Thursday, July 12, 2007

Financial bullying in Commerce Faculty, or, what becomes of a bad precedent.

Dan Muzyka, Dean of the faculty of Commerce, is in the market for a sugar momma. The only reason he hasn't posted on Craigslist yet is because he thinks he's got a lead. Except this time she's younger than he is, and considerably poorer - the Commerce Undergraduate Society. The affectionately self-dubbed "Dean Dan" has approached the CUS to contribute $150 000 to next years' faculty budget. It all started last year, when UBC had the nasty surprise of finding out it was running a 36 million dollar deficit.

The UBC board of governors has begun a long process to cut its budgets through the SCAPP committee (which just completed their first report, found HERE). Sullen deans and department heads everywhere are being asked to prioritize, efficiency-ify, and strip down their program offerings to their most Trek 2010-friendly activities. The government is stingy, and tuition can only be increased by a measly 2% a year. GPOF funding is no bottomless pit. "Hard decisions" are about to be made. But Commerce? Well, why would commerce tighten its belt when there's the untapped cash cow of student money to be had?

Dean Dan, apparently based on his close relationship with former CUS president Mike Woodward, broached the topic of increased CUS contributions last year. The $150 000 he asked for then is ostensibly to support the operations of the faculty's Business Career Centre (BCC) - one of those "prestige and profile" building programs that the Suader school takes pride in. The CUS already funds the BCC to the tune of $150 000 per year - about 15% of the $1.1 million annual CUS budget, and likewise 15% of the approximately $1 million BCC operating budget. The additional contribution would bring CUS support up to 30% for this academic service. maybe that's fair. Maybe students are willing to do that.

However, problems arise as soon and you get your number cruncher out. The BCC itself, according to its projected budget, is only asking for $60 000; the dean has now backtracked and asked for $100 000. This discrepancy is due to an alleged miscommunication between the two. Moreover, while the dean plans to pay $9000 less for the BCC next year, he has aked the CUS for far more than the balance ($91 000 more), giving the BCC a larger budget by far than previous years. This is in part accounted for because the BCC (bizarrely) budgeted for a 15-month period instead of the normal 12. But, even if you remove the three extra months' worth of costs, the BCC is still being allocated more than ever before as a result of the projected CUS contribution. To be exact, if the CUS contributes $60 000, or $100 000, the inflated amount (above last years' BCC budget) is $22 500, or $53 500, respectively. For all the details, please refer to the report prepared by CUS executives Jia Lei and Conor Topley on the topic HERE

The BCC has been unable to produce any plans for increased programming in the upcoming year. Since the student money now supporting the CUS goes throught the faculty, one might ponder about all the other faculty areas that, faced with the doleful prospect of GPOF cuts to their units (unless they become Goerge Mackie-accredited sustainable global citizens on the double), are parched for accountability-free student subsidization. On might reflect how well-pleased Dean Dan would be to benevolently water them. The truth is, we might well wonder where the extra money will end up: the dean, where approached with bald numbers, did not feel inclined to make his intentions public. More information may be provided at tomorrow's CUS council meeting, where the dean is going to present, but he has alluded to the fact that he doesn't want other faculties getting wind of the whole arrangement.

It may be far to late for that, however. The word on the street is that Dean of Arts Nancy Gallini has already approached the Arts Undergraduate society for some sort of bale-out. I'm not really supposed to know this, you see, so hush. Heaven forbid that we should have transparency at a public institution when there's 36 million dollars to come up with!

Anyway, Dean Dan has communicated to CUS president Conor Topley that if the CUS does not comply with his request (or shall we call it a demand?) two options are open:

a. Reduced services from the BCC.
b. A reduction in the number of undergraduate classes offered.

Considering that "hard decisions" are being made all over the university due to the current budget climate, these two options must and should be on the table anyway. The CUS and BCC in truth, have not a thing to do with it. The dean's request basically amounts to opportunism - the CUS has money, he needs it. There has been no honesty about the actual needs of the BCC's operations. There has been no honesty about where the excess in that budget would go. Increasing the BCC budget on students' dime at a time like this is preposterous. Using the excess in that budget at the dean's discretion, with no accountability, is insanity. While some block-headed CUS councilors have amiably suggested an increase in their tuition and student fees to cover the dean's whims, the rest of us would do well to recall that Sauder students already pay the highest student fees at the university at $266 (this was originally implemented during the 90's tuition freeze to do things like purchase computers and get the BCC started to begin with - check out a Ubyssey article (pg 4) on the topic). They also just approved an additional $500 per year building levy on their future students to finance the mortgage on a shiny new Angus building. Should they also be saddling a greater and greater portion of institutional spending?

This business - both the process and the intent - create an absurd precedent for the rest of the university. How ironic that the commerce faculty can't balance it's books without extorting students.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Recognizing the Staff on Campus

It looks like the President's Service Award for Excellence is getting a facelift, or at the very least formalizing informal guidelines which were practiced for several years.

Currently, the PSAE is open to both faculty and staff, the recipients (up to five per year) receive a gold medal and a monetary award of $5000. Having sat on the selection committee this past year I gained some insight into the workings of the committee. I also learned about the tremendous individuals who work on this campus who I sadly will never get to meet. I refrain from gushing on for obvious confidentiality reasons. In any case, today I attended an ad-hoc meeting to look at some reforms which Stephen Toope proposed to us*.

One was to make this award staff-only. Another was to increase the types of awards given out to staff - especially given the addition of UBC Okanagan in 2005.

Lisa Castle, AVP Human Resources, was a guest at our meeting today where she came up with a proposal to increase the number of Staff awards in four specified areas: Service to the Community and Sustainability, Service to Enhance Student Experience, Service through exceptional Teamwork (given out to a team of staff, obviously), and Service to Creativity and Innovation. This would all come out of the Endowment, with a minimal increase in award spending (about 12 000$ per year for the extra awards).

It was agreed that service recognition to Faculty was going to be taken up by the new Provost, and that the PSAE as is would now focus on Staff. This is really not a drastic change from current practice - there has only been one Faculty member to receive the PSAE in the past seven years, and spelling out this informal preference is only transparent and fair. It further allows for the realization of separate service awards to Faculty members who serve their community, noting that of course, Emeritus Status and other designations already exist for them.

After the meeting I talked to Lisa about her projects, and she gave me insight into the four different generations of staff she was serving. Each of them had different needs of job satisfaction, and her challenge was to meet most of them and each of their unique needs. The PSAE is only one avenue out of many - younger staff would like to see their job have career openings rather than just recognition for their works.

Overall, I feel that this development was much needed on this large campus. Much like students, I get the sense that the staff can also feel like an anonymous number at times. While students, staff, and faculty all emalgamate to form the community which we find ourselves in, the immense contribution of our staff is often taken for granted and this is a small step towards fostering their growth as well.

*Speaking of which, I saw his wife outside of Shoppers Drugmart today, wearing a beautiful Art-nuveau inspired white and black patterned cocktail dress near her bicycle. I walked in and out of the Dentistry building three times, contemplating whether or not I should go up and introduce myself to chat her up(though we had met before), but in the end decided to give her the anonymity she still enjoys. Her hubby certainly would not have had this luxury!


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Reading Break 2010

On May 16, the Senate approved to extend the 2010 reading break from 5 days to 10 days, adding another week of jolly freedom to the schedule of an otherwise overworked undergraduate student. This, as you rightly predict, is a response to the VanOC which approached Academic Policy chair Paul Harrison with this proposal quite some time ago, and consultation to the student senate caucus was conducted during the turnover meeting (end of April) in an informal setting. To which extent the student senators consulted the rest of the student body thereafter is unbeknownst to me, due to a self-imposed temporary post-retirement retreat from anything and everything to do with this illustrious institution. Call it a refractory period.

In any case, the registrar's office came up with a schedule of least inconvencience to students, and it's linked here (link):

- total teaching days for term 2 will be reduced from 63 days to 62 days
- reading break will be held from February 15-26 instead of 15-19
- consequently, classes will end on April 15, instead of April 9
- exams will be held during the period of April 19-May 1, instead of April 14-28
- graduation dates will not be changed

At the caucus meeting, the following points were raised to Paul Harrison:
- there is a significant number of students living off-campus but not at home who will be affected by exams ending on May 1. Housing arrangements extend in most cases to the end of the month and there will be contractual implications for those individuals who wish to move, sublet, and otherwise make arrangements while they are still writing exam(s).
- there are several private on-campus residences (Fraser Hall, and the many more that are budding at the speed of light) which do not have to abide to the administrative orders like any residences under UBC Housing and Conferences do. We asked that the VP Students office and the UNA be approached by the Senate in order to communicate this concern.
- Transit services need to be increased on Saturday, May 1 in order to accommodate for the increased number of students who are commuting into campus

To give you some frame of reference, this is not the first time the exam period has extended into May. However, since my little project of looking into the exam schedule in 2003, it was informally agreed that spilling over into May should be avoided for reasons mentioned above. We saw the Olympics as extenuating circumstances.

This, of course, beckons considerations beyond these logistical matters, on whether or not we should accommodate to, and thereby support the principles of the Olympics, of the Olympics in this city, and of the Olympics in this city in the way it has unfolded thus far. It is well known that despite of the grand principles which infused the realization of the Olympics at the cusp of the twentieth century (the celebration of human performance, sportsmanship, friendship, "global citizenship" etc), processes leading up to the events may not necessarily have lived up to these ideals in several cities.

A prime example is VanOC's pledge to social sustainability, in particular housing. It has been reported that already hundreds of evictions have taken place in low rent housing in the inner city, despite of a promise that this would not happen. Given this neglect, it is doubtful on whether 30% of housing built for the Olympics will be converted to social housing after (another key promise).

I have been in contact with the founder (Rob Van Wynsberghe) of the IOCC (link) (an independent community coalition which has been tracking the development of the 2010 Van Olympics from the social perspective of housing, transit, environment, social accountability, safety and civil liberty (I may have missed some). In any case, the IOCC has been giving the VanOc committee some pretty grave grades (D- in a recent 24 Hrs article) so far.

He and I both agreed that there is a certain duty of citizenship on our part to respect and foster the City's wish to host the Olympics. While a refusal to accomodate to the Olympics through congesting traffic during those five days in February would stiffle the experience of both student and winter sport enthusiast, the degree of inconvenience may or may not have been a constructive or effective way to show concern around the development of the Olympics in this city.

Nor am I certain whether it is in the best interest of the University's already esoteric reputation to out-right refuse to collaborate and make concessions for the community at large that it finds itself embedded in.

However, if citizenship were a virtue, I would challenge this position further. It would be complacent of us to dwell simply on cooperation - cooperation for the blind leading the blind towards detriment to already marginalized parts of the City. We have a responsibility to use our cooperation with VanOC as a leverage to raise concerns about the way in which social issues such as housing in the DTES have been utterly neglected. This is a bargaining chip with great stakes. Members of the senate and individuals on AMS council should take this to heart and act, and they need to do it now.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Stephen Owen appointed VP External and Community Relations of UBC

So, I'm still in a little bit of an awe at this, hopefully some of you sages can provide insight and calm my nerves. Stephen Owen's website confirms that "Stephen Owen, Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra, announced today that he will be resigning his seat effective July 27, 2007 to join the University of British Columbia as Vice President, External and Community Relations." (link)

While I would like to think that propriety calls for our university administrators to remain at arms' length with federal/provincial political parties, this recent development compounds to paint the following picture:
- Stephen Toope is a founder and former chair of the Pierre Trudeau Foundation. While "non-partisan", it's Pierre Trudeau, Mr. Liberal posterchild from the glory days and perhaps a major reason why some individuals still support the party.
- Stephen Owen quits his Liberal MP post to join the UBC administration.

Is it just me, or is our University too close for comfort in arms with the Liberals? We have a conservative federal government, making my point that perhaps we, as a public autonomous institution, should remain appropriately outside of the realm of blatant partylines. I expect Matthew Naylor to post with vigorous defense.

Full media release from the UBC Website behind the jump:

Media Release | Jul. 5, 2007

Stephen Owen Appointed Vice President, External and Community Relations

The University of British Columbia Board of Governors today approved the appointment of Stephen Owen as Vice President, External and Community Relations.

Owen, a UBC alumnus who is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra, the Vancouver constituency that includes UBC, will resign his seat July 27 before assuming his new UBC position August 15.

“Stephen Owen brings to UBC uniquely broad insight and experience developed through a distinguished career of public service that has been a hallmark of integrity,” said UBC President Stephen Toope. “His decision to join our university underscores the paramount importance we place on effective relations with our communities as UBC, already one of the world’s 40 best universities, prepares to enter its second century of service to British Columbia, Canada and beyond.”

The position description for Owen’s responsibilities states: “The External and Community Relations Portfolio is responsible for guiding and enhancing engagement with government at all levels -- municipal, provincial, national and international. It develops community relationships with civil society, neighbourhood associations and social movements; enhances cultural aspects of university life related to staff, faculty and students studying, living and working together; and builds a sense of belonging to form a vibrant and cohesive community.”

“I am thrilled to return to my alma mater as a member of Prof. Toope’s executive team,” Owen said. “UBC’s strategic plan, Trek 2010, lays out an ambitious plan for the university to become one of the world’s very best. I am thankful for the opportunity to lead the communication effort around the truly compelling story of teaching and research excellence that UBC has created in the last 100 years.”

UBC units Owen will oversee include: Ceremonies and Events, Community Affairs, Government Relations, the Learning Exchange, Public Affairs, University Counsel (legal office), and university operations at UBC Robson Square.

Owen, 58, was born in Vancouver. He and his wife, Diane, a UBC alumna and a UBC online instructor in intercultural communication, have two sons. Owen received his Law degree from UBC in 1972, his Master of Law from the University of London and his MBA from the University of Geneva.

Owen’s career has taken him from legal advocacy work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, through a variety of high-profile senior provincial positions such as Ombudsman and Deputy Attorney General, and forward to the national and international stages.

Following election as MP for Quadra in 2000, he served as Secretary of State for Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Minister of Public Works and Government Services, and Minister of Western Economic Development. From 1997-2000, he was David Lam Professor of Law at the University of Victoria, and he has consulted internationally on a variety of human rights issues.

A complete CV is available at:

Owen succeeds Dennis Pavlich, who resigned in June to take on the presidency of the Great Northern Way Campus, a consortium of BCIT, Simon Fraser University, the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design and UBC. The new institution has a focus on arts and culture, urban sustainability and digital media.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

U-Blvd re-consultation kickoff

The wonders of free food.

Yesterday, if you were ambling by the south side for the SUB, you may have noticed a crush of people scribbling on questionnaires, brandishing barbecue vouchers, and collecting delicious AMS catering fare. Yesterday marked the first event in the renewed push for re-imagining the much loathed University Boulevard development project - also known as the U-Blvd neighborhood plan and University square.

About three hundred people filled out the lengthy survey in three hours yesterday afternoon. Just to compare, only 170 students filled out the hugely advertised "Campus Plan" survey online several months ago, which was available for a week. Yesterday's survey, (which can be found here, and can still be submitted till Friday) comprised of open-ended questions. A detailed vision statement generated by the Board's consultation working group was supplied. The questions mostly regarded how people use the space now, and what they envisioned for it in the future.

This consultation, and another round that will happen in September, are broadly expected to lead to a fundamental re-design of the development plan. How fundamental, nobody is quite sure. The basic question is whether the university's architecture firm will be asked to modify existing drawings (which the university has already payed several million dollars to create over the years), or go back to the drawing board. This process is the result of a student petition and AMS policy that opposed the existing development plan. Both were brought to the Board of Governors' attention in May.

If you missed the free burgers, don't fret, you still have a chance to pitch in. Workshops taking place this week are:

  • July 5 - SUB Concourse
  • 11 am – 4 pm: Open House Drop In
  • July 6 - SUB Room 42T (Where the arcade used to be, next to the Delly)
    • 11 am – 12 pm: Mini-workshop on the Vision
    • 1 – 2 pm: Mini-workshop on Mapping the Square
    • 3 – 4 pm: Mini-workshop on connecting to the SUB