There’s never a dull year at UBC.
This year, the school continued to confront shortcomings on reconciliation, began revamping its sexual assault prevention policies and lobbied every government it could to bring a subway to campus.
The AMS, meanwhile, proved it could get major wins for students from the university and the provincial government, even as tensions at Council threatened to pull the whole thing apart.
Our reporters were there at every step to bring you the news no other outlet covers. Here are our top stories of the year, as told by them.
“In late June, the AMS executive unilaterally decided to cut the SASC’s sexual violence support services in favour of a focus on solely outreach and advocacy. The decision to slash staffing at the centre, which has been around since 2002, hit the community hard — the outcry was so loud that the AMS reversed its decision just three days later and issued a public apology. The way the society approaches the SASC has completely shifted, and a March referendum passed that will triple the student fee that predominantly gets funneled into the centre.” — Samantha McCabe
“When the AMS divested from fossil fuels, our first thought was shock — not because they were divesting, but because they had invested in fossil fuels in the first place. Despite years of pressuring UBC to divest, the AMS had quietly been putting tens of thousands of dollars into fossil-fuel corporations like Enbridge. Environmental groups applauded the AMS for divesting, but it left us to wonder about the distance between the society’s business interests and its advocacy.” — Zak Vescera
‘Not a trophy for UBC’: Five months after opening, Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre is short-staffed, undersupported and effectively empty
“The opening of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) was marketed as an act of reconciliation at UBC. It was meant to be a space for Indigenous community members and residential school survivors to access a database of “vast archival holdings” from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). But our investigation showed both the building and the database were effectively empty upon opening. IRSHDC director Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and other key stakeholders at the Centre and the TRC, shed light on the bureaucratic issues holding up the project — issues that are still causing the Centre problems one year later.” — Bridget Chase
“Normally, annual tuition increases are rubber-stamped formalities. This year, UBC’s Board of Governors saw substantial pushback as members expressed concerns about affordability, transparency and the university’s “lack of effort” in addressing student feedback. While the increases passed in the end, it was by a historically slim majority — with all faculty and student representatives, as well as two recent provincial appointees voting against domestic increases. As the AMS steps up its opposition effort and the NDP government holds the ability to name appointees, the Board is unlikely to go back to rubber-stamping increases in the next few years.” — Alex Nguyen
“In December, UBC’s policy on academic accommodations for students with disabilities received its first review since 1999. The policy badly needed a review to outline the way in which students with disabilities could seek academic and non-academic accommodations. The policy now includes a procedures section which is perhaps its most significant change. I wrote this story not knowing how much work goes into the revision of a policy, and I learned that policy revisions take a lot of time — but also that these are necessary to ensure that students have the best possible academic journey.” — Mario Salazar
“In November, the director of UBC’s most treasured institute resigned in front of the entire top brass, revealing the school was impinging on the institute’s independence. The backlash forced UBC to roll back the changes — but the breadcrumb trail led us to explore the bizarre partnership between the university and one of the richest people in Vancouver that makes the institute possible. Today, the Wall Institute is in the midst of choosing a new director, and all three candidates have promised radical change. Who said academic governance was boring?” — Zak Vescera
“When UBC dropped the bombshell they were willing to put money into bringing a subway to campus, we had just begun our jobs. We wrote our first piece on this while running in and out of a meeting, and followed it throughout the year as the school kept pushing governments to bring the subway to campus. There’s still a long, long series of meetings before that happens — not to mention over a decade of construction — but it looks increasingly likely that in 20 years, UBC will never be quite the same.” — Zak Vescera
“The BC NDP government made good on its campaign promise and eliminated the provincial portion of interest on student loan in February. Needless to say, most students and student unions are very happy about the decision — and this piece actually racked up enough views to be our second-most read article of the year. The federal government followed with budget proposals to lower the federal portion of student loan interest and extend the grace period before graduates start accumulating interest. Students are also happy about that, but many want to further push for a complete elimination similar to what BC has done.” — Alex Nguyen
After almost a year in Saudi Arabian prison for her activism, UBC alumna is nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
“Loujain Al-Hathloul is a UBC alumna best known for challenging the driving ban on women and male wardenship laws in Saudi Arabia. For her efforts, she has spent nearly a year incarcerated in Saudi Arabia, during which time she has allegedly endured torture and sexual harassment. For her activism, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by by Canada’s NDP Critic for Foreign Affairs Dr. Hélène Laverdière. Researching and writing this chapter of Al-Hathloul’s story taught me of the sacrifices individuals make in standing up to perceived wrongs in society, but it also revealed the incredible cruelty humans are capable of doing to one another. Al-Hathloul has demonstrated many characteristics that UBC can and should be proud of: strength, bravery and integrity.” — Kevin Jiang
“The referenda were a big story in this year’s elections cycle. After a tumultuous year for the SASC, students voted to nearly triple its funding and approved vital funding for the Indigenous committee, a thrift shop on campus and to renew the U-Pass. But it was a bittersweet elections results night for the AMS as the proposed changes to the AMS Bylaws — which could have abolished student court and limited the release of society records — failed to reach quorum by a couple hundred votes. Whether the AMS will respond to students’ concerns with the bylaw changes and meaningfully support the work of the SASC and Indigenous committee in the years to come remains to be seen.” — Moira Wyton and Sonia Pathak
“At the AMS’s Annual General Meeting in October, VP Academic and University Affairs Max Holmes promised a Fall Reading Break was “likely” for 2019/20, though it would probably be a long weekend rather than a week. Holmes led a final push for the break with a student consultation survey in January, but unfortunately — and some might say predictably — there was no break scheduled when the Senate finalized the academic calendar in March. Student senators claim they’ve made a lot of progress and that a reading week might only be a year or two away, but they’ve been making and breaking that promise for over a decade. Will we ever get the autumnal respite we need and deserve? For now, we’ll have to wait and see.” — Henry Anderson
“Despite calls for its prohibition at UBC, there are no official policies that oversee relationships between faculty and students. Experts have raised concerns about the significant power imbalances that can come with such relationships, which were also brought to light in recent years through scandals within and beyond UBC. This issue will be specifically relevant later this year, with the review of Policy 131 in September. According to incoming Board of Governors student member Max Holmes, this could be an opportunity for a review of UBC’s stance on faculty-student relationships.” — Thea Udwadia
“After inviting far-right speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern to speak at the Chan Centre in mid-March, The Free Speech Club (FSC) was met with strong student activism urging them to cancel the event. Anticipating protests, the Chan demanded security costs that the FSC couldn’t afford, so they moved the event off campus to the Hellenic Community of Vancouver. It was eventually cancelled altogether. The controversy was a victory for left-leaning activist groups , but it also raised questions of whether such tactics may amount to censorship that indirectly promotes far-right thought. With more speakers expected to be invited in the future, it remains to be seen whether the university will continue to sit back as ideologies clash on campus.” — Henry Anderson