Thursday, May 31, 2007

Intellectual boycotting - can we boycott stupid people too?

Well, Britain's academic community has once again embarrassed itself. Britain's lecturers' union, UCU, (numbering 120 000 members) voted Wednesday in favor of encouraging and discussing an academic boycott on Israeli universities and research institutes. The motion doesn't impose the boycott on union members yet but rather brings the question of boycotting Israel's academia to discussion with all the members, urging the membership to "consider the moral implications of conducting ties with Israeli academic institutions." It calls on the EU to freeze funding of Israeli research. The UCU's president herself is opposed to this development, and government and many British universities themselves have also reacted negatively. It will be interesting to see if this particular effort will go through after discussion with the union membership. This is approximately the third effort of this kind in the past five years in Britain's academic community. The previous two attempts ended up failing or being revoked.

While some, (including Britain's ambassador to Israel) say that this motion is unlikely to affect academic bilateral relations much, it is still disturbing that 158 out of 257 delegates at the UCU convention supported such a motion. The principle of academic freedom is essentially about dissociating collective administrative bodies from politics such that individual academics are uninhibited in their political and research choices. Beyond that, the concept of discouraging or restricting productive collaborative research because of unconnected political issues is incoherent to the extreme. Even forgetting the fact that the academic community is one of the most progressive and 'peacenik' sectors in Israeli society, what in tarnation do two cancer researchers (one at Hebrew U, and one at Cambridge) who want to collaborate, have to do with occupation and activism? Maybe what they want is merely to provide a new therapy, publish their papers, and enrich humanity's store of knowledge. What could possibly be accomplished by stigmatizing such a working relationship?

Clearly, academics are not individuals that are miraculously free of politics, nor are academic organizations like UCU. They also have the inviolable freedom to say what they wish and carry what motions they will. But when an academic community sees fit to restrict its own intellectual opportunities, priorities have gone out of whack. Israeli research has been rich and innovative over the last 60 years - and brought into being ideas and objects of great interest and benefit, from technology for desert agriculture, to ubiquitous computer programs. Why punish one of the most interesting, international, productive, and beneficial sectors of Israeli society for an occupation that is in no way in their mandate to address? Attempting to scare British academics from collaborations, and bully Israel's powerful intellectuals into political acquiescence is a strategy likely to alienate and anger, not build consensus or communication. It certainly won't forward research or knowledge-making. A poisonous culture has already emerged in some British institutions whereby anything associated with the Jewish state is stigmatized, villainized, and rejected. As someone who has spent considerable time taking in both the good and the bad in Israeli society (including academics), I find myself wondering what the motivation behind this harsh profiling is - because it certainly is not warranted by reality.

So that's where I stand, I suppose. Are collective intellectual boycotts effective, warranted, and moral in this, or other situations? I want some arguments.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

AMS meeting, may 30

Yesterday's council meeting was a picture of brisk efficiency. A colossally long list of agenda items was faithfully plodded through to general satisfaction, though not fascination. Here's a summary of the things I didn't sleep through:

  • U-Boulevard efforts were successful, and monumental, said the president and VP academic. They reviewed the outcome (the plan is being redesigned) and noted that "from scratch" is not a wild interpretation according to conversations with President Toope and others. Noted that this affair is a good example of students using the AMS for their needs, sand congratulated the petition team. Check out the stories about the petition and U-Boulevard campaign that ran in the Hampton Journal community paper here, and in the Courier here.
  • The VP academic talked about re-launching Yardstick, an AMS publication which used to list teacher evaluation results. The new permutation of it will be more fun to read, more controversial, and more political, with less numbers. Articles about pedagogy, professor profiles, students' personal essays about UBC, student surveys regarding academics, as well as some teacher evaluation results. Perhaps more comprehensive evaluation results will be available in an online supplement. An innovative idea was to create a list of criteria for what a good lecture should contain, then randomly drop in on some of the largest lecture courses and evaluate an average lecture. Results from such a survey with names of profs included would be published in Yardstick. That, and including lists of profs that refused to release their evaluations would comprise the more 'controversial' portion of the publication.

  • SA link was passed - this is basically an integrated website for clubs and constituencies to both socially communicate, as well as conduct their financial and administrative obligations with the AMS. These are things like executive and member lists, room bookings, financial accounting, elections, and so forth. It is a new system being purchased from a young IT company called Collegiate Link, which was developed by ex-student-government hacks who realized the lack of centralized club/constituency administration - currently, club administration is a dark web of confusing and unintuitive websites that are totally unconnected. The AMS will be purchasing a new uber-server to power the new system, as well as dishing out 42 grand for the program itself. Some of the administrative roles of the finance commission and SAC may be slimmed down when the new system cuts their workload.

  • Pi R^2 renovation was approved. A new serving counter, different types of seating, and a more open design is being put in. Apparently line-ups will be better organized, and it'll be prettier all around.

  • Pit Pub renovations were approved - $160000 is being spent to make the place slightly less dingy, but still dingy enough to retain true pit character. New seats, new paint (colour undecided), refinished tables, new railings for the dance floor, new 'memorabilia wall, a new bar surface, new sounds system, fancy new lighting (that may or may not be energy efficient), and some new booth seats are all in the plan. This should all be finished before everyone is back for September. Since there's no structural work being done, the bill is fairly reasonable, and it's not expected that the pub will have to close.

  • SUB renew - the process of planning for a new, expanded, or majorly renovated SUB has taken a surprising direction. With the U-Boulevard plan being re-designed, the AMS has begun informal talk about the SUB expanding into the development itself - perhaps taking ownership of one, or part of the buildings (in whatever form they take). This integration of SUB with the development is quite exciting - and exactly what was totally lacking in the previous design. The AMS has begun consultation with architects and plans to bring a referendum to student on the topic by the end of the year. However, if integration into U-Boulevard is a direction the AMS wants to go with SUB renew, it'll be interesting to see how the referendum's timing can work with the BoG timeline for approval - which is around late fall 2007, immediately after the consultation and redesign are completed.

  • U-pass service is being expanded to co-op students come September. Co-op students will be considered full AMS members. This is based on a survey that went out to coop students which asked if they would like to retain full AMS membership. They were in favor by a good margin - 87%.

  • AMS website is being re-designed for a new look, and a better administrative interface. Now every little update won't need coding, rather a simple interface (like blogger, for example) will allow normal technology dunces to update the site. A web design company called White Matter has been hired for this task. GSS president Matt Fillipiak asked why students aren't being hired to do this type of work (or generally, why students aren't used for design and architecture projects). The VP Finance said it was because they would cost almost as much, and the president said it was because they had really liked the product this company offered. What do people think about student vs. professional hiring for AMS projects?

A theme of both the SA link project and the AMS website redesign was making the AMS brand consistent and recognizable. These two sites are to have a common "look and feel". Maybe having a branding design contest would be a good way to get students familiar and involved with making the AMS better recognized? Thoughts on this topic?


Friday, May 25, 2007

The Gossip Column

Yeah, it's a degenerate age for journalism. (See Roman Polanski's recent antics). Not that I've ever had "standards".

Yesterday, the university's greybeards gathered at Norman Mackenzie House (president Toope's residence) to honour several of this year's honorary degree recipients. The elegant reception came upon the heel of a long day of taxing hand-shaking for the President and Chancellor at a relentless stream of graduation ceremonies. Indeed, the notion that the act of standing on a stage and honoring graduates is, in itself, an invested, laudable feat, deserving of splendid respect and thanks, figured prominently in the evening's small talk. UBC-O's student BOG rep had attended every ceremony! The chancellor shook every student's hand! The president actually did his job! O!

After being name-tagged and equipped with an initial glass of wine, people milled about the garden and house, nibbling on shrimp-on-a-sugar-cane-stick, mini-kebabs, barbecued chicken limbs (of mysterious size and composition), bits of fruit, and miniature chickpea salads-in-a-spoon. If they happened across the open bar a few more times than strictly probable, all the better. Two chairs in which Clinton and Yeltsin once sat were prodded, artwork was admired, and views from the cliff-edge were viewed. Small talk, a skill I've neglected for my entire life, is highly necessary; it's an earnest and serious currency. Bigwigs - probably due to their horror of natural pauses - are quite friendly though. I suppose it comes in the manual. That and the polite retreat.

Anyway, among the honorees were Cassie Campbell, the former captain of the women's national hockey team, David Dodge, the CEO of the bank of Canada, Michael Bliss, a historian of Canadian medicine, Michael Halliday, a linguist, and P.J. Peebles, the cosmologist who discovered the universe's microwave background. The Chancellor spoke a few words about each, and they all seemed quite happy. These distinguished folks have have been attending some of the graduation ceremonies this week as well. I wish there had been a bit more time for them to speak or discuss something they care about though - it's hard to be inspired when the accomplishments of established, distant people are coagulated and volleyed at you. Though, information and inspiration weren't really the point, I acknowledge. Appreciating, schmoozing, and "welcoming them to the university family" were.

Some of the other guests were the student valedictorians of the various grad ceremonies, as chosen by the grad council. Various administrators and department heads were in attendance too. Some distinguished students (Senator Gina Eom, SUSer Reka Pataky, UCSer Jon Lam, BoG rep Darren Peets, ex-BoG rep Omar Sirri, AMS president Jeff Friedrich, token first-year Sonja Babovic, and Senator Tariq Ahmed) were present. Cool faculty included Miltonist, historian of astronomy, and former faculty BoG rep Dennis Danielson, who apart from being a good teacher, is also responsible for the fact that there's no traffic on U-Blvd. Nancy Gallini, the Dean of Arts, was also in attendance.

The funniest quote of the night belonged to Brian Sullivan, VP Students, who was, as always, dashing in a bow-tie. When warned not to fall off the cliff as he wandered across the lawn, he replied that not to worry, he'd probably land on squishy middle-aged bodies on the beach below if he did. Lovely. Not quite close, but also note-worthy, is when Gina Eom remarked that I truly looked like one of god's chosen people. Cuz divine discrimination rocks. Physics professor and fellow microwave-background genius Mark Halpern and the President's wife Paula Rosen share the prize for best-dressed. Mark wore a fantastic suit and gorgeous delicately-striped, pale green shirt. Ms. Rosen was dramatic in a geometric black ribbon and chiffon dress. A lady with a lovely red sash was also noted and admired.

Though I got permission to fabricate some table-dancing embarrassments from a few people, I'll forgo the creative flights of fancy and conclude by assuring you all that your money is well-spent!!


BoG goes ahead with tunnel, utilities.

In an embattled, but clear decision, the UBC board of governors passed final approval of the University Boulevard project's first phase on Tuesday. Though the faculty, staff, and student representatives were opposed, President Toope remained staunchly in favor of the the phase, which ensures the future of an underground bus terminal on the site of East mall and U-Blvd. The terminal itself is was not approved - only the tunnel along U-blvd that will lead to it and the movement of utilities. Discussion about the issue lasted 45 minutes. It is rare that the board pushes a decision through while it has significant opposition - but for this project, the pressure is on.

Interestingly, since the above ground potion of the plan is being brought back to consultation and re-designed, the terminal itself may have to be re-engineered too, to carry the weight. Al Poettcker, the president of UBC properties trust, doesn't seem to like this idea, since he continuously claims that only the "programming" of the buildings, not their location, can be changed. Perhaps he does not understand the level to which it is generally expected the plan will change following consultation: buildings could conceivably change their size, location, or be eliminated entirely.

The underground loop however, is coming. It won't be approved until the above-ground plans are further solidified, in the fall.

Have a listen to Margaret Orlowski (of the anti- U-Blvd student petition) and Nancy Knight of the campus community and planning office face off with the CBC's Rick Cluff on the Early Edition Wednesday:


Thursday, May 17, 2007

UBC BoG committee approves transit tunnel for U-Boulevard.

If you're a new reader and would like some background, refer to a few earlier posts:
The AMS and U-boulevard and What's UBC Properties Trust? (clickies)

Yesterday, the Board of Governors' Property and Planning committee carried a motion to approve the construction of the tunnel that is to lead to the underground bus loop - an integral part of the U-Blvd development project. This pretty much guarantees the future of the underground bus loop, if the motion passes in the general BoG meeting on Tuesday. Traditionally, all BoG members attend the committee meetings, and the whole board rubber stamps their decision officially in the general meeting. That means, unless a dramatic turnaround occurs before Tuesday, that students can come to terms with the fact that an underground bus loop is coming. UBC Properties trust will start construction of the tunnel and utilities located along U-Blvd will this summer.

Everything in the U-Blvd project above the ground is a different story though. The unpopular design plan, that features shops, market housing, and a paved square in place of the grassy knoll, may not be similar to the final product at all, gaging by the Board's comments. The Board uniformly felt moved and disturbed by the 2500 signature student petition, and AMS policy, recently brought to bear against the current design. AMS VP Academic Brendon Goodmurphy (after being incorrectly introduced by the chair as the "AVP External") had the opportunity to give the board a presentation about the petition and AMS policy. He did this clearly, outlining student's concerns, the petition and the policy (which both call upon the board to refrain from making further decisions until meaningful consultation has occurred), and the AMS's intentions to move forward and cooperate with the board to make a revised plan happen.

At the proposal of Nancy Knight, from the campus community and planning office, the board agreed to begin a new consultation process around the above-ground portion of the project, to begin in September when students return for fall term and to be concluded in November. This consultation is to be modeled like the "what's the plan?" consultation which is largely regarded as thorough and satisfactory. This is very exciting - we will see how serious this process will be come September.

President Toope admitted that consultation for the above-ground plans had been rushed and insufficient due to the lateness of their completion (for example, they were only presented to the AMS council last week). He cited juggling design and budget as a major roadblock to the timely design of the project. His comments were extremely sympathetic to students' concerns about the design of the above-ground plan: "Our desire is to re-engage," said Toope, saying that the space "should be an enhancement to community life" and needs students' support. However, the President was staunchly convinced that beginning construction of the underground tunnel and loop would not adversely effect the "re-engagement" or overhaul of the above-ground design. He cited some detailed Translink studies, and the OCP, which respectively recommend and obligate UBC to build a transportation hub in the particular location of U-Blvd and East Mall. Toope said that while the above-ground design has been problematic, and subject to many iterations already, the underground bus loop has been well-planned and studied over ten years since the OCP mandated it in 1996. BoG student reps Darren Peets and Jeff Friedrich raised some questions about whether an underground loop meets the long-term transport needs of the campus, and also questioned whether sustainability objectives of the project were justified. Would the residents of the new neighborhoods use the loop? Is a central station preferable to various routes around campus?

The board in general seemed more eager to make up to "outside commitments" (translink, neighborhoods association, OCP,) than actually look at the essential aims for the project: sustainability and building community. They were also very eager to "move forward" such that when OCP evaluation comes up this year (as every five years) they will have something to show - since the underground bus loop is mentioned in the OCP, and there has been no action. Personally, I was unimpressed by the fire under their asses because of this OCP review. The purpose of the review review, and maybe even change, not to enforce. Jeff Friedrich made the point that simply going forward for the sake of going forward (or to satisfy outside commitments) was unwise when the basic purpose and vision of the project are in question. He also questioned the importance of the commitment to the Neighborhoods given that they will not be using the facility nearly as much as others, having bus stops nearer to their residences.

Both the staff and faculty Board representatives were not comfortable going forward with the underground portion until the whole design was consulted, reviewed and approved. They preferred to move ahead as a whole, after gaining the endorsement of students and community members. This means, as Margaret Orlowski pointed out to me yesterday, that the faculty students and staff reps (ie. the elected members of the people that populate the university) were all against going forward now, while the provincial appointees were in favor.

Essentially though, this is a serious victory for students. Though the committee indeed carried the motion for the tunnel and utilities, and construction will begin as soon as the BoG approves it, they were strongly affected by the petition and Brendon's presentation about the AMS policy. Their commitment to delay the process again in order to gain real feedback and make changes is very positive. So keep you ears open in November when the consultation finishes. And congratulations to the good people behind the petition for their achievement! (They were out in full force at the meeting yesterday, sporting snazzy t-shirts). It remains to be seen how much the design for the "university square" will end up changing to reflect the priorities of students at the end of the newly created consultation process. These priorities are basically green space, informal study/social space, synergy with the SUB and its renewal process, and local/ethical services. The reason students are mostly still unimpressed with the plan, is that despite some public viewings and feedback sessions, it seems like no substantial changes have actually been made to accommodate these goals. As Jeff says, "student concerns have been consistent, and have remained unaddressed." Essentially, the consultation since the 2005 architectural contest has amounted to "do you like it?"

That said, the Board, especially President and the chair of the Property and Planning committee seems to have taken the message to heart this time, at least in the scope of student dissatisfaction with the above-ground design. There is an opportunity here to create a really special centre for the university. Part of the AMS and GSS policies toward University Boulevard is to work together with the university to mobilize students in a useful way -whether that be in a consultative or design capacity. Hopefully we can do it right together.

Note: Weirdly, nobody at the Board responds to each other - there is no "debate". Even if they disagree, they will not engage directly with another person, rather stating their position as if they were speaking to some random audience. The only time people actually speak to each other is when there's a direct appeal for information. Quite a different style from AMS!!


UBC Senate Meeting, May 16th

Aidha Shaikh - GSS councilor, AMS councilor, and Senator - gives us an account of yesterday's senate meeting. Aidha can be contacted at aidhashaikh[at]gmail[dot]com. Agenda and materials are available HERE.

1: Proposal to extend Mid-Term Break in Term 2 2010 at UBC Vancouver (motion passed)
The proposal made was to allow for midterm break to extend for 2 weeks (February 15th -26th) to accommodate the 2010 Olympics for two reasons:

  1. transit services could be freed up for the Olympics (and reduce traffic) and
  2. students can participate in and go to watch the Olympics
    The major consequence of this motion is the exam end date of May 1st 2010 as a number of students living off campus may have rental agreements/leases ending at the end of April.

For reference the comparison of the current calendar entry for the term and the proposed (and now accepted) Olympic term can be downloaded here. [Sorry about the tacky website - but blogger doesn't support charts - ed]

Senate passed the motion to adopt Scenario B: to allow for accommodation of the Olympics. The issue of hardship for students who have to move as of the end of April due to rental agreements was brought up. The option of granting these students "exam hardship" was not feasible since exams have gone into the month of May in the past and thus changing an academic policy on these grounds would likely not happen. However the committee will look carefully into this issue of housing and what accommodations (no pun intended sorry :P ) could be made. For example, students living in residence will be accommodated.

Student senate caucus discussed various ways to mitigate the inconvenience. Any suggestions? Feel free to pass them on.

2: Proposed Policy on Student Evaluation of Teaching (motion passed)

As students we understand the importance of having a high quality of education at UBC. The policy document outlines the guiding principles for student evaluation of teaching. These principles include incentives that should be developed to encourage participation, the idea that evaluations should be student-centered, that these evaluations be administered in ever section of every course, a rating system of 1-5, encouragement of formative feedback, carefully planned dissemination/feedback/response strategies, and that different constituencies get access to different information.

The design is essentially modular: the University module will be available to all groups from the instructor, department head, dean, university designate and student. Questions in the faculty and departmental modules will be available to the instructor, department head and dean whereas the specific confidential teacher module will only be accessible by the teacher. This is because there will be some questions that are designed to help the faculty/department or instructor to gain specific feedback and see what changes can be made based on those. The university module will be broad enough to encompass the general areas of teaching / learning that students will be concerned with.

This motion takes care of the privacy issue raised by some faculty. Only instructors who give permission for their results to be released will. In addition this puts pressure on the university to release the results it gets to students to help ensure a higher quality of education and put pressure on instructors and professors to meet a higher standard of teaching. The policy does not outline what methods would be implemented to release the information to students but encourages a web-based system.

This is definitely a step forward and it was very encouraging to see President Toope enthusiastically supporting the motion.

In the meanwhile, the AMS would like to bring back the yardstick either as a means of discussing educational issues or have feedback from student evaluations placed on the site (only for professors who allow the information to be released, where those who don’t will have the notation that they did not allow the information to be released beside their name unless they wished to provide a reason which would be listed as well).

It’s very refreshing to see these steps forward in matters surrounding the academic quality at UBC

more senate business behind the jump

Other items relevant to students (positive motions passed):

  • A whole set of scholarships to be released to students (I'd list them but it’s a lot - they can be found in the supporting materials on the senate website)
  • New programs: MSc and PhD in cell and developmental biology, Masters of Nursing, and the transfer of the nurse practitioner specialization into the Masters of Nursing
  • More good news: The Drug Research Institute was approved: The DRI is an inter-faculty initiative of pharmaceutical sciences, medicine, science, applied science, dentistry and the Sauder School of business, lead by the faculty of Pharm Sci. This will be the core academic research facility for the Centre for Drug Research and Development which is a joint initiative of UBC, SFU, BC cancer agency, UVic, UNBC, Providence Healthcare, Vancouver Coastal Health, and the Provincial Health Services in partnership with the government and industry.
  • Two ad-hoc committees were approved: 1) Writing and communication skills and 2) academic advising issues relating to a culturally diverse student body. Since there are a higher number of appeals relating to academic discipline from international students, immigrant students and others, this committee seeks to find ways of ensuring these students get resources to help them to avoid these situations.
  • There were some revisions in the admissions for the BEd relating to the recommendation for students to take a course on aboriginal peoples before entering the program. There was also a wording change for applicants from a college or university from "recognized college or university" to "recognized degree program" since the former was undefined.
  • The graduate students of 2007 were approved! :)

One thing that was not discussed at today's senate but was at the student senate meeting was the closure of MacMillan library. This is posted on the library's home page but is not brought to the awareness of students very well. Also the library committee never met to discuss this. Its disturbing how such major decisions can be passed without the senate library committee discussing these things.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Amanda Reaume, editor of Antigone Magazine: this is what a feminist looks like

Earlier this week, I sat down with Amanda Reaume, founding editor of WILLA's Antigone Magazine to talk about feminism and women in politics. Please note that none of Ms. Reaume's responses are direct quotes - they are all paraphrases.

Tell us about yourself. Who are you, what do you do?

I just graduated, form English honors at UBC. I’m a huge feminist. I’ll be starting Masters in English this year, doing a thesis on Canadian women’s political autobiography. That is, women politicians who have written books after their time in office.

Do you have any comments on the fact that a lot of people, women and men both, shrink from calling themselves feminists?

Yes. There’s been a campaign to make feminism into a bad word. The idea that feminists are ugly hairy-legged Amazonians wanting to emasculate men has been successfully marketed. To a certain extent that negative image stifles feminist debate. I find it a little disturbing – For example people that will say “I believe in equality for women, but I’m not a feminist.” Feminism is actually very wide, and encompasses many different ideologies – there are many ‘femenisms’. For example there are feminists that may be pro or anti topics like porn/abortion/religion. The diversity is very productive, as it broadens the feminist debate. Feminists are usually very willing to engage with each other, and that’s one of the tenets of the movement – that different positionalities are valid. The one unifying thing is that feminists believe that women need equality.

What’s WILLA UBC? What’s the innovative projects fund that supports Antigone?

Xenia Menzies and Kristen Meyers started WILLA – which stands for Women Involved in Legislative Leadership Association. Both of them were involved in politics, and didn’t know many other young women that were. They started wondering why, and how they could encourage young women to get involved. There’s also a WILLA now at SFU. So far, they’ve presented a bunch of talks from women in politics and the womens’ movement. It's a place where women can network, and listen to speakers. Antigone is WILLA’s official publication. The Innovative Projects Fund is a AMS grant program that provides money to useful, new student initiatives. Since there is no woman-centric publication non campus, except for the yearly Ubyssey women’s issue, we qualified for that funding.

Where did the idea of Antigone Magazine come from?

Amanda is an insomniac. Two Novembers ago, Amanda had not slept for two weeks. [yes, Amanda refers to herself in 3rd person – just like Pat Buchanan –ed.] For a while I’d been thinking of ways in which to collaborate on a project with WILLA UBC. I wanted to reach out with feminism to young women. Print publication was very important medium to reach out to students – to show that feminist issues were being discussed and debated and active and important right now. That’s a thing we try to do with Antigone: show people where the activity is and how they can become involved and engaged. That theme also ties into the blog. It’s all about immediate discussion.

Getting involved in the formal road to power (parliamentary politics), is what WILLA is all about. Are you involved in political parties? What has the experience been like?

I haven’t. I’m still considering becoming a political journalist, and I think it’s really important to maintain a degree of distance.
Does that mean that you just don’t reveal your preferences? You are clearly a political person.
Yes, I definitely vote and have my own politics as well. But I don’t want to join a party because when you do, you end up investing so much time, and integrating into party fabric. It’s important to keep some personal distance as a matter of integrity if I want to be a journalist. Also, I don’t identify with a specific party across the board. This way I’m able to stand back and appreciate what all parties have to offer in their own way. Being enmeshed in a party structure often leads o an all or nothing attitude which is problematic. Some people can get past that: for example I like Barack Obama because he emphasizes listening and communication.

the rest of the interview behind the jump...

There’s a popular sentiment out there that feminism’s work is if not completely, than mostly, done, at least here in Canada and other western countries. What do you think are the biggest issues that still need attention?

It’s a position that a lot of people have and it’s just not true. Just in the scope of women in politics there is significant inequality. Only 20 % of the House of Commons is women. PEI has highest percentage of all the provincial legislatures at 27%. Issues around their treatment in politics exist – look at the Belinda Stronachs, Rona Ambroses, and Kim Campbells who are constantly criticized for aspects of their femininity, not their work. Practices of recruiting and placing women in ridings that are winnable exist in some parties, while in others there’s a slant the other way. Systematic aspects of the political system make it hard for women to participate. In the general workforce, women still make less money than men. There’s two aspects to this: one is that there’s a masculine perspective on the value of work - traditionally female work, isn’t paid very well. The other is that even in competitive professions women aren’t paid as well. There are still comparatively few women in the higher levels of corporate management and government. Another issue is the lack of affordable childcare – though this is also a family issue. It affects women enormously since the burden of care-giving still falls largely upon women. Getting back to the question, if you let it go and you think you’re done, you will slip back – especially if you haven’t achieved full equality in the first place.

What issues regarding women at UBC have you come across?

Childcare, childcare. childcare.This is a big problem at UBC. Some women are made to believe that there are spaces on campus, which is not the case when they arrive. Again, because the burden of care is usually placed on women, so it’s their time and goals and dreams that get sacrificed. This also ties into the “double shift,” and the time poverty women experience. Women students, parents, and workers can’t always be the super women they’re expected to be.

Can you talk about some of your contacts in the UBC community? SASC, Allies, the Womyn’s centre, etc.? Do you think their activities are effective?

We support all their activities. We’ve profiled Allies and Pride in the magazine. The Vagina monologues were great. Pride week and the clothesline project from SASC were good. We want to create a community within the feminist, gender, and activist environment.

Why do feminists often feel obliged to tack on other causes or groups after a discussion of a specific thing related to women? For example, in some articles in Antigone, racial, disability, and class related categories were mentioned, though they weren’t the topic. Is this an incoherence?

Even though women’s issues are our focus, as feminists we have to be careful not to unconsciously ignore other imbalances in society. By acknowledging those positionalities as well we don’t weaken those struggles by focusing on ours. That’s always been a part of feminist theory – that everyone has a right to equality and opportunity.

In the first issue of Antigone Magazine you justified the name choice by saying that Antigone was a woman that refused to be silenced. While that may be true, she ended up killing herself with the full knowledge that her cause would not be fulfilled. It strikes me as a strange namesake for modern feminists.

In my reading of Antigone, it was the speaking up part that was the most important accomplishment, not the burial she set out to do. Even though she ended up dieing, Antigone did make a difference by refusing to be silenced, and standing up to Creon. And that made people pay attention. That is inspirational. I don’t want all feminists to be like her, but
Because there would be none left…
Yeah, but her example was incredibly strong, and incredibly effective in communicating.

Antigone Magazine’s page design is a crazy, unformatted collage of backgrounds and cutouts. What’s behind that?

We wanted to respect the tradition of the Zine in the women’s movement. The Zine is basically a creative cut and paste scrapbook publication which is photocopied and distributed. It has been very significant. So the layout was a conscious choice. Also, this method of production is much cheaper. The magazine is literally cut and pasted – it’s an homage to the tradition, but the process of putting it together is also a moment for women to come together and discuss and create in the present.

Perusing Antigone magazine and other feminist publications, THE PATRIARCHY figures prominently. Do we still live in a patriarchy?

Sort of. We live in a society that does systematically oppress women. “Patriarchy” can be called that system. Whether you want to label that reality as a patriarchy, or call it something else is a debate that feminists engage in. Some feminists simply refer systematic problems as results of, or part of, the patriarchy. Some feminists consider that inaccurate, citing actual examples of patriarchal societies that aren’t similar to our modern one. The point is that systematic barriers to the equality and success of women do exist.

In your first editorial, you quoted a definition of feminism that works for you. Namely that feminism is “about political action on behalf of a class of people who are culturally, socially, politically, intellectually, physically, and violently oppressed, impoverished, abused, enslaved, objectified, raped, and murdered.” Isn't that definition quite sensational for your average woman growing up in Canada to relate to?

I don’t think it’s as far away as you might assume. Many women can relate and have experienced that. I’ve had contact with people who had many stories. It’s important to stand up for those, whether they are few or many. Real experiences – from stories I’ve read, and people I know, have been the things the things that have inspired my political and feminist activism. And the categories in my definition were present in those experiences. Also, I encouraged everyone to find their own definition for feminism.

Antigone has interviewed a fair number of high-profile woman politician: Kim Campbell, Elizabeth May, and Carole Taylor to name a few. How did you land them?

I asked. Since Antigone Magazine in print is only published twice yearly, I was quite flexible and patient with scheduling. Many of them feel passionate about women in politics, and don’t mind sharing their experience. All have communicated the desire to encourage other women to get involved. They also talk about the difference it does make to have women’s voices in parliament and government.

What’s next for the magazine?

Well, we have the blog, which we are very excited about. We’re looking to expand to other universities as well. Antigone is going to be distributed at an upcoming conference at Windsor for example. We’re also working on selling subscriptions to politicians and community members to raise some money and be able to expand. For that we’re targeting BC first and then elsewhere. Part of that expansion is also to get writers from other universities.


AMS Academic Quality committee update and beer with BoG rep Darren Peets

Since these two events happened in the same day, and they're not too lengthy, posts have been consolidated.

The newest AMS committee, struck at the April 4th meeting had its first meeting yesterday. It has fairly broad aims: basically to prepare a framework for future AMS policy on matters of academic quality. That means setting priorities, deciding on the issues that matter the most to students regarding academics, and finding solutions to suggest. This aim is taking shape in a few ways:

  1. Creating a document that will be the AMS's official response to UBC's middling to poor performance on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). Responding to the results specifically with student's perspectives.
  2. Re-launching and transforming the old AMS Yardstick publication. Yardstick was a magazine the AMS used to publish containing numerical data from teacher evaluations. This evaluation data was voluntarily given by the departments. Since the University is overhauling the teacher evaluation process into a "modular" system, where certain questions are published, the Yardstick was deemed redundant and stopped some years ago. The modular system (more details about this in a subsequent post) is only now being passed at the senate, and will still only contain limited information. VP academic Brendon Goodmurphy, who chairs the committee, wants to revive the publication and transform it into both a more useful resource to students trying to choose courses, and a lobbying tool. By the first he means publishing types of information that are more useful than just numbers, possibly including comments about teachers and courses, and in depth articles about teaching methods and other academic topics. Using the publication as a political tool basically means being forthright and aggressive with concerns and demands. For example, publishing a list of all the professors that refused to have their evaluations published. the idea is to create a culture among professors and administrators where teaching is highly valued, and publicly evaluated. The yardstick publication is a project that AVP Blake Frederick will be taking on - but the committee has agreed to also play a part in its production.
Some ideas to create ammunition for the above two projects are focus groups or events regarding academics. The main goal though, is to both gather and synthesize information and 'common' student knowledge into a coherent set of priorities, with rational categories of problems, and solutions.

Moving along, yesterday was my inaugural Koerner's pub experience. Luckily, I had GSS veteran and student BoG rep Darren Peets to guide me through it. While a pitcher was slowly depleted, a number of topics came up. Did you know that
  • AMS councilors are sometimes allowed into Pit night en masse by a choice of secret back ways after council meeting on Wednesdays?
  • Martha Piper raised tuition because she erroneously assumed UBC would receive all the funding applied for, and when it (predictably) didn't, she realized the money had already been spent and had to make up for it?
  • The air in Darren's building is completely switched over every seven minutes?
  • The SUB south lounge used to be on the outside, populated by bike racks, not couches?
  • There exists a faculty club at UBC, which was kicked out of their building due to financial problems, and is now embittered and tiny?

learning is fun!


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Engineering Physics and its women

You've heard the stereotypes, and dismissed them as unfair, wrong, and outdated: engineers are chauvinistic egoists with iron rings on their pinkies; they're an old-boys club and Mensa wrapped up into one; they look down upon women. I dismiss these stereotypes also. I know plenty of engineers that are charming, decent, gentle, open individuals. But something lingers in this faculty that continues to create discomfort for some women students - this "something" has mostly to do with being outnumbered and isolated in certain programs. But it also has to do with an unwillingness (of both men and women) to acknowledge or participate in issues specific to women.

It isn't that there is systematic discrimination - there isn't. Moreover, certain engineering departments like CHBE (chemical, environmental, and biological engineering) and Civil, have a large proportion of female students. Engineering Physics though has barely 8-10 percent female participation most years. That's only about 4 to 5 women a cycle. According to Nancy Lui and Anja Lanz, two Engineering Physics students, it was feelings of isolation that made them want some sort of resource for women. Being constantly surrounded by men in extreme long hours of school and lab can be overwhelming and taxing, they said.

Anja felt it was important to have a formal women's representative, or point-person, to both share information relevant to women in engineering and be an interface with departments, student societies, and outside organizations on behalf of women in Engineering Physics (and other disciplines where courses overlap). Some activities relevant to women in engineering do exist: NEW @UBC (Networking Engineering Women at UBC), a faculty-wide organization of faculty, graduate students, and undergrads, has regular speaker series and other events pertaining to supporting and creating networks between women in engineering. But within the program, there was no way to communicate these events to the women. The need exists, says Anja: in information-sharing, taking sensitive complaints, and creating a supportive social network.

To this end, Anja initiated a meeting with the women of engineering physics and their program director, Dr. Andre Marziali. The meeting was to discuss the feelings of the students and the possible creation of a women's group or representative. It was agreed to create an official Female Student Liaison to the department. The goals were threefold: outreach to the community to encourage female enrollment, liaising with the department in cases of concerns or complaints, and communicating with the women in the program about relevant information like scholarships, events, speakers, and so on. "Dr. Marziali has been very supportive," says Anja. With the creation of the Female Student Liaison position to the department, there has been funding as well. Anja and Dr. Marziali applied for a grant from the Jade Project and got it both this year and last year. The Jade Project is a government-funded agency that allocates grants to innovative projects that "break stereotypes, and increase the number of girls and women who can change the future through their participation as scientists and engineers." Interestingly, due to some concerns expressed to the apointee who will be taking over the position in September, there is now discussion of changing the name of the position (though not its functions) to something that does not explicitly mention women or "female".

By contrast, the idea of a women's representative was not so well received when Lanz proposed the idea to the EngPhys council last year. The description she presented, similarly to the one agreed to by Dr. Marziali, included outreach activities aimed at highschool students. Moreover, she proposed another goal for the position: to organize social events for women in EngPhys program. Neither of these goals sat well with the council. The former was was deemed beyond the jurisdiction and purpose of the society, which is to serve current students. The council was also uncomfortable with the latter, preferring that women's social events be "spontaneous" rather than deliberately organized by a councilor. However, they did agree to accept the position for a trial period, without the outreach or social event clauses, and without voting power. In the second term, the outreach goal was restored. However, this year, when the trial period ended, they decided not to renew the position.

Anja, ever persistent, in January 2006, presented to the EUS with another student on the topic of creating women's representative on that council. The position, to be named the "women in engineering representative" was similar to the former suggestions. The goals were to -
1.Contact person for women engineering students
2.Liaison between the EUS and groups concerned to women in engineering
3.Advocate issues on behalf of women engineering students
The EUS has issues with the name, preferring something along the lines of "gender equality" rather than "women in engineering". This sensitivity aside, support was not particulary strong. When council went out on their retreat and matters were delayed, the proposal got buried without a vote. "I think it has a place there [in the EUS]" says Lanz, " and there is interest out there, with the women. But somebody needs to take it on, and I just don't have time."

While some women are supportive of the the ideas that were proposed (and eventually accepted by the Eng Phys department), and would like to see social events for women as well, others have a different perspective. Women students in Eng Phys have expressed apprehension about being "singled out," "treated specially," or "percieved as weak", and thus been ambivalent, unsupportive, and most importantly, uninterested in participating. "I understand them," says Anja Lanz, "but I still think it's a good thing."

We like to think that our university is open, ungrudging, and progressive. But the responses of the engphys council and EUS have uncovered a confusion on the topic of minority support. This seems to arise from insecurity, lack of leadership, and plain disinterest more than malice, perhaps. Still though, in the university's most male-dominated faculty, even many of the enrolled women have managed to convince themselves that the only way to exist is to blend in. Instead of reconstituting, women are accepting. Instead of creating, women are conforming. Going bowling with the girls, or organizing a talk with a successful woman graduate are not activities that anyone should be ashamed, or afraid of.

Lets remember: many graduates of UBC engineering can look forward to jobs in hydro, technology, and construction companies. In world where an industry leader like Power Tech (a subsidiary of BC Hydro) has no women employed in entire departments except for clerical staff, holds its annual general meetings in a strip club, and undertakes a popular vote on the basis of looks to hire its female secretaries, there is much to be desired in the realm of a dignified work environment for women. I am not joking about the above example. UBC in fact places co-op students at this particular workplace habitually - one such lucky young man gleefully recounted these tales of medieval antics to a trusted friend. The fact that industry is male-dominated and chauvinistic sets a depressing example for young interns. It creates a tone that transcends specific companies and filters throughout the industry and into the training grounds - our university. So here at UBC, the place that should be the safest and most supportive, women engineering students end up feeling isolated, scrutinized, and constantly apprehensive of any sort of "singling out".

In the end, it is up to them.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Executive interview series part III: Sarah Naiman

Listen to me conduct a WHOLE interview with a woman politician without one mention of her hair, boyfriends, shoes, or smile. It'll be brilliant.
Coming up later this week: Engineering's bizarre shame.

Sarah Naiman, the AMS VP admin, and third executive to sit in the hot seat talked about SUB renovations, student life, and club issues. I think some of the topics that come up in the interview are not fully introduced, so here's a basic primer on the main ones:

Sarah's two main campaign promises, enhancing student life and streamlining the red tape for clubs, seem to be on their way:

On her renovation agenda this summer is the Pit Pub, which will be getting a makeover. Another student life related item is the huge new (yellow) AMS events calendar plastering the wall of the SUB nook (next to blue chip). Check it out for weekly AMS and undergrad society events. The YouBC video contest that Sarah organized last month was also a fun initiative. People were able to submit videos they had created to win prizes and untold UBC fame. Unfortunately, the calendar wasn't updated for about a month (though it now is), and the video contest website ( could not be updated with the winners - both due to personnel switchover problems. hmmm.

The other highlight is the AMS's plan to adopt a cool facebook-like computer program that will revolutionize club administration and communication - enabling everything from online club elections, to room bookings, to discussion forums, to banking for clubs. This program is called SA link. It was introduced at the last AMS meeting by a company representative, and seems like a great tool. Sarah Naiman and the exec are in the process of convincing the university to integrate this program with the Campus Wide Login system.

Listen to the interview HERE
(with the added bonus of an interlude from AMS prez Jeff Friedrich,
who couldn'r resist getting in on some of the action.)

In case you missed his interview, check it out here (click)


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Executive interview series part II: Brendon Goodmurphy

The series resumes, at last, with a conversation with our AMS VP Academic.

Brendon and I sat down today to discuss U-boulevard, the new Acadmic quality committee, "consultation," daycare, and the AMS-university relationship.

have a listen HERE

Some randomly summarized items are:
  • AMS Planning & Developement committtee is coming up with a concrete consultation plan to accompany the U-boulevard policy so that the university knows what students expect in terms of "meaningful consulttion".
  • Personal relationships with UBC officials often prove more effective htan official venues like boards and committees.
  • the newly-hired assistant VP academic (Blake frederick) is going to revive the AMS teacher evaluation publication, Yardstick.
  • AMS had commited 1 million dollars over 10 years to build chilcare - the construction awaits commitment from the BC government and additiional commitment from UBC.

To me, the theme that came out was in this conversation communication. Brendon has been writing alot of letters, and sitting on alot of committees. More importantly though, he's realized that communicating properly, openly, and appropriately with both students and UBC officials is what's going to get things done in this highly sensetive portfolio.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Labrat missives - how to find a summer job you hate

It's seven pm and here I am at the lab, with no prospects of leaving for at least 2 hours. The summer job is no longer just an institution, it's a necessity.
With debt burden higher than ever, and professional competition ingrained in our young but pragmatic psyches, not only do students need to make ends meet, they also feel like they need relevant, interesting, smart jobs replete with networking opportunities, prestige, and resume cred. Maybe this is a good thing. But I tell you, I'd rather be gardening or cutting someone's lawn right now. In fact, I'd rather summarily shoot myself in the face than have another negative pcr, or one more failed extraction - and it's only week 2. Yeah so it's been a frustrating week of wrathful science-gods, and maybe I don't entirely dislike biology. gah.

But basically, bring back menial labour.

and no, I have nothing more meaningful to add.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

AMS meeting May 2, or, concerning U Blvd.

We've been a little negligent of late, admittedly. Exams, Tim out of town, me just starting work, and other excuses abound. But don't give up on us! There is some neat stuff coming up.

Yep, yesterday was summer's first AMS council meeting. The free food was scarce, and the atmosphere tense. The order of business was mostly to do with U-boulevard, and developments thereof. As most of you probably know, the area of University Boulevard, the square between the SUB and east Mall, and the grassy knoll are to be developed into a transportation hub and "centre" for the campus. The plan has been partially approved by the BoG, meaning that construction on the "infrastructure" (transit tunnel and wiring) of the project will start this summer, while the underground bus loop and "university square" that will be built on top of it themselves will await subsequent approval at the BoG. Some students have begun a petition against the current plan, which is basically a commercial centre with a large square, an alumni centre and some green space. The long and convoluted history of the project can be reviewed on the petition's website, which is linked on the sidebar.

Yesterday, the engine behind the petition (which has collected over 2500 signatures), Margaret Orlowski presented to council and brought forward a motion encapsulating the main points of the petition. Norman Sippert, from the campus community and planning office also presented about the most recent U-Boulevard plan. This presentation, which has been solicited by the AMS since November, though late, was quite interesting.

Unsurprisingly, Norman had a bit of a tough audience, which he handled with grace and patience. Respect for that. Some of the council's main concerns were as follows:

  • the fundamental assumption that having a retail-based campus centre may be undesirable
  • the lack of student social space/ study space in the plan. Have to buy coffee for seating in the square
  • Main entrance to the SUB is butting right up against the end of the west building - the design does not synergize with the existing campus centre, SUB
  • removal of the popular and beautiful grassy knoll
  • market priced "university housing" - not run by housing and conferences
  • businesses not necessarily ethical or local - may not fit with university's vision
  • no commitment to sustainable (LEED certified) construction; no green roofs
  • "meaningful consultation" has not occurred - the process has been flawed.

The basic thrust of all these concerns is essentially that the design does not seem to put what students most want for a campus centre as a priority. Instead, it is an embattled and slimmed-down 'least worst' option that has emerged, or pehaps merely survived, as reaction to a long series of failures. Consultation failures, budget failures, relationships failures (note: the original architects have quit, as has the VP external that spearheaded the project). The plan seems to have both changed, and lost sight of, its main goal. As a 'neighborhood plan' of the OCP governed University Town, its first goal was to contribute to the endowment. Now the university is desperate not to lose money off the endeavor. It was also supposed to be a centre for the new non-university affiliated residents of University town. The south campus neighborhood is now to have its own commercial centre, rendering that goal redundant. Then, it was supposed to be a campus centre for the university's academic core and students. It seems to fail at that, according to 2500 signatures.

If it is indeed for the academic community, and largely students, the plan's main thrust aught to be re-evaluated. What students have consistently said is that they want green space, and informal study/social space with ample seating. This plan fails in this respect. It prioritizes retail over the type of space students actually want for their hub. Particularly since two of the features that accord with these priorities, the rain-protected covering of the square, and the eco-stream, have been removed due to excessive cost, perhaps this plan no longer reflects the vision of the team that originally won the architectural competition.

Cost is another interesting point. The BoG has resolved that the project must fund itself. That is, none of the money must come out of the university's General Purpose Operating Fund. This is the fund that runs all the university buildings, pays our professors and administrators, and so forth. Thus, over 25 years, revenue from the businesses and housing will pay for the above-ground portion of the project. The underground bus loop though, which is going to cost 40 million, will not pay for itself. The way to get around that is to take 31 million of the funding from a different bank account than the GPOF - a fund supplied by "Infrastructure Impact Charges". These "charges" are sort of like taxes that each building, when it is built, pays to the university for purposes of maintaining and building infrastructure. The bus loop is considered infrastructure. So for example, donors or government grants that enable the university to build would have to contribute to the IIC fund, per square foot of building they are funding. The fact that there is enough money in that fund to dole out 31 million dollars, in addition to whatever infrastructure and maintenance it is normally meant for, seems to indicate that IICs are hugely inflated to fund these types of projects. Why does the university for some reason prefer the aesthetics of funding through this tax than from some other account? To elucidate this question, lets look at another spending need: the much touted childcare deficit. It is a matter of some debate whether other spending priorities, like childcare, can be funded out of this same IIC fund, or not. Some say yes, some say only the infrastructure (plumbing, wiring, etc) of such future daycare buildings would come out of that fund. Now the convenience of this scheme comes to light. By 1) funding development projects through IIC funds, and 2) selectively defining projects as "infrastructure" related, the univesity can squirm out of the situation of being in debt and neglecting essential services while investing in a costly and dubiously desireable underground loop. Moreover, they don't have to take comparisons of large-scale spending priorites seriously, since technically, they wouldn't be from the same funding source. Oh, and Translink is to fund 5 million of the bus loop. The remaining 4 million got lost in a mumble, when I asked Norman to give details.

In any event, this brings us to the next point: that of cost, and cost-recovery models. Some students have said that the campus centre should not be developed on a cost-recovery model at all, and should be regarded as an investment. Others have said that developing it by taking money out of the university's budget would spell disaster (and a convenient excuse for administrators) by cutting into student services and academics. That is, taking money out of the GPOF for development instead of spending it on academics is not necessarily good for students either. Personally, I think cost-recovery makes sense, if it is longer-term, and meets the basic objectives of a campus centre for the academic and student community. Currently, the model is for a 25 year cost recovery trajectory. Making that longer would mean less retail is necessary, and that the preferred goals of a campus centre (social space, green space, ample seating) can be prioritized. Yes, the endowment won't start profiting off the development for a longer time, but let's face it, the university is already losing buckets of money off the underground bus loop, and the rent from a few apartments and coffee shops is peanuts compared to what they're getting from paving the forest on south campus.

As Jeff Freidrich often says, "we need to start with what works about the space - and what works is the grassy knoll." This isn't to say that removing the knoll, or replacing it in some other place (like in front of Wesbrook) is unfathomable, but simply that the project, which professes to want to be a hub for students, must be in tune with the goals of students, and what works for us.

Some of the funner quotes of the evening:

"When you can convince a capitalist pig like me that this design isn't good for students..." - Matt Naylor, VP external.

"[in defeated tone of voice] to provide informal study space that doesn't generate any income? ... [deprecating sigh]. " - Norman Sippert, campus community & planning

"students seem to be symptoms of the project" - Nathan Crompton, Arts rep

"the university boulevard plan is gaining momentum - down-the-toilet momentum" - Darren Peets, BoG rep (facebook'd!)

In any event, the motion echoing the petition passed, and it will be presented at the May BoG meeting as an official AMS policy. The one point in the petition that was taken out of the policy was the line about regretting competition to student run and funded business by new businesses, since it was deemed "whiny", and possibly hypocritical, in case AMS businesses end up expanding into the space. I look forward to the reaction to that presentation.

Since this post is titled AMS Meeting May 2, I feel obliged to mention briefly some other business: the VPs are all hiring like crazy. Committee appointments that were left empty at the last meeting were filled (attempted). Orientation for staff, and the council retreat are occurring this week. A whole bunch of boring CASA procedure changes were passed. Some cool communication thing called SA link is happening. More on that when I land VP admin Sarah Naiman for a long-awaited interview.