Friday, August 31, 2007

Executive interview series, part V: Brittany Tyson, VP finance

Last, but certainly not least in our riveting executive interview series is Brittany Tyson. We sat down to chat about a month and a half ago, so don't be surprised if that we're talking about the PiR^2 rennovations "right now"!. I must say that Brittany is one of the most frighteningly competent people I've ever met. She had prepared written notes and some specific number crunching before our interview, and talked about everything in meticulous detail.

Anyway, have a listen, and learn about how budgeting works, what the various AMS budgeting categories and departments are, how to revive sprouts, Club administration, and the prospects for a unified meal card for AMS food services.

click HERE to listen!

If you missed the other executives' luminous insights, why not catch up?
President: Jeff
VP Academic: Brendon
AP Admin: Sarah
VP External: Matthew


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Eom, Louman-Gardiner, Kreitzman, meet in unprecedented summit

Monday saw the first-ever gathering of three of UBC's preeminent bloggers. In an unprecedented move, the three pen-wielding heavyweights met for sweet-potato frites and girly beer at a depressingly swish, undisclosed Main St. location. In two and a half hours of talks, Eom professed the "new worldliness" of her pinot, and Louman-Gardiner brought up his disapproval of yellow shirts, while Kreitzman revealed plans to change her hair to blue. It was agreed that Cambie would soon be the new Main, and the three unanimously vetted the statement that "it is not one's responsibility to keep track of strings of an ex's SO's names," but there remained an uneasy disagreement on the question of the value judgement inherent in the word "hack."

Louman-Gardiner sported a sharp boy-scout-turned-office-lackey look in a dress shirt and tie, while Kreitzman scored the "what was she thinking?!" prize in a nubly woolen cardigan and cowboy boots. Eom looked ravishing in high-collared silk blouse and signature heels, and Reka Pataky charmed in a cropped hairstyle and draped collar.

This meeting is perceived to be a landmark in the UBC blogging landscape, but it may prove to be of symbolic, rather than practical significance. The three have been blogging together for months without an apparent lack of unity, confirmed a high-level source. This will simply solidify their image as a triumvirate to take notice of, he said. But all may not be as well as it looks in the world of UBC Insiders. Reports of Eom's imminent departure for her native land of Germany could signal a new era for the political blog.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Coalition for Student Loan Fairness hits the lobbying sweet spot

There's been a few new posts recently. Don't forget to scroll down.

What makes for great lobbying? What gets you in the news? Why do student governments agonize and student lobbies button up, while a comparatively small group rockets into national media coverage and affects actual national party policy?

The lively example of the nascent Coalition for Student Loan Fairness (CSLF) brought these questions to my mind. The coalition was formed in April by Julian Benedict and Mark O'Meara, to give a political voice to a group of 990 000 graduates that still owe student loans. The SFU and UBC graduates (respectively), neither of whom had ever had anything to do with campus politics or goverance, got together and decided to do something about the disturbing prospect of paying their loans back to a broken system. Since its formation in April, I've heard about the CSLF on the CBC multiple times, and seen more than a few stories in mainstream newsprint and new sires (example: today's MacLean's Magazine article) . At first I was puzzled and a little miffed that it wasn't CASA or CFS, (the two federal Canadian student lobbies) that were constantly in the news about such a crucial topic. How is it possible that the large umbrella orginizations, and even our own student societies have been either ineffectual or silent where a small group of graduates completely unconnected to student government of any sort were making waves?

I called up Julian Benedict, the coalition's communications manager and co-founder to find out just exactly who the coalition was, and how they had made their quick ascent to political currency and newsworthiness. "I truly believe that if you have a good story, it will get out there," said Benedict. Benedict is an SFU history honours graduate. After he graduated, he and CSLF co-founder Mark O'Meara (a UBC student) realized that there are 990 000 thousand borrowers in a gray area with no political representation. These borrowers are a little stranded - they are no longer represented by student government, but are dealing with the fallout of funding their post-secondary education in a student aid system that's often dysfunctional, confused, and abusive.

Through discussion on O'Meara's website, Benedict began to feel the magnitude of the issue. "In the begining, I spent a lot of time asking myself if this was a real issue," he recounted. The more he spoke to other borrowers, the more he was convinced that it was. Benedict soon started filling access to information requests, talking to administrators, and synthesizing statistics. The information and knowledge amassed in this research process, and the collection of stories from borrowers form the base for the coalition's report, containing an 8-point plan, which provides "solutions to improve public confidence and operational effectiveness" of the Canada Student Loans program. The plan asks for a reduction in interest rates for student loans . It asks for a student loan Ombudsperson office to investigate and redress mistakes and abuses in the system. Other points include providing borrowers with up to date and accurate statements (which, astonishingly, are very difficult to get now), consolidating all loan repayments into one account, enforcing directives to abusive collection agencies, and providing access to grants and debt reduction.

For a novelty song, and tips on media-whoring, check out the rest behind the jump.

The basic premise of the lobby group is fairness. "Our name was deliberately chosen" said Benedict. "Fairness is something all Canadians feel strongly on." The CSLF believes that government shouldn't be making money off student loans; that it's a social service like any other. That isn't happening now. Government charges borrowers rates from 8 to 11 % while it only pays 4 to 5 % interest itself. The margin is far more than what it takes to run the program. In fact, the government made 315 million dollars in 05/06 from loan interest, and is projected to make over half a billion in the year 09/10. According to Benedict, data shows that interest rates themselves are the reason many students default on their debts. Further, there are serious economic repercussions for us as a society when so many educated young people are significantly burdened with debt, or having their credit ruined due to defaults.

Using the often disturbing stories from borrowers of abusive collection agencies, lack of transparency, and severe financial hardship as hooks, the coalition launched their website and started sending out news releases with Canadian News Wire. This can get pricey - getting your story sent out nationally with a news release agency costs at least $130 a pop. Other than investing some money, the key to lobbying success, said Benedict, is knowing a lot, being focused, and remaining so. A tactic he mentioned that appealed to me was turning something into a news story as opposed to an educational piece. "Targeted, relevant, accurate" he chanted over the phone, as I scribbled.

Benedict works full time, but he and 10 other full-time volunteers pour many hours into research and media relations. Their efforts seem to have payed off. Since April, they've had half a million hits on the CSLF website, and countless media exposures. They've received endorsements form several MP's and scores of student organizations including the SFSS, CFS, and CASA (the AMS is notably absent). Most importantly, no federal political party had a policy on student loan interest rates before April. Due to the CSLF's approaches and advocacy, several now do. I asked Bendict why he thought his group has made a significant impact in a short time, while the student movement had not. He essentially reiterated that effective advocacy can only take place when you collect an immense amount o f detailed meachnistic knowledge, and have a narrow focus which you don't waver from. Large organizations in the student movement, he obseved, are run by alot of well meaning people with a finite amount of time to devote to any one thing.

Check out the CSLF's website for Access to Information documents, polling results, news story links, and the coalition's 8-point plan in detail at you rock out to Mark O'Meara's student debt song at here .


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

AMS council kills Musqueam support motion

At last Wednesday's AMS council meeting (the last one of the summer), the embattled external motion regarding the Musqueam native band finally came to its demise. This policy, which has been tabled repeatedly in past meetings, has gone through a few iterations and adjustments. AMS president Jeff Friedrich took on the task of rewriting it. In the end though, it wasn't good enough. The motion failed the two-thirds vote.

The idea of creating an AMS policy expressing support for the Musqueam nation, on whose traditional territory UBC is situated, has been around for a while. The Musqueam have been in the treaty process with government regarding their claims for years. Last February, Mariana Payet, then the executive coordinator of student services of the AMS, brought forward a motion that acknowledged the Musqueam's title over UBC, reading

Whereas the UBC Point Grey Campus is located on unceded Musqueam Territory; and

Whereas the AMS is housed in the Student Union Building located on the UBC Point GreyCampus; and

Whereas the Musqueam people have lived on this land since time immemorial;

Be it resolved that the Alma Mater Society officially recognize the Musqueam
people’s title over this land

This motion was tabled (neither passed nor failed): people weren't comfortable with the legal ambiguities of students supporting the ceding UBC land to a private body. Some people simply didn't see the point of creating a policy that had no action associated with it. Others disagreed with the intent of supporting Musqueam claims. The AMS president, Jeff Friedrich, asked that the motion be tabled so that consultation with campus aboriginal groups could be conducted, and so that wording could be adjusted to make it less controversial. [As a side note, he also said it was a "difficulty" that the motion came from the floor (as opposed to coming from the executive); I've heard Jeff make comments along those lines again, and am confused about them. What is "difficult", or (another favorite word) "tricky" about motions from the floor? On the contrary, the executive drives the agenda of council far too much, to the exclusion of motions from committees, caucuses, or god forbid, individual councilors.] But anyway, that's what happened. Jeff consulted with the Aboriginal students' association and another campus first nation group from the UBC First Nations House of Learning (the longhouse). He asked David Wells, the AMS policy analyst to help redraft the motion. Here's what they came up with:

Whereas the UBC Point Grey Campus is located in the Musqueam people’s
traditional territory that was never ceded to the Crown; and

Whereas historical information provided by University information sources
indicates that this land was traditionally used by the Musqueam for
educational and defensive purposes; and

Whereas the Musqueam are currently engaged with the province in a
treaty negotiation process regarding the territory in question; and

Whereas recent court rulings suggest that the Musqueam have a strong
prima facie case for Aboriginal Title; and

Whereas it is acknowledged that any settlement resulting from the
current treaty negotiation process will likely not result in the loss of use
of this territory to the University of British Columbia for the purposes of
providing post-secondary education,

Therefore, be it resolved that the Alma Mater Society officially
recognize the Musqueam people’s legitimate claim to this territory; and

Be it further resolved that the AMS support a negotiated resolution
that will enable the territory in question to continue being a source of
learning and knowledge, both formal and informal, modern and traditional, UBC
and Musqueam,” and

Be it further resolved that the AMS support a negotiated settlement
regarding the disposition of the University Golf Course, which has been
acknowledged as being located on traditional Musqueam territory.

So basically, the AMS should recognize a claim that obviously (and legally) exists, and support a negotiation process that's already well underway. In other news, the sun rose this morning. Not exactly radical - in fact, barely meaningful. The motion is so watered down, that it's basically just a list of the government processes now underway with "we support" stuck before them. Opposition in council came from two directions. There were those people that were still uneasy about supporting the Musqueam claims. On the other hand, there were those that would not support a motion that, to paraphrase science councilor Tahara Bhate, merely supplied nice-sounding sound bites, but really only payed lip service to aboriginal issues - essentially the same thing government has done for hundreds of years with disasterous results.

There was fairly strong support for this motion though. In fact, more than half of council voted for it, but less than the two-thirds required. Darren Peets (B0G) spoke favorably of the motion as a goodwill gesture, arts councilor Nathan Crompton said that this motion didn't prevent a true radical stance to be taken in the future, and Jeff Friedrich said that all the groups he consulted said the motion would be meaningful and welcome.

This particular failed effort highlights the difficulty of passing political external policies in the AMS. In this case, it went something like this: some people think some issue is important - they represent a particular side in a motion. Others think it's irrelevant; others simply take a different political position. The motion is tabled since it clearly would have failed. It is revised to a less strident position to garner more council support; all meaning is lost. The motion fails anyway.

For background on Musqueam and its recent dealings with UBC, check out previous posts:
News item from the Globe and Mail
context and analysis by Tim


Monday, August 27, 2007

Student Aid report from administrators

Student loan administrators have turned into activists! This article from this morning's Globe and Mail.

More need-based student aid urged
Universal programs outpacing funding for those who need help, says a study by financial aid administrators

From Monday's Globe and Mail
August 27, 2007 at 4:37 AM EDT

An increasing proportion of financial aid for postsecondary education is going to all students, rather than to those who need it most, says a new study from university and college administrators that calls for a reversal of the trend.

Over the past decade, federal and provincial governments of all political stripes have spent more on student support overall. But the report finds that most of that new spending has been for measures such as tax credits and tuition freezes that benefit everyone, and are not targeted at those who face financial obstacles in postsecondary education.

Universal aid programs now get about three dollars for every dollar spent on needs-based grants and loans, says the report, to be released today.

"Governments get captured by the ability to score political points by adjusting tuition levels or raising tax credits," said Sean Junor, one of the authors of the report. "Student aid has never been a big vote getter."

If the aim of financial aid programs is to encourage more students to go to college and university, then the current trend must be corrected, he said. Programs must be directed to qualified students who would otherwise be deterred because of costs, which was the original intention of student-aid programs when they were established 40 years ago, Mr. Junor said.

The report finds that beginning in the late 1990s, the steady expansion of measures such as monthly education tax credits "fundamentally altered the nature of student aid in Canada."

The study, entitled The End of Need-Based Student Aid in Canada?, was commissioned by the Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Its argument - especially its opposition to blanket tuition freezes - is likely to meet with stiff opposition from student groups, who continue to pressure governments to hold the line on fees or reduce them. The study's call for more targeted funding relief is one that is frequently made by university and college leaders frustrated by government limits on their ability to raise funds through tuition.

Mr. Junor, who is with the Educational Policy Institute, an independent research group based in Toronto, said the study documents how the financial aid system has strayed from its original intentions during the past 10 years.

It examines spending at all levels of government on student aid and the recipients of those funds, and finds that most new spending has not been based on need.

In the past four years, all levels of government and the federally supported Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation have increased aid spending by more than $1.4-billion. About 60 per cent of that went to non-need based expenditures, the study found.

The one exception at the provincial level is Ontario which, following a report by former premier Bob Rae, has targeted the majority of its aid to need-based programs, as has the millennium scholarship foundation. The foundation provides more than one-third of all grants to students, but its funding is set to run out in less than two years.

The student aid programs certainly need reform. It's absurd that people use the cash from student loans to buy cars, and don't work in the summer, while others can't even qualify because their parents have a certain income, even if the parents are not supporting their son/daughter through university. In a way, the issue comes down across a fairly clear line: should there be more needs-based student aid to help those people that otherwise wouldn't attend, or should we as a society simply spend much more on education to make it universally more accessible?


Monday, August 6, 2007

I quite enjoy "Inside Higher Ed"

First, read this article. Short version: How University administrators co-opt their student representatives. An interesting reflection on a position into which almost all student "representatives" are placed.

Then, read its follow-up: It's about the importance of Presidential leadership when it comes to the student experience at a University.

Then go back to enjoying the long weekend.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Junk food junked?

by student BoG rep Darren Peets

About a month ago, UBC was informed of a new provincial policy on the sale of food and drinks from vending machines. In essence, this policy expands the junk food restrictions already in place in schools to all hospitals, universities, colleges, Crown Agencies, provincial government buildings, and so on. Food is sorted by its nutritional value into four categories, helpfully named Not Recommended, Choose Least, Choose Sometimes, and Choose Most. At least 50% of all food and beverage choices from any bank of vending machines must be Choose Most, while Not Recommended and Choose Least are forbidden. The intent is to steer people toward healthier food.

My understanding is that this takes effect August 1, 2007, and that UBC has already been asked for conformance reports. At this point, it's not backed up by legislation, but as with many provincial directives, it will be if necessary -- noncompliance would only result in a few months of freedom and a needless fight with the Province.

There is one noteworthy exemption to the policy: student residence. Through a form of logic that escapes me, the Province has decided that students living in residence either eat healthier food than those who don't, or simply don't matter as much. The fate of vending machines in the SUB is unclear, as the SUB seems to be described by both the exemptions and inclusions sections of the policy.

For example, candies and chocolates are categorized as follows: Almost everything is Not Recommended, Choose Least includes some very small packages of candies, chocolates or dessert gelatines, Choose Sometimes includes sugar-free gum, mints or cough drops and diabetic candies, and Choose Most need not apply. A handful of energy bars pass muster (some even make the top category), but low-carb, low-protein and just plain large energy bars, and any with sugar as the first ingredient or added fats aren't allowed.

The full policy is available from

My initial feeling was indignation that we were being treated like children, but given that doctors and nurses are too, I'm a bit less annoyed about it now, and I doubt it's worth UBC fighting. I'm curious what everyone else thinks, though.