Year-end review: VP Academic Julia Burnham’s ‘juggling act’ of achieving goals on UBC’s timeline

There is no executive portfolio within the AMS that is as dependent on the university as the VP academic and university affairs (VPAUA).

This year, VPAUA Julia Burnham made large strides in sexual violence prevention work and on the long walk towards increasing open educational resources (OERs) on campus. But she said she was faced with the issue of relying on university bodies and processes under the Senate and the Board of Governors (BoG) to accomplish her goals.

“It's a reality that with the main points of contact for advocacy … in the university being the Senate which meets once a month and not over the summer, and the Board of Governors that meets five times a year, those are the tables where decisions get made,” Burnham said.

“Ultimately we are vulnerable to whatever that agenda is and being able to influence whatever is coming to the table there.”

Throughout the year, Burnham and the AMS expressed frustrations about not being consulted by the university on various matters. The reorganization of the VP students portfolio was a major issue this year, and Burnham had to fight to get a seat on the Policy 131/SC 17 review committee.

Burnham spoke of the “ecosystem” of different groups all wanting their goals to be accomplished.

With that, “it's unrealistic to think that someone can fix all these long term systemic problems within one year,” Burnham said. “And that's just the nature of advocacy.”

Housing advocacy

Due to the university timelines, advocacy for the Stadium Road neighbourhood development that seemed to be moving full steam ahead during the summer was stalled.

“We put that on hold as we were waiting for the university to work through its Memorandum of Affiliation with Musqueam before they were moving forward with any more updates on that Stadium Road neighbourhood plan,” Burnham said.

“I'm hopeful for that piece in particular that the VPAUA next year … can pick up right where we left off."

Sexual misconduct policy review

Burnham’s work with the university on the updated sexual misconduct policy (SC17) was extensive, and incorporating the SASC into the policy’s first review was a platform point she campaigned heavily on during her election run in 2019.

“We made over 30 pages of notes, and feedback and analysis on the policy,” she said. “I'm really proud of all of the outreach work that we did, because I believe that the conversations that the AMS and SASC were having … [were] really key in getting people thinking about the changes that are going to be coming forward and what their responses were to them.”

She said she was “deeply proud” of this work.

“I think I went into the year with one real strong goal that if I didn't do anything else, I wanted to walk away feeling very confident about the changes we were able to make the best and that was all of the work with the sexual violence policy and with uplifting the SASC throughout that process,” Burnham said.

Open educational resources

Burnham and her team also created the OER Champions Award, given to people who have made significant contributions in use of open educational resources (OERs) at UBC. This year, the awards were based on nominations by students, but she hopes this develops into something more.

“Next year, we're looking at actually adjudicating and being able to offer some more prestigious awards,” Burnham said. “This is really important [for] trying to develop a culture on campus of recognizing the labor and the merit of open educational resources.”

Budget submission delays

Turnover in the university also had an effect on Burnham's work. Her and her team failed to submit a budget submission before the UBC budget processes ramped up, a precedent set by previous VPAUA Max Holmes.

“It was a bit of a different situation this year, having both a new VP students who had never done the UBC budget process before, but also having new AMS executives who hadn't been through that process before. So I think there was a little bit of not knowing what to expect from each other in that time,” Burnham said. Since, she’s discussed with the VP students office ways to make this process smoother for the incoming VPAUA.

“I think there's a lot of value in budget advocacy, but I made it clear at the beginning of the year and in my campaign that my main goal was around the policy piece.”