At the May 17 UBC Vancouver Senate meeting, a new School of Biomedical Engineering was proposed. When it came time to vote, it passed. But every one of the student senators voted against it.

“Every one [of the student senators] was against the biomedical engineering school proposal,” said Jakob Gattinger, a student senator and former EUS VP Academic — even without the whipping systems that caucuses sometimes have.

According to the supporting materials from the May meeting, the school will function as a centre for “education and training, research, and innovation in biomedical engineering, creating new knowledge, new academic and training programs, and fostering translation and innovation.” Standing within the faculties of applied sciences and medicine, the school would absorb the existing biomedical engineering graduate program as well as the Biomedical Research Centre.

However, one of the main concerns of student senators is that the other proposed component of the school — the undergraduate program of the discipline — did not receive the requisite approval. That program proposal was a major point of contention for both student senators and members of the EUS at the time, with an extensive report being prepared detailing their concerns — most notably, a program fee that some thought circumvented the spirit of the domestic tuition cap.

“So this was unconventional in that sense, that you’re going to the school before even all of your programs that you want to go into it are created,” explained Gattinger. He attributed some of the rush that he sees in these actions to the expansion plans of applied sciences both from UBC and provincially.

According to UBC Public Affairs, a revised program proposal has already been sent back to the ministry.

Consultation concerns

There has been general dissatisfaction from student bodies with the consultation process that occurred from February to March of this year for the school.

“When we were approached for the consultation, we were told it was a ‘pre-consultation,’ that they were just getting their ideas together at that stage,” said Gattinger. “Simply, the volume of information that was at Senate [at the May meeting] was not there during the consultation process.”

UBC’s statement on the matter stands in direct contrast to this, saying that the university “consulted extensively” with students prior to the Senate vote and subsequent approval of the school. Reads the statement, “This consultation period included meetings with the Alma Mater Society, Graduate Student Society, Engineering Undergraduate Students and Medicine Undergraduate Students. Consultation also included a meeting with student senators in March and an online form that could be used to register any feedback or concerns.”

“We wanted to say very clearly [with this vote against] that we’re not going to put up with [inadequate consultation].”

— Ian Sapollnik

Says Ian Sapollnik, a student senator, of the “half-baked” proposal that student groups received for consultation, “The proposal that they got during their consultation wasn’t finished. So the reason there was no real AMS or EUS feedback was because they gave none, because they were waiting for a better proposal to come forward.”

For Sapollnik and Gattinger, their worries about a lack of consultation and credence given to the student opinion, already present from the biomedical engineering program process, have now been compounded.

“It wasn’t just about this proposal — it was an ongoing trend of inadequate consultation that we wanted to stop. We wanted to say very clearly [with this vote against] that we’re not going to put up with that,” said Sapollnik. He further clarified that the problem isn’t with students getting the required meetings — it’s about them being listened to.

“All of this upheaval”

Only one faculty member has agreed to full-time employment (FTE) at the school as the prospective head. Several other faculty are at 20 per cent appointment, which means that they will devote 20 per cent of their time to the school.

During the meeting, a motion was put forward to waive the minimum FTE requirement for the School of Biomedical Engineering, which mandates 15 full-time faculty in place for the creation of the school. That vote passed.

A high amount of current turnover within the department also presented itself as a concern to student representatives.

“I think it’s just troubling to us [within the faculty],” said Gattinger as an engineering student. “There’s all of this upheaval: our dean is leaving ... we’ll have an interim dean, we currently have an acting provost and we’ll have a new provost as of July 1, and those are the two senior administrators who will be ultimately responsible for the school.”

The roll call proposal

During the May Senate meeting, student senators aired some of their main concerns.

At one point, Sapollnik put forward a motion to send the proposal back to the committee phase for reexamination and possible amendment. The idea behind the motion was that student concerns could be heard and potentially implemented through strong engagement over the summer — student senators were willing to support the proposal when it would come back to the Senate in September, but before then, they wanted “better process, more details given.”

For Sapollnik, the issue wasn’t that he would never support the program; it was the timing of the process that was the biggest issue.

The motion on the vote to return to committee failed. Sapollnik later asked for a roll call vote to take down the names of each person voting and which way that they voted, a practice that doesn’t usually happen in Senate.

The motion to have that roll call vote failed.

“I think the biggest insult for me was that that [roll call vote] motion failed,” said Sapollnik. “I can respect differences in opinion ... [but] for me, it crosses the line when we ask for a level of accountability that usually isn’t in Senate, and that failed as well.”

“We won’t know exactly how many people voted in favour [for the approval of the school], which seems ridiculous, but unfortunately that’s just the way it is,” said Gattinger.

The student senators specifically requested that their votes against were recorded in the minutes, a move that they hope will preserve their strong opinion moving forward.

“The school will be fine. I’m not concerned that the School will be a disaster. UBC as an institution is in good hands and has the mechanisms to do this well,” said Sapollnik on the experience. “For me, it was just a big learning lesson of knowing how student Senate caucus can have influence and how far we can take things and how well people listen to us.”