UBC Insiders has asked current AMS Vice-President Academic and Student Senator Anne Kessler her thoughts about the Senate election and how she is voting. And remember to vote for us in the VFM contest!
The UBC Senate race is often joked about in the UBC blogosphere because there are so many candidates. How do you keep track of 10 or 12 candidates for five spots? But when it boils down to it, there are only a few important things to look for when choosing your student senators:
1. Speaking Up
Really, this is the most important quality a student senator must have. While there will always be a few prominent student senators who can lead projects like establishing the Ad Hoc Committee on Mental Health and Wellbeing, every student senator needs to be someone who will speak up, because the work of Senate is done in committee, not in Senate itself, so if you’re one of only two or three students on the committee, you need to be able to speak up and give a student perspective.
2. Getting Informed
The university’s academic structure is complicated. The lingo that gets thrown around can be confusing (e.g. “Two parts of the Flexible Learning Initiative are a partnership with edX and better integrating Piazza into our learning technology ecosystem”). There are ways to make arguments that faculty members will listen to, and ways to make arguments that they will rip to pieces – remember that it’s literally their job to sit and analyze arguments all day long. There are a lot of background politics that one can stumble into – like the longstanding annoyance of Senate that the Provost’s Office really runs the place and the fact that as much as the university’s governance structure is supposedly bicameral (more lingo, look it up), the Board of Governors has more power since it controls funding.
Not that a newcomer can’t learn the ropes, but experience does help in navigating these waters. Reading the entirety of the package may be difficult, long, and boring but there’s a lot there And don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially from your fellow student senators. And even if you ask it at a meeting, I’ll bet there’s always at least one faculty member who was thinking the same thing and was too scared to ask.
3. Taking Action
I said above that the work of Senate is done in committees, not at Senate itself. But that’s only half the truth. The day-to-day work happens in committees, but if you really want to get stuff done, you have to do a lot of work outside of committee. This means meeting with the Senate Secretariat, meeting with committee chairs to get their opinions on ideas, researching and writing reports, and, once your proposal is finally ready for the Senate floor, doing some serious lobbying of senators to make sure they vote for it.
A student senator who is willing to put in a lot of extra hours to do those things is a senator who will get things done.
Lastly, student senators need to see themselves as a team. For my whole time on Senate, student senators have worked together on projects, not gone it alone, and have been very effective at getting things done (despite Senate’s glacial pace). There’s a lot of work to be done for big change to happen (see #3 above), and much more will get done if everyone works together.
How I’m Voting
There’s a lot that’s broken with Senate, so it’s easy to say this race doesn’t matter. But I’m glad to say our new President knows it too so this year may see a lot of change come to the Senate, and so it will be more important than ever to have students who will be vocal and ensure that within a new structure, students will continue to have a significant voice on the Senate.
So who am I voting for? Firstly, my current fellow student senators Eric Zhao and Aaron Bailey have both been vocal, effective, advocates for students and have put many hours into their roles, and both deserve another year.
Next, Jenna Omassi and Gurvir Sangha have proven this year on AMS Council that they know how to vocally represent student voices and how to craft good arguments. Gurvir may have some learning to do about the university’s administrative structure, but I have no doubt he can learn to navigate it gracefully.
Next, I’m left feeling like a tie between Viet Vu, Marjan Hatai and Margareta Dovgal. All have been very involved in different aspects on the AMS, but none of them with any experience directly related to Senate. Margareta and Viet both have no qualms about speaking up, but I’m concerned about their ability to craft an argument in a way that will be listened to by faculty and administration. Marjan is not someone who regularly speaks up in AMS Council, and so I wonder whether she will speak up enough at Senate. All three would have some significant learning to do, but all have the potential to be effective. In the end I voted for Margareta, because she’s only in second year, so even if this is a learning year, she’ll have an opportunity to re-run and put the learning year to use.