Hillson Tse

Jaspreet and Tariq are obvious candidates: they're already going strong, especially Jaz. I'm looking forward to seeing her Pass/D/Fail initiative happen. As for the others, they represent three of the four candidates (other than Jaz and Tariq) who had write-ups in the Ubyssey, and I thought they had decent things to say. Alfie wants extended library hours (it was done by Senator Gina Eom, so there's precedent), Raymond wants to review the exam hardship policy (a very typical platform point), and Hillson is concerned about academic fraud (word of advice: see if you can get one united plagiarism policy for the entire university - right now, they're faculty-specific). I was fairly satisfied by those choices.

So that's a wrap! Best of luck to all the candidates, and hopefully no hard feelings.

Kevin K.


Issue of the Day: University Boulevard

Remember a couple years ago, when there was the Architectural Competition for University Boulevard? (Click here to see the documentary depicting the process.) For those who weren't here, University Boulevard is the area from the trolley bus loop to the bookstore, including the gym, the Aquatic Centre, and the plaza on the South side of the SUB. There were three designs, and the campus voted for the one they liked. The winning design is at left.

The idea was to create a "hub", a central area on campus. It would create a mixed-use plaza, housing new administration buildings, shops, a cinema (ha!), and the underground bus loop. Another notable feature - the market housing lining the boulevard. (This writer believes that the basic idea of creating more of a "hub" on campus is a fundamentally good idea, but this idea is seriously flawed... read on!)

Criticisms abounded. The plan destroyed all open green space, would create an automobile thoroughfare where there probably shouldn't be one, would hurt the SUB, place market housing right in the core of campus, and, most poignantly, destroy the grassy knoll.

Interestingly, the project has gone through no end of trouble. First, the jury approved a version different from that which people supported in the vote. Then there was the issue with the re-location of the outdoor pool. Next, the architects dropped out; rumour has it that they had difficulties working within the constraints of UBC Properties Trust. Add the cost over-runs, the division of the project into phases, the issues with the bus loop, and you've got a fiasco.

It came to a head in summer 2006 when the Board of Governors had a "fish or cut bait" meeting in Kelowna, where they had to make a final determination about the future of the project. It passed. But consider that the project was initially supposed to begin construction in late 2005; a year later the completion date was early 2008. Now, with no firm architects on board, the completion date is even fuzzier. At the last Board meeting, the discussion of the Boulevard was in closed session, reports Darren Peets, which indicates that the conversation is sensitive and probably weighty.

The implications, positive and negative, are weighty. Yes, it might create more community, a more vibrant "heart" to a campus that very dearly needs one. But at what cost? Of green space? Of the SUB's health? Of market housing right at the student core? As well, the University is going through a hard decision; what ought the AMS role to be? A complete re-design? Scrapping the project? Continuing it, with major changes?

Where the candidates stand:
Jeff Friedrich - Specific "zoning" regime for student housing.
Jerry Fan Fan - Lobby University to allow only non-competing businesses. Have to be practical, not idealistic.
Brendon Goodmurphy - Prioritize study space, student and local businesses, student housing options, green space, and student employment
Bruce Krayenhoff - Include affordable student housing.
Darren Peets - We need to re-consider the project - "why are we doing this?"
Tristan Markle - Set requirement for 25% of students living on campus.


Editorial: A GAP in Their Logic

March 8 is International Women's Day. Established in 1977 by the UN, it is a tribute to the continuing struggle and progress for women's rights and women's diversity.

This year at UBC, on this day, the GAP (Genocide Awareness Project) is planning to show pictures of aborted fetuses and try to equate that to the Holocaust, claiming it's genocide. The GAP is the ultimate misnomer, a semantic exercise in bullshit. They solely exist to make women feel bad about the prospect of abortion, a reprehensible tactic to say the least. The fact that it's mostly men each year holding those signs is even more revealing of this oppressive anti-woman agenda.

UBC Okanagan and Carleton have banned them. AMS Council entertained a motion to ban them, and the motion was defeated. Moreover, UBC's Policy #3 states:

“Behaviour which obstructs free and full discussion, not only of ideas which are safe and accepted, but of those which may be unpopular or even abhorrent . . . cannot be tolerated."
Therefore, they technically have a right to be here and voice their point of view. And one of these writers has previously publicly supported their right to protest.

For the record, Gina despises them with every single fibre of her body. She takes it personal and it's emotional. At the same time, she sees that they do have the right to voice their views, and she plans on exercising those very same rights by organizing a counter-campaign. Tim was more likely to laugh at them than to be viscerally offended. To look at their argument is to see the most inane of human logic. He always found the GAP argument to be more stupid and ignorant than dangerous, per se.

But we can't help but wonder, in this case, if the GAP case is teasing at the fringes of freedom of speech. By timing their demonstration with International Women's Day, they're making a statement. It's clearly driven by a lack of respect, a scorn for the institution and for the political beliefs. The right to free speech is not absolute. And while they're not crossing it, they're definitely getting close enough to thumb their noses at it.

We support the expression of unpopular ideas. But Lifeline and GAP are coming dangerously close to crossing the line from unpopular and stupid, to hateful.

Click here for the related discussion on Policy Motions.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Issue of the Day: Citizen's Assembly

VP Academic candidate Bruce Krayenhoff's campaign has some new ideas ("green power" cards, and borrowing textbooks rather than buying them), one in particular stands out. His "Citizen's Assembly." It's generally a very good and creative idea. But I have an important criticism.

In sum, the body operates as follows:

  • Randomly select 12-36 students from across campus, and pay them to sit on the Assembly.
  • Serve as a consultative body for UBC and the AMS, as well as select a few issues each year to be decided by referendum.
The idea is that it will be more representative of the campus as a whole, which is a problem with the current AMS. Moreover, one of the premises of the argument is that this will give voice to the 87% of people who don't vote. There's a significant problem with this argument - this body only gives voice to an additional 12-36 people! This doesn't reach out to the disenfranchised, it reaches out to a couple dozen of them. In fact, this vests decision-making authority in a body that's more elite than Council. Additionally, the model suggests that the AMS is low-information, and this hurts engagement. That's true. But adding another bureaucratic body won't lower the cost of information; it can only raise it. He also suggests that this will remove self-selection. That's not true; it is still limited to people who choose to accept the role, unless the AMS plans to force students to participate.

My basic criticism of the model deals with the appointment: random, while an interesting application of Grecian democracy, is inherently flawed, because there's no guarantee of engaging students in the manner in which they're connected to campus, and each other. It's just some random people in a room. So I (owing a debt to Spencer Keys) support a model, similar to Bruce's, but, in lieu of a random appointment process, choosing a body from among various student groups. Student clubs, residences, Greeks, teams, resource groups... these are how students engage with their University and student society.

So why this model? You're more likely to get a variety of perspectives while ensuring that they're students engaged with campus life. Moreover, it validates these groups as important elements in student life. The current model (aka Council) only engages students involved with undergrad societies. Bruce's model engages only those students who choose to accept their appointments, if they win the lottery. While my suggestion reaches out to students in ways in which they are already engaged. Plus, they have some element of a representative mandate, there exists some context for their involvement beyond the mere hand of Fate.

I should note that, principally, I support Bruce's idea, or a similar body. Particularly, I like the idea of students bringing ideas before it, and getting a "hearing" on an issue or proposal. But that's just me. What are peoples' thoughts on a deliberative student assembly?


A Rope of Sand: The Jeff Friedrich Story

We get a sense there's some demand for Friedrich coverage. We've had several web hits from Maine (Jeff's home state), and even three people searching for "jeff friedrich condom video" (we'll save those people some time - click here).

So, what's the deal with Jeff Friedrich? His platform has more priorities than Paul Martin riding through Quebec on a campaign swing. But thankfully he bolded his big priorities, so only every third sentence is *that* important. So instead of ten single-spaced pages, you really only have to read four!

His platform indicates a huge amount of knowledge, and a deep understanding of issues related to students, as well as those facing the University. He clearly gets it, and has solutions to everything. But could that be a problem? A President can't fix it all. In recent years, we've seen the occasional President swim around in circles, seemingly over-whelmed. In short, without vision. We don't accuse Jeff of having no vision. But we'd like to know where he'll spend his time and energy; he can't possibly focus on the entirety of his platform.

Much has been raised about Jeff running for both President and BoG. I'm positive that being on BoG will make him a better AMS President: there's so much knowledge that you pick up on BoG, so much of an understanding of how the University operates. However, the converse isn't necessarily true: being AMS President won't necessarily make him a better BoG rep. Board members don't care if your words have AMS backing if the argument is stupid. Conversely, if the AMS has a cogent, lucid argument, the Board will hear it, regardless of whether or not their President is on the Board.

Jeff has been a fantastic VP Academic. He's brought about some real and important (albeit incremental) change, and learned a great deal about University lobbying. But we're slightly worried that he sees the AMS Presidency as a mere extension of the VP Academic job. There are worse things, of course. But the AMS President has more of a stewardship role, and needs some real leadership. Yes, lobbying and politicking are very important elements of the Presidency. But there's an internal leadership that's required, too.

We don't mean to suggest that Jeff doesn't have that. And, regardless, his Presidency will be an valuable learning experience for him. (If he wins. If. Ha ha.) We've seen many AMS Presidents, and there's one constant - they all leave the position as a very different person from the one who assumed the post. The only way Jeff can achieve the majority of his platform is by inspiring people he's working with, and by empowering people who aren't him. Which ain't easy. But if he can pull it off, look for a much improved AMS and University.


The platforms: VP Finance

(To learn more about the VP Finance position, and see a job description, click here for our information and interviews, and click here for the official AMS information.)

Peter Rizov
Brittany Tyson

Let's begin by comparing some promises:
Peter Rizov: Trim the red tape within the AMS
Brittany Tyson: Reduce the extensive bureaucracy faced by club and constituency treasurers. (It should be noted that Britany has some good concrete ideas for doing so, including doing much of the work online, and creating a central website with the VP Admin.)

Ensure that the AMS is ready for competition from the University Town
Brittany: Develop a competitive, sustainable framework for our businesses to guide and protect them through the developments of the next several years.

Peter: Increase funding and funding control and ease of access to clubs and give students direct enjoyment of the AMS.
Brittany: Let me increase the amount of funding available to students through AMS funds, making them more accessible.

Upon closer examination.... they're the same. Imagine that. So which candidate is more likely to succeed? Brittany says it's her, because of her experience in the AMS and its Financial Commission, while Peter says it's him because of fresh ideas and his Commerce education. Which do you trust?

Looking for differences? Check behind the cut.

There are some differences, too.
Peter places importance on transparency and accountability, though provides no measures. Brittany's platform has no such emphasis. He also amorphously promises a standard to measure service performance, to trigger improvement and growth. His concrete idea is a book swap. We're not sure how it would work. The AMS used to run one as a business, but it was shut down due to non-use. Perhaps a better way to do it would be to work with the undergrad societies to facilitate faculty-specific ones, and us the SUB as a central hub, with different rooms for different faculties/programs. Finally, Peter promises initiatives to "induce the AMS executives to have more personal contact with students on a daily basis." Good idea, though he gives us no idea what those would be.

Brittany argues for renovations of the SUB, for two major purposes. The first is sustainability, to ensure sustainable waste disposal with more recycling facilities. The second is to reduce wait times, like Pie R Squared, to renovate and reduce wait times. This is a plan of the current VP Finance, and has been on the agenda. Nevertheless, it's a good idea and an important priority.
Brittany also proposes an "AMS Card" or "AMS Dollars" to use at AMS businesses. In addition to making things cheaper for students, it could also increase use as well as awareness. In its rudimentary form, it's an easily implementable idea with tremendous potential. Finally, we like her idea of creating an AMS Service to help students with their taxes. This currently exists, on a volunteer basis, and outside the AMS. While we don't know where she'll find the money... but that's her job, right?

Both candidates also favor a referendum to link AMS fees to inflation. With any luck, this may be the year we finally see it.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Voting Questions

We've received many questions about voting. A few are worth answering publicly:

What's the Ubyssey Publication Society Board of Directors?
The Ubyssey paper is published by editors. Those editors report to the Board, which has very low-grade oversight of the paper's operations. The Directors pretty much just handle business-y type stuff, and eschew editorial interference.

Who are the candidates?

I have no friggin' clue. I go to school with a couple of them (Jeff and Jeremy) and they're nice guys, so you should vote for them. The Ubyssey takes the AMS to task for not communicating with students, but doesn't see fit to mention the elections for its own Board. Which are student-wide. Go figure.

What's the Student Legal Fund Board of Directors?

Besides a playground for law school resume-padders? A very important fund that supports student-interested court challenges. When students take on serious court cases, they can turn to the SLFS for support. The Directors administer the funds and decide which cases to take on.

I have no idea what's up with them. Their formerly functional website is no longer operational, so your guess is as good as mine.

What's with the joke VFM entries?

We actually like the joke entries. If they're bringing an actual perspective to the race, and trying to add some value, then we're happy they're involved. But there are probably people doing this because there's "free" money. Putting in no effort and expecting remuneration. We'll leave it to voters to determine which media outlets are attempting to engage with the election, and who are screwing around with an otherwise interesting experiment.

However, some are coming from AMS Directors. If you wonder why people see the AMS as a joke, look no further.


Elections Insider Endorsements

Before our endorsements, a quick word. We offer these endorsements not to end our coverage of the elections, but to launch it. We have biases, and, to a reader of this blog, these should come as no surprise. So this is just a starting point. We'll still post issues of the day, and this will still be a forum for discussion and debate, as it's become. And we'll still bring you the best information faster than any other site, so stay tuned!

These endorsements weren't easy. They really weren't. We spent hours meeting candidates (sometimes twice if we wanted to chat more) and getting a "feel" for them. We read their platforms over numerous times. And, as you'll see below, our minds aren't completely made up. But in fairness to the candidates, and in the interest of openness, now that our minds are made up, we proudly present our endorsements.

President: Jeff Friedrich
To us, we felt Jeff was a well-rounded candidate with tremendous experience. More importantly, he knows how to lobby, how to build relationships, and has a sharp mind for the politics of the job. He's achieved a lot as VP Academic, and know he'll continue that as President.

VP Academic: Brendon Goodmurphy
We didn't know Brendon very well before this race, but a few qualities stood out. First, he's a very good learner, and doesn't pretend he knows more than he thinks. He has a good critical mind, and channels his frustration with the University in a very constructive manner. He's thoughtful, insightful, passionate and intelligent, and will represent students well. Out of all the candidates in this election, we believe he is the most caring and passionate. We're excited about what his energy will bring.

VP Administration: Sarah Naiman
First, we hold her opponent, Suvina To, in the highest regard. It was difficult to not support her, but we feel that the position needs fresh and energetic vision, and some vigour. Suvina brings tremendously insightful experience and skills, and we hope she stays involved with the AMS next year. When the VP Admin has been successful in the past it's been because s/he had energy and a clear vision, both of which Sarah brings. The student life portfolio needs a shot in the arm, and Sarah in the VP Admin portfolio is the person to do it.

VP External: Joel Kozwarski/Matthew Naylor
Here, we're split. Gina is endorsing Joel Kozwarski, Tim's endorsing Matt Naylor.

Gina's thoughts: I used three standards - knowledge, competence, and political stances. From the knowledge point of view only Joel and Matt qualified. Matt clearly knows the issues better. Both have credible track records/experience. My interactions with Naylor on council have been fairly limited - he was by no means outstanding or impressive at council meetings. There is a list of off-record statements (from him and people who have worked with him closely) which have made me doubt his ability to work with others (openness to other ideas), take criticism and make judgement calls in politically sensitive matters. Joel may not know the issues as in-depth as Naylor, but he will learn. Ian (outgoing) learned and did a good job, and it doesn't hurt that he is also endorsing Joel. Joel is calm, rational, very thoughtful and a solid candidate. I have trust and faith in Joel K and thus am voting for him.

Tim's had the advantage of reading Gina's reasons above. The Liberal thing doesn't matter - Gina had no problem campaigning with Holly Foxcroft when the latter was President of the Young Liberals, and there's no evidence that it hurt her ability to lobby. So, why Naylor? He cares, knows a great deal, and is uniquely passionate. And you can learn policy - you can't learn passion. People with Matt's almost rabid enthusiasm are so rare and, when one offers their help, you're foolish not to take it. He has a lot to learn, makes mistakes, and is young. But a good leader will learn how to make the most of Matt's considerable talents and work with him. Look at his campaign organization? Wouldn't you want that on your side?

VP Finance: Brittany Tyson
We agree that this is a portfolio in which experience counts, and building a rapport with the incumbent is a good thing. Brittany's combination of experience and well-considered approach to reform should serve student well.

BoG: Darren Peets, Jeff Friedrich
Both these candidates have more experience on campus development and student representation issues than the others combined. And working together they'll be a uniquely powerful force on the Board. For Jeff, it will make him a much stronger President (though the converse doesn't necessarily apply.) And Darren has, through U-Town, learned to work well with administrators while still putting administrators on the spot like nobody's business.

Senate*: Tariq Ahmed, Jaspreet Khangura
Yes, we're endorsing the incumbents right now. Both have been excellent advocates for students this past year. Jaspreet in particular has brought her pass/fail initiative towards fruition, and deserves another year. We're leaving our ballots open, though. We don't know enough about the remaining Senate candidates, so will pass a final decision in the future. But we know and have seen enough of Tariq and Jaspreet to know that they will continue to do a good job on senate, especially given the slow bureaucracy that this particular body is known for.


On Stephen Toope (or, the Case for Students)

Tonight the student senators were invited for dinner with Stephen Toope. I had attended several dinners with Martha Piper, the former president, so I was wary of another superficial, "schmoozy" conversation.

It was a surprise to me that out of the conversations which unfolded at the dinner table, I received the distinct impression that this new UBC President was, well, different.

Don't get me wrong - Martha was instrumental in attracting the "hotshot" researchers that we showcase today. The number of research papers published in Nature out of our labs each month is impressive and rivalling the ivy leagues. And this helps the few (under)graduate students who are involved and learn, without question. She also focussed a lot of her attention on doubling the endowment which, in the long run, will help students.

Martha Piper at Senate, March 2005

The Martha era, though, is notable for a decline in focus on teaching and learning. The climate at UBC is not supportive of students. There is a hostile "bottleneck" atmosphere which ruthlessly "weeds you out". The laboratory equipments are old and falling apart. Buchanan is old and reminiscent of a high school in terms of architecture, yet the biggest undergraduate faculty traverses it and calls it their home. The class average of Chem 233 is often in the 50s. Tuition has doubled this decade. In such a competitive strenuous unsympathetic atmosphere, would I really want to retrospectively support this system? Would I not rather get the heck out and never look back?

So, why might Toope be better? Read more after the jump.

Questions were asked to Prof. Toope about the NSSE survey results. He said that the administration wanted to publicize the results. Why? Because the survey was of good quality and the data valuable (recognizing UBC's dismal performance in the three years it's participated). He asserted very strongly and very passionately that for all of the executives of UBC, the NSSE survey results were the number one priority on their agenda. He spoke of Carl Wieman's initiative to evaluate the student's experience, and the SHINE initiative to give graduate students mentorship from faculty members. Drawing from his own experience of having attended a liberal arts college, he mentioned that perhaps a pass/fail system should be implemented when taking electives (he did this, impressively, without Jaspreet having to bring it up first).

When asked about the potential merger of the Faculty of Forestry with Land and Food System, he promised the students that consultation would be sought out as soon as it came up as an agenda item before the executive. He enthusiastically affirmed that student consultation would begin at an early stage. Furthermore, and this is delicious for anyone who knows Martha Piper's philosophy of University governance, he stated that he was "not a CEO of a corporation", but that the university was a collegiate group of people and his job was to try to facilitate dialogue to work on arriving at a decision.

This may seem like very generic things for a President to say, but I have never seen the UBC administrator focus so much on the student/learning/teaching side of the institution. This was reaffirmed verbally several times at the senate meeting tonight when he talked about the endowment fund.

I have a feeling Professor Toope's approach will make a few faculties unhappy because of their relative de-prioritization; this is an inevitable outcome in an attempt to balance the research and the learning which goes on here. In the past we've seen the Faculty (ie the researchers) receive a disproportionate amount of support from the administration. I'm hoping that Toope will balance both.

I realise this is the honeymoon year in which the new president is still figuring out his own role, and thereby treading carefully in many areas. But he has already shaken a few things up, such as improving the communication and reporting relationship between BoG and Senate, the two highest governing bodies. Overall, I can't help but be optimistic that he has a balanced, diplomatic and visionary agenda which will not only advance the University in many aspects, but will actually uphold the Trek2010 vision in its truest spirit.


The Candidates at a Glance

So............... there's a ton of info on this site. And could take a while to peruse. So we've made this post. It's each candidate in 25 words or less. We've sent out questionnaires, had interviews, and met with almost all the candidates, read all their write-ups... and have distilled each candidate down to a few words. If you're looking for one-stop voter shopping, look no further!

(But make sure you look further.... down the page! Our Issue of the Day post is about the educational experience. That's important... right? So read, comment, and enjoy!)
It's all behind the jump.

Jeff Friedrich - The experienced dude, who wants the AMS to be relevant, to you and for lobbying. Very knowledgeable about the AMS. Prioritizes the educational experience.
Maxwell Maxwell - Started off as joke, but learned lots and developed a strong platform. Feels the AMS isn't relevant to students, wastes money; better parties, less clique-ism will fix it.

VP Academic
Jerry Fan Fan - Favors "student interests over AMS interests" but doesn't really know how they differ. Wants to use WebCT to post UBC information, and prioritize campus security issues.
Brendon Goodmurphy - Thoughtful, insightful, activist who balances a strong ideological vision with practical concerns. Realistic, constructive goals. Priorities are engaging on development and governance issues.
Bruce Krayenhoff - Supports "Citizen's Assembly" idea to engage more students and stimulate democracy. Argues for affordable housing and representative development decisions.

VP Administration
Sarah Naiman - Prioritizes "student life" and "community" and bringing more people into the AMS/SAC. Wants to hear more from students!
Suvina To - Very experienced with SAC, and knows the hurdles that people and clubs face when trying to get involved with AMS.
Wants to hear more from students!

VP External
Chris Brush - Likes the existing U-Pass, argues for cheaper student housing.
Joel Kozwarski - MUN organizer. Wants united provincial lobbying, improved transit service, and more student grants.
Tom Masterson - More interested in student life than VP External portfolio. Argues that his inexperience is his biggest strength, and that he's a quick learner.
Matthew Naylor - Policy wonk. Wants united lobbying, a tuition cap, return to grants, a stronger External commission, and student-friendly BoG reps. A Liberal.

VP Finance
Peter Rizov - The new and fresh ideas guy. Honest. Not gonna lie, steal, or run the AMS into the ground.
Brittany Tyson - The experienced insider.
Sharp-minded. Not gonna lie, steal, or run the AMS into the ground.

Jeff Friedrich - Experienced, knowledgeable. Also running for Pres.
Melody Ma - Dislikes campus drainage, amongst other things.
Cris Marincat - Likes communication, consensus, listening.
Tristan Markle - Dislikes corporatization, extravagant development, undemocratic governance.
Rob McLean - Related to a senator AND a former Arts President. Will represent students.
Darren Peets - Former hydrant. Been to more meetings about development than this list combined. Including Jeff. Knows more, too.
Aidha Shaikh - Passionate about communication with students, tuition/financial funding, and development issues.
Hillson Tse - First-year commercialization-fighter!

Tariq Ahmed - Incumbent, law student. Articulate, professional, well-reasoned.
Jaspreet Khangura- Incumbent, med student. Advocates pass-fail system for electives. Passionate, articulate, professional.
Alfie Lee- Wants to bridge the disconnect between students and the admin. Very eager and keen.
Daniel Lin - Wants to communicate better with students. Absent from debate.
Raymond "Peter" Pan- Wants to change the exam hardship rules, library hours, and communication.
Lawrence Song - Wants to increase effectiveness by tightening curriculum and working with profs.
Hillson Tse- First-year apathy-fighter!


Issue of the Day: Educational Quality

Out of all the ongoing races, arguably the academic portfolio (Senate, and part of VP Academic) has received the least amount of attention in debates and media sources. While we constantly discuss issues surrounding access to postsecondary education we rarely take time to consider the quality of the education which we struggle to receive in first place.

Jeff Friedrich has repeatedly pointed out that students find their educational experience unsatisfactory. He's right. Quantitative and qualitative surveys both back him up. Consider the 2006 National Survey of Student Engagement results (link) which say that UBC students are 3-4 times more likely to say this than at other Canadian schools.

There are lots of reasons, including our own personal backgrounds, programs, and personalities. But some issues are more frequent than others; from our time at UBC, on the BoG and Senate, here's what we've seen:

1. Exam schedules suck
Two 3-hour exams on one day, one the next morning. Three exams in two days. The current definition of academic exam hardship is 3 exams within 24 hours, but most students would agree that having 3 exams even within 30 hours or 48 hours leaves very little room for sleeping, eating, and even commuting (especially on weekends.)

Student senators have made some changes in the way exams have been scheduled, but the effect has not been substantial. We still see the clustering of exams and it hurts student performance.

2. Grading curves
Consider psych: averages are set at 65% with a standard deviation of 3%. There are pros, to curves, which can help when an exam is particularly hard, and to compare students against each other. But it makes things hard when students one year, may be smarter, work harder, or just perform more strongly. There are also informal curves, where instructors have a rough idea of what they want the class average to look like.

3. 24 Hour study spaces (or the lack thereof)
In many universities, there is at least one official facility which is open 24 hours to people who wish to study outside of their crowded residence room or their loud or otherwise distracting home. Sometimes students need a place to work - nights are no exception.

There are some "unofficial" buildings where students are not kicked out past closing time of facilities (Woodward, Forestry though only for forestry students), but these buildings are not safe because there is no security. We deserve a safe, well lit study space on campus open to all students, and it's not the SUB (which is poorly lit and has no academic work space.)

4. Poor communication around teaching evaluations.
There's a colossal gap in the feedback loop. There is no response, no follow-up to teaching evaluations. They have no perceived teeth. As a result, there's little incentive to fill out a thoughtful, thorough, and constructive form, which would benefit the instructor (and future students). The instructor isn't held accountable, and mediocrity is allowed to perpetuate itself.

The VP Academic and student Senators have continued to lobby the University to publish the teaching evaluation results online, with a pilot project in the Faculty of Arts on its way (link). But this isn't good enough. We need more accountability at the departmental level with the help of resource centres like TAG (link) to encourage instructors to improve on their teaching skills.

5. Teaching skills
The criteria on which tenure is granted places an unduly emphasis on research over teaching; naturally, teaching suffers. While teaching evaluations play an important role on the tenure track of a professor in some departments (such as the Department of Family Practice), in most department this role is minimal at best. (Now is also the time to act. UBC is hiring a new VP Academic, and students need to seize this opportunity to put this on the agenda.)

Moreover, VP Academic candidate Brendon Goodmurphy raises a good point: there should be financial incentive for Teaching Assistants to participate in workshops to be trained in instructional skills. (Currently TAG offers these for faculty and grad students on a space-restricted basis. Link) This will develop grad students' careers if they hope to go on teach, while compensating them for their time. Obviously, it would also benefit the students. Teaching can be difficult; the more training opportunities, the better.

6. Classroom Size
This is probably the hardest to tackle in terms of institutional structure. The prototypical first year chemistry class has 250 students enrolled, classroom is over-crowded, and the professor literally lectures. Two-way communication is impossible. The learning experience diminishes as there is little room for dialogue between instructor and student. In fact, the learning experience diminishes in reverse proportion to class size.

So these are six major issues in the educational experience. But we want to know more... what are the major issues you have with your learning experience?

Also, where the candidates stand is behind the jump:

Brendon Goodmurphy: Supports mandatory, paid TA training, publish teaching evaluations, promote/expand LEAP
Bruce Krayenhoff: Allow borrowing textbooks from the library
Tariq Ahmed: Diversity of curriculum
Jaspreet Khangura: Driver of the pass/fail system, more student space, earlier exam schedules.
Alfie Lee: More interactive learning environment.
Raymond Pan: Better exam hardship policy, longer library hours
Lawrence Song: More study space, less restrictive exam hardship policy


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

BoG at a Glance

We haven't written much about the BoG race. So I will.

To begin, a some candidates say, well, nothing, and offer us platforms with platitudes and no evidence of depth of analysis/understanding. That's not to say they aren't intelligent, thoughtful people; in fact, they deserve significant credit for putting themselves out there. But the BoG responsibility is one that demands a baseline knowledge and experience: you only have five meetings in the year to make an impact. That's a steeeeeeep curve.

Chris Marincat wants us to believe he's understanding and a consensus-builder, and he may well be, but there's no evidence in any of his writings to indicate that. Rob McLean wants us to vote for him because of his daddy and sister. A campaign based on nepotism - yikes. Hillson Tse, an apparently enthusiastic and energetic first-year student would clearly be out of his depth altogether on BoG. And Melody Ma has the opposite problem altogether: her platform consists of a string of grievances against the University. While they're valid and often insightful, BoG isn't the forum to change these.

We're left with four candidates. One of the three is not like the others: Tristan Markle. He has some excellent ideas, including ethical investment of the endowment, and a more democratic BoG where students (and other elected reps) can actually get motions on the agenda. However, his rhetoric betrays a radical ethic, and a somewhat careless demeanor, neither would serve him particularly well on the Board. To suggest that the voting bloc of elected members is concerned with education is to imply that the appointed members aren't; similarly, to characterize the institution as "archaic", "pompous", and its members anus' as receptacles for developers' appendages might reflect valid sentiments, but aren't likely to endear him to them. Is sucking up good policy for a BoG rep? Of course not. But nor is pissing them off. How would you respond to that?

To compare the platforms of the remaining candidates is an exercise in similarity, though there are some differences. Darren Peets brings the focus on minutiae that comes with his years of experience on campus development boards, committees, and working groups of various kinds. Aidha Shaikh understands the issues of communication, and brings an understanding of the level of strategic decision-making that takes place on Board, rather than merely getting bogged down in detailed complaints. And Jeff Friedrich's platform is one that is heavily influenced by the student political world, and well-versed in UBC lingo.

(An important side question: can one person do the job of President and BoG rep simultaneously? YES. In fact, he'd have more depth of knowledge, he might be better off. And time's not an issue; time spent learning the issues helps both jobs. There are some conflict issues, though. Jeff ought to seek some best practices guidelines on how to handle them should he win.)

Unfortunately, there hasn't been much time for the race to develop. The candidates had a forum on the first day and, since, haven't been heard from. This is unfortunate. Hear that, AMS Elections? One of the strengths of VFM is that actual issues have emerged; it's a shame that BoG (and Senate) aren't getting opportunities to engage in that discussion, at least not in the officially sanctioned way.