With challengers absent, Board of Governors incumbents find common ground in first debate

At the first Board of Governors (BoG) debate, the incumbent candidates didn’t have much to defend as both newcomers failed to show.

The debate featured only Jeanie Malone and Max Holmes, the two students who currently represent UBC Vancouver on the Board and are running for re-election to their fourth and second terms respectively. Their discussion covered a wide swath of topics, but affordability was a consistent theme throughout.

Candidates Brandon Conner and Axel Kong, both of whom are running without prior student governance experience at UBC, did not attend the debate. In an emailed statement to The Ubyssey, Conner said he couldn’t come because of a class conflict.

“… rest assured I will be there attending the Great Debate on Friday,” he wrote.

Kong said he did not take part for “personal reasons,” but he’ll try his best to make the next debate.

“I think everyone would agree with me that persona[l] health and matters take precedence over everything else. I think the debate is just one way to reflect the platform, and there are many other ways to do so,” wrote Kong in a written statement to The Ubyssey.

Having worked together closely on the Board over the past year, Malone and Holmes found themselves openly agreeing and building upon each other’s ideas throughout the debate.

When asked what issues are under-discussed in Board meetings, both candidates brought up ways of easing the burden on students’ pocketbooks. Malone answered that food insecurity and the accessibility of health services on campus were mentioned briefly in meetings this year — but not enough.

Holmes said he hopes to revive discussion of affordable student housing that has died down since the Housing Action Plan was passed.

“How can we look at new developments that are coming in around the Stadium Road Neighbourhood to provide affordable housing? How can we even look at partnering with the City of Vancouver, around having off-campus housing? [Or] working with perhaps the AMS to create housing off-campus?” Holmes said.

Both candidates emphasized the need for a strategic plan on affordability, an idea that they advocated for several times throughout the debate and in BoG meetings over the past year.

“… if we can pull together some of these smaller pieces — whether it’s the food insecurity piece or the student housing piece — into a comprehensive affordability plan, [it will] help the Board have a better dashboard and a better pulse of what's going on,” said Malone.

She added that she would need to see such a plan before she could ever vote for tuition increases — a constant source of frustration among students, according to feedback to the university’s consultation.

Holmes agreed, noting that he’s “proud” to have voted against this year’s increases. He added that the Board should use its relationship with the provincial government to lobby for graduate student funding that is competitive with what other provinces provide.

On the topic of sustainability, the candidates lauded student groups like UBCC350 for the role their activism played in pushing the Board to declare a climate emergency and commit to full divestment from fossil fuels.

But despite what he called “amazing” progress, Holmes said that there’s more work to be done.

It’s possible that the university will determine that it can’t legally divest because it poses too great a financial risk. Holmes said that if UBC finds itself in that “legal jam,” it will have to look into lobbying for the amendment of provincial laws so that BC universities can invest responsibly.

“If there are legal barriers, they shouldn’t be there in this day and age during the climate emergency,” said Holmes. “So if there is ever a place where we don't get to divestment, we definitely need to advocate that.”

Malone added that she wants to make sure the Board follows through on implementing the various governance structures that the university’s climate emergency declaration set into action, including the new BoG Sustainability Strategy Steering Committee and Community Climate Advisory Task Force.

“How we weave this all together and how we work on the implementation of some of these components, the resourcing, putting money behind these types of initiatives — that’s going to really make a difference,” said Malone.

Responding to a later question about consulting student groups on campus, Malone added that throughout the divestment movement, she has been in touch with groups like UBCC350 via “a number of group chats with various humans” where she’s shared relevant BoG dockets and other materials.

She said that these relationships and others that she has developed over her past three terms — with university leadership as well as students — have been a real asset to her effectiveness in the position.

Finally, Holmes added that he wants to make sure the Indigenous Strategic Plan — which is currently undergoing its second consultation phase — is given the funds and staff it needs to be executed properly.

“I will say one thing about UBC: we are amazing at creating plans and visions, we are really bad at executing,” said Holmes. “And so you have to ask those questions around resourcing, commitment, staffing — looking at what's possible.”