Monday, January 26, 2009

Guest Post: Part I

This is Serious Steve from the Devil's Advocate with the first part of a guest post. By posting here I am freed from my obligation to be hilarious, so I hope I make up for that in analysis.

I'm going to talk about races in which my opinion is fairly settled, which means this post will be about the VP Academic and University Affairs and President races.

VP Academic and University Affairs

Who should win?

David Nogas has a sprawling, unfocused platform that seems to touch on everything (transit, CASA, a long ramble about an "everything class") except the main focus of the VP Academic and University Affairs position. He has been unclear in the debates, and is unconvincing that he would be able to use the position to make even the change he wants. Next.

Sonia Purewal has Council experience, and her platform talks about the right things, though her debate performances and "about me" section leave it clear that her forte is complaining about UBC. Don't get me wrong - she has some good ideas about how to fix it, and she may do a half-decent job on the academic front. She wants to review retaking finals, reform tutorials -- though I'm not exactly sure how -- and do something about class scheduling. Not awe-inspiring stuff of legend, for sure. Her council experience is an asset, but I'm not convinced that it is a huge asset. She doesn't point to anything specific she achieved as a Council member, which would be nice in convincing me that she is able to achieve change within the system she describes as a "quagmire".

Jeremy Wood. Oh Jeremy. He is by far the most interesting candidate in this race, if only due to his magnificent and brief non-candidacy. He's also the only candidate who is convincing on campus community issues such as the UBC Farm, RCMP relations, and Market Housing (which he capitalizes to emphasize its relationship with Evil). Speaking about equity and a student-centred campus in the debates, he comes across as knollie -- or "radical wing nut" if you read the D.A. -- but interestingly he is not endorsed by the Knoll.

If Jeremy had run a clean campaign and stuck to the issues he promotes, I might even pick him, as he seems to be the only one with a clear vision of the "University Affairs" side of the portfolio; however, his big mistakes during the campaign make me wonder whether a VP Jeremy would bring the right professionalism and direction to the job that is required to make an impact within the University. Would he focus on doing the right things in a pragmatic way, or make himself irrelevant by railing against Housing and Conferences, over-focusing on Equity, and wrecking any chances of a working relationship with the police? I wouldn't gamble my vote on finding out.

And finally, Johannes Rebane. Johannes has made it clear that he has detailed though somewhat minor academic goals: increase value in labs and tutorials (which seems to be code for "make TAs speak English"), extend academic choices through a Pass/Fail option for electives, and connect career resources to better serve students. He's also against commercial development on campus, though like Jeremy implied in the first debate, I doubt he has the necessary drive and experience to make an impact in that area. He has, however, run the best campaign. He has stayed out of trouble, he has plenty of poorly photoshopped posters and a flashy website, and he has a Facebook group second in size only to Bijan Ahmadian.

A year with VP Johannes will likely not mean much change to campus planning, RCMP relations, the UBC Farm or childcare: I doubt he'll set us back anything, but also doubt he'll make major changes. I feel more optimistic about his academic plans, and if his self-promotional blurb about accomplishments as CUS VP Academic is faithful, he will have the drive and know-how to get his goals achieved.

I wish there were a funny and insightful joke candidate running for VP Academic and University Affairs - I'd have no trouble making an endorsement for them. As it is, it's a tough call, but I'll probably vote Johannes > Sonia > Jeremy > David.

Who will win?

In the old electoral system, Johannes Rebane would win this election handily. He has the largest audience to market to (300+ in his Facebook group compared to under 100), has some high profile endorsements, will get the Commerce vote, and faces a rabble of contenders who are mistake-prone, unaligned with any electoral blocs, and not doing a very good job of campaigning.

The new Condorcet system makes it a bit harder to predict. Johannes will probably still win; however, if voters for Johannes prefer Sonia over Jeremy, and those for Jeremy prefer Sonia over Johannes -- which isn't an all to unlikely scenario -- then Sonia could end up being the "best compromise" candidate. However, I find it unlikely that many voters will know more than the one candidate that convinced them to vote, so such a pronounced effect may not happen. In any case, this race will be a very interesting test of the new system.


Who should win?

We can start by ruling out Paul Korczyk. Paul is the outsider candidate, and he makes it very clear in the debates that he is also a one-issue candidate. That issue - student engagement and communication - is huge, but his attention to it to the exclusion of other issues tells us he isn't the right person for the job. Mike Duncan talked about student engagement as part of his platform, and look what he's done: not much. (Engaged some students on the NCAA issue, maybe.) If Mike Duncan can't do it, I don't have much faith in Paul. Sorry, Paul. (Disclosure: in case you didn't hear from his numerous debate references and my reaming of Jeremy Wood over his statements about advising, I work with Paul in Residence Life. I find it tough to disendorse him like this, but it has to be done.)

Blake Frederick is the ideological candidate in this election. We know where his priorities stand: free education! affordable housing! save the farm! lobby! protest! activism! Asked in a debate why he wasn't running for VP External, he replied roughly that he wanted not just a lobbying job, but a wholesale change in the focus of the AMS. An interesting point; however, Blake has been working as an AVP for two years. He's been at the forefront of implementing the two executive portfolios which relate most directly to his stated goals, under two left-wing VPs (Brendon Goodmurphy, former VP Academic, and Stefanie Ratjen, VP Externyl) who were focused on all the same things he is. How much more of the AMS needs to change to focus on these goals when its External office is already gung-ho? Blake would make an excellent VP External, but I am left with questions about his Presidential qualifications.

Questions such as: Will he micromanage the VPs External and Academic and reduce Executive productivity? Will he be able to lead a team effectively? Will he be able to put aside his ideology occasionally to work with the Administration, UNA, and governments? Despite these lingering questions, Blake has the experience in the AMS, is generally a good guy, and captured my heart in last year's election. I find his claim that "as students, we must demand more from our educational institutions and all three levels of government" gives me a vision of the AMS as a positive force of change rather than a reactionary institution with small goals. He's also stood out in the debates, having the clearest message of the three candidates.

Finally, Alex Monegro. Alex has a pragmatic platform with a greater balance of issues than Blake -- education concerns, the cost of tuition, student services and transit all get roughly equal playing time, though it doesn't have the cohesion that Blake's platform does. Either Alex doesn't have a full strategic vision for the direction of the AMS yet, or he doesn't know how to communicate that. His debate performances confirm this for me.

I am more convinced that, if he figures out where he wants the AMS to go, he'd know how to get there. Alex has positioned himself as the "team leader" candidate, touting his experience as VP External of the CUS and pumping himself up as the man to 'get the job done', not by focusing on ideological goals, but by managing his Executive team to achieve more than could be done by one person. The endorsements he has (including, most recently, Darren Peets) seem to corroborate this view of him. I don't know him at all, so I can't personally speak to his accomplishments as a team leader, but it seems to be his strength.

If I could combine Blake and Alex into a supercandidate with Blake's passion about the issues facing students and the university, and Alex's apparent leadership experience and common sense, I would heartily endorse this supercandidate. Forced to make a choice, however, I'm probably going to vote for Blake. In this race, I'll take a risk on the visionary candidate with the clear vision over the practical candidate, especially since the visionary has two years of very relevant experience under his belt. I don't think Blake's the perfect person for the job, nor do I think it's the perfect job for him, but I'll take Blake > Alex > Paul anyway.

Who will win?

This is tough. All three candidates have their separate bases of support: for Alex, Sauder students; for Blake, the knollies; for Paul, advisors and residents who know him. Given the higher proportion of commerce students who typically vote, as well as his Facebook group that is 100 people larger than his two competitors, I'm going to guess that Alex will win this one. The fact that he's a centrist candidate who may well place second in votes for Paul or Blake will also help him in the Condorcet system.

In conclusion... these are my opinions, and you can certainly expect them to quickly be contradicted by both the UBC Insiders writers and the Devil's Advocate editorial staff. I may even be disendorsed for switching horses and (gasp!) tacitly endorsing candidates. Be assured that I'll be back to my usual silly and insulting self over at the D.A.

But until then, you can chew on this analysis of these races. I heartily advise everyone to visit the candidates' websites and make up your own mind; allow me to inform your decision rather than make it for you. Cheers!