Fact-checked: Breaking down your AMS elections candidates’ Great Debate claims

Candidates say a lot of numbers, figures and claims at AMS elections debates and some of them are hard to understand or verify.

That’s why The Ubyssey is fact-checking the big claims candidates make at debates.

Here we’ve covered claims made at the Great Debate on Saturday, February 27 which included the races for AMS president, VP academic and university affairs (VPAUA), VP administration, UBC Board of Governors (BoG) student representatives, VP external, VP finance and Senate.

We dove into claims candidates made about topics including UBC finances, the AMS CampusBase privacy breaches and tuition increases.

President

Cole Evans: “Last general election we had an uncontested VP finance race. We had nobody running for VPAUA after the first couple of days and we had to have a special election. The year before that we had an uncontested VPAUA election again.”

True and false. The VP finance race was uncontested in 2020, and the sole candidate for VPAUA withdrew from the race 12 days after candidates were announced, not after just a few. The year before, in 2019, the VPAUA race was contested.

VP Administration

Lauren Benson: “Last year, we saw two privacy breaches, one where 40,000 student emails and student numbers were accessible by any other member and students themselves were able to find vulnerabilities about being able to log in to any account.”

True. The Ubyssey reported in August that the email addresses of almost 40,000 users were visible through a privacy breach, and some users had student numbers visible instead of emails. In November, a vulnerability was discovered that allowed users to log into other users’ accounts.

Benson: “We also saw last year that the privacy impact assessment was supposed to tell students what went wrong and what's going on, it was supposed to be released in October at the AGM and it didn’t get released until December.”

Somewhat true. The Ubyssey reported that the assessment was released in December after President Cole Evans promised at the AMS Annual General Meeting (AGM) that it would be released. However, the privacy impact assessment did not tell students how the breaches happened, but rather outlined security measures within CampusBase and what personal information the service collects.

Benson: “[The sustainability dashboard has been] used in the past, but it’s been a while.”

True. The sustainability dashboard has been out of commission for a while, but there are plans to bring it back with the AMS Sustainable Action Plan. The dashboard would show metrics for energy and water use and waste consumption within the Nest.

VP External

Saad Shoaib: “For example, the COVID-19 renter’s rebate that we advocated for at our past lobby week, we advocated that all students, including international students, need to be included in this. One of the policy terms that the provincial government established when they released the BC Recovery Benefit was that international students were included.”

Likely true. In the 2020 AMS VP External’s Provincial Lobbying Strategic Plan, one of the recommendations to the government is “make certain that the income-tested renter’s rebate is inclusive of student housing and does not enforce eligibility criteria that is unattainable by the majority of post-secondary students to ensure that student-related housing is being supported throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.” This doesn’t explicitly mention international students, but the second part of the recommendation likely takes international students into account. In reference to the second part of the statement, international students are included in the BC Recovery Benefit.

Board of Governors

Dante Agosti-Moro: “The Gateway plan is a way to give more expanded space for counselling and [mental health resources], but that’s gonna help students down the line ... There was a recent extension to Brock Hall to provide a temporary space for counselling.”

True and true. While the Gateway building will provide an allocated and expanded space for UBC’s counselling services, it is not slated for completion until 2024 at the earliest. A set of modular units is being constructed beside Brock Hall to house the group until then.

Agosti-Moro: “Faculties can appoint associate deans at will.”

Likely true. While policy AP5 of the UBC Board of Governors and Senate lays out procedures regarding the appointment of deans and principals, it does not include guidelines regarding the appointment of associate deans.

Arezoo Alemzadeh Mehrizi: “It is important that we update the policy regarding how the facult[ies] use the mon[ies] of the university ... I am hoping that we can update that policy that they become more transparent to the university and students [on] how they are using the money and why they use it. Right now there is nothing controlling them right now. There is a need for that policy to either be created or updated.”

True. While UBC Finance has laid out expenditure guidelines in line with Policy FM8 (Business Expenses), there is no hard-and-fast policy regarding the funding each faculty or department receives. There is no breakdown for expenditures beyond the faculty or department level within the annual budget.

Alemzadeh Mehrizi: “A lot of money comes to this university, it’s [i]ncomparable to the other universities.”

Technically true. UBC Vancouver reports its budgets and consolidated financial reports in conjunction with UBC Okanagan, so we’ll have to look at both here.

UBC’s Financial Year 2019/20 consolidated financial report states that it held around $2.1 billion in financial assets and brought in nearly $2.8 billion in total revenue and $1.2 billion in government revenue as of March 31, 2020. That comes out to about $30,507 in financial assets, $41,020 in total revenue and $18,193 in government revenue for each of its combined 67,958 students.

In comparison, The University of Victoria’s financial statement audit for 2019/20 states that it ended the fiscal year with around $399 million in financial assets, $639 million in total revenue and $309 million in government revenue. This comes out to about $18,110 in financial assets, $29,016 in total revenue and $14,044 in government revenue for each of its approximately 22,020 students. Simon Fraser University reported $643 million in financial assets, $807 million in total revenue and $321 million in government revenue at the end of the 2019/20 fiscal year, or $21,781 in financial assets, $27,356 in total revenue and $10,877 in government revenue for each of its approximately 29,500 students.

Alemzadeh Mehrizi: “I know UBC, in 2017, they created a scholarship [for] 5 years for international PhD students and then after a year or so they discontinued [it].”

True. Mehrizi was most likely referring to the International Doctoral Fellowship also known as the University Doctoral fellowship, which was introduced in January 2017 but discontinued as of the fall of 2018.

Max Holmes: “[Student Housing and Community Services] has made a larger and larger contribution to the central budget every year.”

Essentially true. The amounts for SHCS revenues and allocated funding SHCS were relatively equal in both 2016/17 and 2019/20, requiring little additional funding compared to other units within the VP Students portfolio. However, revenues from Student Housing increased 33.5% within that time frame, compared to a 24.9% increase in revenues from the total VP Students portfolio, 19.8% increase in revenues from central support units, and 23.5% increase in total budgeted revenue for UBC Vancouver.

Holmes: “Currently, [policy 72] doesn’t cover international students.”

True. Section 2 of the policy (now known as policy LR10) states that international students are not covered by this policy.

Holmes: “We have been increasing our enrolment … but not hiring enough faculty [and] also not hiring enough people in student support.”

True, but difficult to confirm. While we originally used headcount figures from the PAIR fact sheets in our analysis, it has been noted that clean PAIR data of enrolment full-time equivalents (FTEs) would be more useful. However, there are logistical hurdles to verifying exact figures, as different units within UBC use — or have access to — different data sets. Nonetheless, data suggests that the student FTE to faculty ratio has been on the rise for the past decade.

According to the most recent public data from PAIR, student normal-load enrolment FTEs at UBC Vancouver climbed from 40,594 in 2009 to 52,257 in 2020, amounting to a 28.7 per cent increase. At the same time, combined long-term and short-term faculty FTEs (sessional lecturers included) rose from 2,880 to 3,428, a 19.0 per cent increase. Overall, the student-FTE-to-faculty ratio increased 8.2 per cent from 2009 to 2020. On an annual basis, student FTEs rose by 2.6 per cent while faculty FTEs rose by 1.1 per cent, amounting to an annual 0.74 per cent rise in the student-FTE-to-faculty ratio from 2009 to 2020.

The number of full-time students at UBC Vancouver has risen by 28.7 per cent between 2009 and 2020.
The number of full-time students at UBC Vancouver has risen by 28.7 per cent between 2009 and 2020. Screenshot from UBC PAIR

The last public report from the administration regarding the student–faculty ratio reported an approximately 12 per cent increase in the ratio from 2009 to 2018. Student FTEs per faculty FTEs rose from 18.9 to 21.1. As student FTEs grew at an average rate of 2.4 per cent per year, faculty FTEs grew at a rate of 0.39 per cent per year and the student–faculty ratio grew at a rate of 1.1 per cent per year. It should be noted that this report works off a different dataset and FTE calculation method from that on UBC PAIR and explicitly excludes sessional lecturers.

The Ubyssey couldn’t fact-check more recent figures mentioned by Board of Governors member Mark Mac Lean because the data set isn’t yet readily available to the public. Mac Lean also calculated figures for UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan combined, whereas the prior two analyses focused on UBC Vancouver alone.

Holmes: “We’ve been having growing faculty surpluses over the last couple of years.”

True. UBC’s faculty budget reserve has increased from around $156 million in 2017/18 to $224 million in 2019/20.

Holmes: “Even though the Housing Action Plan review isn’t coming up next year, that we are pushing to increase targets if we want SkyTrain to come to this campus and saying 30 per cent rental is not enough when [the] Stadium Road neighbourhood is aiming for so much more.”

True. The Housing Action Plans current goal is for 30 per cent of future housing on campus to be rentals for members of the UBC community. This plan was reviewed in April of 2018 so it will next be up for review in 2023. Stadium Road neighbourhoods original goal was to have 40 per cent of the development be for UBC community housing, now two-thirds of Stadium road is planned to be dedicated to housing the UBC community.

Georgia Yee: “[The AMS/VPAUA office] have been working with the VP students portfolio on the creation of the student strategic plan.”

True. Cole Evans told The Ubyssey that the AMS has been pushing for a student strategic plan, and this project is under the portfolio of the VP students, Ainsley Carry.

Yee: “[The Student Safety Abroad policy] mostly regards students on exchange or Go Global programs, most of the provisions are around natural disasters.”

Partially true. Policy SC12 mostly does regard students on exchange and on Go Global, but it contains no mention of natural disasters. The threat levels discussed are general and align with federal safety advisories.

Yee: “One of the things that I had the pleasure of concluding was the policy SC17 review in June 2020, and one of the biggest gaps in the policy was also the implementation of policy 131.”

True. Yee was involved in concluding policy SC17 in June. The Ubyssey reported that it still has gaps.

Yee: “I think we also need to also be hiring staff and faculty.”

Contradictory claim. In the AMS’s budget submission presented to AMS Council in late January, Yee said that UBC should “chill hiring” of administrative staff as a way to mitigate the costs of COVID-19.

VP Finance

Mary Gan: “With CampusBase, there’s a contract set in place, so we will have to stick with CampusBase for a while.”

True. Cole Evans has told The Ubyssey that CampusBase has a five-year contract with the AMS.

Gan: “Over the past couple years, I think Ph Tea is non-operational anymore, I think Ph Tea was the one that did not provide much profit or revenue to the AMS”

True. Ph Tea had notably underperformed for years and consistently brought in lower revenues than other food outlets in the Nest, as is shown in the 2020/21 AMS budget reforecast business revenue breakdown.

VP Academic and University Affairs

Eshana Bhangu: “Supporting the hiring of more Black faculty, we just passed a motion in the Senate in the past February Senate meeting.”

True. On February 10, Senate passed a motion recommending the Board of Governors fund the hiring of at least 10–15 Black faculty academics, as well as expanding the awards available to Black students and the creation of awards for Black international students.

Bhangu: “Tuition increases and tuition overall is supposed to be going towards student services in general.”

A big generalization. UBC stated in its tuition increase consultation for 2021 that funds from the increase would go towards a variety of things from COVID-19 recovery to student financial aid to faculty investments. Tuition in general is used to fund a lot of things, from paying faculty to student services. The 2020/21 budget shows where that money is allocated, with a projected $1.305 billion going toward paying faculty salaries and benefits out of a total of $1.869 billion in expenses.

Bhangu:“Domestic tuition [increases are] capped at two per cent.”

True. In the Board of Governors report on the 2020 tuition increase, it states that “current provincial government policy has limited domestic tuition and all mandatory fee increases for 2020-2021 to 2% for all programs.” The university is proposing a two per cent tuition increase this year.

Bhangu “In previous years it’s even been [a] 13 per cent [increase in tuition].”

An understatement. Bhangu here was referring to international tuition. In 2015, UBC announced it would be increasing international tuition in most programs for incoming students incrementally over three years, with a 15 per cent increase in 2016/17, a 15 per cent increase the next year and an 11 per cent increase in the third year, for a total of a 46.8 per cent increase from 2015 tuition. This increase did not affect students that were already attending UBC.

Bhangu: “According to what I have read in the Board of Governors documents, it’s been clearly stated that they were not set on charging [the athletics & recreation] fee and they were expecting more pushback from student leaders …. This is all public information.”

False. Max Holmes has stated on Reddit that there were no open discussions in Board meetings regarding the Athletics and Recreation Fee. The Board of Governors Finance Committee passed a resolution in July 2020 to not collect the $21 Athletics & Intramural fee. The minutes for this meeting and ones prior don’t show any mention of feedback or lack thereof from student leaders, either regarding the Athletics & Intramural fee or the Athletics & Recreation fee.

Shivani Mehta: “There currently is an Indigenous student collegium.”

True.

Mehta: “ … the university said [it] was due to the outdated SSC and that was the reason why they had to charge [ the athletics and recreation fee].”

Hard to verify. There is no mention of the SSC in Board meeting minutes, and there were no open discussions about the fee, according to Max Holmes in a Reddit post. The outdated SSC point may be from Holmes’s post where he stated “both [Jeanie Malone and I] have pressed this point over the past few months concerning this fee and others and have often been told it is not possible to implement that through the (ancient) SSC.”

Senate

Eshana Bhangu: “Some [current convocation senators] have served for 25 years.”

Almost true. One senator has served for 25 years: Dr. J. H. V. Gilbert, who has served since September 1993.

Julia Burnham: “There’s a lot of [committee] seats that are exclusively reserved for graduate students.”

Misleading. Despite Burnham clarifying that this is standard practice, there is nothing in reference to reserving committee seats for students in the University Act or in the rules and procedures of the Vancouver Senate. There are only two committees that reference graduate students in their composition, the Teaching and Learning and Research and Scholarship committees, both prefer one of the required student reps to be a graduate student. The Council of Senates does also require one graduate student to be a member.

Emmanuel Cantiller: “With the establishment of the fall reading break, examination times are going to be shortened from 16 days to 12 days.”

True.

Cantiller: “Until it passed, all arts [majors] had ‘faculty of arts’ on their diplomas.”

True. Senate passed a proposal to have arts diplomas state majors on them in April 2020.

Mathew Ho: “UBCO has a[n Academic Integrity Working Group].”

True.

This article is part of our 2021 AMS elections coverage. This article has been updated to fix some numbers in response to a claim Max Holmes, and to change that fact-check to “True, but difficult to confirm.”