Saturday, March 31, 2007

An Ideological Crusade (or, a gross waste of my tax dollars)

So, the Provincial Government is planning to implement a tobacco free campus initiative, and certain members of campus are just too overjoyed at this.

I currently sit on the committee which looks at Policy 15, which will be drastically revised to ban all sales of tobacco and tobacco related products from campus grounds. (Do I smell a lawsuit from Shoppers?)

Forgetting about the tyrannical aspect of this legislation for a second here, I simply do not see the point of its existence. This whole project only works if you presume that a smoker will quit smoking if this policy/and Provincial legislation is put in place. If there are people who actually believe this is going to follow, enlighten me as to how.

From my experience we will always find out where we can get smokes, even if we have to hop on a 17 and run to Safeway on Sasamat. So the whole effect of this is merely a redistribution of wealth to outside of the borders of campus grounds, and potential loss of a leases in the Student Union Building (ie Lucky Market) and University Boulevard (Shoppers). Well, maybe not Shoppers. Oh by the way, this will not make us stop smoking. Any arguments of trying to protect the non-smokers from second hand smoke therefore quickly degenerate.

This ideological crusade is a feeble attempt secondary to violating an individual's liberty. And it will also only pass legislature because the smoking population (15%) is a minority in BC. If this had applied to alcohol, there would be much greater objection.

Nevertheless, my final point is this: while we are driven by this benevolent mission to rescue people from their obvious health catastrophe (oh let me be your saviour, you misguided lamb), the very UBC members spearheading this with valor are conveniently forgetting the fact that their very pension plan is heavily invested in tobacco companies. While their entire life mission may be to make people quit smoking on campus, what they fail to address is their own deeply rooted systemic reliance on Tobacco companies.

(Timeline: this is going to Board on May 7, circulated around the community for "consultation", and then voted on at the next Board meeting.)



As I gaze longingly back at years of yore, reflecting on my precious half-decade involved at UBC, I can't help but notice the absolute depths to which campus community have plummeted. Seriously. Where are all the beer gardens?

I used to love beer gardens. Not because I'd get smashed, but because it was where the community happened. A bzzr garden wasn't about beer, it was about the roving community of people who'd hang out on Fridays, travelling the campus. I can say that, without hesitation, but for beer gardens I'd never have been elected to BoG. In all honesty, involvement in that social circle was that tiny bit of a foot in the door that got me involved in the orbit of campus politics.

I can't help but feel that those days are behind us. And I, for one, find that sad. Even more sad are the explanations I've come up with. (And yes, I do spend time worrying about this. For reals.)

  • Admissions averages. Students have higher marks coming out of high school, and are expecting to keep them. Fridays are less beer-y, more study-y.
  • Higher tuition, more loan dependency. Students are more likely to be working on Fridays or studying (because they were working on Thursday) or sleeping because they're exhausted.
  • Pressure to get second degree. The first degree is becoming rapidly obsolete. Students feel the need to get into grad/law/med school, and that means higher marks.
  • Police crack-down. Seriously. What gives? The cops showed up to every beer garden on campus in the first semester, creating a "chill" around future events. They're denying licenses and killing on-campus booze-based socializing.
  • The "millennial" generation. Bzzr gardens are a starting off point for entrepreneurial fun. You really have to make your own, bzzr gardens were just a way to meet up and get started. The millennial generation are kids who like rules, need a little hand-holding, and are far more likely to go to a more formal party environment or structured social activity.
  • Specialization of fun. Less affinity and sense of community to the institution as a whole, more with narrow friends. Probably a function of the combination of things above.

I could be wrong. But I don't think I am.

And the worst part? Grad, law, and med schools don't need more keener kids, they need well-rounded people with *gasp* social skills. And here's a tip - in the real world, people drink booze. Sometimes a lot. And college is probably as good a time as any to learn how to drink socially. It's way better than getting blasted on tequila in res.

I miss beer gardens.

(Yes, I'm aware of the irony of my posting this at 11pm on a Saturday. I'm in the middle of a paper. Bite me.)


Return of the Political?

Stephanie Ryan Photography

So I've been facebook-stalking the newly elected blood to AMS Council, and I think in general we have a good group. And with good I mean politically charged and fairly capable.

Aside from Amy Boultbee and Kate Power, the bunch seem fit to enter the AMS arena and add some interesting discussions to the AMS committees and the Council agenda.

Andrew Forshner is a debate hack (Tim probably knows him), and labels his political leanings as "moderate". My guess is he's one of those conservative-leaning Young Liberals of UBC. And you know what? While we would politically disagree on issues, I'm really happy he got elected. This is part of re-injection of political urgency.

Case in point, his platform says "I have been an avid follower of AMS and AUS politics for 4 years, and am running to advocate for ideas that I believe are in the best interests of UBC students.

I think that the AMS wastes too much time and too much money on policy and events that affect too few students as possible. I want to change this so that the AMS becomes a student society that affects all students as much as possible.

UBC is a commuter campus whose populace is ill informed about the multitude of fascinating events that happen every day on campus. If elected I would push the AMS to create a forum that would inform students about all of the social and educational events that are occurring on campus everyday, from better promotions in the SUB to mass e-mails detailing what’s happening “This Week at UBC”."

This is awesome! I hope he will get onto the AMS CPG (Communication and Planning Group).

Joel Koczwarski is one of our favourites as he hasn't thrown down the political towel after the AMS elections. I'm happy his platform is also strongly sustainability-driven, as Sarah Naiman admitted this wasn't her strongest part of her background knowledge. His enthusiasm could infect the AMS Impacts Committee with energy and progressive agenda items.

My secret political crush on AMS has been Sam Heppell. He seems like the eager enthusiastic type that I can see with AMS exec potential. His first meeting, he was already biting into the discussions and NOT sheep-voting (aka voting with the crowd because you have no clue what's going on, which is one of my biggest pet peeves).

His platform hits the nail on the head: "I am eager to continue that work. One of the most important issues facing UBC right now is campus development, and the AMS must stand up and raise the concerns and needs of students. Although far from being an expert in planning and development, I have some experience to offer. In my home community, I have worked on the Official Community Plan review process, and serve on a regional district Advisory Planning Commission. I will work to ensure that UBC embarks upon
growth and development that is smart and sustainable, and that always puts
the needs of students first.

Although I have served on the AMS for only a short time, I am proud
of my performance so far (including a 100% attendance record!). If
re-elected, I will continue to represent you with competence and commitment.

Then there's Nathan Crompton. I'm biased because I helped him with his campaign. I expect him to remind council constantly of the tough issues - the systemic problems on accessibility, research directions catering towards corporations. People will find him "radical" because he'll force council to think critically. He is from a different league than the typical "I want to get involved (giggle)" or "I love Arts so vote for me (giggle again)". Make no mistake, he has a very keen understanding of the issues and will put council on the spot. I just hope his soft-spoken nature will project his opinion effectively onto the often rowdy council.

I don't really have much praise for Amy Boultbee or Kate Power as their platforms only speak about their experience without a demonstrated interest in actually sitting on AMS Council. Amy likes going to Model United Nations in Boston. Oh and lives in Totem Park and enjoys swimming! Er, ok. Thanks for that. (Anyways.)

Kate thinks that "going from [the position of French Club Representative on the AUS] to AMS Rep is not a huge leap. In fact, all I am doing is adding some committees and making what I already do with the AUS official". She has forgotten the 5 hour+ meetings every second Wednesday. Though I do like her attitude: "I am a responsible, positive individual and would love to be more connected to the AUS and the AMS." Let's give her the benefit of doubt and hope the dedication for AUS transfers itself to the AMS as well.

I withhold commenting on Jessica Hannon because I can't find any information on her.


AUS Election Results

Who won the AUS elections?

Stephanie Ryan (Incumbent)

VP Internal
Vicki Lindström

VP External

Tyler Allison

VP Finance

Michelle Yuen

Academic Coordinator

Stash Bylicki

Social Coordinator
Jeremy McElroy.

Student Services

Michael Serebriakov

Ashley Pritchard

AMS Reps (7)
Jessica Hannon
Nathan Crompton
Amy Boultbee
Sam Heppell
Joel Koczwarski
(Kate Power????
Andrew Forshner???)

Erin Rennie

General Officer
Chris Chapman
Mike Jerowsky
Katherine McGill
Sarah Howe
Tom Lamb


Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Knowledge Gap

I don't want to draw attention away from the post below. Read it, too. But that's why I've hidden this one behind a jump. But don't let that stop you from reading this one, either. Read it all! Just remember there's two new posts tonight. We're busy.

Don't worry, this isn't a post about the Ubyssey. But in a way it is. See some people, including Gina, have taken the Ubyssey to task for what they see as shoddy reporting on campus affairs. My opinion is slightly different. Would I prefer them to be a more campus-centered paper? Of course - if they don't, who else will? (I draw a distinction, though, between covering AMS minutiae and campus affairs; the latter are important, the former far less so.)

But my issue with the Ubyssey isn't really an issue about the Ubyssey, it's about the campus political machinery as a whole. However, I'll use the paper as an example. See it's my sense that those who write the paper don't have enough of a knowledge base to adequately cover what's important - heck, they don't have enough knowledge to know what's important in the first place. It's really hard to cover, say, the development of a new campus plan or the OCP, MCP, MOU, or amendments thereto without already knowing what all those are, what they mean, and how they inter-relate.

Now be honest - who here actually knows what they all mean? My guess is there's maybe ten students who do.

Let's be clear - I don't fault them. It's a very rational ignorance. The required information is very high-cost - it takes significant energy to educate yourself to even the baseline degree necessary to understand these things. And to someone who's a student, has a zillion other things, it's just not worth it. It really isn't.

I also don't think it's just the Ubyssey. I think the vast majority of the student political world is the same way. The vast majority don't have the baseline understanding of how development politics work - they just don't like big buildings. Most don't understand the budgetary process or Policy 72, but don't like when tuition goes up. Again, I don't fault this (much).

Why? Because nobody's taken the time to educate them. This information is very high-cost, relatively inaccessible. To get all the background info is difficult enough - to synthesize it into accessible forms without dumbing it down is a challenge unto itself. We're all students with lots on our plates.

So what's the solution? It's for those who know the stuff to get out there, spread the word. Produce the one-sheets, the backgrounders, make sure there's a baseline level of knowledge that's far more broad than the AMS executive offices. (Don't think all student politicians have this. Far from it.) There's so much knowledge and information tucked away in our brains, and it's just going to waste up there. Also, don't assume our constituents (and readers) don't care. They do - nobody's just ever told them why these things are important. ("They spend your fees" doesn't make the AMS important, by the way... get a better answer.)

My humble suggestion: if you're rich in knowledge, spread it far and wide, and don't chide those whose knowledge level isn't up to yours. And if your knowledge level ain't so great, listen and learn from those who've done the legwork. Ask! There's a good chance they're willing to talk.


New Tidbits from Senate

The UBC Vancouver Senate met and here are some updates:

1. We just established five new Chairs in the UBC Institute of Mental Health, three of which were donated by the Sauder Family through a $10 Million endowment fund, matched by the provincial government: The Sauder Chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, SC in Geriatric Psychiatry and Depression, and SC in Psychotherapy.

This establishment, most of which will physically realize itself in the Brain Research Centre (UBC Hospital), is highly overdue. Senator Kirby said it best when he stated that "Mental health has become the orphan of our healthcare system".

2. We're in a budget crisis. Hiring "chills" have been implemented. So what? So we need to establish a "mid-level strategic academic planning process" which will enable us plan ahead in a long term budget process that's sustainable. President Toope has been talking about this for quite a while, and so has the AMS after the NSSE Survey results put us dead last from other colleges in terms of performance in student engagement. President Toope has emphasized that this has been the constant topic of discussion at the Executive Committee.

George Mackie (VP Academic and Provost pro tem) reported to the Senate on the SCAPP (Steering Committee for Academic Planning Process) which has an aggressive timeline and aggressive goals: it wants to ask the questions we've been shunning these past years - how do the forces and tensions that run through the University arrive at a planning process for a sustainable budget?

Clearly, there are four "forces" that are immediately identifiable: 1) Trek 2010 which is our Mandate, 2) student needs for high quality of learning and the faculty's interest in quality research, 3) the government interest in our activities and consequent support, 4) and what we actually contribute to society and the perception of us by the public (insert cynical comment on ivory tower syndrome here).

So how do we arrive at a sustainable budget process keeping all of these dynamic forces in mind? That's what the Steering Committee plans to address. George Mackie clearly recognizes that the perfect budget process is not a realistic goal given that all universities have been striving for such for hundreds of years and still not succeeded, but noted it was nevertheless integral to work towards.

He'll be consulting the AMS, Student Senate Caucus, GSS, Faculty Association, Committee of Deans, and so on. What wasn't addressed (and what I forgot to ask) was who exactly sits on this committee? I just emailed him to find out.

3. Nancy Knight presented on Stage III of the Campus Plan. We are at the Key Policy Directions stage - the thirty broad policies are listed on the website here: Some of personal interest (arbitrarily picked out by me, sorry) are:
University experience
#13. Improve the experience of the University through the establishment of a pedestrian-only core, centred along Main Mall that contains high quality amenities and services, recognizing the need for handicapped access and be supported by improved transit service.

Flexible learning spaces
#3. New buildings should maximize the flexibility in the design of the learning spaces to enable students and faculty to incorporate innovative teaching and learning methods.

#21. Create a campus where people feel safe at all hours of the day. New buildings should provide entrances and windows onto well-lit main streets and pedestrian corridors throughout the campus.
[interestingly, now there is a significant number of students taking night classes (7-10pm) and therefore the original campus plan - to have a very quiet, low lit campus, needs to be revisited. Lots of areas are not safe for students.]

My critique of these policy directions is that they seem suffocating. Unlike the Trek2010 vision, these policy directions leave very little flexibility without sparking imagination of what they actually arrive at. This sentiment was also echoed by other senators last night.

4. English 112 might not be a requirement anymore! There was an ad-hoc committee struck in 2001 that looked at writing and communication requirements for first year students, which unfortunately died in 2004, never to actually report to senate like it was supposed to. Now we're at a second try and it's looking like some infrastructural support is willing to occur - Nancy Gallini was mildly in favour of this committee happening so long as the English Department and the Faculty of Arts was involved in the dialogue. Some ideas were that first year students could take other courses so long as they had essay writing components in the course (like a History course or PoliSci course instead of English 112). Currently the only program that has an exemption is one Engineering program. I can't speak to the course quality itself because I milked my AP credits, but I don't like how our Faculty Janet Giltrow is making so much profit on the book that all undergraduate students going through this campus have to get their hands at.

5. There's a fresh crop of student senators (I'm done!). The capable Tariq Ahmed is the new Caucus chair, and the AMS rep is the super keen Alfie Lee. I hope Brendon Goodmurphy will start to show up to Student Senate caucus as it is important that he involves himself as part of this body early such that this relatively new and inexperienced group knows to involve the AMS in its communication and planning - historically there's been a lot of overlap yet lack of dialogue.

Jaspreet Khangura's Pass/Fail option is going forward to the senate committee levels - Teaching and Learning and Academic Policy (as the final stop). Jeff and Jas have been working at this a lot and since Jas sits on both committees I am cautiously optimistic that this project will go through. When was the last time a student-driven policy motion passed? A long time. (It's interesting to observe that our ivy-league crop of faculty members and administrators get slightly nostalgic when this issue came forward. "I benefited from this at MIT, indeed" or "My daughter is at Columbia and boy did she like this option", or from the President himself who attended Harvard University.)


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

UBC on CBC radio! (X2)

I'm always on the lookout for UBC-related news in the mainstream media. And today, since I had the scholastically inauspicious displeasure of being sick as a dog at home, I had lots of time to mope around the house listening to CBC radio and doing not much else. To my happiness, two pretty interesting stories came up about UBC.

  • UBC Food Systems Project - Senior Instructor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems Alejandro Rojas was interviewed on the program BC Almanac by Mark Forsythe about this unique project. The project originated with the Faculty of Land and Food systems' desire to build the study of the local food system, particularly using the UBC Farm, into their curriculum. Thus, AGRO 450 students now study and do projects to better understand and to improve UBC's food system - of course, as a microcosm of the city's food system, and the world's food system as a whole. A variety of other organizations on campus collaborate in this somewhat hodge-podge investigation/effort, including the UBC Campus Sustainability Office’s SEEDS Program, UBC Food Services, the Alma Mater Society’s Food & Beverages Department, the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm, UBC Waste Management, and UBC Campus and Community Planning. Dr. Rojas will be speaking on the topic of the UBC Food Systems Project at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue this Friday from 12-2 as part of the Imagine BC series there. I couldn't find details on the site, but there's contact info, and general info about the Imagine BC dialogues here (click!)for those interested.
    There's a UBC reports piece here (click!) about the project too. Hopefully the AGRO 450 folks will have an official website in the near future.

  • AMS Art collection - This one was on the BC reports news, or maybe the Afternoon Show (also on CBC radio, of course). Interestingly, a dime out of your student fees goes to maintaining and expanding a collection of art owned by the AMS. The collection used to be displayed regularly in Brock Hall and in the SUB gallery, but due to ebbing and flowing interest, plus the lack of secure gallery space around campus to display the valuable pieces most of them are now perpetually locked up in a safety vault away from culture-seeking eyes (taken out for airing a couple times a year). The original piece in the collection, Abandoned Village by E.J. Hughes was last appraised at $150 grand; the whole collection is worth between 6 and $800 000 at last appraisal (which was a while ago in the 80's). But, two recent purchases to the collection of contemporary photography reflecting the changing landscape of BC have reignited some interest in the art collection. Anyhow, our AMS president, and the current AMS art commissioner both spoke very nicely, and it was good to learn about something totally new about the AMS on the news!
    An archive entry about the AMS art collection can be found here (click!)
    Also, have a gander here at an oldschool Ubyssey from Oct. 31, 1957 containing a little piece on the then newly-established collection (left column on 4th page)

It's nice to see that some unique stories have been picked up by the mainstream media. Either this doesn't happen too often, or I'm not home sick all that often, but there's probably untapped potential for great communication between the mother corp, (and other media), and the AMS about our goings-on. There were only 5 official news releases written by the AMS (at least only five published to the AMS website) in this fall/winter session so far. That's not great. Clearly student issues and innovative projects have currency, like in the two cool stories I heard today. Get on it Matthew Naylor.


AUS Presidental Slap-Fest

I don't like writing about elections. But it's kinda our bread and butter, and people seem to enjoy it. Hmm.

To begin, my colleague has taken the AUS to task for its elections administration. In short, I differ in her assessment, to a point. The voting has been highly visible, well-planned and well-executed; I suspect it's almost impossible for an Arts student to miss a voting booth over the course of the week. The downside? There's like NO information about candidates anywhere. Nothing in the Underground that I've yet seen (from the VFM contest winners, no less), nothing on the AUS website. Nothing except posters. Which are designed to get elected, not to inform. You have to be a Facebook friend, in which case you already know the candidates. (I pretty much blame the candidates. They're just as responsible for getting the word out as Elections staff. The staff in this election have been first-rate.)

So what info would be out there? Well, that's the problem. It's a very thin gruel, at best. There's AJ Johal's site, which really just reads like a resume of a high school student councillor. AJ, love ya, but you've gotta leave high school off the qualifications. Seriously. His site has another major weakness. He doesn't tell us why we should vote for him. "Because it matters," he says. Unfortunately, his definition of why it matters is merely the stock "we have your money" argument.

Then there's Steph Ryan. She's produced a platform, impressive only measured in relation to her opponent's. Problem is, most of it can be really better done by someone else. Free tutoring? AMS rep. Don't promise things you can't personally deliver. She promises to publish meeting times and use the AUS web site to get this information out. But big friggin' deal - you find me a student who's interested in committee meetings and minutes, and I'll show you a student who's already involved. Listening to students is a good idea, to be sure. But the first post on her web site is devoted to what she's heard from students. Either her own past consultation has been inadequate, or her future consultation wasteful. And SUB Concourse office hours? Good idea. But you have your own MASS space that it's probably more important to leverage.

But at least she has a platform. And she's done very good work with the Faculty to provide services and help drive Arts engagement. Unfortunately, neither candidate, though, has really taken stock of the true measure of the irrelevance of the AUS, both as a political and non-political entity. What are the problems?

  • Physical space. They don't fully leverage MASS, certainly not as effectively as Ladha. MASS is designed in such a way as to give the prime, interior space to AUSers, while ordinary students float about the periphery. As physical space, it makes the AUS users into the insiders, while everybody else is an outsider. Literally. There are better ways to use the space, and to get students using the rooms. They get a gold star for the events calendar, though.
  • The size of Arts. It's huge. Just too big. And there's no sense of identity. Why? Probably because of the size. An AUS President needs to consider how best to address this, and to build a coherent sense of Artsiness. How? I suspect it involves working with the departments, as they're far more likely to be a driver of student engagement. Faculty reps on AUS are woefully under-used (just an ACF clean-up crew, basically) and that's a communication link that needs to develop.
  • The relationship with the Faculty. It's strong right now. But there's a danger of being co-opted. I recall hearing something about the AUS using the MASS student levies (since the mortgage is paid off) to fund Arts Advising. That's fucked up. It's a core academic service - the University has no business making students pay. So it's an important existential question - how close ought the relationship be between the Society and Faculty? Sure, co-operation is good, when it comes to Last Lecture etc., but is that meaningful co-operation, or just titular, consultative input? And is there a danger of co-opting the student voice?
I'm an Arts grad. I never had any affinity for the AUS; I only voted for my friends, and sometimes Spencer. (I kid, I kid. I actually never voted for Spencer. Fa fa.) (Okay, that's a joke too.) But it's an organization too often dominated by the politically ambitious (PoliSci students, of course), fighting an uphill battle in a faculty whose student engagement is probably among the lowest on campus.

There's an existential conversation that needs to happen, and I don't see that.


Monday, March 26, 2007

I take issues with the AUS Elections

Hey if you're in arts, you can vote in the AUS elections right now. Vote until the 30th. The polling booths are supposed to be on either entrance of the SUB and somewhere in Buchanan, 10-5pm.

Also, since the people running the elections did not specify how many people you can vote for in some positions, here are the specifics: 11 General Officers, and 7 AMS reps (correct me if I'm wrong)

As to their write ups and who's running - there are no write ups and a list of who's running is also not on the AUS official website. But there's an unofficial list here (see two posts down). So I guess, vote for your friends? What an..... interesting way to run an election. If you have Facebook you have to join "Aus Elections" (and they have to approve you as a friend) in order to see the write ups of some candidates.

I asked Stephanie Ryan (AUS President incumbent) where I could receive the information on where the polling booths would be, here was her reply:
"i'm not sure, but i do know that the candidates will be able to tell their friends where to go and that we've hit 3 major entrance-ways and that our booths will be well-labelled, so in 5 days most Arts students will probably stumble across a voting booth at at least one point in time"

While I agree that a lot of arts students will be able to see the booths, I don't think this reliance on having the candidates tell their friends where to go vote is a smart idea for two reasons:
1) The campaign period ended on the 23rd before voting began on the 26th, and the information on ballot locations wasn't available until the 25th. So you would technically be breaking the rules on campaigning unless you contacted every single friend on a "private conversation" basis to let them know where they could vote.
2) Relying on "telling your friends" skews the elections once again towards voting for your friend. Especially since the write-ups of candidates are not even accessible unless you check Facebook and memorize who you want to vote for and then try to remember the list of people at the poll.



Athletics has decided not to close the Aquatic Centre gym! They apologized for the process, and agreed to find other ways to deal with the (minor) issues raised like liability, class space, and old machines.

This is a victory that happened because the AMS and students at large worked together. The AMS reps couldn't have done it without a mobilized popular support, and the students wouldn't have had a voice without the focusing impact of the AMS reps.

It's the kind of symbiotic lobbying efforts that need to be common practice.

And, if this has proven anything, it's really not that hard to do. Plus it's fun when you win.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Ubyssey Reportcard

The following was submitted Feb 15, 2007 to the Ubyssey Editorial board and was rejected based on "libellous grounds".

"The Ubyssey Reportcard"

In 2005 the Canadian Medical Association Journal's editorial board was
threatened by its publisher, the Canadian Medical Association. The
editor-in-chief John Hoey was dismissed after he published two
controversial studies which put its publisher in a politically awkward
situation: a study on the way pharmacists dispensed Plan B
contraceptives and a story questioning the appointment as Minister of
Health in the Conservative Canadian Government, given his support for
privatisation of health services. As a consequence the entire
editorial board quit in protest, as their right to full editorial
autonomy in the future had been threatened.

Another incident occurred in 1993 when The Ubyssey newspaper published
an issue with unquestionably sexually violent content, whereby
sponsors and the University's women's office not only complained to
the paper but its publisher, the Almar Mater Society (AMS) itself.
What followed was a series of poorly thought out events: the AMS shut
the paper down in 1994. It then tried to set up a publishing board
which still allowed the AMS some political influence over the
editorial direction of the paper. Finally, a passed in January of
1995 whereby "members of the AMS recognize the Ubyssey as the official
student campus publication, [and] that 5$ per active member per year
(pro rated for part time students) be collected [...] for the
publication of an autonomous student newspaper at The UBC." (AMS
Archives) And this is where we are now.

Though I can't speak for the years when I wasn't around, our official
student newspaper has since held a fluctuating amount of suspicion
towards the AMS. Perhaps rightfully so, given the collective impact
it has had on the paper historically, though it should be noted that
there are now no procedural avenues for the AMS to influence its
annual political will onto the paper.

I wanted to note that this letter has been submitted on February 15,
2007 before the AMS Executive Reportcard has been published. This is
important as I am not publishing this as a backlash of The Ubyssey
editorial board's assessment of the exec whose performance I've
overseen this year as a member of AMS council.

Rather, I would like to write on the overall holistic performance of
the newspaper this past year, consolidating the general displeasure
expressed throughout the year by, but perhaps not limited to, the
people I interact with on a regular basis, including many students who
are not employees of the AMS.

I had about thirty or so people talk or write me on their thoughts of
The Ubyssey newspaper. I also met with an editor and the business
manager of the paper for just under two hours, read all the archives
of the UBC library and the AMS on the paper, and obtained a copy of
The Ubyssey's constitution in order for me to grasp at of how the
paper is run and governs itself. The question I received when I
entered the editorial office ("are you going to overthrow us?") is
hopefully addressed in this letter.

Unlike commercial media which relies on its sales for funding, the
quality of The Ubyssey and other student newspapers relies vulnerably
on the time and talents (or the glaring lack thereof) of the editorial
board. The business office faithfully receives the funding each year
from its 40 000 students except for the few who opt out. It is not
accountable to the owners at a very steep price.

There are positives to this. Its "relative freedom", to quote the
latest Constitution of the paper, allows it to "examine issues and
events neglected by other media". It goes on to state: "Its mandate
is to cover issues and events which affect students. However, no
subject need fall outside the grasp of the student press, and student
publications best serve their purposes when they help to widen the
boundaries of debate on education and social issues. Thus, we intend
to defend freedom of expression, and make possible an atmosphere of
critical inquiry and imaginative thought. In pursuit of these
ideals, the student press shall employ educative, investigative and
active methods." (emphasis added)

On June 1, 1993 Alayne Armstrong, President of Canadian University
Press writes to the members of AMS Council, "...journalists bear a heavy
responsibility to the community they serve and the people they report

It is mostly this "heavy responsibility" which I feel like the paper
has completely neglected this year. The paper shouldn't be a mere
stepping stone for individuals to receive jobs in commercial
newspapers. That doesn't mean that the paper cannot be funny,
cynical, or irreverent. But it should do so in an informed,
intelligent and insightful manner, especially because in addition to
its basic standards it enjoys the title of being the 'official'
newspaper on campus.

To give an example of what the paper missed this year in terms of
University relevant news:

The inauguration of Professor Toope as the new UBC President was a one
liner in the August 2, 2006 issue's "News Briefs". In stark
contradistinction, the Harvard Crimson offers several opinion pieces
and dedicated front page covererage to their new President (Drew
Faust). The atmosphere and direction of UBC is going to change quite
considerably under new leadership. In particular, teaching and
learning is going to be much more prioritized as was outlined in his
inauguration speech and mentioned insistently at Senate and Board
meetings. It's unfortunate that the paper didn't think this was
important. It did, however, feature a picture of a vandalized
President in its "joke" issue "The Jübyssey" on December 8, 2006. Is
this responsible journalism?

In the past years I've seen Ubyssey reporters at senate meetings and
at the duration of AMS council meetings. Here is where a lot of the
discussions related to the University take place. This year, the
only time I've seen a reporter stay for longer than when they finished
the free food offered at Council meetings was on February 7. Things
that were discussed at this one meeting and could have been reported

For the very first time in UBC history, the University is creating an
Ombuds office, that deals with student issues that require resolutions
with instructors, and vice versa. The AMS Foodbank has become an
official AMS service, which guarantees funding for its operation.

The spelling of university officials has been butchered more times
than I can count. Out of all things to be spelled phonetically, names
would be my last choice. Additionally, editors could have simply
copied and pasted those names from the UBC website. While this "may
not be a big deal", I doubt the paper is doing its reputation a favour
when making sloppy mistakes like this not only once or twice, but in a
consistent manner.

Furthermore, the paper reported stories several months behind.
Glaring examples of this include the brief AMS/GSS conflict, Translink
introducing community shuttles 2.5 months after service started. 6
months after the Chem/Bio and CERC building was opened, the Ubyssey
bothered to report on it with glorious praise. The building is ugly,
the space around it is horribly laid-out and landscaped, and one floor
was not built because they blew through the construction contingency
before they even started digging the hole. None of this came up.

At SFU, the executive and most of the board were impeached, after a
long and drawn-out battle that was convoluted. There was only one
news article on this, at the bitter end. Kwantlen's exec were
removed and the results of a general meeting overturned by court
order, and nothing was written. Douglas Student Union is in
receivership, and nothing has been written. VCC's King Edward Campus,
I understand, is having similar problems. In at least one of these
cases, money from a health plan was used to buy a commercial building
in New Westminster , and health plan money was also given to one
employee who needed a new house.

BoG rep and graduate student Lauren Hunter has spent countless hours
pushing for a grad student scholarship, including making presentations
to committees of the legislature. It's widely expected to be in the
budget. No coverage.

To quote a student, "while the paper has devoted itself almost
entirely to arts, culture, and sports, news is shamefully, utterly
neglected. This has been the case for some time, but seems
particularly bad this year. Opinion on AMS elections: nobody cares
or should vote. It's certainly not the Ubyssey's job to inform
anybody, I suppose. "

Speaking of The Ubyssey's coverage of the AMS Elections, the January
16 editorial criticized the boring platform of Jeff Friedrich (now
President elect) and its lack of change. This was an interesting
practice of journalism, as they had not even read or seen his platform
(which was finished and distributed two days after the editorial was
published). "The student press shall employ educative, investigative
and active methods"- right...

While The Ubyssey's apathetic attitude towards the AMS Election has
already drawn editorial responses, it was merely an example of the
overall performance of the paper when it came to news.

July 13, 1995. The Ubyssey's first editorial after it reopened
stated, "So join the staff. Write letters to the editor. Vote. And
if you aren't interested or cant' do any of those things, at the very
least read The Ubyssey. You might not get politically involved, but
everyone should be politically aware."

Are students politically aware? When I asked the Ubyssey Business
office how many times it assesses its readership, the answer was twice
in the last fifteen years. There is no way an internal reflection of
the editorial board could be incited, given that there is no
measurement of readership or student engagement with the paper. The
paper doesn't know how it's doing and it doesn't seem to care. In
fact, talking to one of the editors, he proudly proclaimed that the
paper was doing just as well as it was 3 years ago, a presumption
based on what?

I know many students who simply stopped reading the paper. Talking to
the business manager, he announced that he assumed everyone read the

So the answer to whether I'm going to censor the paper, the answer is
no. In my opinion, the greatest form of censorship is to run itself
the way it has this year.


AUS elections

So, apparently the AUS Elections are happening. Apparently there are candidates.
The AUS website has no information about candidates or voting. But we do!

So here's what we know of the elections:
Campaiging March 16-23. Voting takes place at 3 separate polling booths in the SUB and Buchanan Buildings between March 25-30

We're probably the only place you can publicly find the candidates list. Thanks to Patrick Meehan for providing us with what should be readily available public information, which is found behind the jump.

Stephanie Ryan (Incumbent)
AJ (Avneet) Johal (Current VP External)

(Very interesting. A President running for re-election against a member of her own executive. Must be some fun personality dynamics at play. Any Artsies wanna let us know what's up?)

VP Internal
Helaine Boyd
Vicki Lindström

VP External
Tyler Allison
Chris Anderson

(Hmm... two experienced, knowledgeable, veteran candidates. Same race.)

VP Finance
Michelle Yuen

Academic Coordinator
Stash Bylick
Lauren Mills

Social Coordinator
Angela Boscariol
Jeremy McElroy

Student Services
Michael Serebriakov

Ashley Pritchard

AMS Reps (elect 7)
Amy Boultbee
Jessica Hannon
Nathan Crompton
Ryan Corbett??
Andrew Forshner
Jessica Hannon
Sam Heppell
Kate Power
Joel Koczwarski
Patrick Meehan

(Good to see Joel Koz running. Very good.)

Erin Rennie
Daniel Lin
Adela Babarova

General Officer
(Kat McGill
Ranu Saroha
Mike Jerowski
Chris Chapman
Aletha Utley
Samatha Bihis
Sarah Howe
Tom Lamb
Calry Wenner)


Saturday, March 24, 2007

The UBC Farm's example: how UBC should catch up to its vision.

Juxtapose what pops to mind when you think of:
1. UBC administration's main prerogatives.
2. UBC's only broad, encompassing mission statement, trek 2010.

For me, it goes something like this for the former, "Martha Piper-endowment-development-endowment-ivory tower-endowment-elite research-endowment-ivy league-endowment"
and something like this for the latter: "complete community-global citizenship-sustainability-global citizenship-community outreach-global citizenship-public responsibility-global citizenship-innovation-global citizenship.

Now why is this? Why is there such an enormous (at least at the dubious level of free association) gulf between the university's professed goals and vision, and the visceral sense students seem to have that it is being dishonest about them? I'd like to take the case of the UBC Farm, especially in the context of the Campus Plan and Official Community Plan to think about this.

I'll start with a little summary: UBC, *shock* extends beyond 16th avenue. It has sizable land holdings in the South Campus area, which contain some national research facilities, an animal research centre, the UBC Botanical Garden's nursery, some forest, and an agricultural area: the UBC Farm. The land where the farm sits was once used exclusively for research purposes by the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. Since 2001 though, with the student-initiated, faculty-supported document "Re-Inventing the UBC Farm" the land has been used as a functioning student- and volunteer-run organic farm, and a centre for wider community participation and education in urban agriculture, in conjunction to it's continued use as a site for academic research.

Currently, the farm has loosely ambiguous status as a a protectorate (for lack of a better term - since there isn't any formalized language) of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, though technically it also belongs to Forestry and Science for research. It does not get core funding from the faculties, however. Mark Bomford says the farm received about $300,000 in its early years of operation from the faculty of L&F Systems. It now receives no core funding from the university, but is supported with administration and communication by the faculty, whose past and present Deans have been very supportive. Many project grants, as well as individual student project budgets, and revenue from the summer markets support it's current programs and staff. Essentially, the Farm is a cost-recovery operation that strives to be self-sufficient through the sales of its products, and grants.

As we all see, smell, and (gross) taste, every day, UBC's Point Grey campus is undergoing a bit of an overhaul physically. There are nine major construction sites on campus now. This of course, is just the beginning. The UBC Campus Plan, which you may have heard of, is in the process of creating a comprehensive plan for the "academic" needs of UBC's campus core (CORRECTION: not including the much-maligned University Boulevard project). This plan is governed under BC's University Act, which designates the framework for the construction of university premises. By contrast, "non-academic" buildings and neighborhoods being developed on the university's property are governed by the Official Community Plan (OCP) which is a municipal bylaw passed by the GVRD in 1997 outlining the land uses for all of UBC's holdings, particularly its non-institutional areas. These include the Hawthorn place, Hampton place, and Wesbrook neighborhoods, that are intended for the general public as opposed to student populations. By deciding which areas of the UBC campus are needed for the university's "academic" (ie, university-related) uses, the administration has been able to contract off swaths of the "extra" land for development under the guidelines of the OCP (not the University Act), in return for wads of cash for the endowment. The endowment is a large bulk sum of money that sits in a bank and collects interest that is then theoretically used to reinvest in the university's academic programs, scholarships, innovation, and so forth.

More riveting analysis behind the jump, yo.

The problem with these two governance systems is that juggling and trading between them requires the delineation of academic vs. non-academic value, need, and use. In the case of an interdisciplinary place like the Farm, (and I would argue, a variety of other places on campus) that have a diverse array of community and university stakeholders, this is not only impractical (as I will presently evidence), but distinctly backward and utterly against the spirit of UBC's mission in Trek 2010.

I sat down with Mark Bomford, farm head-honcho, to talk about the UBC farm's quest for legitimacy in the face of virtually non-existent monetary support and ambivalent moral support from the university administration. I started by asking him about the recent addition to the name: the farm has recently been illustriously re-christened The Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at the UBC Farm. According to Bomford, the new name "better represents the diversity and breadth of the program". Indeed, by checking the CSFS at UBC Farm's (to be called the Farm henceforth for expedience and sanity purposes) program listing for 2006, about sixty diverse programs were active, from graduate student projects on market crops, to elementary school agriculture mentorship, to faculty-led research on yeast enhancement of organic fertilizer, to a community garden for aboriginals from the Downtown Eastside. Some of the impetus for the name change, (much like the change in the name of the former Faculty of Agriculture, to Agricultural Sciences, to the current "Land and Food Systems") comes from the desire to move beyond the negative backward connotations associated with farming and promoting food systems as legitimate, progressive, and indeed essential academic fields of study.

Bomford emphasized that the Farm's raison d'etre is, and will always be primarily as an academic resource: both in teaching and research. These activities though, take place in a functioning economic food-production model system, enabling an experiential system for research and learning that has access to integrative subject matter and resources. The diversity of programs represent an academic resource that is both unique, extremely current, and utterly non-reproducible in a traditional research plot or laboratory, he says. Instead of diminishing it's academic value, the community aspects and external partners in such a system are the very things that make the system such an academic and educational boon.
Bomford highlights that the Farm's activities are synergistic with the university's goals:
"In Trek 2010, the great university picture tends to be a lot friendlier [than big endowment, big name] - it tends to focus on people, sustainability, community. Assumptions about what striving to be a great university is are often at odds with the vision of trek 2010, which outlines a progressive community, not a picture of a highly-funded, highly-exclusive institution [...] If UBC has an interest in positioning itself at the forefront of socio-economic, ecological, and food system sustainability, this is a godsend."

What, then, is the big deal? The Farm, with its integration of research, community, and education in a working model system, perhaps like no other place at UBC seems to fulfill the very essence of what the University's stated mission calls for. To answer this, let's think back to those two governing structures, the University Act (and the Campus Plan that is governed by it) and the municipal bylaw, the OCP. What in tarnation do you do with a piece of land, and a group of people, that though they belong undeniably to the university, shamelessly mix academic and non-academic "uses" of a very valuable piece of land? Do you integrate it into the faculty structure officially and support it as an academic facility? Or sign it away into sole OCP jurisdiction (that still has the area listed as "future housing reserve"), lease it to a developer and wash your hands?

To address this sticky mess of "uses," the Campus and Community Planning office has requested that the academic and non-academic/community land-use of the Farm be compartmentalized and clearly delineated (specifically I've heard and read communications to this effect from Nancy Knight and Jim Charlebois). How to do this practically is any one's guess: for example, is a plot of land that was used by graduate student Tara Moreau for a study on the use of eggplant as a trap-crop for a common greenhouse pest, the whitefly, in planting of peppers, that were then tended by Agsci student volunteers, and then eaten by a family of Point Grey yuppies, academic or non-academic? What about the the land on which the farm's flock of organic chickens roamed; they were being studied as a means for wireworm control by graduate student Amanda Brown - but the eggs were sometimes used as part of a community kitchen with residents of the downtown east side. Or how would the land that faculty-member Anthony Lau used for his study of yeast in organic fertilizer be designated if the crops grown there were sold to PiR^2 as pizza ingredients? As Bomford says, "The most interesting projects here are a tangled web of community values and research." Compartmentalizing these diverse and integrative aspects of the farm's activities is not only absurd, but hearkens back to a vision we have outgrown.

Despite this somewhat dangerous confusion, the Farm is steadily gaining the legitimacy and support it so richly deserves. Volunteer participation has climbed steadily over the last five years. Both AMS president Jeff Friedrich and newly-elected GSS president Matt Fillipiak are enthusiastic advocates. A study, to be published next month, is to examine how much, and what sort of land is necessary to maintain the vision of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm. This study, which is being conducted by an external consultant named Erik Lees was prompted by the ongoing questions of involved people, including students, but supported and commissioned by The VP Academic and Provost's office, Treasury office, and L&F Systems Dean's office. It represents a serious step in formalizing the Farm's position within the university. If the report has the wide buy-in expected, the administration should look at investing in the Farm and it's unique opportunities, not de-vesting itself of them.

UBC has adopted an official sustainability strategy that is in sync with it's Trek 2010 goals. It should likewise create an official, BoG-vetted Sustainable Food Strategy, and catch it's actions up with its vision. The Farm, for one, doesn't need reminding. It is fulfilling the University's vision with every student volunteer, grad student, faculty member, and community member that benefits from and contributes to its programs. And by that I mean, walks through the gate, gets her hands dirty, knees soaked, arms sore from moving rocks, and stomach full of awesome farm produce.


Friday, March 23, 2007

The VP Carousel

Stephen Toope was hired almost exactly one year ago. Since then two VPs have resigned, and a third will be gone in a few years (BSull). We've also hired a new DVC (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, or the person in charge of UBC Okanagan). UBC's undergoing a serious period of internal change.

Before I look at it, though, let's compare the "resignation" letters sent to the campus community, both written by Prof. Toope:
Whitehead: "Dr. Lorne Whitehead, who has served UBC with great distinction since July 2004 as Vice President Academic and Provost, and I have agreed that he will resign from his current administrative duties...effective immediately"
Pavlich: "With regret, I have to inform you that Professor Dennis Pavlich, Vice President External and Legal Affairs, has advised me of his intention to resign his administrative appointment effective this spring"

Fun, huh?

I have a feeling UBC will see a moderate executive re-organization. Particularly, look for the VP External portfolio to be re-distributed. I wouldn't be surprised to see the development of a VP Advancement or VP Development portfolio, designed to handle all the University's truly external affairs. These include fundraising, public affairs, government relations, and alumni. UBC also has a centennial (or three) to prepare for in the coming years, which will probably coupled with a massive cash campaign.

It's a re-organization that's designed to leverage our alumni and community connections in every way. That means better advocacy and, more importantly, more money. I'm of the opinion that this is the exact wrong time to be going out, cap in hand. Our reputation in the community isn't stellar - it's of a property developer going building-happy. Every year we raise $110-120 million. You'd think that's a lot, but well over 98% of that comes from big-ticket donors. The Ike Barbers of the world. How much comes from rank and file alumni? Just over $2.5M. How do they get that cash? 77,000 phone calls. That's a crappy yield rate, no?

Why is that? Probably because people are sick of "the ask" they get at the dinner table. But I have a gut feeling it's only going to get worse. We're a generation that takes a University degree for granted, that sees it as something we get in return for our four years of tuition payments. Moreover, it's a University that, to its members, seems not to take a great stock in their individual needs. "I'm just a number" is felt nowhere among the BC student class more acutely than at UBC.

So that's why I'm disheartened by the changes I see coming down the pipeline. UBC has troubles already engaging its students, its future alumni - why re-emphasize the perception that we're more useful for our cash than for anything else? A truly inspiring University will use alumni and its communications shops not for fundraising, but to enrich the University experience. A donation of time to mentor students in a field can be far more valuable than any money an alum wants to give. But right now our University is setting up to handle the latter, which generally comes at the expense of the former.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

UBC Insiders' claim to fame!

Thanks to Tim's latest post, we've been featured in Maclean's 50


Neat new stuff

And a plug. I refer readers to Maclean's Education. A helluva site with tons of good articles. There's a very useful piece on how to get a reference letter for grad school, a skill that students far too often find themselves without. And even discussions on Facebook. Apparently Spencer Keys (a friend of the show) is involved in some way that, as of yet, is unascertainable on the site.

But two articles stand out, and they're quite related. The first is a piece on the plight of the sessional lecturer. In short, they're paid nearly minimum wage (25-30k, if they get a full load) to teach. This leaves them no time to do research, which denies them tenure-track positions. It's a vicious cycle. And the second is a more philosophical piece about why we're all at Universities in the first place.

The latter piece attempts to contextualize the contemporary University experience. The picture it paints is one of a University for mass consumption, driven less by the "corporate" nature of Universities and more by the desire to get as many people in and out the doors as possible. In short, Universities fail to create meaningful learning experiences. We don't learn from classrooms - we learn from associations with professorial research, from engaging more in-depth with the field, and from extra-curricular activities associated with the University. And this is related to the sessional lecturer - often, the sessional has to hold down a second job, and can't devote themselves to engaging with students in a meaningful way. The emphasis becomes on cramming the brains of those in the lecture halls - hardly conducive to learning.

We've also created a culture where students expect to go into a University and to acquire the knowledge, like a car going in for a new paint job. Potter's piece makes the point that the onus is as much on the student to seek to better themselves as much as it's on the University. His metaphor is that of an elite athlete who relies on a coach to bring out the best, but at the end of the day, it's up to athlete to better herself.

What are the implications for UBC? It's where things like NSSE come in. We're a University failing miserably at engaging our students, at creating the environment where opportunities exist. Sure, they're fighting a generational battle. But emphasis of research in tenure appointments, lack of informal learning space, the measurable impact of research dollars, the unavailability of research or other engaging opporunities for many students (Seriously, anybody know any undergrad Arts students who've ever worked with a prof? I've been here six years and have yet to meet one.), and the general sense of "people in, degree out" that comes with a University of this size are all conspiring to create a University experience that's quite frankly underwhelming.

Admittedly this is partly a generational problem. We're a narcissistic generation that demands hand-holding. But UBC and Universities ought to challenge us, rather than granting a degree as a reward for attendace in classrooms 15 hours a week. Your degree equity is suffering. Hell, the bachelor's is on the cusp of irrelevance already.

Not sure where I was going with all that. But read the articles. They're good.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Campaign tips, or, how students learned to stop reading and love the familiar.

After my recent abysmal loss in the SUS elections, I found myself wondering what, exactly, do candidates need to do to themselves and surrounding victims in order to get their message out? Student leaders and political junkies constantly and lamely lament the so-called "student apathy" problem. Everyone else is too apathetic to care, frankly. The apathy issue is bound up with the perceived irrelevance of student government on the part of most students, but also with the dynamics of the societies themsleves, which have constructed and enforced an exclusive protectionist force-field around them. So either people voted into student government are instantaneously transformed into small-minded snobs, or opportunities for relevance and communication truly are limited, or the electorate is perpetuating the status quo (exactly what it bitches about) with it's choices. Given my vehement personal bitterness, I took option 3 as a working hypothesis.

To find out a little more about how people make their choices, I conducted an utterly unscientific poll* by ambushing people randomly in the SUB and in the 99 B-line queue. Find out about the results and my mad excel-skillz behind the jump.

My first question was: "Did you vote, or do you plan to vote in your undergraduate society election this year at UBC?"

As you can see, my sample obviously cared a little more than average, since the going rate for undergraduate elections is about 10% voter turnout, and I've got around 23%. Kudos to SUB-wanderers. This 23% represents 15 people.

I asked these what sorts of factors helped them decide how to vote, listing 6 options: 1) reading posters, 2) facebook groups, 3) knowing (of) people personally beforehand 4) reading candidates' external websites, 5) class announcements, and 6) totally random. (They were allowed to say yes to as many as they wanted, so the bars do not add up to 15.)

As you can see, almost everyone said that knowing people, or knowing of people personally was a factor. Several people commented that they would go down the list and vote for people they knew, and only if they did not know anyone, they would then find out about the candidates' platforms. Unsurprisingly, people in smaller faculties like engineering or Forestry didn't pay attention to posters or websites at all and relied exclusively on knowing (of) candidates personally. Familiarity, not friendship, is important.

The next most important factor was class announcements. People commented that it helped by simply creating awareness of that person's existence, though others said that they learned nothing from announcements and thus would not be influenced by them.

Posters, totally random, facebook groups, and external websites were about equally (in)significant. Interestingly, these categories encompass both the most detailed and the most shallow exposure candidates have. There was also a significant amount of overlap: those that read candidates' websites were likely to use most of the other sources of exposure as well. People that payed attention to class announcements though, were unlikely to read external websites, and mostly voted by personal knowledge of the candidates. Lets be honest though, my sample size is debilitatingly small.

The conclusion that is possible is that just knowing vast numbers of people, or being a familiar figure, will do more for you in an election than any specific ideas or goals you may have for the position. Also, campaigning (posters, websites, announcements) doesn't work that well. Targeting your acquaintances with personal appeals is more worthwhile, apparently.

So how does all this relate to apathy, the alleged irrelevance of student societies, and exclusivity? Well, it's a bit of a cycle: as long as most people are too lazy to vote, the deciding factor in elections will be the personal acquaintances of the candidates, or associated "insiders". Thus, it'll be more worth it to ignore most voters and concentrate on these insiders, both in campaigns, and in policies (read: personality-driven campaigns and governance, not issue-driven ones). This further perpetuates the sense of irrelevance and exclusivity that makes people too lazy and disinterested to bother voting in the first place.

Perhaps one way to get candidates more serious and voters more interested simultaneously is as simple as advertisement: if elections are higher-profile, the level of discussion and challenge will be driven up. The interesting experiment of the Voter-Funded Media (click!) contest that accompanied the AMS elections has arguably raised the bar for campus political coverage and debate, but didn't raise overall voter turnout. Since the banning of slates (student political parties or factions), maybe campaigns are destined to be lower-profile and less flashy. But should this translate into lower interest and greater apathy? Maybe there's unexploited potential in the slate-less system to leave traditional campaigning behind in favor of more personally accountable issue-driven platforms. Here's hoping, anyway.

Perhaps though, the inherent structural realities of a commuter campus, our cultural stand-offishness (just asking people to answer a two-question survey made me feel like Oliver Twist - asking for someone's vote, and plying them with web addresses and platform points is almost an inexcusable intrusion) and the demanding academic environment are the real factors. Confronting these realities to create a stronger more informed electorate at UBC is a challenge nobody really knows how to approach. So let the laments continue.

*Yes, I am in sciences, and can do error analysis. No I did not bother.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Budget Highlights

Where I read it. So you don't have to!

The first thing to note is that post-secondary education (PSE) isn't the showpiece of the budget. But there are a few tweaks and spending increases that will be of interest. It's also important to note the possible implications of the equalization formula calculations - a province's "fiscal capacity," the extent to which they can be expected to contribute, will be based on property values. That valuation could seriously ding BC, with sky-high property values. So that has some in the provincial Treasury a wee bit frightened. I'll be honest - I don't understand what the "provinces able to choose" actually means, so I'll just leave that as a potential issue.

But on to the PSE sections. There are a few highlights:

  • $800 million increase in the Canada Social Transfer in 2008-9. This is money that the feds give to the provinces to fund provincial social spending in health care and education.
  • Making info about Universities available to Canadians (no further detail).
  • 1,000 new merit-based awards for graduate students. For Masters' students the awards are 17k, for Doctoral students they're 35. Awarded by the granting councils, this totals $35 million/year.
  • $2M international student recruitment campaign. Whoop-dee-doo.
  • A review of the Canada Student Loan Program, designed to simplify and integrate the myriad systems that students must navigate to get financial aid.
  • Increasing RESP contribution limits, which will really only benefit those in upper income brackets.
  • $105M to specialized research centres, including UBC's Brain Research Centre.
  • $85M in new funding to the granting councils: $37M each to NSERC and CIHR, $11M to SSHRC.
  • $15M to support the indirect costs of research. That's nothing.
There are a few worth further explanation.

1) Increase in CST. Good. More money = good. But let's put it in perspective. It's $800M nationally. If you were to (roughly) pro-rate that to UBC's size, it would wipe out our deficit. That's it. This ain't a huge sum of money. But it's definitely a start. I'd personally like to see a dedicated transfer, and bigger. But who wouldn't? It's also delayed a year in order to work out some accountability mechanisms. A response to Maclean's? Highly likely. Accountability has to be a good thing, but will it really be meaningful?

2) The grad student scholarships are big. Important. It's a 50% increase in the state's ability to offer huge chunks of cash to our country's best and brightest. One quarrel - 400 each will be funded by NSERC and CIHR; only 200 go to SSHRC. That means, once again, Social Science and Humanities research is at the bottom of the food chain. That's not how it should be. These are important disciplines, doing important if un-sexy research that too often goes unrewarded. (SSHRC also gets screwed throughout the granting council cash, too.) Also, this does nothing to address accessibility.

3) Loan streamlining. Sure, I suppose it's a good thing. But there's so much more that could be done. Grants. Elimination of parental income stipulations. Any measures targeting those groups that right now don't access PSE. A weak step, but a step nonetheless.

I know I missed something. But the budget's been out for 45 minutes. I'll update when/if I read it more thoroughly. But the headlines? Baby steps in the right direction. Unless you're in Arts.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

It's politics - suck it up

(NB: This post is poorly written and rant-y. Mostly it's a thinly veiled response to the personality conflicts that were the big "scandal" of the SUS elections. But it's no scandal at all. It's really just a personality clash masquerading as about "leadership" or "issues." Also, I hate when people throw around the word "libel." If this interests you, read on. If not, I encourage, nay implore you to move on for now.)

I try to be professional and respectful. But something's bothering me and I need to get it off my chest. It's when Student A has a beef with Student B, and makes some sort of public statement. Usually that beef is personal, but A will always take great pains to portray the conflict as professional. It's not. And that first intrusion is often unwarranted, silly, and petty.

But what gets me all riled up is that Student B is often incapable of taking criticism. B will almost always take it personally, and retaliate as such. And they always accuse A of slander/libel. The whole thing is silly, but this one's my favorite. Mostly because it's always used inappropriately.

Libel defined: a false statement, implicitly or explicitly represented as true, that harms the reputation of another person.
The key point? That it has to be false. Not questionable, not in the grey area between true and false, not an opinion. False.

So is that it? No. Not at all. There are several defences to libel. Instances where we say it's justifiable. For instance, reporting of court proceedings. Or truth of the statement. But the most important is fair comment. Put simply, if a person has an honest and reasonable belief that the statement is true, and they're commenting on a matter of public interest, then it's not considered to be defamatory.

It's basically the "politicians" exception. If Stephen Harper proposes a tax cut and says that the taxpayer will save $500, and I disagree, and print an editorial that says Stephen Harper is wrong and a bad economist, should I be held responsible for libel? Of course not. It's politics - suck it up. And PLEASE stop calling things libelous? I've seen dozens of student politicians complain that a criticism leveled at them was libelous. It rarely is.

Now not all bad statments are libelous. Sometimes A has no business throwing that mud at B. But authorities ought not to substantively intervene unless it actually reaches that potentially libelous level - anything below that threshold threatens and stifles the already meager political debate that may take place. Sure, person A might be discourteous and even rude, but these are personal quibbles, best fixed in the personal arena. And B ought not to go crying to the teacher to make A stop.


Saturday, March 17, 2007


The Global Outreach Students' Association presents:

(in collaboration with the College of Health Disciplines )

Intellectual Property, Traditional Knowledge, and Access to Essential Medicines

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

9:00 am-5:00 pm

First Nations Longhouse (1985 West Mall)


Speakers include:

Kelly Bannister, UVic

Accessing traditional knowledge and biodiversity: Rights, responsibilities and related issues

Pat Howard, SFU

Biopiracy and Traditional Medicines

John Hepburn, UBC VP Research

Technology transfer, patent licensing and current research at UBC

Bob Hancock, UBC Microbiology and Immunology

Antimicrobial peptides, access to essential medicines, research funding

Steve Morgan, UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research

Can patents promote efficiency and equity in pharmaceutical innovation?

Cailin Morrison, International Trade Law Consultant, MSF Access to Essential Medicines Campaign Legal Advisor

Trading away Health: Free Trade Agreements, Intellectual Property Rights and Access to Medicines.

Guests from the Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM)

Role of universities in equal access to technology and distribution of research


SUS election results!

These are unofficial until next Thursday, but I thought I'd post them anyhow. Note the high voter turnout via WebCT!

Michael Duncan - Yes 1079, No 206

Vice President External
Jamil Rhajiak - Yes 989, No 227

Vice President Internal
Jimmy Yan - 474
Stephen Yoon - 321
Gregory Stegeman - 211
Farzin Barekat - 157

Director of Administration
Alex Lougheed - 608
Maria Jogova - 572

Director of Finance
Lois Chan - 583
Aaron Sihota - 404
Vishal Hirilal - 194

Director of Publications
Ally Vaz - 676
Varun Ramraj - 439

Public Relations Officer
Meghan Ho - 440
Lawrence Chow - 402
Mark Berg - 326

Director of Sports
Polly Kwok - Yes 885, No 296

Science Senator
Diana Diao - 605
Geoff Costeloe - 409
Martin Sing - 196

Alma Mater Society Council Representatives
Lougheed - 517
Tahara Bhate - 454
Tristan Markle - 420
Clark Funnell - 396
Maria Jogova - 389
Stephen Yoon - 346
Anita Yuk - 322
Maayan Kreitzman - 290

Thoughts behind the jump.

My impressions are as follows - I'm not at all surprised Mike Duncan won by a landslide yes vote, nor by the wins of Alex Lougheed, Lois Chan, Meghan Ho, and Diana Diao.

I do hope Alex Lougheed will lose some of his arrogance and actually try to work with people in order to push anything forward. I also hope Lois Chan's platform of rage will transform, again, into something productive and progressive. Since she controls the budget, it places her in a powerful role in thinking twice about blindly allocating money (and thus execution) towards self-serving events. Make no mistake - electing those two was a clear message that SUS will have to slap itself in the face several times: we, the members of SUS, want to see change.

Diana will have to learn how to speak out and work beyond the prescribed codified duties if she wants to get anything done at Senate - something she has yet to demonstrate (despite of her boyfriend's objections to this on WebCT). Organizing an open house at SUS in no way translates to an ability to speak up on the floor of senate or advocating for student agendas through administrative hurdles.

The surprises are Tahara's win to AMS Council and Ally Vaz (well not so much, I'm sure her sorority helped her out tons).

I'm sad that Maayan didn't make the elections cut, because I can see her be a very diligent and thoughtful AMS councillor. This once again shows that popularity is still an emanating force in the democratic process - informed voting would have no doubt placed her higher.

Most importantly, I'm really happy about the Voter turnout. In the past voter turnout was around 10% (ish). WebCT proved to be a tool of convenience and accessibility and I suppose this helped the strong(er) numbers shown above.

Congratulations to the winners - you have a heavy task ahead of you.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Aquatic Centre Gym, Part II

First, I should note an addendum to my previous post. Rec has released their proposed fee reductions. They're very good. They're 25-30% in the Elite (refereed) divisions, and 45-50% in the Co-rec. This is a very welcome development.

Something interesting happened with the Aquatic Centre Gym closure. Note Tuesday's Ubyssey - there were two stories, one dealing with the closure, and one covering student reaction. And really, that's fair. Student reaction and outcry has been nothing short of remarkable. Those of us who've been around a while can't remember anything like it.

How has it worked? Quite simple. The first people were tipped off by people in HKin - a Facebook group was established that became a central online gathering point for people to a) find out, b) get information, and c) invite more friends. But most importantly, it became a hub to tell people where to apply pressure, whom to e-mail. I have no idea how many e-mails were sent, but people sent them to the right people. Moreover, the AMS swung into action with a rapid response and applied pressure. In short, the student lobbying arm worked like it's supposed to.

What's been the outcome? As of now, the University has agreed that this needs to go through the committee, and that the original decision bypassed that. They've called a meeting for some time next week, though haven't indicated when it will be yet. They haven't provided any more information, are unprepared to present a case for action. In short, they got caught with their pants down and are desperately trying to pull them back up.

What are the lessons for the student movement?

  1. Students need to know HOW to make a difference. This is kinda obvious. But not really. See every student has a beef with the University, but doesn't know that they have the power to get it fixed. And the AMS ought to help empower them. Which leads to...
  2. The AMS needs to lobby WITH students. If this was just a case of the AMS complaining, we wouldn't have got anywhere. Conversely, without properly applied AMS pressure, student e-mails would have just been dismissed. Both groups need each other.
  3. Use new media and Facebook. It has huge power. And can be a really easy way to reach people without that pesky e-mail list. If the AMS has a lobbying priority, use Facebook to mobilize student support. It's kinda simple, really. And in doing so, the AMS can work with students to get it all done. The communication between Jeff and the Facebook group has been so encouraging.
Admittedly, it's still not done. But things look good. We've seen a relatively successful grassroots student uprising... the question is how we, as students, can replicate it in the future.