Monday, April 23, 2007

Campus 2020

The Campus 2020 report was released today. Click here to see the site. Warning - it's 114 pages long. You'll recall this is the province's exercise in "re-thinking" the post-secondary education system and providing a vision for the future.

It's long. I'd read it but it's hockey night and I'm packing up and leaving my humble abode. *sniff* If I have time I'll update tomorrow.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Grad School

Sigh.. since I'm graduating and looking at 10 more years of school (I wish I was kidding) here are a few links for your amusement:

On being a graduate student (Simpson Style)

Take 2


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Spotted on campus yesterday

So I attended two events on campus yesterday, and rubbed shoulders with a some IMPORTANT PEOPLE as a result. And we all love to hear about important people, and their doings. Moreover, serious journalism inevitably gives way to tabloidy filler, (at least during exams when actually doing research is impossible).

S0, event #1 was a focus group to ask students about the new Alumni Centre that is going to be built as part of the U-boulevard plan. It's going to be situated on the corner of U-boulevard and the stairwell coming up from the underground bus-loop. If U-boulevard goes through, that is. Funnily enough, nobody mentioned that. In any event, Barney, the fellow from the Alum Association was super keen about getting student ideas for the centre. They plan to make the centre a relaxed place for current students to hang out as well as for making the connection between alumni and current university and student life. Since the building will literally be the first thing you see when you arrive on campus, it's a pretty exciting opportunity. Look for a post about the doings of the Alumni Association after exams - they're up to some neat stuff. For the building, there's five floors to play with. The Alum association figures they need 1.5 floors for their offices and volunteers, and another whole floor is taken up by a large bookable conference centre. There will be some professor emeritus offices in there too. That leaves about 2.5 floors of program space for us to play with. Brian Sullivan, the university's VP students was in attendance (wearing a jaunty bow-tie to boot), as well as a slew of AMS execs (Brittany, Sarah, and Brendon), Tim Louman-Gardiner (who needs no introduction), Jamil Rhajiak of SUS, Marlisse Silver Sweeny, plus two other rez advisers whose names I forget, and a couple people from SAC. A lot of the discussion centred around creating a space and setting a tone that's relevant and attractive to current students, while making it welcoming and useful to visiting alumni, faculty, grad students, and others. How can this building be a real meeting place between groups that don't usually interact in a relaxed social setting?Here were some of the ideas:

  • Relaxed lounge/rec room space (foosball, couches, TV, etc) - ladha-esque.
  • more formal quiet study space, with smaller meeting rooms, some of which are bookable
  • inspiring space, to reflect on students' connections to University, positive and negative
  • display space to create a sense of history and campus life: photos, artwork, cool projects, newsworthy items, and so forth.
  • ability to hold in/formal networking and mentoring events
  • usable by campus groups and clubs, at little/no cost
  • cafe or restaurant with mature adult food
  • welcome desk with comprehensive campus events calendar, archive resources (like e-yearbook), and all sorts of other campus information. Like a concierge.
  • computer terminals with access to library resources for alum
  • possible outlet for AMS business
  • index/database to connect Alumni in certain fields with students for mentorship
  • green roof

The other event I went to was a talk about drugs and gene doping in sports. Since it was pretty standard stuff, we wont' get into the debate. It's wrong, ok? here's the whose who:

  • Gina Eom (also needs no introduction)
  • David Yuen (former VP admin)
  • Clark Funnell (AMS rep for SUS)
  • Aminollah Sabzevari (Safewalk assistant coordinator)

then I spotted former AMS president Kevin Keystone chatting on the grass on Student Union Boulevard. [/creepy]


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lobbying: by Tim

You can tell it's exam time (and, in my case, hockey playoffs - Go Sens!) by the vastly decreased post count. And readership too, no doubt. Meh. I should be sleeping. But since I found the (remarkably poorly) hidden jelly bean stash in my living room I'm a little hopped up on sugar. So decided to write something on this sorely neglected blog. Something interesting? Naaah. But a rambling treatise on lobbying? I can do that.

See I haven't spent that long at the lobbying game. Really, I only spent 2 years of my life trying to get University officials to listen to me. (I'll note, however, that I spent a year trying to get things from University officials in non-political capacities. That experience helped.) I also get the feeling that, relative to some, I've had a fair amount of success. But at a minimum, I've learned a few tricks about successfully bending the ear of University administrators.

  1. They used to be students, too. Here's my overarching theory - who's still in a University by the age of 45? People who never left. They never left either because they're unemployable anywhere else or, more likely (if they're senior), they really like University environments. Moreover, most peoples' university environments were shaped by their student experiences; it follows that University administrators liked being students. Tap into that, into their memories, and you're one step closer.
  2. They like hearing from students. This flows from the above. They were probably young keen-eyed students back in the day. Chances are, in some way, you appeal to some part of what they love about Universities. I'll bet most of them were involved in a "sit-in" of some variety. Probably some anti-Vietnam protesters in there, as well. These administrators are normal people with University experiences; unfortunately, their perceptions of the University experiences are skewed by their 250k salaries (in the case of VPs) and their distance from the experience.
  3. Provide a unique voice - tell them something they don't know. Put another way, tell them things only students know. There's no point in re-hashing tired old arguments - they've heard them before, no matter how persuasive you find them. And no, your rhetorical brilliance will not change their mind. Additionally, they're probably more knowledgeable than you are. They do this every day. So question things where they can't pull rank or authority, provide value in an area they don't. I once went into a meeting with the Director of Financial Assistance and she was most interested in the dearth of campus community. She just shot down all my numbers and arguments, but was genuinely concerned about the impact that loans might have on student life. And that perspective was valuable.
  4. Engage them! Invite them! One BoG meeting, as we were preparing the terms of reference for the search committee for Martha's replacement, I made the point that Martha rarely showed up at events where students were there. A member snapped back at me: "that's because she's never invited." He had a point. When Prof. Toope came to AMS Council the day they announced the visit, a councillor quietly whispered "when was the last time Martha visited?" The answer: "when was the last time she was invited?" In my experience, people will just as happily take a meeting, or show up... just ask.
  5. Don't tell them they're wrong. Okay, tell them they're wrong. But think about how you do it. Nobody likes being told they're wrong. What happens when that happens? People get defensive. On BoG, I was struck by how human these administrators are. And it's a basic human trait - when challenged, we rarely back down. When pushed into a corner, people fight back. It's very important to challenge authority. But challenge in a constructive way that allows the authority to say "you're right" without losing face.
  6. Speak their language. Nobody wants to hear ideological ranting. The most effective student presentations have had measurable benchmarks, clear strategic thought, and clearly articulated outcomes. That's a fancy way of saying constructive engagement. Don't communicate in a way that allows them to easily dismiss you, and it'll all be fine.
Apologies for the "us-them" dichotomy. And for the perspective. But this is just my approach to lobbying. It is possible to get things done in the University's bureaucratic maze, it just takes patience and a willingness to play the game.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Virginia Tech Shootings

I'm sure you've all heard about the campus shootings at Virginia Tech. Tragic, sad, shocking... all barely begin to describe it.

It raises thoughts. Like when there's a shooting at 7am and a murderer known to be at large, why don't you lock down the campus and cancel classes to avoid exactly what happened two hours later? And how important campus health and wellness programs, initiatives, and people can be. Mostly, it's important that every member of a campus community feel at home. And don't forget about the important college/university experience that's been shattered for thousands of students.

It's one thing to murder someone; it's quite another to mindlessly slaughter. My own personal reaction, is that I was in the same grade as Reena Virk in Victoria, a year behind Harris/Klebold, and the same age as the Dawson college gunman. What is it about this age cohort that makes us more likely to act out like this? I find that element of it really striking. Is there some disconnect? I have no idea.

(I'm presuming right now that the shooter was a student. I have no idea if that's the case or not.)


From xkcd.

Good luck with exams everyone.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dr. Carl Wieman Speaks!

On Friday I sat down with Nobel-laureate in physics, Dr. Carl Wieman to ask about the 12 million dollar science education initiative he's heading up at UBC to improve undergraduate courses for the science masses. I wrote a post about the basics of the initiative earlier, so I won't repeat them now. You can find that post, and some relevant links here (click!).

Listen to the interview here (click!)

The main thing to notice is this: The funding and implementation is through the departments. This means that departments have the key power to organize and prioritize the money as they wish, with guidance from Dr. Weiman and education experts they may decide to hire, which he would train and reference with. Neither Wieman, nor individual instructors are the heroes of this initiative, but the departments themselves (or whatever their consensus or leadership decides) will be determining the direction of the spending.

I had some thoughts about Dr. Wieman and the initiative after our interview, which I'd like to put out there:

The man is assiduously, zealously, diplomatic. You may notice in the interview that Dr. Wieman doesn't give a straight answer to whether there's an education quality problem at UBC. He often defers to the Departments, instead of asserting his experiences or ideas. He answered several of my questions with vague observations like, "we must first ask what we want and then...". These responses are quite practical, when you get down to it: he shouldn't tax the sensetivities of the VP academic, he cannot force the hand of departments, and yes, setting goals and research questions is crucial. Indeed, Dr. Wieman knows that he must work within the department structure of the University, and he's embracing that. Fashioning himself as a revolutionary with all the answers will not help his vision come about, and he knows it. But don't be fooled. For all the hedging, Dr. Wieman has a vision - it's just tempered by familiarity of university realpolitik. This vision stems from the realization that the democratization of higher education, and the reality of larger classes and reduced teacher-student interaction implicit in it, create unique challenges. Dr. Wieman's thesis is that with this reality, the only realistic way to cultivate the meaningful interactions and problem-solving challenges which are tied to "expert-like" learning results is through the adoption of researched, proven information technology.

I simply hope, that when the department implementation process gets to the nitty-gritty, that Dr. Weiman will be there. His austere replies in the interview may almost have convinced you that he actually doesn't have specific ideas, or any over-arching vision. He does. I'm confident that he has the political gumption to bust these out when it matters the most, in each departmental decision-making conversation.

All that said, personally, I'm not sold on the technology fetish. Yes, Dr. Wieman is highly conservative, and very careful about his uses of these technologies. He stresses that they should only be used if they've been tested to work, in the correct context in the courses. Still, I keep going back to the OWL example: OWL is an interactive program used in Chem 233 that has animation-based organic chemistry teaching modules, problem sets, and quizzes that allow you to manipulate chemical compounds using shockwave software. OWL is meant to be a significant part of this course, and is even worth a toothsome morsel of the course grade. Nonetheless, the division is clear: some people loved OWL (either because it's easy marks, or because they actually got something out of it) and some people (me) hated it, and preferred loosing marks than wasting their time doing detestable tasks that didn't help them learn at all. The thing is, there will always be that issue. There will always be students that don't get along with staring at a screen to learn, preferring to hit the books, and there will be those that will. That's why I'm just not sure that out-of-classroom software is the be-all end-all of making students learn better.

I'd like more of of a focus on improving the quality of lectures themselves. Lectures are still important, and they CAN be done well. The lecture has taken a lot of flak as an inherently awful format, but this really needn't be the case. A well-structured lecture can be very effective in ordering, prioritizing, and explaining material, even if it's not the best at imparting problem-solving ability or deep conceptual understanding.

For an interesting read, check out Dr. Wieman's report on "The Optimized University" that he prepared for the BC government's Campus 2020 post-secondary education review here (click!).

This is the picture I took on my walk home the moment after I realized that I'd forgotten to take a picture of my handsome interviewee. Vancouver city-hall for you, therefore.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Governance Part II: UBC Properties Trust

Once again, this is inspired by Tristan Markle's excellent letter to the Ubyssey. He identifies UBC Properties Trust as a key driving force in the U.Blvd decision. He's quite right. But the UBCPT question is one that's far more broad than UBlvd; in fact, I'd argue it's a fundamental threat to the University's governance.

So, what is UBC Properties Trust (UBCPT)? It's a private corporation, legally separate from the University; however, it is entirely owned by UBC. When any building goes up on UBC land, both institutional and non-institutional, it goes through Properties. In short, it's a property development firm that hires all the contractors, does all the project management, and leases and services the UNA land. When a project is going to happen (classroom, housing, or anything else), it always goes through UBCPT, whose staff figure out how much it will cost, arrange the people who will do everything, and make it happen.

Basically, the University doesn't build things - Properties does so on their behalf.

This causes a few significant problems. They can be divided into two areas: Project-specific, and related to governance. These two areas are very closely related.


  • Two members of UBC's Board are on the UBCPT Board. Three members of UBC's senior leadership are on the PT Board as well. Why is this a problem? Well, it removes any effective oversight of what PT is doing. The work of PT is rarely criticised at Board. Why? Largely because the most powerful BoG members are essentially responsible. As a direct consequence, institutional decisions about academic priorities and buildings needs are essentially made at the PT stage, which is outside the University.
  • There is also no true accountability. UBCPT is only accountable to a) its Board, and b) UBC's BoG. But neither is the true client, nor is either in a realistic position to actually exercise any real oversight over the other.
  • Neither the VP Academic nor the VP Students are directly involved with PT. Which I find odd, as they are the true clients and end users.
  • The VP External sits on the Board of Properties. The Campus and Community Planning office reports to the VP External. There's functionally no independence between the two groups. It's a sham.
  • The real problem is that the University's mission is to be a University, and all that entails. Properties' mission is to contribute to the endowment. That's financial. Which means they have no direct responsibility to make the University a better place; it's indirect. In theory the BoG should provide some oversight, but it doesn't (see above).
Project Management
  • PT's job is to keep price down. They call it "value engineering." Their job isn't to make a great classroom, it's to make a passable classroom at value. This, while not necessarily bad, can produce some results that are less than friendly to students. The best demonstration of this? UBlvd itself. As many know, the architects who originally won the design competition quit. Why? Because they couldn't work within UBCPT's price constraints.
  • Related to the above, UBCPT is driven by dollars in the door. This tends towards long-term thinking. A classic example is LEED construction; it comes at a few million dollar premium during the process, but over the life cycle of the building, it earns its money back many times over. PT is notoriously resistant to LEED building. Why? It makes buildings more expensive in the short term, and PT isn't the one responsible for long-term costs. The University is. PT is only concerned with short-term (construction) costs, and has no incentive to produce sustainable buildings.
  • The dollars in the door phenomenon lends itself to revenue-generating projects. Which brings more value to students? The knoll, or a Starbucks? It depends on how you define value. And that definition of "value," to the PT Board, is framed in terms of the endowment. That means money. This means social space and mixed use is so much more likely to be retail; the kind of social space where the price of admission is a latte.
In short, there is no oversight, no way to pressure this powerful Board. It's insulated from the University when convenient. And while it may produce more efficient development, it comes at significant cost.


UBC Student falls off roof top, now in serious condition

This is taken from the RCMP website. Whoever the person in serious condition is, we wish them a speedy recovery.

UBC student falls off roof top, now in serious condition at VHG

Vancouver, UBC: Charges are pending against another student.

On April 12th, 2007 at approximately 02:20 pm, RCMP members of the University of British-Columbia Detachment attended a Fraternity House located in the 2800 block of Westbrook Mall after receiving word that a young man had fallen off the patio roof top.

After a preliminary investigation, witnesses say the young man who was standing on top of the patio roof top, reached down to another man who was standing on the ground. Police investigators are trying to determine what took place at that time. What we do know is that the young man fell down approximately 20 feet onto concrete injuring his head.

The victim was transported to Vancouver General Hospital where he is currently in serious but stable condition.

During the course of their investigation, police arrested the18-year-old man who standing on the ground during the incident. He was released on a Promise to Appear and is facing charges of Criminal Negligence Causing Bodily Harm.

Both young men are UBC students and alcohol appears to have been a factor in this incident. Students were celebrating Arts County Fair which is an annual event which symbolizes the end of classes.

This incident serves as a grim reminder that alcohol often lessens inhibitions and can lead to poor decisions.

Released by:

Cst. Annie Linteau
"E" Division Strategic Communications
Phone#: (604)264-2929

Source: (under "Today's News")


Boycott Mahony&Sons

oops, I think the image is by Greg Stegeman


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Executive Interview Series, Part I: Jeff Friedrich, AMS President

Yesterday, Wednesday the 11th, I had the pleasure of invading the presidential office to talk to our own Jeff Friedrich. The interview is 51 minutes long, but well worth it - Jeff talks about all the big issues in impressive depth. So click the link, and let Jeff's dulcet American accent soothe you while you nurse that ACF hangover.

Click here to listen.

Highlights include posssible creation of an AMS communication budget, rumniations on the future of AMS buisnesses, the Friedrich take on the farm, compliments to UBC-i, and excessive alcohol at prestigious events.

Much thanks to David Brandman for hosting a rather large audio file.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Justice for the Social Justice Centre.

In lieu of recent events surrounding the Social Justice Centre, one of the AMS Resource Groups, I solicited comments from some of its involved members. The following has been written by Mike Thicke, co-editor of The Knoll and an active member of the SJC. It reflects his own personal views.

The Resource Groups were created by the AMS to allow student funds to be
devoted to social and political causes while having the council itself
able to remain mostly divorced from these issues. Most of the groups
have multiple roles as support centres for victims of discrimination,
political advocates, and educational resources.

All of the resource groups were founded on very idealistic principles, valuing
consensus-based decision making and maximum inclusiveness. When they are
working well, they are one of the best parts of our university. For
example, the Student Environment Centre's "Seeds for Change" conference
attracted over 150 participants from UBC, other universities and the
community for two days of lectures and other activities centered around
the environment. Colour Connected is the primary source of funding for
the Realities of Race week, which focuses on the continuing problems
surrounding race in our society, and particularly the reality of
systemic racism on campus. Both of these events are models of what can
be achieved by dedicated students working for what they believe in.

The Social Justice Centre (SJC) was birthed from the 1997 protests of
the APEC conference. The APEC protests, followed shortly by the "Battle
in Seattle" two years later protesting the WTO, helped push the
"anti-globalization" movement onto the world stage. The SJC was planned
to be a way to build on that momentum, and its extremely broad and
ambitious constitution spoke to the great hopes invested in the centre
by its founders.

The SJC's mandate is extremely broad, and unlike most of the resource
groups, it is not focused on one specific aspect of oppression. Rather,
it is devoted to preventing all forms of oppression. If any can be
identified, the two focuses of the SJC are anti-war, and anti-poverty.
One consequence of this broad focus is that the SJC has more potential
for contentious political debate and infighting than the other resource
groups. Revolutionary-leaning left-wing groups have historically been
divided along what seem to be outsiders rather trivial lines. While to
most people the distinction between a Marxist-Leninist and a Trotskyist
may seem murky and unimportant even after a good deal of research, to
people who identify strongly with one of these camps the distinction is
very clear and important.

The Vancouver anti-war movement has been divided in recent years into
two main groups. is a large, fairly mainstream group that
puts on large but infrequent events (you may have seen stickers for
their March 17th rally). Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO)
is an extremely active group that puts on events almost weekly, on a
much smaller scale. MAWO was formed after internal strife within caused the majority to expel a group from the coalition that
they felt was overly disruptive to their operation. The expelled group,
and another that left with them, formed MAWO. (Notably, before joining
StopWar, some of these individuals were also expelled from the
Anti-Poverty Committee, a direct-action focused group which is much more
radical than StopWar, and has been very active recently in protesting
the loss of affordable housing downtown because of the Olympics.)

As a group that participates in events outside of UBC, often gives
donation to Vancouver groups, and has membership with involvements
around the city, the SJC inevitably attracted members that had strong
feelings about these two groups. The SJC also frequently went to these
groups as sources of potential speakers for UBC events, which had the
potential for trouble if potentially antagonistic speakers from either
side of the divide spoke at the same event.

At the beginning of this school year the SJC had planned several events
to encourage interest in the student body, always a nearly impossible
task. One of our first events was focused on the occupation of
Palestine. The SJC has traditionally been a very strong supporter of
Palestinians, and has worked closely with the UBC Palestinian Solidarity
Committee on many events. Although this is always a contentious topic,
it is not one we want to shy away from. The event was a
panel-discussion, with four speakers and a long time left for questions
and discussion from the audience. We were initially very happy to have a
large room filled with students listening to the panelists speak, but
the situation rapidly deteriorated. One speaker expressed unequivocal
support for Hezzbolah, another made comments that resulted in a formal
complaint of anti-semitism to the AMS, and another became very combative
with some members of the audience who he believed were attempting to ask
intentionally misleading and time-wasting questions. Overall, I at least
felt that oppressed Palestinians were not well-represented by our event,
and if anything their cause was dealt damage, rather than supported. At
the next meeting of the SJC, similar concerns were voiced, though not by
any means unanimously, but it was generally agreed that we should be
more cautious with our events in the future.

Our next major event was entitled "Canada in Afghanistan: A Roundtable
Discussion". When we initially discussed speakers, one speaker was
suggested as someone who had been involved in activist work in Iran
and very knowledgeable about the region. He was approved by the members,
including myself. Immediately afterwards I learned that he was actually
one of the people expelled by, and one of the founders of
MAWO. Further, there was a widely-circulated accusation of assault
against him by a person who attempted to leave the Fire This Time (FTT)
newspaper, of which this individual is the head editor. Although this
was an accusation without any particular evidence, it raised concerns
for me, and a few people I spoke to suggested that this speaker might be
problematic. I emailed another member of the SJC who was very involved
with FTT and MAWO, seeking another side of the story, and expressing
concern that we make every effort to ensure that our Afghanistan event
not be a repeat of our Palestine event. In response, this person
publicly accused me of racism of the highest order, as the speaker I was
concerned about happened to be Iranian. This accusation would be
shocking to anyone, but it was especially so given the nature of the
group we both belonged to.

Partly due to concerns over the speaker, and partly as a reaction to the
email accusation against myself, we held an emergency meeting a few days
later to "uninvite" this speaker, against the vehement protest of some
members of the SJC.

We knew that the internal tensions of the SJC were coming to a head at
this point, but we were not prepared for what was to happen at our next
meeting. Two days before the Afghanistan event was to take place we held
a meeting to finalize our plans and confirm our replacement speakers.
The people who objected to our cancelation of the original speaker
showed up with several new people to the SJC, and posters for an event
entitled, curiously, "Canada in Afghanistan: A Roundtable Discussion".
Although it had the same title, and took place at the same time, this
was not the SJC's event! It was an event put on by CAWOPI, featuring the
speaker we had canceled as their headliner. As we found out later, the
room they had advertised for their event was not even booked for its
duration. Their goal was to convince us to abandon our event and replace
it with theirs, and to use the room we had booked.

The extra people who showed up were there in hopes of forming a majority
within the SJC to vote for this to take place. One of the interesting
features of the resource groups is that all UBC students are, by
default, members of the resource groups, and any student who shows up to
a meeting has equal powers to students who have been coming to meetings
for months or years. As every student has part of her fees go towards
the operation of the groups, this rule makes sense. However, one of the
consequences of this is that the groups always have the possibility of
being ambushed. This time it didn't work - they did not form a majority
- but we still decided to cancel our event as we did not wish to run
openly confrontational events. I think this would have just further
discredited our cause, especially coming on the heels of the Palestine

Over the course of the next several weeks, from about early October to
late November, the SJC meetings turned into a firestorm of emotion,
lasting several hours each week, as the majority within the SJC sought
ways to prevent these past events from reoccurring. We felt that the SJC
could not continue with members who would sabotage our events whenever
they were not to their liking, especially when one of those who did the
sabotaging was one of our executives. We attempted to remove this exec,
to change the constitution, and to have SAC prevent CAWOPI from
interfering with our events in the future. None of these measures were
successful, partly because the SJC constitution was built with the
ideals of consensus in mind, making forcing through decisions a very
arduous task, and partly because we did not see any clear solutions to
our problems.

At the heart of the matter, I am convinced, is the SJC's approximately
$8000 per year budget. Unsurprisingly, activism around Vancouver is
ubiquitously starved for funding. A good portion of the budget has often
been devoted to donations to other groups in Vancouver in need of
support. It also, of course, goes towards promotional material for the
SJC and other campus groups, rental of sound and video equipment, and
other expenses. One of my core fears was that abandoning the SJC would
result in a good deal of these funds being devoted to MAWO and
associated groups. It was unacceptable to me that sabotaging our events
and creating a hostile environment in the group should result in such a
large reward for the perpetrators. Similarly, I expect the other side of
the conflict would have left and concentrated their activities within
other groups such as CAWOPI if not for the SJC budget.

In late November we passed a motion suspending the SJC's operations
until the February, as most of us were extremely burned out and fearing
for our academic futures. The break, we hoped, would also diffuse
tension and allow for a possible mediation period.

In late February we began a series of meetings, now moderated by a
member of the AMS Ombuds office, aimed at revamping our constitution.
The aim of these negotiations, for us, was to create a structure which
would allow the two factions within the SJC to operate somewhat
autonomously. We also hoped to fix lingering problems with the
constitution that would help the group to function more smoothly in the
future. Our proposed changes, which would have the SJC move to a more
committee-based system where people would work in smaller groups funded
by a larger "board of directors" met with quite a bit of resistance,
from all segments of the SJC, especially because it allowed these
committees to vote to exclude people from their meetings if they felt
that were necessary. Many people understandingly felt this was against
the spirit of the SJC, and possibly the AMS bylaws governing the
resource groups. Nevertheless, we were able to come to something of a
compromise solution that most seemed somewhat at peace with.

This Tuesday, April 10th, we met for our final meeting of the year to
finish off the constitution and elect a new executive for September.
Given that many people in the SJC had papers to write and exams coming
up, we had several absences. We had also grown complacent due to our
recent successes in reforming the constitution. Yesterday, however, was
another terrible surprise. Many of the same people who showed up out of
the blue in October returned, along with many faces we had never seen
before. For the first time in months, the balance of power within the
group shifted dramatically. We handled this quite poorly, as we
proceeded to go along with, and even suggest, some final changes to the
constitution that gave too much power to the executive. In the elections
three out of the four executive positions were taken by people I had
been battling for months. We were naive in our constitutional changes,
giving the executive discretion to override many of the safety measures
we had put into place to allow the SJC to function, and now it looks
like the worst result has come to pass.

The SJC and the resource groups as a whole are a fantastic part of the
AMS. However, they are vulnerable to takeover by small groups that have
policies markedly in opposition to what many students at UBC would feel
comfortable with. I am very concerned now that the SJC will not be a
positive force at the university, and will instead serve as a conduit
for funds passing to groups in Vancouver that do not serve the student
interest. I am hopeful, however, that this might spur those concerned
with social justice, anti-war, and anti-poverty activities to come out
in force next September to rescue the SJC from its uncertain future. I
will not be here in the fall, and for my part in this mess I apologize
to all the students who inherit it, but I think it is of tremendous
importance for everyone to invest their efforts in ensuring that the SJC
can regain its positive function.


Corporate Governance I: BoG

Since my time on the Board, I've taken an interest in governance best practices. And if not that, at least been more keenly aware of the relationships that build at Board levels, how the selection of a key few political appointees can really make a difference.

To that end I was particularly intrigued by the most recent provincial appointee to UBC BoG: Ross S. Smith. There are two interesting affiliations of note. The first is that he is a corporate Director (presumably external) of HSBC Canada. Veteran UBC Board-watchers will recall former Board member Martin Glynn is the former President and COO of HSBC Canada, and is now a senior executive with the bank in New York. A few years ago, when MBA students (unsuccessfully) sued the University for raising their tuitions, Mr. Glynn was accused of being in a conflict of interest. Why? Because HSBC was very active in commercial student loan financing, and the increase in tuition would certainly have been a boon to a commercial loan business. He was found to not be in a legal conflict of interest. Nevertheless, having bank Directors on UBC's Board at a time of loan dependency and increased student credit card debt does raise the issue of the role of commercial loan providers.

His second interesting affiliation is as Director of the Quest University Canada Foundation. For those who don't know, Quest University is a non-profit private university founded and championed by former UBC President David Strangway. Quest, for obvious reasons, is a significant challenge to the public education system in BC. As a private university, it is seeking to provide a different experience than in the large(er), public universities in the province. Now there are already private universities operating in BC. There are the sketchy, below-board, for-profit ones, and there is Trinity Western, a religious university that also provides a good education. But Quest is unique, in that it's a private secular university in the model of a small, U.S. private liberal arts college. There are some who suggest that it's a direct threat to the public character of BC Universities. I personally happen to disagree, but even I find it very questionable that the province would seem to be so strongly endorsing Quest by appointing one of its Board members to that of its largest post-secondary institution.

Tonight, when my paper is done, Part II of my corporate governance mini-series: How UBC Properties Trust is the dominant threat to UBC governance.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

University Boulevard

There is an interesting petition circulating around Facebook (the new place for activism, it seems).

I've skimmed it and it made some excellent points, so here is a link:
University Boulevard Petition

Rationale (from the website linked):

Listen to what students want! The “What’s the plan” campaign produced a really excellent review that reports the following, based on student comments:
• There needs to be more formal and informal indoor and outdoor meeting spaces with ample seating.
• Outdoor spaces need to have more seating and should be reflective of the natural surroundings of the UBC-Vancouver campus.
• More multi-use spaces that include computer access are required on campus, e.g., for studying, socializing and eating.
• Many participants noted the Forestry Building Atrium and the Grassy Knoll as types of public spaces that work on campus
• Maintain greenspace and viewscapes.
The U-Town plan specifically undermines every single one of these comments; each is either ignored or the opposite idea is being implemented. The biggest problem with the U-Blvd plan is the lack of consultation with students, and even now when student feedback about our public spaces is available, it is blatantly disregarded.

What is the solution to the 5-year fiasco that is the U-Blvd development project? People need to speak out, loud and clear, that what is planned (if this poorly thought out project can even be described by such a word) must be reconsidered. The land use options for the heart of our campus need to be revisited. We need to go back to square one and ask, “What do students want to do with this space? What does the heart of campus look like in the ivy-league schools we try to emulate the most? What are all of our possible options?" In order to achieve this awakening of our university’s leaders who are running blindly like mad horses over the edge of a cliff, a petition is circulating, calling on the Board of Governors to stop what they’re doing, consult students first, and implement our visions.

Print a copy of the petition (or pick one up from the SUB Rescource Center), sign it, get your friends/roommates/peers/profs/students to sign it, and return it to the Resource Center, SUB rm 245, by April 30, so it can be presented at the next BoG meeting at the beginning of May 2007, when U-Blvd construction is slated to be approved. We need to stop these disastrous plans before they become a reality. It’s in our power to stop this with nothing more than our signatures and our optimism.

Look at the Petition content behind the jump.

Dear Board of Governors and AMS Student Council,
We, the students, staff and faculty of the University of British Columbia would like to take this opportunity to inform you that we are strongly opposed to the proposed University Boulevard development project.

1. University Boulevard, a space located at the heart of UBC campus and used by students for social and learning needs, should not be developed on a cost-recovery model, and should prioritize student needs for learning and social spaces over retail space, particularly at a time when studies are showing a decrease in the quality of our education; and

2. There has been vastly inadequate consultation of students, the AMS Student Council, and the University Town Committee throughout the various stages of this development project; and

3. Students are dismayed by the loss of the grassy knoll, the lack of green space, and the allowance of car traffic on the intersection, which will disrupt the atmosphere and decrease the safety of the area; and

4. The un-expandable underground bus loop will not accommodate future increases to transit service to campus, and will not serve the needs of students or University Town residents; and

5. The >$30 million funding for the underground bus loop through IIC’s could be better spent on greatly needed services such as daycare, where there is currently a waiting list of 1300; and

6. Competition from new businesses (not guaranteed to be local or ethical) will decrease usage of the SUB and negatively affect student-run and funded businesses.

Therefore, we the undersigned call on UBC and the Board of Governors to refrain from approving any further decisions on the University Boulevard project until meaningful consultation revisiting land use options has occurred with students, the AMS Council, and the University Town Committee; and to develop and follow policies guaranteeing that the decisions and principles arrived at through meaningful consultation will be implemented.
We further call on the AMS Student Council to adopt a policy addressing the above-mentioned student concerns.


Ask Dr. Wieman

Later this week, our own Maayan Kreitzman will have a sit-down interview with Dr. Carl Wieman of his eponymous Science Education Initiative. (See below.) We've got some questions, but we thought we'd put it to our readers - what questions would you like to ask Dr. Wieman?

What about his initiative, science education, philosophy, or the man himself would you be interested to know?


The Future Direction of this Blog

Here's where we take your suggestions on how to improve or make changes.

Our goal is really to make the blog relevant, inclusive, and informative. Right now we feel like we're a bit cliquey, and we're wondering how we would go about opening ourselves up.

So we're wondering, if you could pick anything and everything apart, what needs to go:
- more authors? too many?
- web layout?
- print publication (anyone willing to help us with this)?
- promo
Other things I can't think of due to my social location?

Are we writing waaay too much about internal politics and too little about broader, more important things?
Would you rather have "newsy" or "opiniony" posts?
Your input is highly sought after, and as always you can be as brutally honest as you want. Post anonymously if you need to!


Monday, April 9, 2007

"...approach the teaching of science as a science" - Carl Wieman's schtick.

It sounds like a dream - a high profile and hugely funded project (about 200 k per year, currently) entirely dedicated to improving the academic fortunes of the masses of undergrad science students. Students that currently seem to leave their lower-level physics and chemistry courses more detached, zombie-like, and unready for what real scientific enquiry is all about than when they came in (chem 205 with Dr. Chen, anyone?). But what exactly is the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) proposing, what are its methods, what has it accomplished in it's three months of official existence, and what do concerned parties think of the whole shebang?

Carl Wieman, the Nobel laureate in physics from U of Colorado was recruited to UBC in 2007 with pomp and circumstance. But instead of setting up a state-of-the-art lab for experimental physics, he instead asked for a whack of money to stay in the office and spearhead a crusade for better teaching - in fact, that's why he came here in the first place. Dr. Wieman has become more interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning over the past several years. The project's goal is to

Provide substantial support to science departments to evaluate all of their undergraduate courses and pursue opportunities to improve educational outcomes. The focus will be on achieving sustained departmental-wide change, and will rely on the use of relevant science education research results and technology to achieve these goals.
Admittedly, the project is in its nascent stages. It has only vague notions of working together with teaching projects that already exist at UBC (like TAG and Skylight) in order to create comprehensive plans for improving the curricula of 5 or so chosen departments per year. Future fundraising is supposed to supplement this budget in order to be able to expand the project to all science departments. The basic idea is to train us science students such that we have the intellectual tools to solve the world's big problems, and fuel its highly technical skill-reliant economy.

The way this is going to be done will be worked out on the departmental level, over the next months or year. For example, George Spiegelman is the CWSEI head for biology. Basically experts in science education will work with departments, professors, and instructors to gather data about student learning, and then develop methods, including technology (like course-specific software) to improve teaching and curricula on a per-project basis. This sounds good.

I sent an email to a few of my former professors to ask them what they thought of the initiative. Here are the two responses I got (so far):

Dr. Lacey Samuels (botany)
There are many profs and instructors in the Faculty of Science who have been attempting to use a "how-people-learn" philosophy guide our teaching strategies. We've been struggling to test the effectiveness of our methods, train graduate students in learning and teaching theory and practices, and working with the excellent SCLT researchers (Science Centre for Learning and Teaching). The CWSEI represents a huge boost of resources in this effort. The timing of the Initiative with respect to revisions in the Biology curriculum means that we will have the resources to evaluate the changes in the curriculum. It is pretty exciting. The timing of implementation with the budget troubles that UBC is suffering is tough.
Shona Ellis (botany)
I don't really have much to say at this point. I think the CWSEI is very exciting. It gives us an opportunity to step back and take a look at how we are educating undergraduates (including uses of technology). In biology there was already a movement for evaluation and change, but without the funding of the CWSEI it would have been almost impossible to implement. For myself, it will be interesting to learn more about how people learn and I look forward to the opportunity to work with experts in education research. I am very optimistic about this project and I am very happy that science undergraduate education is a top priority at UBC.
Sounds like someone's paying these ladies (/jk). I can attest to the fact that both Dr. Samuels and Shona have payed attention to how students learn. They run one of the most effective courses I've ever taken, Biology 210, which integrates about three (plus or minus two) phases in each lecture: a lecture, some sort of interactive question/answer, and some sort of visual picture component. Also, the combination of written overhead notes, and powerpoint pictures/visuals that the lecturers used is by far the best presentation mehtod. The marked attention this course pays to cross-referencing, sequencing and integrating the different types of course materials available (notes, pictures, text-book, lab book) in a way that makes sense was very successful, and reflects the investment of the people that build and teach the course. If this is the type of thing we're aiming for, having the resources to make all professors more like Lacey and Shona, I'm all for it.

My critiques and comments are the following:
  • The CWSEI's focus on technology may be misguided. There are many courses where the huge and confusing web components (be they compulsory, or merely an enormous network of resources) are pure horror. Biology 200's massive and cyclic labyrinth of links comes to mind. Yes, it is a matter of preference, but I would rather read a sequential, story-like textbook than spend my life on webCT looking at superfluous animation links. He's also big on clickers. Never used them, but his explanation in the podcast is fairly compelling. Also, some course-specific software (like, say, OWL) is a nightmare. These tools need to be implemented deliberately, not because of the gadget! shiny! cool! if I don't use my budge it'll be taken away! types of ticks scientists get.
  • The visibility of the project to students, and their participation should be emphasized. What with the budget cuts due to the deficit, and growing classes, and breaking labs, science students would like to know that this project is investing a lot of resources for their benefit.
  • Web presence: it is essential with a project such as this that people (students, other professors than the ones immediately concerned, etc) be able to stay up to date with the planning and implementation stages. With such a large budget, it would be a pity to pass up the opportunity to communicate both the process and the results of the project. It is also easy for people to become cynical about a large publicly-funded project if it has no in-depth, timely, accessible, public face.

Some links:

Carl Wieman's not-very-grammatical powerpoint presentation
about CWSEI
Carl Wieman talking on podcast about education in 2005 (skip the first 4 minutes)
Skylight project grants - check out past successful projects to get a sense of a) the things that have improved, and b) the teachers who care about teaching


Saturday, April 7, 2007

The VP Guessing Game

Towards the Old Admin Building, aka the road to power

Stephen just sent this notice out to all students and presumably faculty/staff:

Dear Colleagues:

I am pleased to report that the search for a new Provost and
Vice-President (Academic) is progressing well. After a final round of
consultations with representatives of faculty, staff and students, the
Search Committee should soon be in a position to recommend a candidate
for me to take to the Board of Governors. Best wishes as the semester
draws to a busy end.

Stephen Toope
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of British Columbia

So it sounds like the Search Committee has picked a shortlist of their liking. Whose name do you think will be brought forth to board? Take your guesses!

Personally, I'm kind of hoping it'll be George Mackie (current VP Academic and Provost, pro tem). He has been incredibly well received by the AMS, senate, and board alike, and has administrative experience as the past Biochem Department Head and having worked as former VP Academic's Financial Officer. He is currently spearheading SCAPP (the Steering committee on Academic Planning Process), and otherwise highly efficient in the duties he has been brought into. But another part of me is really hoping for someone from a diverse background to offset the white male thing that's dominating the administrative prowess of this University.


Friday, April 6, 2007

Some Updates

1. Re: Tobacco ban on campus: the Province is suing big tobacco companies (a cost recovery lawsuit, Link). "We've always taken the position that because they sold and promoted their products in our market, (resulting) in damage to our citizens, that we have the right to legislate against their conduct," said Oppal. I don't know what to think about this. On one hand, yeah the tobacco company does provide the goods, but it's the individual that decides to light up. Does the Province have a case?

2. President Toope and VP Academic pro tem George Mackie both wrote me a letter regarding the library affairs saying the Senate's Library Committee would be "rejuvenated" starting in September. No further comment was made regarding the lack of involvement of the committee this year. I'm still dissatisfied because the many changes this year should at the very least have been notified to the committee. But at least they got my letter.

Randomly spotted on the street: Brian Danin (Arts Senator, outgoing), Kevin Keystone (former AMS President), Claudia Li (Joblink Coordinator), Gerald Deo (webmaster), Sophia Haque (former VP Finance)



So Council has approved the creation of an oversight committee and stacked it with code fiends. Fun fun. While it's not necessarily a bad thing, I don't think it's the best model. Why?

  1. No oversight of Council. We're all about exec transparency, but Council is just as important in the operations of the AMS as is the executive. There are no real bodies that engage in Council oversight.
  2. Committee composition. As pointed out in an earlier post, these committees tend to attract the same types of people who are rules junkies. Which isn't necessarily bad, but I don't see how it can be good.
  3. No way to ensure "mature, constructive" criticism. This committee only functions if the oversight is mature and constructive. Again, there is nothing to guard that.
  4. Conflicting interests. By limiting the pool to elected officials, there are two possible grounds of conflict. The first is personal relationships; the existence of pre-existing relationships necessarily causes problems for oversight. For instance, Lougheed listed Naylor a member of his "campaign team." There's clearly a pre-existing relationship. Second, it is open to a member of the committee to use it as a springboard to take down an exec member to further their own ends. There's nothing in the code to address these issues.
It follows that my ideal oversight is mature and constructive, free of conflicting interests, comes from a varied perspective, and oversees Council as well as the executive.

To that end, I propose a model similar to that used by ESPN. Yes, I'm using them for corporate best practices. But here's the thing - their model is really good. And I can't find another one anywhere that comes anywhere close to approximating its awesomeness. (By way of background, click here to see the archives and to get a sense of what the ESPN Ombudsperson does.)

What could a re-vamped AMS Ombuds office do? They could fulfill the same function as the existing committee, except in a far more non-political manner. They could identify what the AMS (both Council and the exec) are doing to fulfill the student mission, and assess compliance (or lack thereof) with the stragetic plan. Most importantly, the role of the Ombuds could be to identify both the good things that have been done, as well as the areas for improvement. A nice, fair, balanced report (like the ESPN ones) to Council once a month? I'd like to see that.

Seriously, take a look at the ESPN ones. Can you really, honestly imagine an oversight committee coming up with something that useful and productive? The reason you can't is because the oversight is being done by student politicians, for whom "mature" and "constructive" behavior are not exactly priorities. They also have conflicting interests (see the most recent article for a good discussion of conflicting versus vested interests), and because they'll only be exacerbating the Council-Exec tension.

A position modeled on the ESPN one would be easy to fill. And pay big dividends.


Thursday, April 5, 2007

Translink update

It looks like they reached a deal (yay!).

Thanks to my friend Lily for the link.


AMS meeting skinny

disclaimer: No, AMS is not the earth and sky. I'm just writing about it this week because I have stuff to write about. More general-interest stories to come.

For those of you that wonder what-all goes on during AMS meetings, but have never bothered to show up and eat the free food every other Wednesday night, here's a little primer on the goings-on at the highest decision making body of your student union. For currency and convenience, I'll use yesterday's meeting as an example, with the added bonus that you won't have to wait god knows how long till the minutes are posted to find out what went down (note: the most recent minutes on the AMS website are from January 24th 2007 - five meetings ago). As detailed in the previous post, much of this meeting was taken up by committee appointments, which only take place once a year. Still though, the format was typical (as it always is).

Meetings start in a friendly manner. People mill about gathering sandwiches, fruit and cups of coffee. When the meeting is called to order, everyone introduces themselves.

The first things on the agenda are usually presentations to council: from the university, external advisers, AMS services, etc. The last few weeks' meeting have been taken up by presentations from all the AMS services, who need to report to council on a yearly basis about their doings, their finances, and their user statistics. Yesterday there were presentations from Safewalk and the Sexual Assault Support Centre.

Next is Exec reports. Each of the execs (President, VP external, VP academic, VP finance, and VP admin) get a few minutes to talk about what they are up to, give council a heads up about motions they put together, and address any specific business in their portfolio. For example, last week VP admin Sarah Naiman did a show-and-tell for the new fabulous events calendar that is now situated in the SUB nook (large, yellow, between blue chip and PiR, check it out). I'm not gonna lie, I can't remember anything the exec said in their reports yesterday. It probably wasn't too exciting. Oh, actually president Jeff Friedrich welcomed the new Communications Manager. She's got a cool job.

Allison, the new Communications Manager (by Gina)

Next is constituency reports. This is when the representatives from the various faculties and schools around campus say things like "Arts county fair in 8 days!" and "Awesome big-screen TVs are being installed in Ladha!" and "nothing to report!" and "We're having another beer garden!". Updates are usually brief and always cheery.

Now we come to the meat and potatoes of the meeting: executive motions. This is when the execs present motions to council about a wide range of topics. Individual council members, constituencies, and committees can also put motions on the agenda, but most of the important motions go through the exec first and are presented at this time. Yesterday, there were two interesting executive motions: one to approve spending up to $8000 on a "student-wide poll," that's going to gather information about student's views and awareness of AMS-related issues, as well as some university-related issues. Look out for the broadcast email asking for your participation. The other one was a motion brought forward by VP academic Brendon Goodmurphy to create the ad-hoc academic quality committee tasked with basically taking NSSE, compiling it with more student complaints and recommendations about academics, and shoving the whole package down the administration's throats. This is a current "hot topic," due to Stephen Toope's alleged enthusiasm for all things teaching and students. These motions raised some good questions and healthy debate. Both were carried.

Look for the rest behind the jump.

Next were committee motions. Though normally, these would be policy motions brought forward by a committee, yesterday they were mostly motions to appoint members to all the committees for this year. To find out about these in detail, read a few posts down.

An entirely different motion having nothing to do with appointments also appeared in this section, though I'm not sure why it did, as opposed to 'executive motions'. In any event, VP external Matthew Naylor presented a motion that the AMS should join as a petitioner in a lawsuit that is constitutionally challenging Bill-C31, which is currently going through the Canadian Senate. The Bill requires that in order to vote in federal elections in a given riding, voters must have current government-issued photo ID with their current address in that specific riding. Since so many students come from elsewhere, live in residence, and are renters, this requirement would effectively disenfranchise a large chunk of UBC students, unless they went through the flaw-ridden process of asking for an away ballot from their home riding. This lawsuit is being headed by the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre. There was alot of debate on this motion. It centred on the possible financial liability the AMS would incur if the case was lost and legal fees were assigned by the judge. Debate also focused on the fact that legal advice had not been sought. Some councilors felt that they did not have enough information to enter into a court challenge. Others felt that the spirit of the motion justified it, particularly due to the time-sensitive nature of the bill passing through Senate and a possible spring election. In the end, the policy was amended to include a requirement that the executive seek legal council, and power was given to the executive committee to decide whether or not to join as a petitioner or support the lawsuit in some other way. This one motion took about an hour and 15 minutes to amend and pass. This is because certain council members saw fit to repeat the same sentiments over and over, without suggesting any amendments. Others made lengthy, non-specific, and generally vacuous comments. But mostly, Matthew and the other executives should have anticipated the uneasiness of council over the lack of information, and brought in one of the other petitioning groups to supply more detailed monetary and technical information ahead of time. A strange gaffe, and one that let alone wasting alot of council time, nearly cost the failure of this important initiative.

Some more appointments took place after that, with a few non-pressing ones delayed till the next meeting due to the lateness of the hour. Normally, there would be discussion topics, and notice of future motions after that, but there weren't any this time. Also, normally meetings are supposed to last till 10, so this one was extended twice: first to 11, and then indefinitely. sigh.

A few observations:

Generally, the level of discussion and debate is good: understandable and reasonably lively. I do lament the lack of eloquence. Not many people seem inclined to really ham it up these days (though Craig from Education gave a pretty sonorous motivation, I admit), and are satisfied with disjointed, un-prefaced remarks. This is fair enough, but when combined with the sometimes-repetitiveness and unselfconscious rambling that sometimes surfaces, it can make for uninspiring debate. Another thing to note is that there are relatively few people who speak often, and almost dominate the discourse. This is probably just a fact of life, but worth noting.

The tone of council is not formal, but Robert's Rules are rigorously implemented by the incomparable chairperson Dave so things run quickly. Looking around the room, there are often side-conversations and peanut galleries along the sides where quiet (but no doubt slanderous and radical) discussions also take place. Not intimidating at all.

So, for everyone that's never thought about where and how exactly your student government actually functions, I hope that gave you a taste of what the AMS meeting is like. Come out every other Wednesday (but less in the summer) at 6:00 PM in the council chambers, SUB room 206, to see the democracy at work!!


Closure of Two University Libraries

So, there was a notice sent out to a select number of students (and I have no idea which ones), saying that the Math and MacMillan Library would be closed, as well as reduced hours in other libraries due to the budget shortage.

The official notice is posted behind the cut.

My problem as a Senator who sits on the Library Committee is the following:
It's the mandate of the committee to oversee the operations of the Libraries. We had not been informed of the budget cut, nor the closures, nor the reduced hours of the Libraries.

As a result, I am concerned to which extent the Senate is involved in the academic governance of the University. No one could argue that the libraries aren't a key element of the academic life in an institution such as ours.

I am also concerned about the manifestations of the budget reductions - what this would mean for the study spaces for students, access to resources for the community, and whether the extended hours project during exams will continue, as it may now cost additional costs to supplement any "normal" hours which have been reduced.

Subject: Closure of the MacMillan Library

UBC Library and the University are facing serious budgetary reductions, and some difficult choices have had to be made. The Library's reduction is $1.6 million for 2007-2008, with the strong possibility of further reductions the following year. The Library is unable to continue to sustain the current number of branches. As well, the work of the library is changing, for the most part we are set up as a print-based operation, however; more and more of our resources are electronic. The Library is looking for ways to continue the reference, instruction and collections within the changing use of the libraries and with the limited resources in both staff and budget. To be viable in the future, we need to carefully resource our libraries and ensure that we have the staffing components needed to meet the users' needs. As a result, UBC Library has decided to close MacMillan and Math Libraries by the end of August 2007. We are also reducing hours of operation at other branches and are reducing staff through retirements and not filling vacancies, wherever possible. This was not an easy decision, yet it was a necessary one for UBC Library to make. Dr. Peter Ward, University Librarian, pro tem and the UBC Library are committed to ensuring that the service to the faculty, students and other users of the MacMillan Library is maintained. The service will continue as before, except from a different location. There will still be the full complement of service - reference & instruction, library orientation, print collections and e-resources, reserve collections, etc. for all the faculties and students currently served by the MacMillan Library. There will continue to be professional librarians to do the full suite of liaison and course development work and support staff will continue to process collections and materials. There will continue to be a collections budget for books, journals and e-resources for MacMillan, although as part of the budget reductions, the overall library budget is also being reduced. The main change is that the collections will be moved. Majority of the collections will fit within the Woodward Biomedical Branch. Many of the subject areas currently housed in MacMillan overlap with other subject areas held in Woodward. Others, such as Landscape Architecture, will be a better fit with similar collection in IKBLC (Irving K. Barber Learning Centre). There may be some value to keeping some of the collections together, with others interfiling may be more useful to the students. We would like to have more discussion with faculty and students regarding these decisions. There is potential for increased in-class reference and instruction, as librarians will have added flexibility to go where students are located. In return, there will be a larger group of librarians for students and faculty visiting respective libraries. For example, Woodward librarians often team-teach and offer Library research workshops. UBC Library welcomes the opportunity to be as inclusive as possible regarding discussions about the relocation of MacMillan Library, as it is crucial that we keep users informed and hear about their requirements. We would like to work with faculty to find the best way to communicate with you and your students. The planning process for the MacMillan Library relocation is ongoing and we will continue to provide regular updates on developments. For questions and comments regarding the relocation of MacMillan Library, or to set up a meeting, please contact Rita Dahlie, Head, Woodward Biomedical Library, at 604-822-4970 or


AMS committee appointment results (the interesting ones)

Well, I'm back from the 6-hour 9-minute AMS meeting of tonight*. In this post I'll just list some of the more interesting committee appointment results and relevant comments. A more complete summary of the meeting, and further ruminations about AMS meetings generally will follow in a few hours once I'm fully conscious.

Member-at-large committee seats were filled early in the evening and council-member appointments were later. The same basic procedure was followed: the committees were listed, councilors nominated others or themselves (and members at large could nominate themselves), and if the nominees exceeded the open spots, council voted by ballot. For details about each committee's duties and seats in the AMS code of procedure click here. I've consciously left out a whole slew of the appointments committees.


campus planning & development:
Darren Peets (BoG)
Scott Bernstein (law)
Tristan Markle (science)
Margaret Orlowski (at large)
Peter Rizov (at large)
Matt Filipiak (at large)

This looks like a robust crew. Darren, the walking capus-development ecyclopedia, with Matt, Peter and Tristan should have a diversity of strong voices. I'm particularly excited about Margaret Orlowsky, who made her AMS debut tonight, having never attended a meeting before. She's a keen graduate student that's been involved in the anti U-boulevard petition and not much else, but got interested in the last few months. She showed up, spoke her piece, and will be doing some work in a big way. So kudos.

Stephanie Ryan (arts)
Rob Taddei (education)
Jia Lei (commerce)
Lois Chan (at large)
Justin Stevens (at large)

ad hoc Academic Quality Committee
Jessica (arts)
Lindsay (engineering)
Neal Marks (L & FS)
me! [Maayan Kreitzman] (at large)
Natalie Hillary (at large)

This is a brand-new committee that was just created By VP Academic Brendon Goodmurphy for the general purpose of addressing issues of the quality of the academic experience of students. As GSS president Matt Filipiak (I think it was him) mentioned, it is surprising that no standing committee exists in the AMS to address academic issues. For now, the committee will focus on communicating with the University to leverage the data from the NSSE (in which UBC ranked rock-bottom, plus or minus some dark benthic water layers) to forward the huge concerns regarding quality of learning here at UBC. The president of UBC, Stephen Toope has expressed interest and concern over this, and the issue of student engagement and satisfaction seems to be current and hot at the university levels right now. Not to toot my own horn too hard, but I'm quite optimistic about this committee: we can seize this opportunity to communicate to the university exactly what we students are on about, from class sizes, to enrichment of teaching skills, to course evaluations, and so on.

One more note: Natalie Hilary also popped her AMS cherry tonight. She seems super keen, and I look forward to working with her.

ad hoc Lobbying Review
Tahara Bhate (science), chair
Sam Heppell (arts)
Darren Peets (BoG)

This appointment race yielded perhaps the most dramatic moment of the evening. The Lobbying Review committee was an initiative of 04/05 president Amina Rai to create a guiding policy group to for determining lobbying policy; originally they were evaluating the pros and cons of being in CASA. Now it's a general lobbying policy committee. According to some people, it now functions as a counterweight to the External Commission, which is appointed by the VP-external. It is not chaired by the VP External. Clearly, political types go for this position. Notably, both Tristan Markle and Nathan Crompton, (both perceivedly "radical" left-wing activists and Knoll-contributors) threw their hats in, and failed to win. Crompton, in his motivation, made a particularly unsavory sling at VP external Matthew Naylor, saying that it would be particularly important to elect him, as a representative of an alternative viewpoint since the current VP External was ineffective due to his involvement in party politics. (Matthew has campaigned for the federal Liberals). Though the evaluation of councilors in regard to their personal politics is valid, and should have a venue on council, this was not an appropriate time to air it. Alienating the executive whose portfolio the committee you are proposing to join concerns is impractical, not to mention divisive. It is certainly possible to express diverse opinions about lobbying issues (which is what this is all supposed to come down to) directly without irrelevant personal targeting. Crompton's further comment that it was "not personal" I found disingenuos and strange. Anyhow, the tactic didn't pay off. Interesting to note in this context is Sam Heppell's rigorous involvement as the president of the the UBC NDP club. I have not heard any complaints about this. Basically, this, or any, committee is not free of partisanship, nor should it be. Lets recognize that and not privilege some ideological affiliations (be they political parties or otherwise) over others.

Communication Planning Group
Jeff Friedrich, (AMS president), chair
Ryan Corbett (invited at the discretion of the chair)
Andrew Forshner (arts)
Conor Topley (commerce)
Alex Lougheed (science)

This should be interesting. This is the only committee chaired by the president. It is dealing with large issues of the AMS's visibility and communication with students, an issue whose shortcomings have been much lamented on this blog and elsewhere. The committee is going to think about possibly re-branding the AMS, as well as using available venues and technology to better reach John Q. They'll be working with Allison, the newly-hired Communications Manager. Corbett, though he will no longer be a member of council after the arts representatives turn over (between now and next meeting) was invited at the discretion of the chair to continue in the Group due to his "valuable insights" this year. There are no member-at-large seats in the Group. Lets hope for some strong results!

Code & Policy
Scott Bernstein (law), chair
Sam Heppell (arts)
Alex Lougheed (science)
Jason (GSS)
....... (at large)
....... (at large)

Sam Heppel (arts), chair
Jason (GSS)
Alex Lougheed (science)
Scott Bernstein (law)
Conor Topley (commerce)

Notice that the Code & Policies committee, and Oversight committee members are one and the same (except for Conor). It has been highlighted to me that modes (or maybe molds?) exist within the council, that members fall comfortably into, because they fit. Not a bad thing, just an observation.

Buisness Operations Committee
Tahara Bhate (science)
Connor Topley (commerce)
Aidha Sheikh (GSS)
Colin Simkus (at large)

Neal Marks (L & FS)
Joel Koczwarski (arts)
Omid Javadi (engineering)

A few more orphan comments:

  • There has be consternation and discussion about the lack of advertisement for at-large committee seats. There were a significant number of at-large candidates, and only one (if recall) committee was filled with no vote, and that was the budget committee. Right now, the message goes out through the constituencies to presumably moderately involved members within them. The executive has never made efforts to publicize these positions and makes no bones about saying so. But, as Jeff detailed in a comment on the below post, this has been recognized as a flaw. The reorganization of AMS volunteer connections and AMS job link (which was carried at today's meeting), to be combined and renamed AMS Connect, is supposed to have more detailed online postings for internal volunteer positions henceforth. This is to more widely publicize AMS positions on committees, commissions, working groups and so forth, as well as build a greater sense of community and relevance among students-at-large. Too bad the regular half-assed effort at publicizing the positions was still in effect for this round.
  • Students-at-large may only sit on one (1) appointed position within the AMS, according to the interpretation of the following passage of code (section I, article 1, paragraph 4) :
    "Student At Large" shall mean an Active Member who is eligible to serve in an
    appointed position by virtue of not being a member of Council and not currently holding any other position to which he or she has been appointed by Council, a Council Committee, a Commission, a Planning Group, the Ombudsperson, the Executive Committee, an individual member of the Executive, or the Executive Coordinator of Student Services. (emphasis added)
    During the course of the evening, there were many council-designated seats on committees that were not eagerly filled, or not filled at all. So much so that Brendon Goodmurphy put forward a motion to suspend Code and allow more than one person from each constituency to be appointed to one committee just to be able to fill them (normally, for example, only one Arts representative is permitted on a given committee as per section V, article 2, paragraph 3). Opening up multiple committee appointments to members at large is practical. There is no explicit statement to the contrary in code - only the above cited definition.
  • This council is certainly not disinclined to choose members at large that are unfamiliar to it if they show up and give a half-decent spiel. Margaret and Natalie showed that. Here's hoping more will follow their example.
  • PiR^2 does not serve matza pizza on Passover during 6-hour long AMS meetings. This is a violation of human rights, and should be treated as such for speedy mitigation ASAP.
  • If I'm missing information, or erring, please post updates/corrections. It's been a long night.

*I totally did write this up last night at 1 am when I got home. Due to a silly internet connection, I don't seem like as huge a keener as I am.


Tuesday, April 3, 2007

AMS Committee Appointments

Important Notice
Sorry Timbits, gonna hog the spotlight for 20 hours or so

The AMS is appointing students to their many committees. This is where some of the major gruntwork is done at the AMS level.

Once again the AMS hasn't advertised the at large committee spots at all nor was there a preliminary description on how often they meet, how much time commitment it is. IE. This is NOT accessible to "at large" students.

I don't care what the execs have to say to defend themselves but it's a pet peeve of mine and Peter Rizov will agree with me. What's the new PR manager doing? The Webmaster? Hello AMS we are yet again failing at Student engagement.

See the list of open committee spots behind the jump.

Open to all UBC Students are the following seats:

2 seats - the Budget Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008

2 seats - the Compensation Review Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008

2 seats - to the Code and Policies Committee for a term commencing immediately
and ending March 31, 2008

3 seats - to the Primary Appointments Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008

2 seats - to the Coordinators Appointments Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008

2 seats - to the Commissioners Appointments Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008

2 seats - to the Assistant Appointments Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008

1 seat - to the Business Operations Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008

2 seats - to the Fundraising and Sponsorship Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008

2 seats - to the Campus Planning & Development Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008 (HI MAAYAN)

2 seats - to the UPass Subsidy Review Committee for a term commencing immediately and ending March 31, 2008

2 seats to the ad-hoc Academic Quality Committee for a term commencing
immediately and ending March 31, 2008

To get appointed, show up to AMS Council Wednesday April 4 (tomorrow) at 6pm at SUB 206 council chambers.




The Ubyssey covers it well. My short version: non-campus students want U-Pass, AMS asked Student Court if they were members under the bylaws, Student Court said yes, AMS sent question back for clarification, Student Court says they are entitled to be AMS members.

The AMS Student Court says that co-op students should be members.
AMS Exec and Council disagree.

So what to do? They decide to "ignore" the whole question, rather than "reject" it. Apparently they will negotiate individually with those students.

I'm not gonna lie - I don't understand how they can do that. What's the point of a student court, exactly, if we can just ignore its ruling by putting our hands over our ears and pretending not to hear? What's now to stop a co-op or commerce diploma student from going to student court on their own initiative to force the AMS to make them part of their membership? More troublingly, what's stopping a co-op student from going to real court to seek a similar interpretation?

It was said at Council by the execs that "we couldn't get a result we wanted." That seems kinda wrong, no?


Bigger is better?

I'm very loyal to Arts. But people tend to respond defensively when I criticize, so I'm forced to preface this by saying "please don't respond defensively."

In their most recent elections, the AUS had 400 voters. SUS? 1400. Which is quite the difference. But it's even more stark if you realize for a second that Arts is more than twice the size of Science. Now I know voter turnout is a pretty poor measure of engagement. And might be explained by other factors, like online voting in SUS, and campaign differences, on which I'd rather not dwell. But I think it's relatively clear that, on-campus, Science students are more engaged with their student society than are Arts ones.

This makes me sad. To be sure, there are probably reasons related to the management of the undergrad societies, but those are almost certain to provoke the defensive responses that make me cry myself to sleep at night (or not). So let's focus on the systemic reasons this could be the case:

  1. Faculty size. Arts is huge. Science less so. It's a very de-centralized faculty, and there is little shared affinity between people in various programs of study. By contrast, Science is at least smaller, there are more common classes (in early years) and, most importantly, there's a sense that being "in Science" means something that being "in Arts" doesn't. What's the solution? Perhaps leveraging AUS council and contacts to work to develop affinities at the deparemental level, and complete the circle by ensuring that there's some way the departments come back to Arts at the end of the day.
  2. Physical space. I've mentioned this before, but the new Ladha centre is far superior to MASS. MASS is designed in such a way as to place the AUS at the centre whilst relegating students to the periphery, while Ladha, even though it houses SUS offices (which are smaller than those for the AUS), is far more student-friendly. It's also important to note that spaces like the war room and other ones in MASS aren't used as much by students as the Ladha ones. No idea why. (The AUS ought to also consider learning from SUS which has managed to leverage its fantastic new space... it's become a hub for all sorts of student-friendly activities.)
  3. Arts County Fair. Ask any AUSer what they're doing this time of year, and they say "Fair." Cuz they are. It consumes the AUS for a good chunk of the year. While I love ACF, I can't help but wonder if this is a service that the AUS ought to invest to much of its time and energy. (I should first note that time and energy are necessarily a zero sum game - if someone is spending time on A, then that is less time they can be spending on B and C.) What's the return to Arts students for the fair? They get no additional benefit. Hell, they don't even get a discount on admission. It's an Arts event in name only. Which I'm fine with, but it clearly comes at the cost of other engagement. Moreover, there exists a perception that "all the AUS does is ACF." While I'll be the first to say that's not the case, that perception can quite readily alienate the thousands of Arts students who don't attend the fair. I'm all for ACF, and it's a valuable campus service, but we can't disregard the cost.
  4. Snobbery. Arts students have an inferiority complex that makes me sad. There's the "would you like fries with that" stigma that surrounds an Arts degree, and I suspect it contributes to a drop in affinity.
I'm sure there's more, but I'm late for real estate transactions. But I'm curious as to thoughts. It's an uphill battle in Arts, and it's been that way for as long as I can remember. I'm also at a loss for solutions. Any thoughts?


Monday, April 2, 2007

We are still a commuter campus

So a Transit Strike would kick our ass.