An Open Letter to the AMS

Posted by: | April 8, 2008 | 35 Comments

Sometimes in times of crisis it’s important to look at the big picture. So that’s what I’m going to attempt here. Make no mistake – the AMS has as fundamental a crisis as it can realistically expect to face. Since it has mandatory membership its very existence is not at stake, but its ability to make a positive change for students, either by lobbying or by campus presence, is very much at risk.

The AMS’ credibility is shot. The Lougheed and Bonfire Affairs have pretty much turned the AMS into as much of a joke as possible. Students generally used to be fairly ambivalent; it’s safe to say that the tide has turned. Students on all sides of the political spectrum have some serious grievance or other against the Society, and students in the middle are completely and entirely alienated by the insane and fractious factionalism that makes the U.S. House of Representatives look downright civil by comparison. Indeed, the only unifying belief is that the AMS isn’t worth students’ time. Not only has the AMS lost respect of students, it’s also lost the respect of those with whom it needs to have a productive relationship – the media, the University, various authorities, and the community at large. And so much time will have been spent on damage control, diverting energies from worthwhile reforms.

The root cause is the unnecessarily bitter factionalism that’s driven a wedge within the society. What began as an ideological cleavage has rapidly descended into the poisonous, petty politics of personal vendettas. While tempting, there’s no need to blame anything else.

There’s an upside – the AMS is still a relatively healthy society, and students have many reasons to appreciate it. It’s still in good financial shape, just passed a transformative referendum, and was on its way to becoming the centre of campus discourse once again. Moreover, the AMS has an opportunity this week, with a Council meeting and the Block Party, to take the first steps to make it right.

There are some relatively easy steps to take. My rules:

  1. A joint statement, signed by all the AMS execs. State what you agree on, and the areas that you can work on together to improve students’ lives.
  2. Don’t suppress debate – you’re not going to agree on everything. But, when there’s a disagreement, and it’s intractable, put it aside for a couple weeks. A month. Take a cooling-off period, and spend this Council meeting looking for common ground. If people are disagreeing on something fundamental – move on.
  3. Let the exec do its job. That’s hugely critical at this time. And let the exec speak for the AMS.
  4. Circle the wagons. You don’t have to become mindless cheerleaders, but make it known when you support each other. Again, find common ground.
  5. Pay attention to words. No ad hominem remarks about who’s sleeping with whom, or that people don’t respect democracy, or are reckless. If a word gets a negative reaction from someone – drop it. Antagonizing people gets us nowhere.
  6. No gossip. Scandal and gossip are fun and as “fun” as things get for student politicians, but right now, they’re adding fuel to the fire.
  7. Run a kick-ass Block Party. Channel your energy there, and give students an amazing send-off to the year. Be relevant!

But first, it’ll require one side to “blink.” In every intractable dispute, some party needs to be the first to stand down. Or at least take a step towards it. Please – do it. I’m not calling for a homogeneity of ideas, just a cooling-off period, and a focusing of the ideological cleavage in a productive way. Diversity of ideas breeds good policy and debate, but that can only happen if you find common ground to channel it. Mark my words – nothing constructive will happen this (exec) year without some consensus. The next few years of the AMS, and the student movement at UBC for the near future, depend on you.


35 Comments so far

  1. mkushnir on April 8, 2008 3:45 am


    thank you so much for your comments. i wrote on this topic last night – and actually touched on pretty much every point that you did – but unfortunately, my blog doesn’t enjoy the same scale of audience of UBC-I.

    again, this is exactly what needs to happen. i hope that council can discipline itself enough on wednesday to allow for some cool-off time.

    – scary mike.

  2. maayan kreitzman on April 8, 2008 3:58 am

    I read your note Scary Mike, and I agreed with it wholeheartedly. Tim and Scary are right: a cool-off, and a positive statement by ALL of the Exec is what is needed desperately right now.

    Tim, I’m not sure that I agree with you about the scale of the problem these last few unfortunate months have produced. It’s certain that factionalism has grown rampant in the AMS, but to students, the things that arguably matter the most (businesses, services, health plan, SUB) are just fine. To move forward though, there MUST be a functional council, adovcacy goals for the year, and some degree of confidence from students. The great success of the latest referendum shows that there’s certainly the potential for that.

    Bad aesthetics are sometimes just that. This episode sure looks bad. But I see factinalism as something that’s a bit unnavoidable – it goes in ebbs and flows. And don’t get me wrong, I worry that factional splits make the society less productive, less united, less representitive, and less powerful. But I don’t believe what we’ve seen here is differnet than what has existed for a long time. Some events have sort of flared it up, yes, and I’m not of the opinion that having as much dirty laundry and conflict “out in the open” is “healthy”. But all that doesn’t change the fact that the AMS is really a very well-run organization. I think it also doesn’t change that people still don’t care too terribly much, one way or another. We have an opportunity to turn this attention into something productive.

  3. Tim Louman-Gardiner on April 8, 2008 4:00 am

    I just noticed that Steve wrote a post with the exact same title. I swear I didn’t plagiarize either.

    But to make one thing clear – I’m not saying to move on and forget about these things that have happened. They are important, and raise some serious questions that can’t be ignored. But getting some common ground first, and taking a cooling-off period is probably a good idea at this stage.

  4. Mike Thicke on April 8, 2008 4:03 am


    I generally agree with your sentiments. However, do you have any actual evidence that people external to the AMS—the administration, media, government, community—see the AMS in a less positive light now than they did three months ago?

  5. Stephen McCarthy on April 8, 2008 4:11 am

    I was wondering about that, Tim. It almost seems like it could be a response to my post.

    I actually agree with most of what’s in here – don’t think it contradicts most of my point. I’d argue that there still needs to be some closure to these events, but during that process it’s important to turn attention away from ad hominem remarks that are just bound to inflate. I’d personally favour an “open, frank discussion” over a cool down period but can see the benefits of the latter and the difficulties of having the former at this time.

  6. Reka on April 8, 2008 4:23 am

    I’m with Tim on this one, Maayan… in an organization like the AMS it’s much, MUCH easier to do damage than good, and the exec have already done plenty of damage. While the AMS (outside the exec and council) still seems to be running smoothly, it doesn’t work in a vacuum; in order to get anything done on campus the exec have to be taken seriously by the groups they work with. Once the exec’s (and council’s) credibility has been shot it will be hard to get any of that respect back.

    In my experience, the best way to be taken seriously is to have something reasonable to say and to act like a grown-up. I think setting aside egos and coming up with a unified plan for the next little while is a great place to start.

  7. Tim Louman-Gardiner on April 8, 2008 4:28 am

    Mike – check out the comments page on any online news article (CBC, G&M, etc.) People see students, and their representatives, in a negative light. And the AMS, in a meeting with, say, the RCMP about, say, liquor licensing is still going to have to deal with the repercussions of this.

  8. Blake on April 8, 2008 4:29 am

    I like this post Tim. We don’t need to simply forget about the heated issues of Lougheed and the Knoll, but we can certainly deprioritize them. For me, it comes down to the fact that there are really only a certain number of hours in the day to work on things. So, as the AMS, will it benefit our members more to focus on the Lougheed and Knoll issues or focus on the Block Party and the recent PSE funding cuts? The answer is obvious. It’s fine for people to worry about Lougheed/Knoll, but these issues certainly should not be our main focus as a student society, even if they are the ones that people are most naturally interested in talking about.

    To answer Mike’s question, I’m not sure that there is evidence that the UBC administration discredits the AMS now more than before. In my dealings with UBC, most administrators seem to be fairly unaware of what’s been going on.

  9. Ashley on April 8, 2008 4:50 am

    Well it’s just like anything. If people are unhappy with something, they’re more likely to tell people than if they’re satisfied or apathetic.

    Although on some levels, I think perhaps this whole event through the dissatisfaction and disappointment could spark students to maybe become more involved. They should know that it was because of their apathy that to arguably radical students got elected into the AMS executive. Maybe after this, people will start to realize that their vote should matter, and that they can’t always rely on others, in the logic of collective action.

    But I pretty much do agree completely with Stephen and Tim. Thanks you guys, for all this work you do. I’ve always read the blogs, but it wasn’t really until this whole clusterfuck that I was provoked to actually comment. But I do really appreciate everything everyone at UBC-I, the DA, Blake and everybody else does. It’s a very valuable service. :)

  10. Blake on April 8, 2008 5:06 am

    Ashley – you have only Mark Latham to thank.

  11. Ashley on April 8, 2008 5:09 am

    Him too. He was included in the everybody else. :P

  12. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 5:23 am

    “Run a kick-ass Block Party”

    From what I remember, running ACF never made the AUS relevant in most people’s eyes…*sigh*.

  13. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 6:30 am

    Is the Lougheed petition coming up at the next meeting?

    I’ll bet it will be easy to get 1000 signatures of students ready to impeach Stef and probably Tristan.

    We might have three new executives come September if this fighting continues.

    No doubt Naylor and company are poised to strike if the Lougheed petition comes down.

  14. Tim Louman-Gardiner on April 8, 2008 6:52 am

    Anon 10:23 – Time to learn from that mistake.

    Anon 11:30 – If the Lougheed petition, or anything related to the impeachment or anything else of any other executive is due to be brought before Council, it should be tabled until the next meeting (at least).

    Sure, fight these fights, but there’s a more important battle to be fought right now.

  15. Steven Klein on April 8, 2008 6:55 am

    I agree with Tim. Student politics has really become poisonous. I have played my role in this, I’ll admit. There needs to be a bit of time to calm down and regroup. I still feel strongly that how the AMS has dealt with the situation with Alex Lougheed is wrong. I can also see where the sentiment against Stef is coming from, although I think people should take some more time to collect all the information. But I’m beginning to wonder more and more about how productive these debates are. Unfortunately, I *may* have a letter coming out in the Ubyssey tomorrow denouncing the AMS’s decision to overturn the Student Court ruling that I forgot about in the chaos of this weekend. But I don’t think those sort of divisive issues should be our focus right now.

  16. partydresspedant on April 8, 2008 6:59 am

    I’m with Ashley on this one – if anything, polarizing issues like these have made previously apathetic students like myself start to give a shit. If this huge surge of interest can be redirected toward goals we all share as students, a LOT could be accomplished.

    Also, anyone who had prematurely declared VFM an ineffective venture: You’s clearly wrong. I hope to see even more blogs and a stronger network to keep us abreast of student-relevant information in future.

  17. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 7:08 am


    I find myself going in the opposite direction. The past few weeks have re-affirmed my decision to avoid student politics. I can’t honestly say that I would want to willingly step into such a hostile environment.

  18. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 7:24 am

    “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.” – Thomas Jefferson

    I say let heads roll and feelings run rampant. If people can’t take the consequences of their actions, they really need to learn to calm down before they act, not after they mess up.

    At this point, shoving everything under the rug, while probably the most pragmatic move, would be the worst move in terms of credibility of the AMS. If the AMS, its council and its executive is too cowardly to deal with these clear problems directly, it deserves no respect.


    Tim’s sentiments remind me of a certain old Simpson episode:

    Admiral #1: Seaman Simpson, your actions have given the Navy a black eye from which it may never recover. I would throw the book at you, but I’ve been indicted on the Tailhook scandal. Goodbye!
    Admiral #2: I, too, would punish you, but, I’m under indictment for accepting bribes from military contractors.
    Admiral #3: I torpedoed a Carnival Cruise ship.
    Admiral #4: Impersonating the First Lady!

    The fifth admiral doesn’t even decide to speak, but instead files out, like the other four, in non-prosecution. Homer stands in an empty room, except for the janitor, who says “I think you’re off the hook.”
    “Woo hoo!”

  19. Tim Louman-Gardiner on April 8, 2008 7:37 am

    Anon 12:24 – You’d be right if this dispute was anything other than pure pride. A bloodletting won’t get anything done; it’ll just cause people to dig in and further entrench themselves.

    Ashley, partydepressant – I could agree. That’s how I got involved; when the AMS exec tried to fire the GM, I realised that this was somewhere I could make a contribution. I’m just not sure this is the kind of environment in which a sane person would seek to insert themselves right now.

    Steven – You’ve hit the nail on the head. The key here isn’t to forget the strong feelings, it’s to remove the personal from the equation. It’ll be impossible to have the debates and conversations that need to take place if the personal rhetoric isn’t dialed down several notches.

  20. Patrick Meehan on April 8, 2008 8:07 am

    Ive publicly stayed pretty neutral on this throughout, kinda the whole job thing, but also because its a mudsling I didnt want to really be involved with.

    *I* am discouraged from getting involved in politics. Ive sat down and thought to myself “why the hell am I bothering?” a lot in the past couple of weeks.

    Many of you know me, Im a student politics junky, ive been involved for years.

    When youve got people like me leaning back and feeling discouraged, you know its a poisoned atmosphere.

    Could the people creating the facebook groups stop. Could the councilors joining them stop.

    Ive told this story to a few people, but I feel it needs to be told again.

    Kwantlen, if you didnt know, has had one hell of a tumultuous number of years in their student government.

    My friend works over their in their student union. He gave me a call a couple of weeks ago and we chatted about student politics (as we tend to do).

    The reason for the call was quite entertaining, he called to let me know that for the first time in many many years, Kwantlen had significantly more functional student governance than UBC. I laughed at the time good naturedly, hoping things would pass.

    Im not laughing anymore.

  21. tristan on April 8, 2008 8:18 am

    that’s why i stopped reading this blog (and others) months ago. that’s a bad thing – because keeping communication open is important. but it’s just not possible to focus on work when people are so mean-spirited.
    by the way, this year’s exec has been doing great work – all of them – especially considering the personal attacks they’ve been facing.

  22. Fire Hydrant on April 8, 2008 8:30 am

    A couple points:

    1) If the Alex Petition has 1000 signatures, Council doesn’t do anything, and the petition is handed to Alex, we get an automatic referendum. In September. On a non-actionable question.

    2) I’m not convinced whether tabling things will solve them or let them fester and worsen (perhaps further calamities will allow current issues to pale in comparison?). Summer may give us an opportunity to put some things behind us and move on.

    3) I have come across administrators who are slightly suspicious of AMS execs at the moment. They’re generally willing to keep an open mind, and will be judging on future actions and competence, as they haven’t met most of those involved yet. Results may not be typical.

    4) Perhaps Council should pass a blanket motion censuring the entire exec — Alex for the ballot thing, Stef for getting charged with obstructing police (although I appreciate the degree to which her AMS job was kept separate from that), Tristan for possibly implying that he was speaking on behalf of the AMS, Mike for gross public drunkenness, and Chris for an indiscretion to be named later and a second-round draft pick.

  23. Ashley on April 8, 2008 8:52 am

    Tristan – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a situation where involvement in politics did not go hand-in-hand with mean-spirited attacks. There’s a reason you’re told never to discuss religion or politics with friends; it almost never ends pretty.

  24. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 10:51 am

    As an “AMS outsider” who’s been personally connected with UBC since they build Acadia, I’m a little confused by this post. The “big issues” are personal conflicts and hurt feelings? Huh.

    Outsiders don’t know who you are and don’t care if you got arrested for screwing a drunk fire hose.

    I can walk around campus with my college buddies and be stunned by the proliferation of free market condos and private mansions over the last decade. I can talk to students getting kicked out of Kits and Kerrisdale houses by investors and hear how they’re moving further and further from campus seeking affordable rents. (I can’t confirm, but I heard Maya House moved to New West.) The resulting impact on Translink’s “at capacity” lines is obvious to everybody, of course.

    There are more and more commercial developments each time I visit, but I’m not sure why the AMS allows competition with its SUB property from the metastasizing Village. Too busy fighting whether to sign an exclusive contract with Coke or Pepsi, I guess.

    A grad student recently told me about the “underground bus station” that’s supposed to replace the Bus Loop. She ranted about the University’s expressed ambivalence to the inevitable increase in sexual assaults it will cause. Who knew that there were people who study the relationship between predatory criminal activity and planning decisions?

    Why do I keep meeting BA grads working in construction? Isn’t there a co-op for English majors? No? Why not?

    Provincial budget cuts. ’nuff said.

    These seem like “big issues” for the sitting AMS council, but I could be wrong. What’s more important? Hurt feelings? Another renovation of the SUB? Surely the AMS isn’t going to change the logo again this summer?

    If the AMS really wants to be relevant it might want to start with the problems that students are talking about and fight like hell for the resources to solve them. If you have to start a few fires, so be it.

    -S7UMUX Grad

  25. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 2:16 pm

    1) If the Alex Petition has 1000 signatures, Council doesn’t do anything, and the petition is handed to Alex, we get an automatic referendum. In September. On a non-actionable question.

    Really? Why won’t this thing go away? Couldn’t they just stop it – can council do anything?

    Chris for an indiscretion to be named later and a second-round draft pick.


  26. brendon goodmurphy on April 8, 2008 5:07 pm

    Anon 3:51: Agreed…

    Except that the AMS is relevant and going lots on these issues.

    We produced a Housing report that got the Board and a lot of administrators talking, and is being fused into the campus plan process to address the student housing issue. It called for more student housing in south campus where they’re building expensive condos.

    We worke our asses off trying to get the University to reconceptualize what U-Blvd could be for this community and especially for students. We were dismayed at the University’s attempt to stuff it with retail that wouldn’t even succeed anyway. And despite the fact that there will be a bus loop (that not all students disagree with), they listened! One of our big complaints before was that they didn’t make room for changes to SUB in the plans, now if might all be SUB!

    We are addressed the pressing issue of adequate student social and study space through a SUB referendum.

    We talked to the City of Vancouver about the housing crisis students are facing in the region.

    We got conversations started across the province, trying to build a provincial lobby group. And with SFU out of CFS this is looking even better. And Stef has already made several public statements about budget cuts. Our President last year was the chair of CASA.

    The logo gave the AMS an updated, fresh, new look. The website was a start to communicating better with Members. There were many initiatives by Council to look into alternative governance structures for the AMS, and ways to get more students involved and engaged.

    And the current exec are managing swimmingly with all the controversy, I have a lot of faith in them, and they just had a huge win with the referendum…

    Someone, please tell me what the AMS isn’t doing right? We work hard, sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes politics trumps the discussion. We’re not falling into disarray.


  27. Ashley on April 8, 2008 5:29 pm

    That’s the problem, Brendon. All those things are true and they’re great, but that’s not what Joe and Jane the student, see. They see the Knoll Aid incident, and Lougheedgate, and all these so-called “scandals” rocking the AMS, and it makes them look fumbling. It might not be the actual case, but I think more average students know about Knoll Aid and Lougheedgate than conversations and relationships that the AMS has forged about student issues. Which are fantastic and important and great, but just not as easily publicized as students getting arrested and it being all over the news.

  28. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 6:09 pm

    Brendon and Anon 3:51 – Ashley’s right. The AMS isn’t going to fall apart, but the crisis is one of legitimacy.

    The AMS does a lot of good. But right now, its perceived place is not a good one. And the past month could seriously harm the remainder of this year, and spill over into 2009 elections, thus hurting the society for a couple years.

  29. Hayles on April 8, 2008 8:08 pm

    Hear hear.

    There’s been some discussion about how much recent events have effected students’ take on the AMS.

    Last night I spent some time handing out surveys for the Ubyssey. The questions were related to Knoll Aid 2.0, and were designed to judge students’ feelings towards the VPD and the protesters.

    Personal estimate? 1 in 2 students knows that Knoll Aid 2.0 even happened. Arrests? Controversy? Exec involvement? Much, much less.

    I’m not saying this in contradiction of anybody. But I thought it would make a good frame of reference.

  30. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 11:40 pm

    Re: hayles

    Don’t drag the VPD into this. This was a campus RCMP issue. The VPD responded in a mutual aid capacity and were in all likeliness under the control of our local University RCMP detachment. Don’t mix the two up.

  31. Anonymous on April 9, 2008 3:35 am

    Hear, hear, indeed. Let me just express my joy and gratitude for those of us graduating soon that we can leave this place.

  32. Alfie on April 9, 2008 7:56 am

    Sigh. when did ubc become the “School for Scandal”?

  33. Anonymous on April 9, 2008 8:26 am

    So I’ve read a lot of bickering between various people on ubc insiders wall and the ubyssey, but is there really any evidence that this so called “split” is actually occurring within the exec?

    It seems to me that each exec member is basically just doing their own thing, rather than there being some sort of internal war or power struggle…

    Besides did students really expect anything better given the way the elections were run? The results for all the races should have been nullified anyways based on the lack of secret ballot…

  34. Blake on April 10, 2008 5:52 am

    After thinking about this some more, I’ve posted my response to this issue on my blog.

  35. Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes on April 11, 2008 6:15 pm

    Just as an update on what the administration thinks of students. Yesterday some councilors and the executives from the GSS and the AMS met with the Board of Governors at the Sage Bistro from 4:30 to 6pm. In this function, both Toope and Bennett did not spare words to praise the students, praise the AMS and the execs. I also had the opportunity to describe the events of last Friday to BoG members and get their feedback. Note that never before was there a meeting called by the administration to mingle with the executives of our students societies. There was also a photographer taking pictures of the event, and I guess the administration itself will be using those photos in an official publication. Certainly, it won’t make our councils look bad. Also, I am convinced that face-to-face conversations are much more effective than loaded writing on blogs, and the last council meeting proved that. People who were worried about what happened after Knoll Aid 2.0 and who were uninformed of the detailed particulars of the event had the opportunity to meet some victims and witnesses and to enter a very fruitful and civic dialogue after the council meeting ended.


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