AMS VP Academic office undergoes third restructuring since 2017

Following two structural changes in April and October 2o17 , the AMS VP Academic and University Affairs (VPAUA) office is once again restructuring.

This time, the associate VP (AVP) position is being split in half, where the academic portfolio and university affairs portfolio will be handled by two different AVPs. Both are to be assigned 20 work hours per week.

AMS VPAUA Max Holmes attributed the change to the need for more focus on the academic portfolio, which works on issues such as faculty-specific advocacy, academic accommodations and student Senate support.

“The AMS has always had enough time dedicated to university affairs,” Holmes said. “Where we need to do more is in the academic portfolio.”

While there is now a split in the portfolios, the AVPs can still collaborate on joint projects such as policies regarding exam and academic concessions, sexual assault and fall reading break.

The campaigns and outreach commissioner position, which was created in April 2017, will be continued as before. But this position’s work hours have been increased from 15 to 20 hours per week.

“Campaigns and outreach commissioner was the biggest upside of [that] restructure,” Holmes said, noting the increase in the office’s outreach to students for advocacy.

For instance, the number of students involved in the #textbookbrokeBC campaign increased from 44 in 2016 to over 1,000 in 2017 and the academic experience survey from 1,564 respondents in 2016 to 2,484 in 2017. For the upcoming school year, the office hopes to expand its outreach by collaborating with resource groups and the sustainability collective to create more awareness campaigns.

The new structure of the VPAUA office.
The new structure of the VPAUA office. Screenshot AMS

Overall, Holmes expects that this restructuring will allow the VPAUA to focus less on office managerial tasks and more on consultations and strategic planning for policies and campaigns.

“As the VP Academic, my role is to try and unite student voices so we can have one unified voice when we advocate to the university,” he said, “and I think with the new structure we will be able to do that.”

A structural gap remains

This restructuring could still have some disadvantages, however, such as the necessity for an expanded budget and the lack of clarity about how much work there will be throughout the year for the academic portfolio. One proposed solution so far has been to do a review of this portfolio after one year.

A more persistent disadvantage that the VPAUA office is still trying to address is the structural gap in its focus on Indigenous affairs.

Prior to the April 2017 restructuring, the office was run by the VP, the AVP and six commissioners, handling portfolios such as mental health and well-being, equity and Indigenous students — but this structure was found to be inefficient.

According to Holmes, the VPAUA and AVP were “bogged down” with managerial duties, leaving them with limited time for meetings with UBC’s governance bodies like the Board of Governors and Senate to work on policies affecting students, which he stressed to be vital to the works of the VPAUA office.

He also said the commissioners often worked in overlapping positions, which sometimes resulted in limited work for them and a large volume of reports that was difficult to manage.

The office’s structure prior to the April 2017 restructuring.
The office’s structure prior to the April 2017 restructuring. Screenshot AMS

Accordingly, the office decided to eliminate most of the commissioner portfolios — except for the Indigenous commissioner — in April 2017. But in October 2017, the Indigenous commissioner position was also removed due to lack of work and “difficulty reaching out to groups on campus.”

To fill this gap, the campaigns and outreach commissioner has helped create the Indigenous Advisory Group this year.

Rodney Little Mustache, a mature GRSJ student, a LOUD scholarship recipient and a member of the Piikani Nation of the Niitsitapi Confederacy, was present at the March 5 Indigenous Advisory Group meeting. He offered several suggestions on how the VPAUA office could better advocate for Indigenous students.

“They need to start putting us on committees ... start including us from the very beginning,” Little Mustache said, adding that there should be two AMS Council seats for one male and one female Indigenous student, as well as three Senate positions for one male, one female and one Two-Spirit Indigenous student.

“Discussing First Nations issues without First Nations onboard or in the room is still continuing the colonial process.”

Other suggestions for the office include having Indigenous performers at Block Party, helping Indigenous student groups find more office space and creating an Indigenous section in The Ubyssey. It should be noted that the AMS cannot mandate the creation of a section in the newspaper because they are independent from each other.

Holmes said that the AMS recognizes there is still more to be done and that this is a topic that requires the entire AMS working together and not just the VPAUA office.

“This [new] restructure still doesn’t close the gap,” he said.