Katic: 2013 AMS Election Endorsements

The website #WHATWESHOULDCALLUBC had a pretty apt GIF describing how people feel about the AMS elections:

The truth is, most UBC students are much more fascinated with global political issues than they are local political issues — this very blog, one of the more popular at UBC, happens to be about global issues. However, that just might be the wrong way to look at things. We have much more influence on a local scale, and the decisions these local leaders make have a huge impact on our lives. This is not to say that things like war and famine are not important, but I think we need to get the right balance. I’ve written about this in the past, and I think now is a great time to bring up these ideas once again:

However, we should recognize that change begins at a local level. If we start from the politics of our backyard — winning the important personal, political and professional fights — bigger changes will follow.

The decisions of AMS candidates might actually have something of an impact beyond UBC. As leaders in a world class institution, we will set an example for how post-secondary institutions shape themselves going forward. For example, UBC is one of the 33 universities partnering with Coursera to bring the academy online, with Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs. How will this these and other educational technologies transform the university experience? What about lecture capture? Or other supplementary online materials, like videos and excersizes? Will this move lectures into the online space, making the classroom experience a place for collaborative learning, like Salmon Khan envisions (video)? The AMS VP academic will have an outsized role in these conversations, so why don’t we begin there.

There is really only one choice here, the incumbent Kiran Mahal. I have immense respect for the other two candidates, but Kiran is a force of nature. I have not met anyone who thinks more about how to reform the classroom experience. She has been an aggressive proponent of utilizing lecture capture in the classroom. When professors said that it would simply mean students would skip classes, she gave them a reality check: students want lecture captures, especially in engineering and science, so that they can review lectures. UBC is one of the more academically rigorous universities in North America, and the struggling students are using just about anything to help them do better. Just how hard are classes at UBC?

There are some courses in my major which seem designed to fail large numbers of students every year.” (page 30).

28% of respondents supported this statement, with minimal variation by academic year, excluding a low of 10.8% for graduate students. BC students recorded 29.4% support compared to 23.2% support for non-BC students. Faculty responses vary widely. Graduate and professional programs recorded low support while LFS, Applied Science, and Science recorded the highest support, ranging between 32.8% and 44.6%.

This is from Kiran’s “AMS Student Experience Survey,” which uncovered shocking levels of stress in the UBC student body. This is the single most important document about students at UBC that has come out in the past year, and I highly recommend that you read it if you want to understand what is really going on — I have written about it in the past. Kiran has also pushed forward on a number of other reforms, including an effort to get midterm evaluations of teaching, a grant application to reform UBC exams, and an early exam databases. One problem with all of these efforts is that university administrators move notoriously slow, and faculty members can be quite stubborn. That’s why Kiran needs more time, and you should give it to her by supporting her candidacy.

Shifting gears to the VP external race — well, there is only one candidate — this person could play a pivotal role in shaping provincial priorities on funding to post-secondary education. As I have shown in the past, the financial sustainability of universities and the worth of a university degree has come into question. Why? We have defunded the academy:

Instead of boosting spending to stimulate the economy, the 2012 provincial budget has made substantial cuts to post-secondary education. This is the continuation of a trend since the 1970s, when 90 per cent of post-secondary revenue was covered by government (by 2000, just 57 per cent, according to the Canadian Federation of Students).

Tanner Boker is not going to do much to reverse this trend. As UBC economist Craig Riddell argued on our very first Terry Project Podcast, post-secondary education has to compete with other entitlements, primarily rising health care costs. To start a conversation about reinvesting in education, it would take a broad scale popular movement  (see: Quebec), but the AMS is simply not the kind of organization that will facilitate this sort of movement — though, in my mind, it should be.

Tanner could do something else that’s important though. Over the past year, I would have to say the document that I read with the most boring but important text was the 2013 Translink Base Plan and Outlook. Nobody wants to read about transit, but it’s important because the system is woefully underfunded and not financially sustainable. So Tanner did this:

Good on him. This is something you should care about, and support.

Moving on, the issue of “student engagement” comes up a lot. For the most part, UBC tends to feel pretty dead. With people commuting from the suburbs and leaving campus as soon as their class ends, it can be a lonely experience to go here. This is something that interests me not just because I wish there were more parties, but because a community is the first step towards affecting any real social change. If the AMS is ever going to play a role in radically transforming the university into a place that is healthy, affordable, accessible, and sustainable, it will need to flex real political muscle — it will need people power. This battle wasn’t won because of firm handshakes and well-written reports, nor was this one, or the very battle that started this university. The first step to doing these sorts of things is to actually have a community.

Which candidate is best suited to build community on this campus? VP Admin Candidate Barnabus Caro.

Barnabas is not your typical candidate. He understands that it is not a campus’ buildings which make for a vibrant student life, but its students. His energetic and outgoing personality would do much to broaden the reach of AMS, and his thorough understanding of campus life situates him well to support AMS clubs. While the Very Responsible People are telling students that the VP Admin must persist in being a simple bureaucrat, Baranabas is fundamentally re-imagining the potential of the role — big thinking that we don’t often see from the usual crop of AMS candidates.

I don’t have particularly novel opinions about the VP finance race, and I am afraid the race wouldn’t really interest the Terry audience, so I will refrain from commenting.

With the Board of Governors race, there is only one candidate I feel strong about: Matt Parson.

Matt Parson is the real deal. When UBC’s mental health crisis was a taboo topic, he thrust the issue forward. When market housing threatened to destroy the heart of campus, he tirelessly campaigned against it. These are just two important stories, but there are many more from his years of advocacy. I can’t think of another person who is more committed to affecting change on the serious issues facing students.

For the presidential race, I am endorsing Jay Shah. Here’s a preview from my Ubyssey column on the subject, but you’ll have to wait until they publish it (tonight online, tomorrow in print — I think) to see the full commentary. I will link it here when I have it.

Shah has the most substantive platform, and was by far the most articulate candidate in the debates. He demonstrated an appreciation for the critical juncture of post-secondary education, and was not afraid to speak candidly about the AMS’ failings. Through his experience with services, he demonstrated real knowledge of the issues facing students on a day to day basis. In that role, he came in under budget, while significantly expanding the capacity of the Sexual Assault Support Centre.
I believe that Shah is the strongest candidate, giving him my lukewarm endorsement. I support his candidacy, though I am confident that Wong would also make a strong president.

UPDATE: Here’s the column.

Opinions are mine, not the Terry Project’s or UBC’s.

Gordon Katic (@gordonkatic) has been student coordinator for the Terry Project for over two years, and in that time started BARtalk, and the Terry Project on CiTR 101.9FM. A former Ubyssey columnist, and now a student at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, Gordon is trying to use journalism to tell important stories about global issues.

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Gordon Katic (@gordonkatic) has been student coordinator for the Terry Project for over two years, and in that time started BARtalk, and the Terry Project on CiTR 101.9FM. A former Ubyssey columnist, and now a student at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, Gordon is trying to use journalism to tell important stories about global issues.