Candidates show little divergence on key issues in first Senate debate

Last night, seven senator-at-large candidates showed little disagreement but varying levels of institutional knowledge when discussing academic concessions, new Senate policies and Indigenous initiatives.

This year’s field includes incumbents Romina Hajizadeh and Kamil Kanji, and newcomers Ayesha Irfan, Kareem Hassib, Mathew Ho, Davey Li and Sultana Razia. 

Following the extreme-weather conditions during the December exam period, candidates expressed sympathy towards the students impacted and called for a reform of the academic policy surrounding academic concessions.

Hajizadeh, Li, Kanji and Razia expressed discontent with the academic concession policy and said it was unfair for the university to expect students to come to campus in such conditions. 

Li said that instructors should have more “flexibility and discretion” over the format of their finals in general.

Irfan and Hassib both said the exam situation highlighted the flaws in the academic concession process. 

“You have to type up an entire paragraph convincing your advisor why you should have that time off …. There should be more opportunities or more ways available to students to voice why they would like academic concessions,” said Irfan. 

Li and Razia also agreed that notice for cancellations should be given to students prior to 6 a.m. the day of, as many students may need to start to commute before that time.

When asked about the UBC Academic Freedom Policy, newcomer candidates sidestepped the question highlighting their personal beliefs about academic freedom, while incumbents had more to say. 

Hajizadeh said the Academic Freedom Policy left a “potential grey area in terms of freedom for students to organize that exists within that policy,” which could be fixed by making the language “a bit clearer.” 

Kanji said the imposition of mandatory open educational resources (OERs) should not be included under the definition of academic freedom.

The answers from newcomers displayed a lack of specific knowledge about the policy. While discussing the two previous topics, Ho, Li and Irfan also expressed interest in increasing the usage of hybrid format and OERs in classes.  

Finally, all candidates expressed support for the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP), a comprehensive plan to support Indigenous communities and further incorporate Indigenous knowledge and perspectives at all university levels. 

All candidates noted the importance of the fourth goal of the ISP, indigenizing our curriculum. Kanji pointed to past success in the Senate to illustrate that indigenizing the curriculum is feasible.  

“[Senate] prevented the passage of an MBA track that only had an optional Indigenous credit with the intention that this will only pass if it is a mandatory credit,” said Kanji.

Ho and Razia said they would push for Indigenous visibility beyond the classroom. 

Razia proposed the university observe “significant days for First Nations" and Ho advocated for “experiential learning” experiences with Indigenous content and encouraging profs to inform their students about Indigenous centred-activities on campus.  

When asked how to increase Indigenous curriculum at UBC, candidates had varying answers. 

Razia and Irfan agreed that including Indigenous voices in academia would be necessary. 

Hajizadeh and Hassib said Indigenous content could be included in courses even if they may not be evident at first sight, with Hassib noting that “Indigenous people exist all over the world.” 

Li said Indigenous content could be added incrementally, while Kanji highlighted the importance of “centring Indigenous voices” in class.

Candidates will debate again tonight at 6:40 p.m. in the Lev Bukhman Lounge in the Nest.

This article was updated at 10:50 a.m. on March 4 to clarify Kanji's statement on the academic freedom policy.

Follow us at @UbysseyNews on Twitter and follow our election coverage starting February 27. This article is part of our 2023 AMS Elections coverage.