KUS referendum prompts controversy and speculation

A referendum to secure $5 million for the construction of a building for the School of Kinesiology has passed.

The referendum asked students from the School of Kinesiology to approve a $250 student fee increase to be handed in its entirety to the university. The fee will go towards funding the building of the Community Health Sciences Centre, to be used by the School of Kinesiology, the Faculty of Education and the School of Nursing, but the onus is falling directly on Kinesiology undergrads to pay for it.

Although the project is still in its preliminary stages of development, it is slated to cost $88 million in total; $78 million of which will come from the government, $5 million from donors and the rest from Kinesiology students.

The campaign has been headed by Make Your Mark (MYM), a student-led organization that launched earlier this year with the intention of securing funding for a space for kinesiology students. According to Robyn Freiheit, who spearheads MYM, the need for a Kinesiology building was identified by the Executive Council of the KUS four years ago and has been a point of discussion ever since.

The proposed fee increase has faced a lot of criticism and speculation from observers, who have framed it as a money grab on behalf of the School of Kinesiology. An article posted by UBC Insiders called the referendum a "sham", stating “It’s being driven by the School of Kinesiology, using the KUS as a shell organization through which to institute the fee.”

The rationale behind the claim is that MYM Special Projects Coordinator Robyn Freiheit is on UBC’s payroll to push the building project forward.

When approached for response, KUS President Jason Quach explained why MYM has been organizing the project.

“[The CHSC has] always been on the plate of the KUS but unfortunately it's just because of the way the KUS is structured we don’t have the capacity to move this project forward.”

As a result, 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. The school accepted Freiheit’s terms and she is currently paid for her work with MYM.

When Freiheit was asked if she saw her position as an employee of the university and the coordinator of a “student-led” organization as a conflict of interests, she said her “motivations to stay involved in this project have come from [her] personal experiences as a Kinesiology student displaying a dire need for a new space for our program.”

Freiheit reiterated that the MYM student action committee and the KUS represent the interest of students.

"The purpose of this position was to assist the KUS, and give students a voice in building planning while providing a platform for expressing their views ... the information flow was always from the students (KUS and MYM Action Committee) onwards to the school, never the other way around,” said Freiheit.

Others have criticized the fact that Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the referendum was presented to AMS council without giving councillors time to digest the information. The motion was added to the agenda the day of the meeting and the MOU was not circulated in advance.

VP Finance Mateusz Miadlikowski said that the MOU felt rushed.

“I was uncomfortable signing it due to the amount of fees collected and the importance of the MOU and the direction it sets,” he said.

The motion was postponed until March 25. KUS president Jason Quatch was noticeably absent from the meeting and councillors moved to postpone the motion once again.

This did not stop MYM from publishing that the building features had been confirmed in the MOU “by all relevant positions at UBC,” specifically citing the AMS, in a Q&A on March 5 -- prior to the referendum.

The post is misleading. It refers to the fact that, at the time, the referendum question had been brought up at a series of consultations with various student leaders on campus, including members of the AMS, but it had not previously been brought to Council.

Aside from observer speculation and backroom chatter, the bottom line is that Kinesiology students want a building to call their own. They have voted in favour of the student fee increase to fund the CHSC.

According to Freiheit, moving forward will involve “working to develop a strategy to keep the momentum going as we engage with other stakeholders of the project and work towards a potential donor campaign for our building.”

It will also involve pushing the controversial MOU through the AMS Council chambers, along with the results of the referendum itself.

For that to happen, all parties involved must remain accountable.