Candidates say a lot of numbers, figures and claims throughout AMS elections season, 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 and in their platforms.
Here we’ve covered claims made in the platforms of candidates for AMS president, VP academic and university affairs (VPAUA), VP administration, UBC Board of Governors (BoG) student representatives, VP external, VP finance and Senate.
Some candidates didn't make fact-checkable statements per se, so we provided the necessary context to understand those claims.
Cole Evans’s platform largely focused on his future plans and didn’t make any fact-checkable claims.
Evans: “Public accountability for annual senior-level staff goals and activities, including increased interactions and engagement with AMS Council … A more accessible AMS Council, with live streamed meetings once back in person and publicly available detailed contact information for student representatives, standardized committee meetings, and accessible materials.”
Noted. Last week, Evans recently remarked that AMS Executive Committee meetings were ‘useless,’ citing a perceived lack of substantive discussions within the venue and raising questions about executive transparency within the AMS as a whole. However, he hasn’t committed to adding other AMS councillors to the Executive Committee.
The AMS’s means for promoting engagement under Evans’s helm have also drawn ethical concerns after promising over $4,000 in prizes for students who attended its 2020 Annual General Meeting. The meeting saw the passing of numerous bylaw changes, including a change that would allow Council to keep records confidential when their disclosure could harm the financial or economic interests of the AMS, security of buildings or computer systems or “disrupt an ongoing investigation, violate solicitor-client privilege or reveal in camera discussions.” Evans told The Ubyssey that only 10 to 20 per cent of attendees left promptly after the prize draw, which was held halfway through the bylaw motions.
Evans: “Advocating for the establishment of a COVID-19 immunization clinic on campus to facilitate easy access for students, faculty, and staff … Advocating for the expansion of UBC’s Rapid Testing program to all on campus residents, students, and staff.”
Noted. The province has slotted 18–29 year olds for vaccination in September (although the province noted on March 1 that it expects everyone in the province to have one dose by July), but the Nest’s cancelled flu immunization clinics in 2019 emphasizes the need for robust and flexible supply chains and delivery methods.
UBC is currently running a rapid testing pilot project for students and staff who live and work in first-year residences, though it does not yet extend to upper-year residences. The nearest designated testing centre remains a 50-minute bus ride away from campus, putting students displaying symptoms in a bind.
Evans: “Advocacy centred around keeping on-campus rental rates steady amidst the pandemic and ensuring students have affordable living options no matter the circumstance … Exploring avenues to have student renters in residences covered by the Residential Tenancy Act … Continuing to evaluate the feasibility of accessible, emergency co-op housing operated by the AMS in partnership with UBC and other stakeholders.”
Noted. This is a real concern given long-standing housing insecurity that was worsened by the pandemic, with 84.6 per cent of students stating in the AMS COVID-19 survey that UBC hasn’t adequately addressed affordability during the pandemic.
The Ubyssey published a feature in 2016 that showed how students living in residence can be left unprotected not being covered by the Residential Tenancy Act. Notably, the BC Temporary Rental Supplement didn’t cover those living in university-run housing.
The AMS has offered plans as to what an AMS-run housing service would look like, and released a report on its feasibility in September 2020.
VP Academic and University Affairs
Eshana Bhangu: “Tuition increases this year were 2% for domestic students and 4% for international students.”
Mostly true. In December 2019, the Board of Governors approved tuition increases that consisted of a two per cent increase in tuition for domestic undergraduate and graduate students and a four per cent increase in tuition for most international undergraduate students and graduate students. Some international graduate students faced a two per cent increase, and international graduate students in programs with specialized rates faced a three or four per cent increase depending on when they began their studies.
Bhangu: “... with [campus] housing capacity at less than 40%.”
Misleading. The Ubyssey reported in November 2020 that Orchard Commons operated at 41 per cent capacity for the fall semester, and that capacity was set to double in January 2021. However, upper-year winter housing was at 50 per cent capacity and upper-year year-round housing was at 80 per cent capacity. Bhangu acknowledged this fact-check in debate.
Shivani Mehta: “Recently there was a survey done in the faculty of science asking about the experiences of racialized faculty. Some of the data had to be omitted for concern that the individuals would be identified because there were so few people of colour in the entire department.”
True, but potentially misleading. A 2019 report on diversity and equity in the faculty of science saw data for racialized faculty with the title associate professor, assistant professor of teaching and professor of teaching suppressed due to only one to three racialized persons holding that rank. However, the report conducts demographic analysis on the representation and progression of diverse faculty rather than qualitative experiences outright.
Mehta: “This past year, [the VPAUA] office increased funding for WorkLearn positions by $600,000.”
Misleading. The VPAUA office included providing Work Learn with $600,000 for off-campus positions in its recommendations to the Board of Governors for the 2020/21 budget. It would be an additional investment on top of previous allocations to the off-campus work learn program. However, like other recommendations these actions have not been set in stone.
Mehta: “According to Open UBC, the unit which helps faculty design free textbooks, the sales of a Pearson, Macmillan or Sapling textbook have gone up by 75% because we need to buy the textbook to do our homework.”
Likely true. Open UBC notes that sale prices of textbooks have gone up, citing the Canadian Federation of Students’ finding that textbook costs have risen by 2.44 times the rate of inflation from 2008 to 2016. Statistics regarding Pearson, Macmillan and Sapling were not readily available via the Open UBC website.
Lauren Benson’s platform didn’t make any claims to be fact-checked, instead focusing on her campaign promises.
Lauren Benson: “Introduce an all-new AMS Accessibility Initiative that ensures AMS content is accessible for all students, by including closed captioning, alternative text for media, high quality audio and sign-language interpretation where possible.”
Noted. Such an initiative would be the first of its kind for the AMS, and would be in line with the AMS Equity plan, slated to be released in mid-2021. Committee minutes are not currently standardized, and minutes are only released in small-text PDF’s.
Benson: “Ensure the compliance of Policy I-7A … Distribute an easily understandable policy summary on an AMS COVID-19 Dashboard, resulting in a safer Student Nest for all.”
Noted. Policy I-7A focuses on mandating face coverings and other COVID-19 related measures. However, the AMS’s ‘passive enforcement’ strategy to mask-wearing and AMS Events’ non-socially-distanced pub crawl in October.
Benson: “Reinstate the Dashboard software tool to display sustainability-relevant figures from the five main facility-related metrics; water, electricity, gas, district energy, and solar heat.”
Noted. Although this appears en route within the Interactive Sustainability Centre project headed by the current VP Admin. Funding for the project was secured during the February 24 meeting of AMS Council.
Saad Shoaib: “Lobby the provincial government to provide increased funding towards the creation of sexual violence prevention offices.”
Claim unclear. UBC has two sexual violence prevention offices, although he was likely referring to the creation of sexual violence prevention offices at other post-secondary institutions in the province. The AMS currently backs the SASC (Sexual Assult Support Center), while UBC runs the SVPRO (Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office). He reaffirmed his commitments to SASC during the first VP external debate.
Mary Gan: “External counselling services charging upwards of $100-150 a session, coupled with the AMS/GSS Health and Dental Plan coverage of $1,000 for mental health support services, make it difficult for UBC students to afford more than 5-6 sessions.”
UBC also offers free mental health care through UBC Counselling Services and the UBC Student Assistance Program by Aspiria (which replaced EmpowerMe this past fall). However, these programs may not be able to deal with more severe or prolonged cases and may be prone to longer wait times.
Gan: “There are ~$2 million dollars available for improving the [AMS/GSS] Health & Dental Plan.”
True. An estimated overcollection of $1.5 million due to lower-than-projected premiums and Pacific Blue Cross’s bill reduction of $500,000 due to the pandemic have given the AMS some wiggle room. A mental health subsidy has been floated by the AMS since November.
Board of Governors
Dante Agosti-Moro: “Currently, the majority of new tuition revenues are allocated directly to the faculties, who are under no obligation to release their budgets, meaning students often cannot even see how their fees are being spent.”
True. Although a pandemic year has thrown a bit of a curveball here.
Under typical circumstances at UBC Vancouver, 75 per cent of graduate and domestic undergraduate tuition increases flows directly to the faculties, according to the 2019/20 budget. Two thirds of the international undergraduate tuition rate increases go to the broad-based “academic funds” for recruiting faculty, building infrastructure and other projects.
However, the 2020/21 budget is redirecting funds from tuition increases. Nearly $8 million from incremental domestic student tuition at UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan is being set aside for “student initiatives,” and most of the revenues from international tuition increases can also be used for other expenses if needed.
Arezoo Alemzadeh Mehrizi: “One of the implemented strategic plans asks was creating a graduate student hub at UBC campus. We achieved the initial agreement on Graduate Student Life Center, the project that has be developed by our successors.”
True. The UBC Wellbeing Strategic Framework notes that the Graduate Student Society, VP students office and faculty of graduate and postdoctoral studies are looking to explore the feasibility of a graduate life centre at UBC. In August, the Board gave the AMS and GSS $6.8 million from a funding surplus — the GSS advocated for $1.7 million of that to go to the graduate student centre. In November, GSS VP University and Academic Affairs Nicolas Romualdi confirmed he had secured $1.2 million for that project at GSS Council.
Alemzadeh Mehrizi: “For the first time in the history of UBC, off campus students were acknowledged in the UBC’s strategic plan, which makes the university accountable to them.”
Difficult to verify. While we can’t scour each university-wide strategic plan, UBC’s Strategic Plan 2018–2028 makes one mention of reaching out to off-campus Indigenous communities, but not off-campus students. The Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Strategic Plan 2019–2024 mentions that UBC Vancouver is a commuter campus, albeit in passing.
Alemzadeh Mehrizi: “My advocacies led to direct communication of [off-campus students’] concerns to the UBC administration as well as their asks be implemented in UBC recreation strategic plan.”
Likely true. The Recreation @ UBC Strategic Framework mentions the need to reach out to off-campus graduate students as part of its efforts to enhance programming and participant diversity.
Alemzadeh Mehrizi: “Involved in a rental agreement between GSS and SAUDER, which significantly boosted financial capacity of the GSS. Particularly, this agreement has saved GSS during the pandemic.”
Likely, but difficult to verify. The agreement Alemzadeh Mehrizi is referring to is the $87-thousand-a-year rental agreement by the Sauder School of Business for access to the GSS Ballroom. Romualdi noted that a future loss of ballroom revenue due to the construction of a graduate student life centre would put the GSS into a “short deficit,” but that it might be manageable with appropriate planning. Updates to the agreement due to the pandemic, if made, are not readily available — GSS Council last posted its minutes in September 2020 and the GSS 2020/21 budget is not readily available to the public. GSS Financial & Executive Oversight Officer Tayo Olarewaju did confirm that the rent from Sauder was a significant source of revenue for the GSS at GSS Council.
Alemzadeh Mehrizi: “Examples of my influential advocacy at GSS council: 1. Removing MSP fee for international students.”
Misleading. While MSP premiums were eliminated for all British Columbians, international students must pay a unique health fee — $75 a month as of January 1, 2020. International students who are permanent residents or who hold a post-graduation work permit do not need to pay, however.
Alemzadeh Mehrizi: “There are at least 50 inaccessible buildings in UBC, which is a serious education barrier for the student with disabilities and that should be resolved.”
Likely true. A July 2020 Ubyssey report found that at least 49 buildings on the UBC Vancouver campus were inaccessible and 50 buildings had no available information regarding accessibility on UBC Wayfinding.
Max Holmes: “This past year the Inclusion Action Plan was endorsed by both the Board of Governors and the UBC Vancouver Senate.”
Holmes: “A year into my term, the Board committed to fully exploring full fossil fuel divestment for the entire endowment and unanimously endorsed the UBC Declaration on the Climate Emergency.”
True. On December 5, 2019 the Board of Governors unanimously endorsed the declaration and agreed to explore divesting from fossil fuels.
Georgia Yee: “Students are facing an affordability crisis that is further exacerbated by the economic turmoil of the pandemic. Students are struggling with food insecurity, new costs of technology, deaths in the family, and lost sources of income.”
True. The AMS COVID-19 Survey, which ran June 3–29, 2020, shows that 30.4 per cent of students had their jobs terminated due to COVID-19. Additionally, 17.5 per cent of respondents were let go from their summer employment as a result of the pandemic. Food insecurity has always been an issue at UBC, but it was further exacerbated by the pandemic. Housing insecurity was also significantly worsened, as reported by The Ubyssey. Financial barriers of technology are also significant.
Dante Agosti-Moro: “The Senate, as a rule, does not consider large structural changes to itself very often, despite the best advocacy efforts of Student Senators, due mostly to a lack of buy-in from other members of the Senate.”
Mostly true. The Senate only conducts an operational review once every three years, and the latest round saw about half of Student Senate Caucus recommendations not make it to the review stage, according to then caucus co-chair Max Holmes. Senate recently approved an external review into its structures — the first since 2005.
Agosti-Moro: “There has been discussion about the feasibility of implementing the recording [of] in-person lectures, however the idea has faced opposition from many faculty due to privacy and copyright concerns. The problem of infrastructure is also a pertinent one, since many classrooms are not currently equipped with the necessary technology to facilitate this initiative.”
Julia Burnham: “Last year, I served as Chair of the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Academic Diversity and Inclusion (SACADI), which dissolved after presenting its final report to the Senate (beginning pg 62) in July 2020. We spent three years in this ad-hoc group identifying the gaps within the Senate and areas of focus, but there is currently no structure to ensure our recommendations on equity, diversity and inclusion are followed through.”
Burnham: “There are no such standards for conduct in the Senate — which means no recourse or recall of Senators engaging inappropriately, in bad faith or against the interests of their constituents.”
True. The Senate currently has no code of conduct, and the Rules and Procedures of the Vancouver Senate (2018) make no mention of relevant terms such as “behaviour,” “misconduct,” or “inappropriate.”
Burnham: “Currently, constituents are unable to see the ways their representatives have been voting in the Senate.”
True. Though @UbysseyNews recaps Senate meetings, meeting minutes do not officially include representative-level vote records on motions. Minutes only denote whether a motion is “approved,” “approved as amended” or “not approved” by the Senate, but do explicitly name senators who abstain from voting.
Mathew Ho: “Although Senate has passed guidelines regarding the information available on course syllabi, course information on the Student Service Centre (SSC) vary from course and course and are often insufficient.”
Likely true. Although Policy V-130 lays out guidelines for the content and distribution of course syllabi, it does not address the accessibility of course information on the SSC. In fact, the policy encourages instructors to include information regarding class structure “if not available on the [SSC],” implying that some information may be left off the platform at the instructor’s discretion.
Damir Korniiashik: “The current option of hybrid classes is not practical enough, as it does not give students a large choice. Lecture recording can be done in class, as well as discussion sections and tutorials can be done online once a week to accommodate students in different time-zones.”
Misleading. The AMS is currently considering online learning and hybrid learning as potential options. However, hybrid learning is not among the options that Provost Andrew Szeri has brought up before the Senate.
Hybrid (or blended) learning is when in-person instruction is mixed with learning on a virtual platform, as virtual learning time is meant to reduce in-person learning time.
Korniiashik: “There are ~60,000 students enrolled in 2020/21.”
True. There are 58,462 students enrolled at UBC Vancouver as of November 1, 2020.
Shivani Mehta: “Policy O-131 as passed by UBC Okanagan this year [limits] the costs of digital learning materials to under $65.”
Mostly true. Policy O-131 states that “No credit course shall have as a requirement for assessment that students purchase or otherwise pay for access to Digital Assessment Tools with a total cost of more than $65 per three-credit course (this equates to $43 per two-credit course and $87 per four-credit course).” However, this does not apply to textbooks (including e-textbooks, computer hardware and technology costs (including but not limited to iClicker remotes and subscriptions) or non-digital costs associated with field trips and off-campus learning.
Anisha Sandhu: “I posted my voting record from Senate meetings on the LFS|US website.”
True. There are documents for senator voting records posted on the LFS undergraduate society website dating back to September 2019.
Georgia Yee: “Successfully administering a COVID-19 student survey that received nearly 7000 responses in collaboration with UBC PAIR and the GSS.”
True. The survey report states that the AMS “collected 7,410 responses (5,989 complete responses, 1,421 incomplete responses) from current and recently graduated UBC students.”
Yee: “The average student spends $884 annually on textbooks and other course materials according to the 2020 AMS Academic Experience Survey.”
True. According to the 2020 Academic Experience Survey, the average amount spent was $884, with a median of $415.
Yee: “44% of current students generally are worried about how they’ll pay for textbooks and class materials.”
False. The 2020 Academic Experience Survey found that 34 per cent of undergraduate respondents agree with the statement “I worry about how to pay for textbooks and class materials,” along with 23 per cent of graduate students.
Yee: “With the statement ‘I expect to feel prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation’, 58% of undergraduate respondents shared that they agree with this statement, while 77% of graduate respondents agree with this statement.”
True. Yee is quoting the 2020 Academic Experience Survey verbatim, and these statistics include 17 per cent of undergraduates saying they strongly agree and 32 per cent of graduates strongly agree.
This article was updated to remove a reference to Thea’s Lounge, which is different from the GSS Ballroom.