Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Synopsis of the Candidate's Debate II

Today's Candidate's Debate left me with a foul taste in my mouth - it lacked particularity, depth, and informed opinions (and therefore, any possibility for even an hint of a constructive dialogue).

To criticize the layout of the debate: giving the candidates 30 seconds to answer a question was simply insufficient, and an attributing factor to the lack of particularity which left the audience dissatisfied. On one hand, the (few) informed candidates in the room were prohibited from providing the elaborate explanations which a lot of the questions demanded; on the other, the uninformed candidate was allowed to hide behind a generalized, nebulous narration of "connecting to the students" and "putting students first". As another reporter pointed out, to "put the students first" was a mere baseline of the jobs these candidates are aspiring to take on. At times it seemed as though the audience was more knowledgable on the portfolio and issues for each position than most candidates (with notable exceptions).

Tristan Markle speaks as other BoG candidates look on

The BoG Debate

The Board of Governors consists of 21 members, out of which there are currently only two AMS student seats. The voice of the students at this ultimate decision making body on any funding allocation (for buildings, programs, research - ie any effective change within the University) thus needs to be eloquent, informed, and have conviction. The candidates in the room were Aidha Shaikh, Rob McLean, Jeff Friedrich, Darren Peets, Tristan Markle and Melody Ma. Within their restrictive time frame most of the candidates did a good job of presenting themselves and why they wanted to be elected.

BoG Candidates

Briefly: Rob McLean cited his involvements with the Arts Undergraduate Society to be secondary to the wealth of knowledge he accumulated at the dinner table (by virtue of his political family - sister Lianne McLean a former student senator, and his father David McLean a current faculty representative on Senate). Aidha Shaikh, having spent her high school, undergraduate, and current graduate years all at UBC, said her positive and rewarding experience on the Graduate Student Society inspired her to contribute further to the campus. Jeff Friedrich gave his reasons for running for both President and the Board: that it made sense of the spokesperson of the AMS to convey the AMS position at this powerful body. Darren Peets, a long time member of several University committees on campus development, and previously the mastermind behind the Fire Hydrant, stated that it would be difficult for the administration to cut corners in his presence when making key decisions. Tristan Markle believed that too much experience working in student government made you a sedated part of the system, where you ultimately work for the university. His main issues included tuition reduction and a consultation between Musqueam and the developers on campus. Melody Ma, a second year science student, said she wanted to start with "small things", such as the poor drainage system at UBC resulting in the many puddles we see around campus.

Incumbent student Governor Omar Sirri asked what each candidate thought about the conflicting loyalty to the University as a Board member vs. the students who elected them to office in first place. Jeff (and to an extent Darren) argued that a student BoG rep had allegiance to the Board through the lens of a student. This makes sense as the student is elected by virtue of being a student, so a conflicting opinion from the rest of the members is the very raison d'etre for the student seats in first place. But at times there could be scenarios in which a collective advancement of the university would result in a setback for the student. Perhaps Omar should have given a particular example, as I can see that the hypothetical tensions could be resolved differently depending on the context. Nevertheless, from a principled perspective, all candidates unsurprisingly stated they would prioritize the interest of the students first.

Omar Sirri asks a question to the BoG candidates

VP Academic and University Affairs

To me this is the most important exec position, as the portfolio entails Campus Development, Campus Safety, Hiring, Academics (huge in itself), and Housing. I was overall disappointed at again, the lack of time that was given to the candidates, but also at the candidates themselves who either were not prepared or had a very limited understanding of the issues at stake. During this time, and for the VP External debate, I found myself wondering why certain candidates wanted to run for an AMS Executive position in first place, if they were so ignorant of the very job which they would be performing in the upcoming year.

Bruce Krayenhoff makes his opening speech

Bruce Krayenhoff, a Masters student in Physics, presented his main reason for running in the election: that there simply wasn't enough student engagement, and that it was due to the fact that the AMS was so removed. His solution was a Citizen's Assembly which he argued would curb the esotericity of student government.

Brendon Goodmurphy, an interdisciplinary student, and co-chair of the Student Environment Centre and AMS Councillor, stated the student's educational experience here at UBC was dismal according to both Macleans rankings and the NSSE survey (National Survey of Student Engagement). He was vague about what he would do to address this large issue, which to me was pertinent to disclose as in my view (as a senator and having worked on the academic portfolio for several years) it would entail changes at a large scale starting from the very core of hiring practices of the University (tenure track requirements included).

Brendon Goodmurphy answers a question

Jerry Fan Fan, a current senator, told the audience that he couldn't possibly enter his planned career in finance without having made a contribution to the student body. He didn't present any constructive ideas or priorities, except when pressed by the journalist from the Thunderbird. He then went into a pessimistic admission of his personal experiences with the University. He said the students faced "resistance from all sides" and therefore he was unsure of what he could substantially accomplish. He told the reporter he would have to think really hard about what he could do, and commented that he probably wouldn't sleep tonight.

Jerry Fan Fan

A reporter asks a question

I was disappointed with the candidates, especially as I hold this position in particular to a very high standard. Within the wide range of committees which the VP Academic sits on, and the saturated portfolio, I was disheartened to find that none of the candidates had a good and clear grasp of any of the issues that they could have presented. Brendon Goodmurphy talked about "saving the Farm" in a hasty response to a question, but he seemed frazzled and merely mentioned that he would "talk to the faculty of Land and Food System" to see "what can be done" to convince the administration that the farm had value to the research and education on this campus. I would have rather seen him mention the many developments which have already started, such as the collaboration with the downtown eastside patrons in building their community gardens, or the gradual switch in attitude towards the farm by the administration, instead of leaving the topic in a rhetoric resonating that of two years ago.

Bruce Krayenhoff had the innovative idea of transforming the bookstore into a library system, wherein students could borrow a textbook for a school term using their student card. While I am attracted to the idea of not having to pay 900$ per year on my science textbooks, I was skeptical of the feasibility of this. As Bruce rightly mentioned, the University makes a respectable profit each year from the bookstore, and that would be the very incentive of the administration to fiercely oppose this idea.

Jerry Fan Fan reintroduced the idea of bait-books, bait-laptops, and bait-cameras (something he mentioned in his last campaign), but didn't go into much detail.

The discussion on campus development disintegrated into a general discussion on whether or not student housing was needed on campus. The simplistic nature of the debate was self-revealing of the lack of understanding of (and in all fairness, lack of time to elaborate on) the particularities such as aspects of the Main Campus Plan, University Town, the endowment project, and our prior lack of input in the administration's development planning process (such as the permits board).

Overall I thought Brendon came out as a caring candidate, though again vague and unclear on the issues. Bruce had some good ideas which were somewhat out of the normal portfolio of the position. I'm unsure if Jerry Fan Fan is able to overcome his nihilistic view of the ability for a student electorate to accomplish anything, nor am I sure if even then he would convince me that he was a capable candidate.

VP External

If I had to put the VP External candidates' knowledge of the issues (U Pass/Translink, Lobbying group alliances, Tuition, relationships with other universities) onto a scale of zero to ten, I would say that they spanned from zero all the way to ten.

Thomas Masterson

Thomas Masterson was the first to admit his ignorance of the particularities of the job. He stated his reasons for running as being a very satisfied student with his university experience and wanting to bring the same to others. He claimed his diverse background in different jobs and having been on varsity athletics team gave him ad edge in being able to relate to students well. He also wanted to increase student spirit on campus.

Matthew Naylor, AMS Councillor and the Secretary of the Science Undergraduate Society, gave a well-rehearsed speech of his priorities: lobbying as a united front with other schools in BC, improving the BC Grant program, and working with an active External Commission.

Matthew Naylor

Joel Kaczwarski, having sat on the Development Board for the AMS, and a director of Model United Nations, had a very similar platform in wanting to work with other universities and colleges of BC, and revitalizing the External Commission.

Chris Brush introduced himself as a political science student and as having positive energy.

A question was asked on the dichotomy of having two lobbying groups in Canada (CASA/CFS), and how the historic political rift between the two groups has hindered the attempts at lobbying the Province in conjunction with other BC schools. Most BC colleges and unis are CFS schools. Joel answered that there were common goals with the postsecondary institutions of the Province could come together on, while Matt Naylor said the time was right for united front lobbying especially at this current political climate in which the CFS faced internal turmoils (SFU, Douglas College, etc). The other candidates expressed their unfamiliarity with the issues but stated that they agreed that collaborations with other schools was a good idea.

There was no real debate in this race as Tom and Chris were uninformed, while Joel and Matthew didn't differ very much in their stances, except that Matt Naylor seemed much more rehearsed in his speech and by virtue of having been in student government this past year was able to provide more detail than Joel.

Just like in the VP Academic "debate", the particularities were lost and the dialogue was broken down into general concepts of "yes we all agree that the External Commission should be utilized effectively", "yes we like the UPass and to bring better bus service to UBC students". How can anyone disagree with those broad statements????? I had never before attended a debate where the candidates were so unprepared.

Chris Brush and Joel Koczwarski

Tim and I have spent a good hour with each VP External candidate this week, and will write a more in-depth impression of them all.

Sidenote: Which current AMS Executive said the following today?
"I kinda wish I had run for BoG, but I'd rather leave the country."