This evening, AMS Council will consider a motion to ratify the Kinesiology Undergraduate Society’s (KUS) referendum question for a new $250/year building fee. The referendum, which ran in March, resulted in 87% voting in favour, with a 45% voter turnout.
Read the previous analysis of this referendum which outlined how this “student fee” is not a genuine student fee, but rather a back-door tuition increase. The referendum was also not run by the KUS, but by a campaign called Make Your Mark (MYM) which was being led by a paid employee of the school. In the month since the referendum, more details have emerged about just how unethical much of the behaviour surrounding the MYM campaign and the referendum really was. Let’s dive in.
They did it!
On April 17, a month after the referendum MYM posted a video entitled “MYM Celebration”. Near the end of the video, the following image appears:
Both of these people are employees of the School of Kinesiology, contracted specifically to work on the Make Your Mark campaign. On the left holding the “we did it!” sign is Robyn Freiheit, Special Projects Coordinator. More on the person on the right in a moment.
Until recently, it was assumed that Freiheit was the only person involved with MYM who was being paid by the school for that involvement. That’s certainly the message she conveyed when interviewed by Kosta Prodanovic of the Ubyssey, writing that “the priorities and deliverables of the MYM campaign were entirely developed and implemented by students who are passionate about the project and the need for a KIN building.” Freiheit has consistently deflected concerns about her conflict of interest by pointing to the fact that she is a fifth-year Kin student and that she is passionate about a new building as a result of her experiences as a Kin student (but evidently not passionate enough to volunteer her time.) MYM is now always described as a student-led initiative.
Which brings us to the person on the right. Her name is Rachel Apted. Her job title with the School of Kinesiology is “Visual Coordinator”. Have you seen MYM’s extremely impressive campaign material? (The website was taken down subsequent to publication – here’s a backup. – Ed) She’s the one who designed all of it. Check out her portfolio, it’s top notch.
Thing is, Rachel is not a Kinesiology student, nor does she attend UBC. As per her LinkedIn profile, she attends Emily Carr, where she will be graduating this year from a Communication Design program. She has no investment in the success of Kinesiology’s building project beyond performing well at a job she was hired to do. In an email, Apted characterized her main motivation for becoming involved as having to do with building her portfolio and accumulating professional experience, a reasonable goal for an up-and-coming designer. That is also how it is portrayed on her C.V.:
- The University of British Columbia UBC, Vancouver, CAN
Visual Coordinator (Current Employer)
Fulfilling an imperative role as the lead designer of a strategic marketing campaign to educate stakeholders in UBC’s School of Kinesiology campaign initiative. Through alternative strategic marketing tactics, brand development, brand recognition and social media promotion. Additionally acting as a liaison between the Dean of Kinesiology and the brand ambassadors, action committee, and the university. Providing regular contact with both and ensuring effective communication.
Read that again closely. It’s “UBC’s School of Kinesiology campaign initiative” (not the KUS’s, something which the school itself has said too) and her assertion that she fulfilled an “imperative role” role is believable. That she would mention being a liaison between Bob Sparks (Director of the School of Kinesiology), the university, and students once again raises uncomfortable questions about the level of UBC involvement in MYM; Bob Sparks declined a request to be interviewed about the school’s role in the campaign.
Highlighting all of this is not meant to criticize Apted’s work or involvement, but it forms a stark contrast to Freiheit’s comments that “the priorities and deliverables of the MYM campaign were entirely developed and implemented by students who are passionate about the project and the need for a KIN building.” Apted’s work is visible in almost all of the MYM campaign materials and having her on staff undoubtedly had a significant impact on the efficacy of the campaign. While it was inappropriate for the School of Kinesiology to hire Freiheit for the express purpose of running this referendum, its hiring of Apted is indefensible.
Genesis of MYM
At this point, it might be helpful to further examine MYM’s origin story. Its genesis as told by (outgoing) 2014-15 KUS President Jason Quach was paraphrased by the Ubyssey: “a former KUS Executive Committee decided to reach out to the School of Kinesiology about hiring a ‘non-voluntary’ person to help with the project, so they found Freiheit, who proposed a job description to the school through which she could assist the KUS and Kinesiology students by taking the lead on this student-led project.”
Quach, who also did not reply to an interview request, appears to paint the idea for MYM as something he inherited, but the “former KUS Executive Committee” he refers to was from 2013-14. Quach was a member of that executive, serving as VP Communications. Another notable member of the 2013-14 KUS executive that initiated MYM was that year’s president, Aram Karakas.
Coincidentally, the 2015 KUS elections administrator was… Aram Karakas.
When contacted, Karakas said his role was limited to administration of the ballot and ensuring elections regulations were followed. He stated that “all elections procedures outlined in [AMS] Code and the KUS constitution were followed.” That claim does not hold up to scrutiny.*
And despite Freiheit telling The Ubyssey that “The KUS were responsible for writing and administering the referendum question,” MYM seems to have had carte blanche in relation to the referendum. What legitimate explanation could exist for why MYM was allowed to design and erect their own voting booth? A voting booth which carries School of Kinesiology branding and inducements to vote “YES” on the sides. (It’s important to remember, too, that many of MYM’s materials were misleading.)
Even the voting booth set up by the KUS advertises MYM [plus a Cookie Monster who voted more than once; Lougheed, is that you? -Ed]), and is watched over by students who participated in the MYM campaign.
Make Your Mark was a project of the School of Kinesiology, not of the KUS.
It concerns a School of Kinesiology building, not a KUS building.
The proceeds of the proposed fee will end up in the coffers of the School of Kinesiology, not of the KUS.
The campaign carried School of Kinesiology branding, not KUS branding.
It was funded by the School of Kinesiology, not the KUS.
Its leaders reported to the School of Kinesiology, not the KUS.
So how can this legitimately be considered a KUS referendum and a KUS fee?
On every level, this referendum was a sham.
- A Memorandum of Understanding was generated premised on the fact that the KUS would hold a referendum on behalf of the university.
- The KUS had minimal involvement in designing and promoting that referendum, and largely delegated it back to the university.
- The university retained not one, but two employees to run that referendum campaign, and presumably funded the campaign’s operations. Although no one will discuss how much money the school spent, it must have easily exceeded $10,000 – beyond the means of any legitimate student group.
- Referendum campaign materials which misled students about the building project and the student fee referendum.
- An elections administrator, charged with ensuring a fair election, who seemed to place no limits on the university’s campaign.
Some have pointed to the strong mandate delivered by voters to justify the referendum’s validity. But does that mandate exist without MYM, without external funding, without school interference? If it does, then MYM, external funding, and school interference was all unnecessary and should have been disavowed. If it doesn’t, the argument basically boils down to saying that the effectiveness of MYM, external funding, and school interference in swaying votes is what lends the referendum credibility, which is absurd. This result should not stand.
*For example, Article 8(b) of the KUS Constitution says that referendum questions “must be passed by Council two weeks prior to the beginning of voting so that it may be advertised.“. The original approval of the question on March 3 is by the executive, not council. Subsequent minutes from March 10th (also an executive-only meeting) show that the first order of business was “edits with referendum”; voting started on
March 17th. Correction: voting started on March 16th.
AMS Code Section IX, Article 9, 1(b) says “the Constituency‟s chief elections official and its elections committee must conduct elections in an unbiased and impartial manner;” Allowing MYM to set up a voting booth and supervise KUS voting sites does not ensure an unbiased or impartial vote.