Fact-checking the AMS VP Academic by-election debate

Last Thursday, AMS Vice-President Academic and University Affairs (VPAUA) by-election candidates Max Holmes and Franz Kurtzke spent 90 minutes outlining their platforms and goals for the position in a heated and often tense debate.

Let’s take a look at the truth in some of the claims they made.

Max Holmes

“We now have seen from the the Academic Experience Survey in two years we’ve gone from 1 out of 10 students do not believe they will be able to continue at UBC next year due to financial reasons to 1 out of 5. Those are hard numbers that we’ve gotten from the AES.”

Pretty much true: 19 per cent of respondents in the most recent Academic Experience Survey (AES) said they might have to abandon their studies due to financial reasons (6 per cent strongly agree, 13 per cent somewhat agree). Twelve per cent was the number from 2 years ago (with 4 per cent saying strongly agree). So Max is correct but he rounded the numbers, which slightly changes the impact of the net 7 per cent increase within two years.

“Students spend on average $800 a year on textbooks.”

True: The mean amount that undergraduate students spend on textbooks is $814 per year according to this year’s AES. It's $501 for grad students, though.

“One out of five students is facing housing insecurity at UBC.”

Pretty much true: The AES says that 18 per cent of undergraduate students had lacked “a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence” at least once in the past during the school year. Of that 18 per cent, 9 per cent said they currently lacked it. Among graduate students, the number who had lacked a residence at least once in the last year was 9 percent — half the rate of undergraduates.

“Almost 50 per cent of students have faced some sort of food insecurity at UBC in the past year, and 1 out of 4 have faced food insecurity often or sometimes.”

True: According to the AES, 45 per cent of undergraduates "experienced concerns about their ability to feed themselves in the past year.” Of those, 24 per cent experienced these concerns “often,” “sometimes” or “frequently.” Holmes forgot to mention the “frequently” responses, but his point stands.

“The VP Academic manages a budget of over $100,000 dollars.”

True: According to the AMS’s quarterly financial report, the total amount budgeted for the VP Academic and University Affairs portfolio is $123,956.49 for 2017/18. With $25,300.86 having already been spent as of August 30, the new VPAUA will have approximately $98,655.63 to manage throughout the rest of their term.

“UBC is mandated to work with the AMS on excellence fund allocation consultation.”

True: According to the Excellence Fund Terms of Reference, the Provosts are mandated to consider input from “Provosts, VP Students, and AVP Students, with the elected student leadership to discuss priorities,” meaning that the AMS must be consulted in fund allocation.

“I do believe that UBC is doing quite a lot to tackle sexual assault right now with Policy 131 and with consent posters for example, something that Franz disapproves of in residences.” Kurtzke interjected and called this a “mischaracterization.”

Pretty much true: Though Kurtzke’s image and original post in r/UBC were deleted, he started a thread titled “Inappropriate UBC consent poster,” criticizing a poster in Marine Drive which states that it is not possible to obtain consent to have sex with a drunk person. Although Kurtzke disagrees with the characterization that he disapproves of these posters, his disapproval is implied by his use of the word “inappropriate” in the thread title.

“Policy 71 tuition review policy allows UBC certain out causes if the increase is below a mark or in specific programs.”

True: According to Policy 71, the university may follow a “simplified consultation process” if the tuition increase is at or below the Higher Education Price Index, an inflation index that tracks the contributing factors to the price of post-secondary. This means that student leadership does not need to be consulted for increases below this threshold, among other program-specific fees, such as some of the fees associated with the new school of biomedical engineering costs.

“AMS passed an internal consultation policy this summer, which forces us to reach out to multiple groups during tuition consultation with the university.”

True: The AMS passed the Policy on Tuition and Mandatory Fee Consultations from the University on August 30, 2017, which mandates that the AMS “shall consult and meet with relevant stakeholders as necessary” during all tuition consultations undertaken with the university.

“Currently, UBC can’t borrow externally to build student housing and can only borrow from its own endowment.”

True: Pursuant to provincial practice, universities are not able to borrow externally for many projects. It is unclear if the new NDP government will change this policy.

“The AMS saved students $60 million by externally borrowing to finance the Nest.”

Almost true: According to AMS President Alan Ehrenholz, the refinancing of the Nest with RBC will save students up to $50 million dollars in the long run.

“Currently Collegia is already being expanded in some ways ... through advocacy through the Excellence Fund.”

Unconfirmed: While no record of this funding exists online, The Ubyssey has reached out to the Collegia program for comment.

“I made sure that every question that was asked [on my Reddit AMA] was answered.”

True: Each and every question on Holmes’s Reddit AMA was answered through his account, mholmes108.

“One of the things I wrote in my AES report was that I don't believe that the AMS is transparent enough.”

True: Only 36 per cent of AES respondents agreed that they were well informed about what the AMS does, as is outlined in the VPAUA office's report written by Holmes.

“We had over 1,000 students come up in the [Textbook Broke] campiagn and give us their receipts.”

True: According to interim VPAUA Jakob Gattinger, this is even an understatement — aside from the 1,000 receipts they ordered and used, Gattinger estimated the final number of receipts submitted to be closer to 1,200 in total.

“There is a vacancy rate of 7 per cent in Wesbrook Village.”

Unconfirmed: The last reported vacancy rate in rental properties on campus was 1.1 per cent in 2015. Given the high demand for housing in the university neighbourhood, it seems unlikely that the rate has gone up six per cent in the last two years in Wesbrook Village alone. Wesbrook Properties has not yet responded to a request for comment.

“The AMS Bylaws require the new VPAUA to take office on [September] 27.”

Somewhat true: The AMS bylaws require Council to adopt the results of an election or by-election during a Council meeting in order for them to become official. Wednesday, September 27 is the first meeting scheduled after the by-election results are announced and so the results will theoretically become official then, but there is nothing in the bylaws that mandates when the new VPAUA will take office.

According to interim VPAUA Jakob Gattinger, “we don’t actually prescribe when the new exec takes over in interim situations, but the consensus seems to be when the results are presented by the EA at Council on the 27 of this month,” due to the interim nature of his service and the already-shortened term for the incoming permanent VPAUA.

Franz Kurtzke

“The activities of the AMS are not necessarily visible to me individually.”

He’s not alone: Only 36 per cent of AES respondents agreed that they were well informed about what the AMS does. However, all AMS council meetings are open to the public. Minutes and agendas are also published online, in addition to being live-tweeted and covered by The Ubyssey.

“[International students] did not pay for the infrastructure. Their parents and they did not pay taxes in order to build this place.”

Half true: They don’t pay BC taxes, but neither do domestic students from the rest of Canada. Every international student pays UBC and AMS’s fees that pay for campus infrastructure.

“I think the [VPAUA] role is something that’s very very well designed to give [UBC] administrators an excuse to come forward and hear the voice of the students that would like them to get involved in some particular issues and I don’t think that that aspects of the VP Academic role is currently being exercised.”

False: The VPAUA meets with administrators all the time, and many of UBC’s policies mandate these meetings take place much more frequently than the customary once-per-month schedule.

"Of the first five people who replied to me by email supportively ... three of them, for what it's worth, were graduates of Harvard and Yale congratulating me, yes."

Unable to confirm: Kurtzke refused to name any of the UBC professors he says have supported his social justice reform letter-writing campaign, but there are certainly more than three professors at UBC who graduated from either Harvard or Yale at some point in their careers.

“I have talked to Neil Guppy. I've met with him probably three or four times in private, a couple of times over beer."

True: Dr. Neil Guppy, the senior advisor to the provosts on academic freedom, confirmed that he and Kurtzke have met — but that only Kurtzke had a beer.

“Of the people who have lined-up to ask questions, there is a very significant overrepresentation of members of the UBC Free Speech Club."

True: Many members of the audience self-identified as members of the UBC Free Speech Club during the audience question period.

A previous version of this article mistakenly paraphrased a few quotes. The article has been updated to reflect the correct quotations, with no changes in overall meaning. The Ubyssey regrets this error.

— With files from Sarah Neubauer