Note: The following appeared as a single article in the print version of the Knoll. Most of the sections, however, stand by their own as well. You can read it from top to bottom, or you can use the following table of contents to go to the sections that interest you.
Many students at UBC have little knowledge of their student society, the Alma Mater Society. The AMS is an institution that has been called sexist, irrelevant, overly bureaucratic, confusing, opaque, and inaccessible, among other things.
Former AMS President Jeff Friedrich looked at rebranding the AMS as an answer to some of these problems of accessibility that many students face. This change cost thousands of dollars and many hours of work that apparently did very little to engage the student population. Outgoing President Michael Duncan suggested an AMS name change, another rebranding attempt that, bombastic and exciting as it may be, would do little to invigorate the AMS.
Noting that these answers to the AMS question are superficial is too obvious. The AMS is a student society, and as such, requires the participation of students for its success. This is not to be understood as a call against apathy, but rather a critique of the structure of the AMS as a student government, contextualized within the larger governance system at UBC. In other words, structurally speaking, students are supposed to be apathetic, indeed, are required to hold little interest in bodies such as the AMS. The AMS should attempt to ’sell’ itself to students, with students being understood as individuals who simply choose not to ‘invest’ their time into the student society, but must undertake the long-term project of dismantling those structures that render the student complicit and passive.
The AMS as it stands is known and followed by a small number of students, and along with the claims listed above, has been described as an elitist, exclusionary organization. In these ways, the AMS is systematically over representative of dominant, privileged voices while marginalizing the interests of many. These are issues of class, race, and gender, and cannot be sidestepped in any discussion of the problems of the AMS. Lack of accessibility cannot be understood simply as, for example, being confused by an overwhelming bureaucracy. In its current operation, it must be realized that the institution of the AMS systemically excludes those voices that often need to be heard the most.
Obviously this is not unlike most institutions we know, and especially those that dominate our lives. What stimulates our interest in the AMS, however, is the potential for this organization to aid in the fight against these forms of oppression, despite its own recreations of them as it stands. The AMS must become the instrument of the students, united in dealing with important issues such as tuition, lack of childcare, unacceptably undemocratic structures of governance within the university, and the very systems of marginalization themselves, like those discussed above.
In the end, significant and meaningful change, as within any revolutionary movement, is a complex and varied process that requires a variety of tactics, most of which must come from the bottom rather than the top. These changes must come from the students.
These things having been said, the AMS is not yet a completely dysfunctional organization by any means. Many students, notably less than those that find the AMS distant and bewildering, utilize the many services that the AMS provides. At the end of the day, the AMS is the student’s voice within the governance system of UBC, a structure that systemically marginalizes the student.
Those that have been endorsed in this elections edition of the Knoll magazine are attempting to use the AMS to create real change for students, despite the aforementioned problems that it faces. The issue of tuition fees and other costs of education must become a fundamental issue for any student leader. If our education systems are to be fair and accessible, the very existence of tuition fees at UBC must be challenged. At minimum, rising fees with continually decreasing levels of government funding, can not be accepted.
With the understanding that support for our education systems are integral to a functioning and critical society, students should be advocating for the closure of the student financial assistance office! Until this happens, however, the student financial assistance programs must shift from loans-based to upfront grants-based support.
Waitlist for UBC Childcare: 1400 children
Waitlist length: 18 months to over 2 years
Annual UBC contribution per child enrolled in UBC Childcare: $1500
Monthly costs of UBC childcare: ranges from $1040 for infants to $710 for 3-5 year olds
Monthly costs of private childcare located West of Main St: ranges from $1051 for infants to $960 for 3-5 year olds
It is clear that there is a serious lack of adequate childcare available to the UBC community. Parents and guardians who attend classes or work on campus wait an average of 18 months to over 2 years for UBC childcare services. This reality directly impacts access to education and employment on campus, especially for women and low-income families. This reflects the broader climate of gender and class inequity on campus.
The marked absence of equitable childcare services on campus demonstrates a systemic bias against the inclusion of women and families within the University, negatively affecting their ability to fully participate within the UBC academic or work environment. In the context of rising costs of living and tuition, as well as high costs of childcare, there exist direct monetary disincentives to the pursuit of studies and work at UBC that systemically and disproportionately affect low-income families. With this in mind, AMS support, resources, representation, and advocacy for adequate and accessible childcare is a critical issue in this election.
Given the absence of students who use or need childcare services represented in this election (and the AMS, more broadly), incoming Executives will need to look beyond their personal experiences and normative AMS perspectives to meaningfully address the systemic and intersecting barriers facing parents and guardians at UBC. Concretely, this will mean building coalitions with organizations both on and off campus that provide resources and advocacy around childcare and family support, as well as engaging in joint lobbying initiatives for provincial funding for childcare. AMS Executives should also make it a priority to centralize resources and support mechanisms in a way that helps parents and guardians attending classes or working on campus to navigate some of the issues they face.
Another problem of accessibility is seen when looking at the ridiculously high tuition fees that international students at UBC face. At an average of $18 500, this is the highest tuition rate in Canada for undergraduate studies. As a result, international students are often excluded from campus culture, and by extension the AMS, because many cannot afford to take less than a full schedule or must work part-time jobs. This contributes to a systemic under-representation of international students within the AMS. While international students have held AMS Council and Executive positions, they do so in the capacity of their elected constituency (ie: Faculty, or general student body). Any efforts to address issues that disproportionately affect international students go above and beyond their ‘call of duty,’ and are often sidelined by other more ‘important’ (ie: relevant to students at the table) issues. While there are glimpses of limited support for international students within the AMS structure- the International Students Association has finally been able to obtain a seat on the AMS council- this seat remains non-voting.
The BC Provincial Election is being held on May 12, 2009 and provides an opportunity for students to be heard. AMS politics, and especially the VP External position, is heavily involved with the provincial government. Most obviously, the issue of tuition and the cost of education arises again. Under Premier Gordon Campbell, the current BC Liberal government lifted the six-year tuition freeze in when it came to power in 2001. Tuition fees subsequently rose from $2181 to $4324 in five years. Between 2002/03 to 2003/04, tuition jumped 30.4% as part of this huge rise. This past year saw another rise in tuition fees, compounded with a $60 million general cut in post-secondary education funding from the province. This was in the same budget that saw a $3 billion surplus. Transit is also very important when considering the upcoming provincial election. With talks of a Skytrain to the campus, questions of where the new busloop should be put, and the success of the U-Pass, the AMS and provincial elections are obviously linked. Furthermore, UBC will be an important site for the 2010 Winter Olympics. As with many other projects and initiatives around Vancouver involving the Olympics, UBC is already a site of broken promises. The Olympic ice rink completed in the summer of 2008 was $9 million over budget and, based on the contract, UBC was required to pay this.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned tuition increases are very closely related to this mismanagement. In UBC’s Trek 2010 Vision, it states that UBC will “build academic, recreational, and community programs around UBC’s role as leading educational partner for the 2010 Olympics.” How does this affect students? Does being the “leading educational partner” require students to pay out of their own pockets for an event that will benefit the few, and only further hurt the many? These are the kind of questions that our AMS representatives must be asking in light of the upcoming provincial elections.