Between the Motions: Masks remain required in Nest, AMS President decides after Council discussion

The first in-person AMS Council meeting in more than a year and a half ran for more than four hours last night as councillors adjusted to the new hybrid format. Following several technical issues, Council discussed the mask requirement in the Nest, approved the 2021/22 budget and passed two motions on vaccine and mask mandate advocacy.

Here are the details.

Masks will remain mandatory in the Nest

Council had a discussion over Policy 1-7A, the AMS’s Nest mask requirement policy.

Evans asked Council whether or not the AMS should continue requiring masks in the Nest, despite public health guidelines that simply recommend them.

Councillor Katherine Feng asked if the AMS could run into legal issues if it decided to keep mask enforcement in place. Evans answered that as the AMS is registered as a private organization, it could enforce stricter rules than current health guidelines.

Max Holmes, a representative from the Board of Governors, brought up consistency concerns around lifting the mask requirement in the Nest while advocating the university to do more to keep students safe, referring to Bhangu’s motion.

Councillor Grace Lee brought up a similar point. “If we are taking a conservative approach to COVID … then it should apply to the other things that we continue to do,” she said.

Evans decided the AMS would keep the mask requirement in place at least until the end of phase three of the province’s reopening plan, based on the discussion.

“We'll stay the course for now,” he said.

Council approves the 2021/22 budget

VP Finance Mary Gan presented the upcoming year’s budget which projected $3.9 million in revenue, $4.7 million in expenditures and a $784,000 deficit. Gan noted that the deficit was less than the $1.3 million deficit that was projected in the preliminary budget.

The budget relies on several assumptions: a projected enrolment of 55,000 students, the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in September and the return of in-person events, among others.

Councillor Matthew Ho asked how financially prepared the AMS was in case public health guidelines changed.

Gan said that her and Managing Director Keith Hester were conservative in their projections and that any new additional spending was given careful consideration.

Holmes repeatedly asked why businesses in the Nest like Grand Noodle Emporium were set to reopen in October instead of September. The delayed reopening date, Holmes said, would mean the AMS misses out on revenues from “one of the busiest months of the year” and could impact students looking for a job at the start of term.

Hester said that hiring for positions was currently underway, and that the staggered reopening was to allow for students to ease back into their pre-COVID behaviour.

“It will take a little bit of time for people’s habits to start up again … whereas people may be used to coming to the Nest for lunch, they may not want to stand in line,” he said.

Advocacy for vaccine and mask mandates as return to campus approaches

Council also passed two motions related to mandating masks and vaccines on campus.

The first calls on UBC to mandate vaccinations in residences and require masks in large lecture halls.

“The university is simply just adhering to the bare minimum of the PHO guidelines and students aren’t very happy with that as we’ve seen in the [Return to Campus] survey,” VP Academic and University Affairs Eshana Bhangu said.

According to Bhangu, 82 per cent of students living in residence next year said in the survey that they would support a mask mandate for on-campus housing.

Bhangu said other universities like University of Toronto, Western University and Ryerson University had mandated vaccinations in student residences and were “going a step above their PHO guidelines.”

“I’m really just willing to ask the question to the university, is it just blatant disregard for student concerns or is the university incapable of doing something,” said Bhangu.

The motion passed with little discussion.

President Cole Evans also brought forward a motion that called on him and Bhangu to submit a letter on Council’s behalf reiterating the AMS’ desire for a mask and vaccine mandate. His motion also passed with little discussion.