Last March, we were elected to the UBC Board of Governors as student representatives for the Vancouver campus. Elections are always long and last year’s was especially so due to some discoveries about the University Act.
Our first project was to plot our course for the year: we began meeting with student leadership, university executives and fellow governors to sketch out our goals for the year. But the Board isn’t a place where student advocates land and check off a to-do list though –much of what we reflect here has happened due to the tireless work of student groups, fellow governors and most importantly our hardworking and dedicated university executives and their staff.
We believe that affordability remains the most critical issue to our students, staff and faculty.
Tuition, housing costs and financial aid are all under the Board’s purview with the prioritization of investments that reduce costs or provide students with employment opportunities. Over the last year, we took a stand against the proposed 2020/21 tuition increases. This is also the second year in a row where provincially appointed governors have also voted against the annual tuition increases. We were also pleased with the success — and continuation! — of the Blue&Gold campaign, which would not have been possible without the President’s commitment to financially supporting students. Although scholarships aren’t the easy answer to affordability, they’re certainly a step in the right direction.
With these successes, there are still a few things that we are continuing to work on.
Notably, food insecurity is an increasing issue on campus. We received some preliminary data with possible directions and are awaiting a more comprehensive plan in the spring/summer cycle. Couple with this, childcare services on campus — and in Vancouver in general — are in high demand, which has been recognized by both UBC and the provincial government. We received some preliminary numbers, but are expecting this item to come back later in the spring as projects like academic renewal are anticipated to increase demand.
And finally, the current graduate student stipend policy — at a minimum of $18,000 per year, which may include earnings from teaching assistantships — is insufficient. We anticipate the Board will receive recommendations on ways to bolster this stipend this spring.
Safety and wellbeing
The safety and wellness of our student body, faculty and staff are some of the ways that we draw the best and brightest to UBC. But we aren’t always stellar at this: there are some definitive gaps in our services, particularly those who support our most vulnerable populations.
This year, we received first drafts of policies SC13, SC17 (formerly policy 131), and SC18 which deal with at-risk behaviour, sexual misconduct and retaliation respectively. These policies are key in capturing the pieces that were missing during the first iteration of Policy 131. The ongoing safety and wellbeing work includes policies SC13, SC17, and SC18 consultations, which were previously open for consultation in January. Final drafts will be returning to the Board in June for approval.
The Board is also exploring the creation of a joint Equity, Diversity & Inclusion statement with the Senates as a counterbalance to the Academic Freedom statement.
Lastly, we are anticipating a report on integrated health services — including student health and counselling — at the February cycle, focusing on ways to bolster our services while we await the completion of new buildings to house these services.
We attempted to pull out some of the key priorities within the UBC strategic plan and take a deeper dive into some of these initiatives. Related to this, we have had a number of plans come forward to action key parts of the strategic plan, like the Inclusion Action Plan and International Strategy. Furthermore, the university has declared a climate emergency and set divestment from fossil fuels in motion. This is the result of years of consistent pressure by students, staff, faculty and community members pushing us to do better.
This fall, the Indigenous Strategic Plan and Truth & Reconciliation action plans underwent a consultation process and we anticipate them being finalized this spring.
We are also excited to see how the academic renewal initiative shapes up. This project overlaps with multiple student priorities including childcare and graduate student support.
We have a (nearly!) full executive team in place, a new Board secretariat, a new Strategic Plan, progress on transparency — including webcasting committee meetings and posting presentation slides online — and a commitment to student consultation with Policy GA2 on regulatory framework.
We are hopeful that some progress can be made on each of these priorities during the remaining meetings of our term. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to serve — and look forward to the February cycle of meetings, which are coming at you on Feb 5, 6 and 14!
Max Holmes is an arts student and a Board of Governors member elected by the UBC Vancouver student body.
Jeanie Malone is a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering and a Board of Governors member elected by the UBC Vancouver student body.