At last night’s debate, the sole VP finance candidate Mary Gan discussed student mistrust, reductions in AMS fees, pandemic-related budget cuts and mental health coverage.
Gan’s experience in the VP finance portfolio showed in her policy proposals, but her communications plans were akin to what candidates promise every year.
As current associate VP finance, Gan said that she is already “familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the AMS.” One weakness that Gan was quizzed on was the financial portfolio’s allegedly poor communication with clubs and constituencies.
However, Gan stressed that the finance team has made “considerable progress” this year. She also said that she’s hoping to create a new Canvas Learning Hub to bridge the gap between students and execs.
Although Gan said that communication had improved, student trust in the AMS finance portfolio remains low. According to the 2020 academic experience survey, only a quarter of students said that they trust the AMS to spend their money wisely.
When asked about student trust, Gan said that it is low because it is difficult for students to find and understand the portfolio’s financial jargon.
“It’s really important to make sure that AMS finances are a lot more clear. [I’ll] reduce jargon, reduce the barriers to understand it and … [work] with communications to really simplify how the AMS budget works,” said Gan.
However, the debate moderator felt her answer lacked specificity.
“Respectfully, every year I’ve been at UBC, they’ve made similar promises about the finance website about such things related to communication,” moderator Pawan Minhas, coordinating editor of The Ubyssey, said at the debate.
Pressed on how she would clarify AMS finances beyond infographics and a nicer website, Gan said she’d like to make videos of herself explaining how the budget works.
“[Bridging] the disconnect between AMS executives and the students is a good first step,” Gan said.
Gan said that this focus on financial transparency would help her navigate student backlash if she had to raise AMS fees. Specifically, she thinks that student awareness of AMS fee-receiving groups and initiatives should be increased.
“As long as students know that their money is going towards the right cause, I think there will be much less backlash.”
But Gan is willing to look into reducing or eliminating certain AMS fees, saying that she understands students’ financial burden due to COVID-19. She proposed a code review of all AMS funds and fees to determine which ones aren’t being used well.
The AMS is facing its own pandemic-related financial issues, with a $720-thousand operational deficit reported earlier this month. Gan clarified that she would likely continue budget cuts in the wages of student government.
“It’s really important to make sure that we’re not really cutting services for students. Instead, I think student government is the place to focus on,” said Gan.
On the topic of UBC tuition increases, Gan said that she’d like to “make sure student voices are heard” by the UBC administration. Even though this typically isn’t a responsibility of the VP finance, Gan added that she’d like to work with the AMS academic portfolio to advocate for students or explain to them why tuition increases are happening.
Gan is also planning a mental health subsidy and support provider network by using the $2 million surplus in the AMS/GSS Health and Dental Plan.
“I definitely want to do a lot more consultations with various groups on campus to make sure that these plans are implemented with thoughts of everyone,” said Gan.
“I want students to know that their money is put in good hands.”
The VP finance candidate will take the stage again at the Great Debate on Saturday, February 27. This article is part of our 2021 AMS elections coverage.