Friday, October 31, 2008

Metro Vancouver Supports UBC Farm

This morning the Metro Vancouver Board voted 30-0 in favour of a motion to send a letter to the UBC Board of Governors in support of preserving the UBC Farm at 24 hectares.

The Metro Vancouver Board is comprised of representatives from the 21 municipalities in the Vancouver area (Vancouver, Richmond, Maple Ridge, etc.) and is responsible for delivering essential services and managing development growth and green spaces. UBC is not a municipality, but is a part of Electoral Area A, which has a representative on the Board.

The discussion lasted hours and partially turned into an NPA vs. Vision Vancouver debate (two of the political parties in the City of Vancouver). NPA councilors wanted to dodge taking a stand on the Farm since it would have been politically damaging for them to vote against the Farm during an election. They tried to refer the issue to the UBC/Metro Vancouver Joint Committee, but that failed. Then they tried to amend the motion and water it down, but that also failed. When the roll call vote came, all councilors voted in favour of the motion.

This vote is significant. The fact that Metro Vancouver had to intervene in the development affairs of UBC raised broader questions about how UBC is being governed. Metro Vancouver's heightened awareness of development issues at UBC will only intensify if the UBC Board of Governors doesn't take their request seriously.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Electoral Area A Candidates Exposed

On November 15th, people will go to the polls in Metro Vancouver to vote for new municipal governments. People that live on UBC campus will also go to the polls, but they won't be voting for mayors and councilors like everyone else since UBC is not part of any municipality, but rather part of an unincorporated area termed Electoral Area A. That doesn't mean that these residents don't have representation though. On-campus residents can still vote for School Board and for a representative to the Metro Vancouver Board. Electoral Area A's representation to the Metro Vancouver Board is extremely minimal - one vote out of 124 - but nonetheless important.

In the aim of improving the 4% voter turnout in the 2005 election, I surveyed the five candidates for Electoral Area A Director to get their views on some of the most important student issues. Before getting to the results, here's a rundown of who the candidates are:

Charles Menzies - UBC anthropology prof, chair of the Schools Action Committee of the University Neighbourhoods Association, founding member of Vision Vancouver's education committee
Fred Pritchard - works for local developer Leddingham MacAlister, former Director of Campus and Community Planning, worked on the South Campus Neighbourhood Plan, former UNA board member and consulter
Matthew Naylor - UBC arts student, AMS Councilor, former AMS VP External
Ben West - Vancouver Green Party Chair, works as the Healthy communities Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, former student representative to the Capilano College Board, former BC Organizer for the Green Party of Canada, fomer deputy leader of the Green Party of BC
Maria Harris - economist, member of the University Endowment Community Adv

1) Do you support keeping the UBC Farm in its current location at its current size (24 ha)?

Charles: Yes. Period. No qualifications.

Fred: Yes

Matt: Yes, unequivocally. Beyond that, steps must be taken to institutionally recognize the permanency of the Farm. I was happy to vote to support changing the designation of the Farm to 'Academic Field Facility', and, from the perspective of MetroVancouver, would work to secure the farm in perpetuity, using such options as placing the Farm into the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Ben: Yes. I am one of the lead organizers of the campaign to save UBC Farm, and have been working hard on strategy, communications, collecting petitions, helping with media training for friends of the farm representatives, and much more in my role as a Healthy Communities campaigner for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

Maria: Yes, I support keeping the UBC Farm, including the forest buffer, in its current location and at its current size. It is a precious educational, environmental and community asset whose social value will increase over time and which needs to be preserved for future generations, particularly in view of increasing population on the Point Grey penninsula and diversifying educational uses of the farm.

2) Are students fairly represented on the UBC Board of Governors?

Charles: I would like to see the Board of Governors majority elected with equal numbers of seats for faculty, staff, and students.

Fred: Yes

Matt: No. There is an immense contribution that students make to this university, both in terms of a fiscal contribution, and societally. Three out of twenty one seats does not reflect the importance of students in this University setting. More specifically, there is often a gap in representation for graduate students - I would like to see a specific seat for graduate students created on the Board.

Ben: No. The Board of Governors is a fundamentally un-democratic institution. I was elected 4 times as a student representative on the Board of Governors at Capilano College. This group of appointed volunteers may in fact have the best interests of the university at heart from their perspective, but I believe the lack of truly accountable and transparent representation is very problematic. Look at the UBC farm as just one example of an issue where the Board is so far not responding to the needs and wishes of students or community members in the way an accountable group would have to.

Maria: I should defer to students for an answer to this question since fairness of representation needs to be evaluated by those who are represented. I believe quality of representation is a pivotal issue in this election and I am willing to make the significant time committment required to represent the many different needs of Electoral Area A residents at the Metro Vancouver Board and on committees.

3) Do you support the presence of the Olympics on campus?

Charles: The Olympics are a big festival that has already been committed to. I would be concerned if the security or other aspects of the event interferes with
normal functioning of learning and campus research. I do not want the Olympics to unduly interfere with or cause harm to the normal functions of education on this campus.

Fred: In its limited form without affecting the academic year..Yes

Matt: The Olympics are coming to campus whether we want them to or not, it's up to us to make the best of them. We must be clear in what we want to see for the Olympics in our district, and have a plan to ensure that we get the most out of these games, and mitigate the effects of the aftermath of the Olympics, not only here, but across the GVRD.

Ben: I have concerns about the presence of the Olympics on campus, as I have problems with the commercialization of education in general. I was opposed to the Olympic bid because of the cost (especially in the context of closing schools and hospitals at the same time), the impact on the city, and its aftermath. I love snowboarding and other organized sports and wish the athletes all the best.

Maria: This is now a given and I think we should do what we can to welcome the world and enjoy the spirit of this event.

4) Should a rapid transit line to UBC be built before the Evergreen Line?

Charles: I think that having a UBC line built at the same time or very soon after the start of the Everygreen line would be a good idea.

Fred: No. We need improved service faster which can be done by improving level of existing bus service

Matt: Yes. While I believe that both projects are very important, UBC is severely undeserved as the second highest transit destination of the GVRD, second only to downtown Vancouver. We cannot have our line built fast enough.

Ben: We need more buses now. Rapid transit improvements are needed throughout the region. We should not see this issue as competition with other under-serviced areas. Light rail is an interesting option, but to consider over time, making use of existing corridors and doing everything possible not to replicate the disruption of the Cambie street corridor. I am opposed to underground subway construction to the campus because of cost, aesthetics, and safety issues.

Maria: The critical issue is to ensure that UBC has fast, frequenc, and efficient public transit sooner rather than later. Public transit to UBC needs to be part of an integrated socially responsible system of public transit throughout the Lower Mainland and the fact that UBC is the second highest public ridership destination in Metro Vancouver should receive appropriate recognition in the allocation of resources.

5) Do you have any concerns with RCMP conduct on campus?

Charles: I have noted that over the years the RCMP have at times reacted too strongly –in my personal opinion- to student protests. In 1997 I watched as RCMP officers pepper sprayed student and community protesters. Through several other protest movements leading up to this past year the RCMP have seemed to over respond to student protests with a fairly heavy hand. Yet there are many issues related to crimes committed against people and property on campus that appear not to have been dealt with adequately. Many housing developments on campus in the UNA area have had to hire private security to deal with property crime. Many issues of crimes against people on campus appear not to have been adequately dealt with by the RCMP or campus security. Policing is also an expensive issue with most of the costs being paid for by resident taxes. The cost structure for rural policing (that’s the way policing is set up for the UEL/UBC area) does not provide sufficient funds for adequate policing to deal with real problems.

Fred: No

Matt: Yes, I do. I feel that the actions of the RCMP have been unnecessarily heavy handed, and have been working against the creation of campus community, rather than for it. While I am in favor of a safe campus, I feel that a safe campus can be created while still allowing for an inclusive community to be created on campus.

Ben: I have concerns about any excessive use of police force on or off campus. Dragging students away from a protest by their hair is never called for as was the case at the most recent altercation on campus. Given the history of past incidents with students, such as during the APEC protests, it would stand to reason that extra steps would be taken to ensure this kind of conduct would not happen again. University campuses must be a place of free speech and the RCMP should help facilitate social and political dialog in all forms. The RCMP have a tough job to do but they must take greater steps to ensure that UBC is safe free speech zone and students rights are respected.

Maria: I am aware that there have been some tensions between the RCMP and students on campus. The solution to this is to ensure that the student community and the police consult and collaborate to ensure appropriate policing on campus.

6) Which group do you feel you are more in touch with: students, the UEL, or the UNA?

Charles: I see myself being ‘in touch’ with residents of UBC who are both students and UNA area residents. I share similar outlooks with people who live in the UEL such as the desire to ensure that our green spaces and woodland areas are maintained for public use.

Fred: I have two UBC student family members that keep me more up to date on students at UBC than anyone from the UEL or UNA on affairs in the UEL or the UNA

Matt: Students. One is always going to be more in touch with what they are. I have lived the student experience on campus and work to improve it, but it will be done holistically - I would represent everyone, not just the constituency I belong to.

Ben: I have a strong background in student organizing and public education advocate on this campus and elsewhere and I can personally relate to student life, and the issues we face as renters, transit riders and young people. I also feel very at home with the residents in the UNA and the UEL. As a community organizer I have made it my business to work closely with disparate communities. The truth is that all of these communities are diverse and multi-faceted. I have found common ground between myself and many individuals in all regions.

Maria: I am a resident of the UEL and have participated in UEL community affairs, but I have always been committed to the wider community. Over the last six years, I have been engaged in committees, workshops and meetings involving students, the UEL and the UNA. Having said that, I recognize that I am somewhat less in touch with the particular concerns of students and of UNA residents than those of the UEL, though I have participated at many venues where the views of students and others have been expressed.

7) Which political parties do you support municipally/provincially/federally?

Charles: Municipal- I am supporting individuals municipally, not political parties. Because I am a resident in Electoral Area ‘A’ (the region that includes UBC) I am only able to vote for school board. In this year’s election I will be supporting Patti Bacchus (Vision), Ken Clement (Vision), Carol Gibson (NPA), Alan Wong (COPE). Provincial and Federal –NDP.

Fred: I tend to support the local candidate who offers a platform that reflects local values and interests regardless of political party

Matt: Surrey Civic Coalition, NPA/Vision (dependent on candidate)/BC Liberals/Liberal Party of Canada. I do want to mention that while I have partisan leanings, I have consistently worked well with people in other parties, rising above partisanship, to get things done in my capacity as VP External Affairs, and would like to continue that tradition in this position.

Ben: I am a past deputy leader of the Green Party of BC, was the BC Organizer for the Green Party of Canada, and have worked closely with Elizabeth May. That being said, I have decided that the best way to bring progressive leadership to our municipal government is to work co-operatively with Vision Vancouver and COPE. I am very proud to have negotiated a collaborative agreement with Gregor Robertson, and I believe that as part of this team I can provide a much stronger voice for this campus than we have ever seen before.

Maria: Federally and provincially: Liberal. Municipally: Vision, but with respect to the School Board, I would support candidates committed to fast-tracking UBC elementary and high school expansions, regardless of their party.

8) If you could not vote for yourself in Electoral Area A, who would you vote for?

Charles: Maria Harris. Maria has lived on campus since 1999. During this time she has been very involved in the life of her community. I have sat on UBC advisory committees with Maria in the past and have nothing but good things to say about her. I am certain she would do a good job.

Fred: I have not yet decided who that would be.

Matt: I would probably vote for Ben West, as he has similar views on the future of Governance, but I don't have access to any specifics of the plans of other candidates, so I couldn't say for sure.

Ben: I believe it is fundamentally important for whoever is elected to this position to have a solid understanding of student issues, and the perspective of young people. Although I cannot imagine voting for anyone affiliated with the BC Liberal party, I think student government is an excellent training ground for anyone interested in making the jump into the political world. Matthew Naylor clearly has political ambitions and is interested in making this leap, and I think this election will be a great experience for him. When I was a student years ago taking these first steps, it was a fascinating experience. What is important is remaining focused on community advocacy and not getting too caught up in the politics.

Maria: Undecided, I have a high regard for each of the candidates who have put themselves forward.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nap Time

It's the most wonderful time of year. The happy time of midterms, papers, 15+ page lab reports being due every week (I'm looking at you, physiology), presentations, and whatever else might be on students' overflowing plates. It also happens to be the time when you notice that people's eyes are bloodshot, when students have a sort of dead look in their eyes courtesy of sleep deprivation. I know I've certainly been in that boat the past 3 weeks or so, and my sleep deficit is quickly accumulating. Like many students, I have reverted back to the wonderful kindergarten custom of napping. As such, I figured that it would be good to share some great napping locations with all of y'all.

Irving K. Learning Center.
This library accommodates both the shy and the outright napper. Small armchairs located in the wings of the building are perfect for those of you who want to sleep, but don't want people to really notice you- you can curl up in some of the chairs, put a book in your lap to pretend you're reading, while actually dozing off for an hour or two. The armchairs are also conveniently tucked away in corners behind walls and other such barriers, so no one will disturb your rest. For those of you who don't care who sees you napping, there are plenty of places to lie down in the library, some of which are even cushioned. Plus, it's a library, so it's quiet! A definite plus for napping. And there's air conditioning, so you get some fresh air, and it doesn't get stuffy. Although walking people and the smell of new building may, in some cases, detract from your sleeping experience.
Overall, this location gets 4.5 futons out of 5.

The Aquatic Center.
While I personally have yet to go there, I have been told that the smell of chlorine and the warmth of the air are perfect combinations to knock someone o- I mean, help them fall asleep. Apparently, it's also fairly comfortable, and there is lots of room for you to lie down. And no one should disturb you either, as you're not taking up space in study rooms or something crazy like that, which is always a bonus- although there are usually multiple sleepers there, so you really have to watch out for people who might snore or talk in their sleep. I'd suggest monitoring which times of day attract the least number of questionable persons, and then schedule your nap times in around that. I'll have to check it out myself sometime. In the meantime, however, I give it 3 futons out of 5. Mostly because I don't love chlorine, but each to their own.

Buchanan A200 lounge.
Filled with couches and plenty of flat surfaces on which you can lie down, this room provides you not only with the perfect napping facilities, but also includes a snack bar which can serve you things like hot chocolate and brownies once you wake up. Granted, it's not completely quiet. You may also be thinking- but what if I'm not an Arts student? The trick here is to bring your favourite Arts textbook (say, economics or psychology texts), and put it somewhere conspicuous (but don't be too obvious about it, or else it will look like you're pretending to be an Arts student) so that you don't get any looks. I thus give this space 4 futons out of 5.

Abdul Ladha Science Student Space.
As a science student, I spend a fair amount of time in this building. I am thus quite familiar with the blue couches that are oh-so-suitable for napping, and which are mostly located on the 2nd floor of the building. I recently also discovered the back corner of the first floor, which is often unoccupied in the early morning hours- while this space has no couches, it does have a plethora of chairs, which cane be arranged to serve as a sort of bed. The space is great for the morning- but be warned. With the advent of lunchtime, there noise level definitely increases, as do the number of people who like to move furniture around and thus produce excessive amounts of noise. On the whole, I feel like the building deserves 3 futons out of 5 for napping purposes.

Now, I know it's a big library, and it was institutional lighting, but what better place is there to take a nap? You're surrounded by a myriad of textbooks, most of which may push you over that brink of sleep. Plus, if you go up to the third floor, it's really quiet, pretty deserted, and there are several study rooms. I'd suggest that you book some of those, and invite some of your fellow nap-needy classmates and have napping sessions. Not only does that make it safer, but at least you're then not filling up multiple study rooms. Note, however, that you should make sure that your classmates aren't noisy sleepers, as this will mostly likely detract from your ability to rest. I'd suggest ear plugs if you can't find another way out.

Liu Center for Global Research.

This one is great- it's far away from the center of the campus, which means that most people are too lazy to make the trek out there. However, there is a wonderful grad student lounge there, complete with several couches, and there's usually no one around (except for lunch time, when I suggest you move to avoid grad students poking you). It's perfectly quiet, has a wonderful view of the forest that you can fall asleep and wake up to, and comes with a microwave to warm your food up in when your nap is over.

That concludes the post- let me know if there are any places you may recommend. I was going to write about MASS, but there are few sleeping places there, although the armchairs are sort of comfy. But very conspicuous. In any case- feel free to weigh in on your napping experiences. Happy sleeping!


Monday, October 27, 2008

Farm petition to land on President's lap today

Today is an important milestone in advocacy for the UBC Farm, which is under threat of development to enrich UBC's endowment. The petition that the Friends of the Farm have been circulating over the past number of weeks (you can see the online version here), has more than 15000 signatures and will be presented to President Toope and VP External and Community Relations Stephen Owen later today, accompanied by some freshly baked pumpkin pies.

Whether this stack of signatures and statements will be enough to sway them from the three-option consultation rubrick being peddled by the Campus and Communiy Planning office as the current stage of the Campus Plan process is yet to be revealed. Let's hope they are. The options currently on the table with regards to the Farm (which were asstutely described by the SDS in a recent Ubyssey column as a "shit sandwich") are completely unnacceptable. Like I said in my statment on the petition, it's time President Toope took some cues from UBC's PR team and actually practiced some foresight. Here's hoping both Stephens do some serious thinking about what sustainibility, community, and foresight really mean while they munch their pie and wade through the knee-high pile of signatures.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Campus Shooting in US Kills 2, Injures 1

This from the Associated Press about an hour ago:

CONWAY, Ark. (AP) — A shooting on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas left one person dead and two people wounded.

University of Central Arkansas police said Sunday night the campus was locked down and that classes would be canceled on Monday.

Little Rock television station KLRT reports that campus police say one person was killed and two wounded in the shooting just before 10 p.m. near Arkansas Hall.

The UCA Web site says one suspect is in custody and that three more people are being sought.

The Arkansas Times, meanwhile, is reporting that two people are now dead.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Brief History of Athletics

This post was written by Neal Yonson, a chemistry graduate student who sits on the University Athletics Council and a committee looking at NCAA membership. Hopefully, this will provide everyone with some valuable facts about Athletics and the fees you pay to them.

The Athletics and Recreation fee has been controversial ever since its introduction in 1985. As a fee imposed by the Board of Governors, there has been very little student input into the collection of this fee, the amount charged, or its uses. As a result, it has increased by a monstrous 481% over a 23 year span. This is the equivalent of a yearly compound increase of 8% for more than two decades. Of the approximately $5.8M that will be collected this year on behalf of athletics, 80% or more will go into the Varsity program to benefit a few hundred students, leaving only a small contribution to serve the recreation needs of the many thousands of UBC students who play intramurals, go to the aquatic centre, work out at the Birdcoop, or go to drop-in at the SRC.


The AMS made an agreement with the university to collect and hand over a “Student Athletic Fee” of $5 per student. As part of this agreement, the university agreed not to increase the athletics fee without a student referendum (which did occur in 1977 to raise the fee to $7.)


Inevitably, the university eventually decided to institute its own $32 athletics fee. Despite being called the “Student Activity Fee”, it was clearly an Athletics fee, described in the 1985/86 calendar as being “used to support athletic and recreation programs and facilities.”

At the time, the AMS got legal advice that UBC was in breach of the 1968 contract: in order to impose this fee, the university should have had to go through an AMS referendum. Instead of suing UBC, the AMS exec ran a referendum (after the fact) which failed due to lack of quorum. Despite never having been approved by students as was supposed to happen, AMS council eventually accepted the $32 fee in exchange for seats on the University Athletics Council.


Starting at $32 in 1985, the fee increased irregularly, reaching $48.60 in 1992/93. At this time, UBC was looking to make Athletics a full ancillary and cut off all GPOF funding. To do this, they would need to raise the Student Activity Fee substantially to ensure UBC Athletics would still have a reliable source of funding. For the 1993/94 school year, in exchange for increasing the Student Activity Fee by $30.76, UBC agreed to reduce tuition by 1.68%, a decrease of $31.20 for a student taking a full course load. Sounds quite reasonable, right?

At the very same meeting, the board then decided to increase tuition fees by a quite unreasonable 11.9%, which was also applied to the whole amount of the (now increased) Student Activity Fee. The original $30.76 increase became $40.20. To make matters more complicated, the government at the time instructed UBC to cap tuition increases at 9.75%. In order to claim that UBC was within the government’s guidelines, President Strangway presented numbers which entirely ignored the promised 1.68% tuition offset. In effect, the tuition offset was cancelled (though the cancellation was never stated) but the $40.20 (83%) increase in the Student Activity Fee still went through.


Two years later, another large increase was proposed. The rationale was the same: increase student fees to reduce GPOF input into Athletics. In exchange for a $27.95 increase, another tuition offset was proposed. The increase in tuition fees would be $1 less per credit than planned, a savings of $30 for a student taking a full course load. This tuition offset did occur as planned. After the $27.95 increase was tacked on, another 3.5% yearly increase was applied to the whole fee, bringing the total growth this year to $32.07.

From $48.60 in 1992 to $125.22 in 1996, the Athletics and Recreation fee increased by over 250% in just 4 years.


In 1996, the BC government put in place a tuition freeze. Regardless, the fee went up $5.03 in 1997. However, by 1998 UBC had discovered, by way of a lawsuit, that ancillary fees were also subject to this fee freeze. The one way around this was that students could raise their own fees via a referendum. Maria Klawe, then-VP students of UBC, visited the AMS and asked them to raise their athletics fee for Athletics’ benefit. The AMS did put forth a referendum to introduce a new athletics and intramural fee (on top of an already existing $6 fee for intramurals). The new fee would start at $3 and go up by $3 each year for a period of 5 years, rising to $15 per student per year. It passed, and when added to the old $6 fee resulted in the current $21 AMS athletics and intramural fee.


The year the tuition freeze was lifted, the Athletics and Recreation fee went up 18.9% ($24.66). UBC Athletics used the argument that the fee had been frozen for 6 years as justification for the large increase. In reality, thanks to the 1997 increase and the 1998 AMS referendum, Athletics’ revenue from student fees had increased for all but the first year of the freeze. In fact, the AMS fee also had its last $3 increase that year; Athletics was double dipping in a big way.


In the five years since, there has been an increase every single year, although the rates of increase have been limited to 5% or less. These have been the highlights (or lowlights) of the athletic fee, which, with the exception of tuition freezes, goes up every year come hell or high water. It goes up even while user fees are being increased. It went up drastically despite the AMS raising their fees for Athletics’ benefit. It is still supposed to go up despite Athletics projecting multi-million dollar surpluses. Where will it end? That is a question I am hoping to find an answer to.

I’d like to give an enormous thank you to AMS Archivist Sheldon Goldfarb, whose assistance has been invaluable in researching this post.


CASA Membership Downgrade was the Right Move

In the post below, Maayan expressed shock that AMS Council would change it's position in CASA "without due diligence". I think that Council should be praised for its prudent political decision, not accused of haphazardly voting without thinking.

The concerns expressed by the AMS in the letter sent to CASA cannot be swept aside merely as minor. They are indicative of ongoing issues that AMS has had with CASA, which have yet to be resolved. The tone of discussions, language used, social activities, and unfair treatment of delegates at conferences are not problems that are easily reformable. They are part of the culture of CASA and require a serious and concerted introspection by the organization. More serious issues such as the AMS's alignment of CASA's policies and strategy, as well as concerns over CASA staff setting the political agenda of the organization rather than the delegates have been raised by the AMS in the past.

One of the major concerns with CASA not expressed in the letter is their decision to not run a federal election awareness campaign. Contrary to Maayan's suggestion, the AMS did not vote in support of this move. Rather, former AMS representative to CASA Matt Naylor voiced his concern over the poor quality of CASA's campaigns. The solution he suggested was to make the campaigns better, not eliminate them. This year the AMS had to run its own federal election campaign costing $12,000 without help from CASA, a reality that is particularly disturbing given that they are the AMS's federal lobbying organization.

The AMS is also evaluating the benefit of being a part of a federal lobbying organization. No one has suggested that CASA should turn its attention to provincial matters, but with limited resources, the AMS has to make a choice whether to focus more extensively on federal lobbying or provincial lobbying. Plus, it's quite possible that the AMS can do what CASA does, but better and more reflective of the AMS's principles.

What's the benefit of being in CASA? The argument that more students united together means more resources and more influence doesn't apply so well here. As mentioned above, CASA isn't acting as a useful resource for the AMS - certainly not to the tune of $60,000 per year of student money. The influence has been lacking too. It might be asserted that CASA is more adept at getting in meetings with decision makers in the federal government. While this might be true when the Liberals are in power, the AMS is just as adept as scheduling meetings with the government. During the recent federal election, the AMS met with and lobbied nearly every federal candidate in the Vancouver area. We are the largest student union in the country and that carries a lot of weight. The most significant benefit that the AMS receives from CASA is the ability to network with other student unions across the country. This benefit should not be underestimated, but being a part of CASA is not the only way to meet with other student politicians. There are conferences every year that student unions attend (including the AMS) to network with one another.

Let's be clear about this though - the AMS is not leaving CASA, it's stepping down to associate member status. What does this mean? It means we pay half the fees. It also means we lose our vote, which many will argue was virtually non-existent in the first place since the Eastern Block of CASA tends to band together and shut out the AMS. Most importantly, it sends a strong message to CASA that the AMS is serious about its concerns. CASA's response will largely dictate whether the AMS decides to stay or go - it's really up to them. CASA's national director, Zach Churchill, will get his chance to respond to the AMS this Wednesday.

Disclosure: Blake is employed by the AMS as Stef Ratjen's assistant.


CASA membership downgrade? Really?

As you may have read below in Blake's unopinionated news brief, the AMS has decided to downgrade its membership in CASA, meaning that they now cannot vote, and will pay about half as much money to the organization. Well, here's my opinionated take on it.

AMS council has allowed itself to be convinced without due diligence by a few members of the executive. In fact I'm quite shocked that council, a typically cautious group, would so willingly and unanimously change the AMS's long-standing position in CASA due to a laundry-list of mostly minor, and partially irrelevant complaints.

Lets talk about them shall we? The AMS's letter to CASA was full of valid, but minor issues like the tone of discussions, the language used, and the social activities offered at a recent conference. These were all reasonably addressed in the response which is linked below. More substantive issues like a difference in priorities (the AMS wants to focus on tuition, for instance) and too much staff influence on policy, are things that should be addressed within the organization at some length before threatening withdrawal.

Immediate complaints, like the fact that CASA no longer funds awareness campaigns during federal elections, the lack of capacity for provincial lobbying, and the supposed Eastern focus ofthe organization are just silly. The AMS voted to stop funding campaigns during elections through CASA last year. CASA is a federal organization and was never, ever intended for provincial lobbying. And while most CASA schools are actually in the East, last year's AMS president, Jeff Friedrich was the CASA Chairperson - literally the guy setting the agenda. So it's not like the AMS is being systematically ignored. The AMS's letter to CASA correctly points out that for the ~45 grand we pay them we could hire our own federal researcher/lobbyist. But the whole point of being part of a larger association is the increased influence and resources students have collectively.

AMS VP External Stef Ratjen, as a left-wing radical who thinks that "education is a right, not a privilege" is obviously not politically aligned with CASA. Fine. That doesn't mean that AMS councillors should ignore the AMS's long history with the organization and immediately buy into a mostly frivolous list of grievances. If the AMS decides, in a wide-ranging discussion with members that our investment in CASA is not worth the value, then by all means, it should reconsider membership. I have yet to see a convincing example to demonstrate this. The fact that nobody from CASA was invited to speak to council about yesterday's motion (they were only informed of it on the day) and that, according to a good source, the previous AMS executives consulted were highly selective, I question whether this discussion is particularly fair.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

AMS Council Votes to Change CASA Membership

In an apparent unanimous decision, AMS Council voted tonight to change its membership in CASA from full member to associate member. (View the AMS's press release here.)

The AMS is one of the five founding members of CASA, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a student federal lobby organization that is predicated on four main principles: 1) member driven policy setting 2) exclusive focus on post-secondary issues 3) fair membership regulations 4) exclusive focus on matters under federal jurisdiction.

The issues that the AMS has with CASA were expressed in a recent letter sent to the organization's national director. The letter as well as CASA's response can be found here:

AMS Letter to CASA (Aug 13 08)
CASA Response Letter to AMS (Sep 22 08)

Among the issues discussed in the letter as well as in an ensuing AMS working group are: staff setting the political agenda, respect for all delegates, troublesome bias in information documents, cost of membership vs. benefits received, the prioritization of federal lobbying over provincial lobbying, the decision by CASA to not run campaigns, and the AMS's opposition to CASA's new constitution.

The change in membership effectively means that the AMS will pay half of the regular membership fees, not receive a vote, but still be invited as a delegate to conferences. The move was designed to send a clear message to CASA that the AMS is serious about the concerns it has voiced with the student lobby organization, which have been largely ignored thus far.

Dropping to associate member allows the AMS to proceed with dropping out of CASA entirely next year, going back to full member status, or remain at associate member status.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


So most of you have probably already been bombarded with messages to vote today- I know I've certainly had 3 of my profs tell me a total of about 15 times to go out and vote. But even after all that, I found out that people were still not planning on it. So I figure maybe one more reminder might do it. Think of it this way- if you don't vote, you can't exactly complain when the country isn't being run well. Do you care for Canada? Do you care how it's run? Do you care about proposals that are going to directly affect you? If so, then vote. If not, then still vote, because it's still important. If you don't know who to vote for- check out the platforms, it's not too late. You have until 7pm! And don't worry if you're not registered- they'll register you there, and it takes all of maybe 5 minutes. So take a break from studying for your midterms (if you're reading this, you already are, and should go vote), and go to your nearest voting station!

Type the rest of your post here.


Friday, October 3, 2008


So lots of students societies finished their fall voting today, and I thought that it might be interesting to look at how elections are run. Being a Science student, and a SUS Council member for the past 2 years, I can at least comment on the way that SUS campaigns are run, and I would imagine that there are lots of similarities between SUS, AUS, EUS, etc. societies (although I could be fully wrong on this point). So let's take a brief look.

Visiting the SUS website, and looking at all of the candidates, it seems like everyone is essentially focused on the same thing- they're dedicated, passionate about SUS, they want to represent students. The things I've found severely lacking, however, are the actual plans that students have. The way I see it, everyone runs the same campaign every year- so I always wonder, how exactly are people supposed to decide? It seems to me that this sort of system perpetuates voting based on popularity and personality rather than any sort of credentials or something that might be even better- some sort of plans for what they want to accomplish. This is something that's painfully lacking- most campaigns include vapid promises about getting students 'in touch' and representing students at Council. It would all be great, if it weren't for the fact that year upon year students promise to do these things, and year after year, it's still a problem. I think it's getting better, but I still propose that candidates be asked to propose at least one concrete plan each time they run, and actually outline in concrete terms one thing they would like to accomplish, and how. Sure, it requires a little bit more work and more thought, and it might not always be something that's carried out, but I think this solution provides us with two things:
1.) It allows voters to distinguish between those they're electing, and vote on something more concrete than sense of humor or physical appearance of the candidates
2.) It actually forces the candidate to think about the position, what they're doing, and makes them more accountable- people can always ask how the project is going, or can think back to the previous campaign and ask what's been done.

I realize that lots of people run for Society positions to put something on their resume- but what exactly do most people do on when elected? There are certainly lots of very dedicated members, who help run events, who regularly sit on committees and actually do things. But there are also many who skip out on meetings, who don't come to any committee meetings, who I never see around during office hours, etc. So it seems like there needs to be some actual accountability- there's always a Code in place that enables people to be kicked off Council- but how often is the Code used? And why are people so afraid to point out to others that they're not doing their jobs? In an organization that's supposed to help students, it would certainly make people take the positions seriously. Yes, it might be harsh, and yes, I do realize that this is a volunteer position, but when a person volunteers at some organization, do they promise to do things and then don't deliver? Do they bother showing up for their shifts? Why should a Council position be any different, then, from any other volunteer job?

This isn't to say that there aren't always some excellent candidates who don't have a platform or any concrete plans- there certainly are. And there are certainly lots more people getting involved with SUS due to things like our Frosh program, which have been great at recruiting students to help with SUS events. However, I think that it might be best to look at how elections are actually run, and see if we can make student societies even better.