Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Aquatic Centre Gym, Part I

So the University decided to close the Aquatic Centre Gym. Students fought back. There's the story. The first part is dedicated to the gym and the background - Part II will discuss the very interesting student response.

Why is the gym important?
On its face, it may not be. The Bird Coop is bigger, there are gyms in all the residences, and this one is just tiny. Well, for one thing, it's the only free gym on campus. It's also used by the various clients who use the Aquatic Centre, to create a more complete fitness regime. When it was built 30 years ago, there was so much student money involved that the University agreed to have free student times, and free student use. But most importantly, there's a sense that this gym matters to people; its users feel a distinct sense of ownership.

Who closed it? How?
Aye, there's the rub. See decisions about the Centre's use are supposed to go through the Aquatic Centre Management Committee, a joint UBC-AMS committee, with student representation. This process was by-passed.

Who did that?

We don't know. A Ubyssey article pointed the finger at the new manager of the Aquatic Centre, chalking it up to his inexperience. But recent evidence and thoughts from Aquatic Centre staffers indicate that this was in works a long time, and probably directed from the head of Athletics himself. Again, we can only speculate that Bob Philip, Director of Athletics was behind it.

Why close the gym?
Theories abound. The most plausible one involves revenue generation. Simply put, a free aquatic centre gym takes business away from the Bird Coop. (Never mind that the Coop is crowded during peak hours!) There are other theories, including renovation, but the fact that Athletics is putting forward a business case ought to indicate it's about dollars and cents.

Why the outrage?
First, UBC students pay $175 each year to Athletics and Rec. What value do UBC students get for that money? Well, over 60% of the money goes to varsity sports, so the average students doesn't get a penny. The rest goes to athletic and rec programming. But here's the thing - UBC's one of the only universities in the country that doesn't give its students free gym passes. A Bird Coop membership is only slightly cheaper than a City of Vancouver pass. We still have to pay hundreds of dollars in team fees for Rec leagues that have no referees, staff, or supervision. In a system that already produces precious little value for students, we ought not be removing the only value added piece!

Where next?
Well, Athletics needs AMS and student support for two major projects. First, they want to hike the Athletics and Rec fee to subsidize a new gym. The AMS ought to link any successful outcome in this situation to the proposed fee increase. If Athletics is so willing to show disregard for students, then we shouldn't be in the business of supporting them. Second, UBC wants to be part of the NCAA. It's Bob Philip's dream. And, should the continue to stand in the way of students, we should do everything we can to oppose that change, on the grounds that students just don't want it.

Athletics, and UBC, really need to start to listen to students. And tonight I'll post Part II, where students start to speak up.