Midterm Review: VP Academic Julia Burnham is promoting student, SASC voices

Julia Burnham campaigned for the Vice President Academic and University Affairs (VPAUA) role with the promise that she would be a strong advocate for students.

Her platform aimed to tackle some lofty goals, like supporting the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) in a year where UBC’s sexual misconduct response policy is under review and pushing UBC to divest from fossil fuels.

Now halfway into her term, Burnham is poised to complete most, if not all of her campaign and executive goals.

Burnham says her time as Academic Campaigns and Outreach Commissioner (a role which saw her work under the VPAUA portfolio) gave her a “real edge” and lessened her learning curve.

Still, there were some unexpected parts of the job.

“One of the things I didn't anticipate in this role was just how much of my job was just meeting with people all day ... It leaves very little time for the actual work of the portfolio, which is why it's fantastic that I'm supported by four incredible staff members,” she said.

Burnham’s top priority during her campaign was to keep SASC involved in conversations with the university amidst the review of Policy SC17 — best known by its previous identification as Policy 131 — which governs UBC’s response to campus sexual assault.

She collaborated with SASC and the university-run Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) on the We Believe You poster campaign and sat in on interviews for the new director of SVPRO.

The AMS had to lobby UBC for a seat on the Policy 131 review committee, from which they were initially excluded.

“That was an interesting curveball,” said Burnham. “But I’m glad to say that now I have obtained a seat and I have been working very closely with the folks at SASC to ensure that this review process prioritizes survivors.”

Divestment from fossil fuels

On November 22 the Board of Governors (BoG) Endowment Responsible Investment Policy Committee voted to put in motion the transfer of $381 million of the UBC endowment to the SFP, which comprises exclusively low-carbon and fossil fuel-free investments. On November 26 the BoG’s Finance Committee voted to look into full divestment from fossil fuels.

Though Burnham was involved in conversations with the university, she credits the “really easy checkmark” to student groups like UBCC350 who have been a prominent voice for divestment.

“I’m really proud to have been part of it,” she said.

Burnham is making headway on her other goals, like advocating for Open Educational Resources and other campus advocacy work. And, yes, fall reading break is still on the table.

Burnham says her biggest obstacle to completing her goals is the issue of tuition.

“I wanted to amend the [tuition] benchmarking process and the cohort-based tuition freeze. And those are … the two outstanding pieces within my [key performance indicators],” she said. “I think a lot of that is attributed to not knowing enough about the budgeting processes of the university when I was setting these goals.”

Looking ahead to the new year, Burnham reiterates her commitment to supporting SASC.

“I really think it’s important that the AMS acts as the bridge between all of these services on campus and really makes sure that we are doing everything we can to bring SASC to the table.”