AMS Elections Great Debate coverage: Senate

Student Senate candidates Daniel Lam, Jakob Gattinger, Simran Brar, William Chen, Ian Sapollnik and Kevin Doering met on Friday for the second Senate debate. The six candidates — each vying for one of five student-at-large seats — discussed topics ranging from curriculum policy to mental health.

When questioned on whether they supported the implementation of mandatory Indigenous courses, candidates agreed on the importance of educating students on Indigenous perspectives but did not necessarily agree that mandatory classes were the best solution.

Instead, integrating mandatory Indigenous content into pre-existing coursework was supported by Chen, Sapollnik and Doering, who cited concerns for there being a limited number of qualified professors to teach such a course, as well as logistical complications which may arise for undergraduate scheduling and degree requirement changes. Gattinger reiterated the importance of Indigenous reconciliation in light of the Furlong incident, but stressed that implementing mandatory courses is unrealistic.

Next, candidates discussed ensuring that student voices are taken seriously at Senate. While Lam, Brar and Sapollnik focused on data-driven advocacy, Chen argued that student voices wouldn’t be taken seriously until faculty were convinced that the student body stood behind its senators.

Gattinger noted that focus should be on ensuring that student consultation is not sacrificed for Senate’s desire to move new academic programs through in an expedited way.

Candidates were also asked about what structure they would like to see Senate mental health discussion take. Lam asserted that no specific structure would necessarily be best, while Gattinger reiterated that a true measure of success on the issue would be when mental health is integrated into every decision made at Senate. Chen echoed his sentiments. Sapollnik advocated to examine the balance between hours spent working on and credit gained from a course, which Doering supported in addition to revising accommodation and concession guidelines through the academic policy committee. Brar stressed the need for accountable consultation with student groups on mental health, but did not elaborate further.

Prompted to provide an argument against implementing a fall reading break, candidates cited concerns for requiring the semester to start earlier or end later, which could force students to pay another month’s rent for only a few days of classes as noted by Brar and Chen. Doering focused on concerns about decreasing teaching days in a semester and for exam scheduling, while Gattinger stressed how an early start could negatively impact orientation activities.

Candidates also largely agreed on the need to keep mandating non-major course requirements in order to encourage breadth and well-roundedness in UBC students. However, Sapollnik and Doering both agreed that careful consideration should be taken regarding which requirements actually benefit students and how to implement them with minimal disruption to graduation timelines.

Questioned about affordability in new curricula approval, both Doering and Gattinger cited a need for Senate to collaborate with the Board of Governors to further influence financial decisions, as they may relate to the academic sphere. Lam and Sapollnik both agreed that the Senate budget committee would be the best place to start, and Sapollnik stressed that he would like to continue his work on that committee in order to unify tuition and curriculum consultation processes.

Audience members also had the chance to ask questions, with a graduate student asking how the candidates would seek to influence issues that graduate students face.

All candidates agreed that working with the elected graduate student senator would be essential, and Chen noted that creating further opportunities for graduate theses to be published would be something he would look into with the Senate library committee. Flexible learning also came up during the audience question period, but no candidate had particular knowledge or expertise on the matter.

As candidates gave their closing statements after the hour-long debate, they differentiated themselves in terms of experience and perspective.

Gattinger and Brar both stressed their “outsider” knowledge of Senate and student concerns, while Sapollnik and Lam focused on the continuity they could bring to next year’s student caucus as returning senators. Chen declared that he would focus on transparency and engagement as he was dissatisfied with how current senators had managed outreach, while Doering stressed his technical policy knowledge as the only candidate who has worked for UBC amongst the six running.

Voting starts on Monday, March 6 and closes on Friday, March 10.

—With files from Hana Golightly and Helen Zhou