Holmes and Kurtzke face off in AMS VP Academic debate

Max Holmes and Franz Kurtzke faced off Thursday night in the one and only debate for the AMS VP Academic and University Affairs (VPAUA) by-election.

Kurtzke presented himself in his opening statement as a “candidate of cultural change” with a focus on free speech and social justice reform.

Other issues he said he’ll focus on include opening up the issue of rape culture to an alternative perspective, developing anti-fragile mental heath services and protecting medical cannabis users — as later clarified in the audience question period.

Holmes emphasized his experience as the current associate VPAUA and presented a platform that focuses on “greater affordability, revitalization of campus experience, commitment to equity and experiential learning.’’

He said these goals would be supported by more extensive consultations and data-driven initiatives.

Questions for both candidates

The candidates were asked about the various aspects relevant to the VPAUA’s portfolio, to which they responded with opposite degrees of familiarity.

While Holmes was able to reference specific statistics from the 2017 AMS Academic Experience Survey (AES) to support his platform points about affordability — the most pressing matter to him — Kurtzke was not familiar with the report, which a major priority (and chunk of the budget) of the VPAUA office each year.

Kurtzke also “did not think that it was necessary for [him] to familiarize [himself] with it at this point.” Instead, he said, he considers opening up dialogue channels for those who might be self-censoring to be the most important matter.

In response, Holmes noted that the AES is the biggest item in the VPAUA’s $100,000 budget, thus requiring any candidate to know about it in addition to what they are “most passionate about.”

He further argued that “while thought diversity is important, [people] won’t be able to have that if [they] can’t even go to university” due to unaffordability.

Kurtzke raised concerns that Holmes was presenting thought diversity “as a luxury,” and added that despite not knowing about the AES, he isn’t neglecting the issues and will familiarize himself with them.

Kurtzke also attributed his lack of knowledge on certain topics to the AMS’s communication gap.

“I’m not aware of any impact — positive or negative — that [the VPAUA office has] had on my life,” he said. “They have not advertised their work sufficiently or done anything relevant of my concern.”

Holmes agreed with Kurtzke regarding the holes in the AMS’s communication as he worked on the recommendation regarding this topic following the AES, but argued that Kurtzke also should have done his own research.

After multiple questions about topics with which Kurtzke seemed unfamiliar, tensions ran high following one about the fair allocation of UBC’s Excellence Fund for students.

Kurtzke stated “feeling concerned about multiple ethical overlaps … and conflict of interest” regarding Jack Hauen, the debate’s moderator and coordinating editor of The Ubyssey, instead of answering the question. He later mentioned that he was also not familiar with this fund.

This prompted the intervention of AMS Elections Administrator Filza Raza, who reminded Kurtzke that this issue could be brought up in the closing statement instead.

On the original topic, Holmes stated that he has been working with the interim VPAUA Jakob Gattinger on this issue for a month, and that they are talking to the Advocacy Committee and constituencies about it.

The last question of this period was about the Sexual Assault and Other Sexual Misconduct Policy (Policy 131), which was approved in April 2017.

Kurtzke, who features rape culture narrative reform centrally in his platform, was not familiar with this policy. He said he wants to open the policy up to alternative narratives because the current feminist-based narrative is “excluding alternative and complementary social science,” which could be “putting some people at unnecessary risk.”

Holmes views this policy as a good step by UBC, but acknowledged that there are still gaps to be filled to make it survivor-focused. He mentioned working with data from the Sexual Assault Support Centre to fill these gaps.

Questions specific to each candidate’s platform

In this period, the candidates were asked individually about their specific platform points.

For Holmes, the questions touched on topics like expanding the Collegia system, improving co-op and entrepreneurship opportunities, pushing for more transparency within the AMS and advocating for an alternative housing financing model that would allow for external borrowing and more efficient construction.

He was asked to identify hard commitments, as his current platform includes a lot of “I hope” statements.

Holmes responded by saying that he wants to pursue a full review of every faculty’s academic concession policy. Pushing for an alternative housing financing model would also be a top priority for him.

Kurtzke was asked mainly about free speech and to provide tangible evidence of it being impeded at UBC.

He mentioned getting positive feedback and support from professors during his various lettering campaigns over the summer. He also referenced The Ubyssey incident in which he was “bullied” by female staff members after pitching an article arguing against rape culture, as well as an anecdote about getting angry reactions for talking about men’s lack of reproductive rights in a psychology class about sexuality.

Kurtzke refused to make any hard commitments, but said he would focus on pushing for the adoption of the Chicago Principles, which he acknowledged as a “totally long shot.” Beyond this, he stated that he would be “responsive to variety of concerns of students and do the best job he [could] in the role.”

Questions from the audience

The debate rounded off with questions from the live audience, which touched on topics ranging from Indigenous representation on campus to Policy 73 on academic accommodation for students with disabilities, to anti-free speech anecdotes, to the housing waitlist, amongst others.

The candidates’ responses varied in degree of tangibility, with more focus being placed on calling for more consultation or just describing the subject matters as “complicated.”

One topic that got a clear and original answer from both candidates was on the affordability of foreign tuition.

Holmes wants to conduct a review of Policy 72, which currently offers financial protection for only domestic students, in favour of protection for international students as well.

While he could not speak on the policy, Kurtzke stated that “if [students are of] non-permanent resident status, non refugee, non citizenship, [they] technically don’t have the right to be a student here.”

“Their tuition is high, but it’s at market level,” he added.

The debate’s last notable topic touched on the transition of the race’s winner into the VPAUA office, which was brought up by AMS VP Administration Pooja Bhatti.

When asked about how he would work with the three-day transition period and staff members who were hired by another VPAUA, Kurtzke insisted on a two-week transition period that would allow him to meet the staff and “ease into” the role.

However, the AMS’s code states that “once the Elections Administrator’s report is presented to Council, the results shall be official and binding upon the Society.”

Accordingly, when the result is presented at the September 27 AMS Council meeting, the winner will have to officially assume the position of VPAUA. This leaves the winning candidate with three business days after the result announcement on September 22 to settle into the role.

Holmes mentioned his experience as the current associate VPAUA and stated that his platform is a continuation of the work already being done in the office.

Online voting starts on September 18 and runs until September 22.