Wednesday, December 3, 2008

UBC Farm Saved?

UBC Board of Governors Chair Brad Bennett caught developing the UBC Farm.

After a number of secret meetings, it looks like the UBC Board of Governors may have decided to protect the full 24 hectares of the UBC Farm and surrounding forest. Here's the press release they issued on Monday:

UBC Board of Governors Requests New Academic Plan for Sustainable South Campus

The University of British Columbia Board of Governors has directed UBC administration to develop academic plans for a 24 ha parcel of South Campus land for teaching and research purposes that are “academically rigourous and globally significant” around issues of sustainability.

The Board directed that the new plans enhance UBC’s position as Canada’s most sustainable university and a recognized world leader in campus sustainability.

At the same time, the Board stipulated that no market housing will be pursued on the 24 ha parcel, which contains the UBC Farm, as long as the university’s housing, community development and endowment goals can be met through transferring density to other parts of campus. The 24 ha parcel is designated as “Future Housing Reserve” in the current UBC Official Community Plan, a bylaw of the Greater Vancouver Regional District created in 1997.

The Board also committed to the continuation of current land uses until academic plans are completed and a decision has been reached on density transfer.

The Friends of the Farm club, which has been one of the primary pro-Farm advocates, welcomed the release and recognized it as a huge step forward for their cause. Their strategy now is to encourage the Board to continue down this path and ensure that their voices continue to be heard.

While this is all great news, it should still be taken with a certain degree of caution. There is no guarantee that the Farm will remain at 24 ha. The Board could decide to build classroom space or non-market housing and justify it as "academically rigourous". We have seen UBC propose before that building housing on the Farm's arable land in partnership with the architecture school would be considered sustainability research. It's also important to remember that the Board's promise to keep market housing off the Farm is contingent on the creation of a plan to relocate market housing to other areas of campus. This could cause some real problems, especially if the plan is to move market housing to University Square.

It's hard to know what's really going on here. The situation would perhaps be a bit more clear if the (partially) elected Board of Governors stopped restricting their discussions on the UBC Farm to closed session meetings. Even if their decisions are positive ones, they need to be deliberated and decided out in the open. But maybe accountability and transparency are too much to ask from a public institution.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

King Toope

Vancouver Magazine has produced what it calls The Vanmag Power List 2008. There doesn't seem to be any real criteria, but I'm supposing the list is meant to designate the top 50 most powerful individuals in Vancouver. Coming in at #40 is none other than our President and Vice-Chancellor, Stephen Toope. I found his description to be quite interesting:

UBC, 100 this year, is the belle of today’s development ball. Market-housing construction yields ceaseless infusions into its dowry (funding all that research that’s meant to be the point of the exercise). The 7,000 housing units coming onstream will boost the population of the Point Grey isthmus to almost 20,000 in the next decade—an enticing tax base as the university contemplates joining the city of Vancouver. Builders aren’t the only suitors courting King Toope; this summer, a loose-screw student and some B-list thieves showed that campus security needs some tightening, presumably a priority with Thunderbird Stadium hosting its share of Olympics hoopla.

Position last year New
Last book read?
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
2008 low point? A UBC budget cut
Worst mistake? Eating 16 cinnamon rolls at one sitting
Six words for your tombstone? “He did his best.” (I know that’s only four!)


Kiss Your Scholarships Goodbye

Question: What happens during a time of economic downturn to a public university that relies on private funding ? Answer: It loses money. Lots of money.

UBC's Endowment, which is meant to provide sustainable funding to the University, has been generated predominantly by donations and the construction of market housing on campus. At other universities in Canada, which have smaller endowments than UBC's, it's already been projected that some will lose up to $100 million in endowment funds. Expected losses at UBC are unknown at this point, but President Stephen Toope has said that it will be considerable.

What does this all mean for students? Basically the decimation of student financial assistance and awards. The Endowment funds a lot of student scholarships, fellowships, and bursaries. It is projected that as much as 20% or more of the $9.6 million in endowed awards will be lost. Toope's "Letter to the UBC Community" is hardly reassuring, saying that despite this loss, the University's commitment to deliver financial support to students is unwavering.

But take a look at the numbers. According to Board of Governors' reports, financial assistance for needs-based support (like bursaries) has been declining since 2005. In fact, if you take into account enrollment and inflation, support has dropped by 43% over that time period. Meanwhile, tuition increased. How is that unwavering support? It'll be a start if UBC makes up for the loss of endowed student financial assistance through other sources, but I wouldn't be too optimistic.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Not Me. We.

If you've been paying attention to UBC rhetoric as of late, you will have noticed that UBC has adopted a new slogan. It was the title of this year's annual report and AGM: "Not Me. We." President Toope has been overusing this phrase to a point that is almost laughable. He uses it in a manner of speaking that just seems forced nearly every time he addresses the UBC community from Senate to Board to the Alumni Achievement Awards. I guess the point of the rhetoric is that we have to work together and individuals don't accomplish things on their own, or whatever. It doesn't really matter. I personally find it to be wholly uninspiring, somewhat disingenuous, and bland.

The interesting part is the origin of this new slogan. Of course it has been brought to us by UBC Public Affairs, the propaganda arm of the University, but a quick Google search shows that this slogan isn't even original. Here's a sampling of where it's been used:

Center for Family and Community Relations

We Not Me

Is this really the best Public Affairs could come up with?


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Where Are All the Students?

Way back in 2004, the BC Liberals ambitiously promised to create 25,000 new student spaces in colleges and universities by 2010. Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell has recently stated that this projection has shot up to 32,000. More student seats means that more students will be able to attend post-secondary in BC. This is a good thing.

So how are we doing so far? In order to answer that, it's first important to realize that a student seat isn't actually a student. When the government says they want to increase student seats, they actually mean they want to increase FTEs (full-time equivalents). One FTE is equal to 60 per cent of a full course load. So, a student studying with a full-course load is counted as 1.4 FTEs and a student studying with a 30% course load is counted as 0.5 FTEs. This FTE business is used partially so that full-time students don't get lumped in with part-time students. The reason the government doesn't want to lump them together is that government funding is based on FTE. The higher an institution's FTE, the more funding they get.

The auditor general has released a report documenting the progress of the first two years (2004/2005 and 2005/2006) of the 25,000 student seat increase promise. The target for those years was the creation of 7,417 new seats. Only 4,004 were filled. In fact, only 6 of the 26 post-secondary institutions in the province met their targets.

There are also a number of problems with how the number of 25,000 was determined. It was solely based on future population forecasts for BC and included no consultation whatsoever with the institutions themselves. If you're going to set targets to increase the number of seats at post-secondary institutions, it just seems plain obvious that you would ask those institutions what their expected enrolment figures will be. Another problem is that each FTE is worth $7,200 in funding from the province. This flat figure does not take into account the cost of different programs at different institutions and also importantly does not account for inflation. $7,200 in 2004 is not worth $7,200 in 2010.

The broader premise of funding institutions based on FTEs also has complications. Those small, interactive courses that we all love are not encouraged under this model. For a post-secondary institution, it is most advantageous to cram as many students into a class as possible. They are also encouraged to focus more heavily on programs that maximize FTEs, rather than programs that stimulate a high standard of learning.

We should also ask: why is the Province not meeting its target of increasing the number of student seats? Well, the creation of these spaces is predicated on the belief that there is sufficient demand to fill these spaces. It has been shown, for a number of reasons, that there isn't. A student's decision on whether or not to attend a post-secondary institution is not primarily dictated by whether or not there is an open spot in the program, but rather by tuition costs, the student's or their family's financial resources, the education level of the student's parents, and how close the student lives to a post-secondary institution that meets their needs (See StatsCan report).

The 25,000 space goal is a good one, but it's not being supported. If we are to reach it, the Province will first need to take a long hard look at the issues of accessibility to post-secondary. Perhaps Campus 2020 will provide some insight.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

defunct CBC radio Orchestra finds home at UBC

Looks like UBC has stepped up on this one. Bravo!!!
For background, see this previous post.

MEDIA RELEASE NOVEMBER 18, 2008 National Broadcast Orchestra finds home at UBC's Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

The University of British Columbia announced today it will play a key role as a founding partner for the National Broadcast Orchestra, the privately funded successor to the former CBC Radio Orchestra.
UBC will provide ongoing use of the Chan Centre for the Performing
Arts at UBC as the Orchestra's performing home. The Orchestra will also develop
a strong relationship with the UBC School of Music.
UBC finalized this agreement with the National Broadcast Orchestra (NBO) shortly after the CBC Radio Orchestra's farewell concert on Sunday, November 16.
The agreement covers an initial period of three years and is subject to renewal provisions, says NBO Co-founder Philippe Labelle, the founder and CEO of Montreal-based ZeFridge, an online software platform.
During this initial period, the NBO will hold three concerts per year at the Chan Centre, to be broadcast nationally on the CBC. UBC and NBO will also collaborate on other projects and present other concerts.
Labelle began working with Alain Trudel, Principal Conductor of the CBC Radio Orchestra, once it was made public in March CBC's plans to dismantle its 70-year-old Vancouver orchestra.
"The relationship with the School of Music will provide opportunities for UBC faculty, alumni artists and students to engage with the orchestra," said Richard Kurth, Director of the UBC School of Music.
"The National Broadcast Orchestra will be responsive to the needs and opportunities of the present and future, and will continue to give Canadians music that will inspire them," said Kurth, adding, "We hope that Canadians from coast to coast will support its initiatives, and listen eagerly to its work."
"If our efforts keep developing in a positive way, we look forward to building a regular presence of the NBO at the Chan Centre," said Sid Katz, Managing Director of the Chan Centre./ . . .2Katz added the new orchestra will pursue its crucial mission in providing an exciting new forum for music lovers all across the country.
"I would like to join my voice with that of my fellow Canadians and say how proud we are of the contribution to our national culture that the CBC Radio Orchestra has made over its unique 70-year history," said Trudel.
CBC Radio Executive Director Denise Donlon says the public broadcaster sees this as an opportunity to partner with private business, and that CBC will be providing support through concert broadcasts, commissions, rehearsal space and access to the CBC sheet music library.
"We wish the National Broadcast Orchestra every success in the future," said Donlon. "We've had very positive discussions with Philippe Labelle and Alain Trudel and have agreed that once the new orchestra is viable, we're prepared to offer continued


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Terry Talks

Coming soon to the Life Science Centre, LSC1, near you- Terry Talks! The project was developed by a couple of UBC students and professors who had the vision of getting some really cool students at UBC to present a talk about issues they found really interesting and important. There are a 9 students from difference programs/faculties speaking at the event, and if you're interested in checking it out, please visit ! You will find a neat video there introducing the speakers, and additional information about the event.

In the case that you're lazy, however, and don't want to click on the link (I will admit, I often do this), here's a summary:

Who (attending): you!
(speaking): awesome people!

Where: Life Science Centre, LSC1 (lecture hall) | West Atrium (exhibits)
2350 Health Sciences Mall
University of British Columbia (just in case- this is the Vancouver campus)

When: Saturday, November 22, 2008 from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM (that's not this upcoming weekend, but the weekend after that)

How (much): free! AND you get a free lunch. That's pretty hard to say "no" to.

Why: because receiving an education is more than sitting in a lecture or a lab, and should involve your getting acquainted with some ideas out there! Plus, these people are really cool (I know two of them personally, and they're awesome and have interesting things to say), and have put a lot of effort in trying to put on a good presentation for you, so it would be really nice of you all to come out! :)

If you have any more questions, visit the website!

Oh, and if you're a science student looking for an elective- ASIC 200 is amazing and is run by the profs who were involved in making the Terry Talks happen- I took it last year and it's been the best course I've taken so far at UBC, so I would highly recommend it. I know it's a shameless plug, but seriously- aMAZing. So get in while (or if) you still can!


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Scaling Down

This practice doesn't seem to be used at all in science, but occurs all the time in psychology, where they want there to be a set average for all classes. I'm pretty vehemently opposed to scaling people down on exams, and I think most students agree. However, it's still used, and I wanted to really look into the reasons both for and against it.

It seems that the main purpose of the practice is to prevent mark inflation. If you let students do well, that just means that every year the marks will just go up further, and soon enough, everyone will be getting 100% on exams (or at least an 85), and standards across Canadian schools will be shattered as everyone scrambles to give students higher marks to guarantee their entry into graduate programs. Chaos will ensue as schools try to identify which students are actually good at the subject, undeserving students will get in at the cost of the capable ones, the genius will be lost among the mass of mediocrity. Or will that actually happen?

Well, first of all, under what circumstances do professors scale marks down?

1.) The exam was too easy, and too many people did well.
-I would argue that this is the fault of the professor. If you design any sentient being that can read and understand English and can apply basic principles of logic to deduce correct answers, it's a problem with the exam. Ok, I know this is an exaggeration, but still- why are we punishing students for the mistake of a professor?

2.) The exam was hard, but students studied hard and did well.
-There are classes where students know the material is going to be hard. There are also classes where there there just happen to be lots of good students (honours classes, for instance), who might study hard and do well. It does happen- and when it does, I don't think those students should be scaled down, as they could just legitimately know and understand the material better.

I would argue that the doomsday scenario profs envision won't actually materialize.

First of all, there's nothing to say that a high average one year, or even on one exam, will create this upward spiral of grading. Just because one year's class happens to do well doesn't meant that this is going to be an on-going trend. Setting the class average to be 65% every year is simply not accounting for natural variation among the student population. You might get a brilliant group of students one year, and a terrible group of students the next year. If the aim is to compare students from year to year, then setting a set average doesn't do much in terms of establishing a scale of comparison, as the average is so sensitive to individual marks.

I also don't see anything wrong with people doing well on an exam that's designed to test their knowledge of the material (i.e. a fair exam). Theoretically, in a good class, students will study hard for an exam, and do well as a result. Sure, not everyone will study- and those people who don't will do worse, and score below average- and also probably do significantly (p<0.05) worse. Even if the instructor did compose an exam that could have been written by a student who never attended class or did any of the readings and just wrote the exam based on previous knowledge- scaling down only penalizes the people who did do well and who studied hard. Sure, it might be unfair to the person who studied lots and did as well as the person who studied little- but that happens even on difficult exams- and it's still unfair to scale the hardworking person down. Plus, if you are scaled down because the exam wasn't hard enough, there's nothing to say that you would have done just as well on a harder exam. There's also always the opportunity to make the next exam slightly more difficult so that you actually test students' learning and understanding of the material rather than things like previous knowledge, if this was the initial problem. In the case that the average is 'too high' on the harder exam, I would argue that students who perform well on a it still deserve good mark, regardless of what the average was 'supposed' to be. Considering the fact that most exams are quite similar from year to year, it makes no sense to scale a class down on an exam that achieved the targeted average in previous years- all the high mark indicates is that students learned the material well. Scaling down then simply makes the marking unjust, and removes motivation to study, because at that point your mark and your effort in the course are no longer correlated, as the mark you get for the course is not actually indicative of the effort or knowledge you attained over the term, but rather is indicative of the average your professor wanted the class to attain.

Then there's the second issue- not being able to separate the genius from the simply smart from the average if everyone ends up doing well on an exam. My first qualm with this belief is that I just don't think there are all that many geniuses floating around, and those who are indeed of superior intelligence will be able to prove themselves in some other way (show their brilliance through other projects, or during their grad school interviews, or through reference letters, etc.). But more importantly, if you're scaling everyone down, you're supposedly scaling the geniuses down as well, no? Or if you're not using a uniform scale, and giving the person who got a 98 a 92, but letting the person who got 100 keep that mark- you're essentially saying that the person who got 100 is smarter than the person who got a 98. In this case, though, the initial difference could have been a matter of one student getting one more question correct, and that could be the result of a random guess and simple luck rather than knowledge of the subject matter. So really, if we're trying to separate geniuses from a group, we should devise a matter of doing so that doesn't involve punishing everyone else in the group, and that relies less on things like chance and luck. I'd also argue that tests shouldn't be targeted at the 0.00001% of us who are brilliant, but that's a bit of a tangent to be written about some other day.

So why do profs scale down? Why have a target grade? Presumably to ensure that the average is consistent across all schools, or to prevent high marks from becoming meaningless- to which I have several responses. First of all, unless there's some sort of pact between schools or departments to set an average, there is nothing to prevent one school from deciding to give all their students marks of 80% and up for any given course. A good application review system will notice this, and probably judge applications based on either other factors, or else by looking at how the student did compared to the class average. Secondly, this notion of marks becoming meaningless when they're too high- and I'd argue that no, this isn't the case. I find that on the whole, it's not all that difficult to do well in a psychology class, if you actually a.) come to class b.) listen in class (This seems to be a problem for some, which is why b.) is its own category. There are some people who like to learn through osmosis and come to class and sleep.) c.) do the reading and d.) do some studying (i.e. memorize some material and understand it). This normally, provided that the person understands and knows the material, is guaranteed to get the student at least a 80 (I think. I haven't done the stats or anything, so this bit is more of a conjecture. But I think that in psych, at the very least, it must be somewhat true, although I don't know error margins). In this case, I don't think the mark is meaningless- I think it's just something the student is proud of. Also, this doesn't apply to the GPA booster courses, where you're asked things that seem to be common knowledge (Believe it or not, things like "does the Sun revolve around the Earth?". Answer at the bottom of the page, if you are unsure). But even in those courses, people somehow manage to fail the exam, even without the prof scaling down... It is not unfathomable, however, that everyone engages in these 4 sequences. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, when students do well. Low averages are based on the preconceived notion that students will slack off, not study, or be generally unintelligent- all of which I would dispute. So why base expectations on preconceived notions that are bound to fail every once in a while?

I think my argument is pretty clear- maybe not as clear as it would be had I written this at any decent hour, but clear enough nonetheless. Don't scale down. I'd further propose that marks in general aren't always indicative of either learning or achievement in the class. I'd also argue and that marks on transcripts should be given in relation to the average class mark- this allows application reviewers to really judge how well the student is doing in a class. If the transcript indicates that the student scored an 85 on an exam where the average was 80, that something different about the student than if he/she scored an 85 where the class average was 60. I'd be interested in seeing some of these ideas argued, at the very least. They might certainly reduce the problems people have with mark inflation, and might serve as better indicators of students' performance- and that, unless I'm hugely mistaken, is what the marking system is trying to ensure in the first place.

Oh, and the answer is no. The Earth revolves around the sun. For the physicists out there, I know this is probably a simplification, and if you look at the world in 16 dimensions, you can arguably say that there's some sort of complex pattern of movement where the two bodies, based on Someone's Law, revolve around one another, or something along those lines. But for our purposes, "no" is the answer.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Labbing it up!

As a science student, I find labs to be perhaps one of the most interesting and important aspects of my undergraduate learning. Not only is this the one really hands-on thing I get to do with my undergraduate education, but it's the one time I actually get to feel like a scientist, the one time I get to interact with a smaller group of students and feel like I'm applying concepts from the classroom in a real setting. So this post is really to try to tell you guys about some of my experiences with labs at UBC, to highlight some of the weaknesses, but to also point out some of the strengths and great experiences I have had as a student.

I can't say I always loved lab sessions- particularly not first year physics. There are definite problems with outdated facilities and equipment, and I certainly have come across professors who make it quite clear that labs are run on a very small budget. Lab equipment, for some bizarre reason, is quite expensive- something like 100 enzymes (as in, 100 proteins) can cost $62, and that's for an enzyme that's pretty commonly used in a lab (in this case, I looked up Taq polymerase, a commonly used enzyme in biochemistry, biology, etc. labs). I definitely wish that more resources were put towards these labs. Having said that, I definitely think that there are some common labs that need reworking. In chem 211 last year, for instance, we spent lots of labs doing pretty much the same sorts of things- dilutions and titrations. Granted, these are important skills, but having spent most of first year doing these same sorts of labs, and then having to do the same labs again for half a year is hardly fun work, and I really thought that students could be exposed to a greater variety of experiments and skill sets in this course in particular. Other labs were great, though- chem 235 was well put-together, and really got students thinking about connecting concepts learned in class with experimentation. It also focused on a variety of different types of experiments, so I felt like I learned a lot over the course of the semester.

This year in particular, however, I've enjoyed the opportunity of getting to do some really amazing things in my physiology lab course. Some of the labs we get to do are really special, mostly because we're a small class. In my first lab this year, for instance, I got to operate on live rats. Yesterday, we got to go into the LSI and look at real, human brains in order to identify structures and cranial nerves and the like- these are the sorts of experiences that got me into science, and piqued my interest initially. In general, I've found both of my lab courses to be more applicable to the type of work seen I've seen (or have done myself) in a research lab- so it disheartens me to hear students complain about labs, and how silly they are, and about how much time they take, because I personally find them to be the ultimate learning experience. Some labs I think could certainly use some tweaking in order to figure out a way of spending money more productively, and teaching students a variety of skill sets rather than simply titration and dilution. On the whole, however, being in a lab, getting your hands on equipment and chemicals and so on is in and of itself important- and possibly the best kind of learning one can do, as you really get to synthesize concepts you've learned (especially if you've done the pre-reading and know why you're doing things). Even lab reports, as much as I sometimes complain about them, have been hugely helpful in getting me to understand material and see the physical manifestation of what I've learned from my textbooks and lectures. Learning to ask a question, try to answer it, figure out a way of doing it that's not simply outlined for you on a cookie-cutter recipe, and then figuring out why your results don't match up with literature or expectations really makes you think, and is a true reflection of what actual science is. Because science isn't about you telling others about what you know- it' about identifying what you don't, and figuring out a way to solve that problem, and going through obstacles along the way, and trying to explain what you've seen. It involves a great depth of analysis and knowledge and the ability to really understand the mechanisms underlying the process under investigation- and this is what I find most exciting about science, and it's something that we sort of get to do in our labs (although we're usually given the 'recipe').

I sort of wish that more students got to experience what I have- not simply other science students, but students from a variety of faculties. Some areas of study obviously aren't as conducive to labs, but anything that makes students really engage with what they're learning is, in my opinion, a great use of our tuition fees, and a great opportunity to really learn.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Metro Vancouver Supports UBC Farm

This morning the Metro Vancouver Board voted 30-0 in favour of a motion to send a letter to the UBC Board of Governors in support of preserving the UBC Farm at 24 hectares.

The Metro Vancouver Board is comprised of representatives from the 21 municipalities in the Vancouver area (Vancouver, Richmond, Maple Ridge, etc.) and is responsible for delivering essential services and managing development growth and green spaces. UBC is not a municipality, but is a part of Electoral Area A, which has a representative on the Board.

The discussion lasted hours and partially turned into an NPA vs. Vision Vancouver debate (two of the political parties in the City of Vancouver). NPA councilors wanted to dodge taking a stand on the Farm since it would have been politically damaging for them to vote against the Farm during an election. They tried to refer the issue to the UBC/Metro Vancouver Joint Committee, but that failed. Then they tried to amend the motion and water it down, but that also failed. When the roll call vote came, all councilors voted in favour of the motion.

This vote is significant. The fact that Metro Vancouver had to intervene in the development affairs of UBC raised broader questions about how UBC is being governed. Metro Vancouver's heightened awareness of development issues at UBC will only intensify if the UBC Board of Governors doesn't take their request seriously.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Electoral Area A Candidates Exposed

On November 15th, people will go to the polls in Metro Vancouver to vote for new municipal governments. People that live on UBC campus will also go to the polls, but they won't be voting for mayors and councilors like everyone else since UBC is not part of any municipality, but rather part of an unincorporated area termed Electoral Area A. That doesn't mean that these residents don't have representation though. On-campus residents can still vote for School Board and for a representative to the Metro Vancouver Board. Electoral Area A's representation to the Metro Vancouver Board is extremely minimal - one vote out of 124 - but nonetheless important.

In the aim of improving the 4% voter turnout in the 2005 election, I surveyed the five candidates for Electoral Area A Director to get their views on some of the most important student issues. Before getting to the results, here's a rundown of who the candidates are:

Charles Menzies - UBC anthropology prof, chair of the Schools Action Committee of the University Neighbourhoods Association, founding member of Vision Vancouver's education committee
Fred Pritchard - works for local developer Leddingham MacAlister, former Director of Campus and Community Planning, worked on the South Campus Neighbourhood Plan, former UNA board member and consulter
Matthew Naylor - UBC arts student, AMS Councilor, former AMS VP External
Ben West - Vancouver Green Party Chair, works as the Healthy communities Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, former student representative to the Capilano College Board, former BC Organizer for the Green Party of Canada, fomer deputy leader of the Green Party of BC
Maria Harris - economist, member of the University Endowment Community Adv

1) Do you support keeping the UBC Farm in its current location at its current size (24 ha)?

Charles: Yes. Period. No qualifications.

Fred: Yes

Matt: Yes, unequivocally. Beyond that, steps must be taken to institutionally recognize the permanency of the Farm. I was happy to vote to support changing the designation of the Farm to 'Academic Field Facility', and, from the perspective of MetroVancouver, would work to secure the farm in perpetuity, using such options as placing the Farm into the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Ben: Yes. I am one of the lead organizers of the campaign to save UBC Farm, and have been working hard on strategy, communications, collecting petitions, helping with media training for friends of the farm representatives, and much more in my role as a Healthy Communities campaigner for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

Maria: Yes, I support keeping the UBC Farm, including the forest buffer, in its current location and at its current size. It is a precious educational, environmental and community asset whose social value will increase over time and which needs to be preserved for future generations, particularly in view of increasing population on the Point Grey penninsula and diversifying educational uses of the farm.

2) Are students fairly represented on the UBC Board of Governors?

Charles: I would like to see the Board of Governors majority elected with equal numbers of seats for faculty, staff, and students.

Fred: Yes

Matt: No. There is an immense contribution that students make to this university, both in terms of a fiscal contribution, and societally. Three out of twenty one seats does not reflect the importance of students in this University setting. More specifically, there is often a gap in representation for graduate students - I would like to see a specific seat for graduate students created on the Board.

Ben: No. The Board of Governors is a fundamentally un-democratic institution. I was elected 4 times as a student representative on the Board of Governors at Capilano College. This group of appointed volunteers may in fact have the best interests of the university at heart from their perspective, but I believe the lack of truly accountable and transparent representation is very problematic. Look at the UBC farm as just one example of an issue where the Board is so far not responding to the needs and wishes of students or community members in the way an accountable group would have to.

Maria: I should defer to students for an answer to this question since fairness of representation needs to be evaluated by those who are represented. I believe quality of representation is a pivotal issue in this election and I am willing to make the significant time committment required to represent the many different needs of Electoral Area A residents at the Metro Vancouver Board and on committees.

3) Do you support the presence of the Olympics on campus?

Charles: The Olympics are a big festival that has already been committed to. I would be concerned if the security or other aspects of the event interferes with
normal functioning of learning and campus research. I do not want the Olympics to unduly interfere with or cause harm to the normal functions of education on this campus.

Fred: In its limited form without affecting the academic year..Yes

Matt: The Olympics are coming to campus whether we want them to or not, it's up to us to make the best of them. We must be clear in what we want to see for the Olympics in our district, and have a plan to ensure that we get the most out of these games, and mitigate the effects of the aftermath of the Olympics, not only here, but across the GVRD.

Ben: I have concerns about the presence of the Olympics on campus, as I have problems with the commercialization of education in general. I was opposed to the Olympic bid because of the cost (especially in the context of closing schools and hospitals at the same time), the impact on the city, and its aftermath. I love snowboarding and other organized sports and wish the athletes all the best.

Maria: This is now a given and I think we should do what we can to welcome the world and enjoy the spirit of this event.

4) Should a rapid transit line to UBC be built before the Evergreen Line?

Charles: I think that having a UBC line built at the same time or very soon after the start of the Everygreen line would be a good idea.

Fred: No. We need improved service faster which can be done by improving level of existing bus service

Matt: Yes. While I believe that both projects are very important, UBC is severely undeserved as the second highest transit destination of the GVRD, second only to downtown Vancouver. We cannot have our line built fast enough.

Ben: We need more buses now. Rapid transit improvements are needed throughout the region. We should not see this issue as competition with other under-serviced areas. Light rail is an interesting option, but to consider over time, making use of existing corridors and doing everything possible not to replicate the disruption of the Cambie street corridor. I am opposed to underground subway construction to the campus because of cost, aesthetics, and safety issues.

Maria: The critical issue is to ensure that UBC has fast, frequenc, and efficient public transit sooner rather than later. Public transit to UBC needs to be part of an integrated socially responsible system of public transit throughout the Lower Mainland and the fact that UBC is the second highest public ridership destination in Metro Vancouver should receive appropriate recognition in the allocation of resources.

5) Do you have any concerns with RCMP conduct on campus?

Charles: I have noted that over the years the RCMP have at times reacted too strongly –in my personal opinion- to student protests. In 1997 I watched as RCMP officers pepper sprayed student and community protesters. Through several other protest movements leading up to this past year the RCMP have seemed to over respond to student protests with a fairly heavy hand. Yet there are many issues related to crimes committed against people and property on campus that appear not to have been dealt with adequately. Many housing developments on campus in the UNA area have had to hire private security to deal with property crime. Many issues of crimes against people on campus appear not to have been adequately dealt with by the RCMP or campus security. Policing is also an expensive issue with most of the costs being paid for by resident taxes. The cost structure for rural policing (that’s the way policing is set up for the UEL/UBC area) does not provide sufficient funds for adequate policing to deal with real problems.

Fred: No

Matt: Yes, I do. I feel that the actions of the RCMP have been unnecessarily heavy handed, and have been working against the creation of campus community, rather than for it. While I am in favor of a safe campus, I feel that a safe campus can be created while still allowing for an inclusive community to be created on campus.

Ben: I have concerns about any excessive use of police force on or off campus. Dragging students away from a protest by their hair is never called for as was the case at the most recent altercation on campus. Given the history of past incidents with students, such as during the APEC protests, it would stand to reason that extra steps would be taken to ensure this kind of conduct would not happen again. University campuses must be a place of free speech and the RCMP should help facilitate social and political dialog in all forms. The RCMP have a tough job to do but they must take greater steps to ensure that UBC is safe free speech zone and students rights are respected.

Maria: I am aware that there have been some tensions between the RCMP and students on campus. The solution to this is to ensure that the student community and the police consult and collaborate to ensure appropriate policing on campus.

6) Which group do you feel you are more in touch with: students, the UEL, or the UNA?

Charles: I see myself being ‘in touch’ with residents of UBC who are both students and UNA area residents. I share similar outlooks with people who live in the UEL such as the desire to ensure that our green spaces and woodland areas are maintained for public use.

Fred: I have two UBC student family members that keep me more up to date on students at UBC than anyone from the UEL or UNA on affairs in the UEL or the UNA

Matt: Students. One is always going to be more in touch with what they are. I have lived the student experience on campus and work to improve it, but it will be done holistically - I would represent everyone, not just the constituency I belong to.

Ben: I have a strong background in student organizing and public education advocate on this campus and elsewhere and I can personally relate to student life, and the issues we face as renters, transit riders and young people. I also feel very at home with the residents in the UNA and the UEL. As a community organizer I have made it my business to work closely with disparate communities. The truth is that all of these communities are diverse and multi-faceted. I have found common ground between myself and many individuals in all regions.

Maria: I am a resident of the UEL and have participated in UEL community affairs, but I have always been committed to the wider community. Over the last six years, I have been engaged in committees, workshops and meetings involving students, the UEL and the UNA. Having said that, I recognize that I am somewhat less in touch with the particular concerns of students and of UNA residents than those of the UEL, though I have participated at many venues where the views of students and others have been expressed.

7) Which political parties do you support municipally/provincially/federally?

Charles: Municipal- I am supporting individuals municipally, not political parties. Because I am a resident in Electoral Area ‘A’ (the region that includes UBC) I am only able to vote for school board. In this year’s election I will be supporting Patti Bacchus (Vision), Ken Clement (Vision), Carol Gibson (NPA), Alan Wong (COPE). Provincial and Federal –NDP.

Fred: I tend to support the local candidate who offers a platform that reflects local values and interests regardless of political party

Matt: Surrey Civic Coalition, NPA/Vision (dependent on candidate)/BC Liberals/Liberal Party of Canada. I do want to mention that while I have partisan leanings, I have consistently worked well with people in other parties, rising above partisanship, to get things done in my capacity as VP External Affairs, and would like to continue that tradition in this position.

Ben: I am a past deputy leader of the Green Party of BC, was the BC Organizer for the Green Party of Canada, and have worked closely with Elizabeth May. That being said, I have decided that the best way to bring progressive leadership to our municipal government is to work co-operatively with Vision Vancouver and COPE. I am very proud to have negotiated a collaborative agreement with Gregor Robertson, and I believe that as part of this team I can provide a much stronger voice for this campus than we have ever seen before.

Maria: Federally and provincially: Liberal. Municipally: Vision, but with respect to the School Board, I would support candidates committed to fast-tracking UBC elementary and high school expansions, regardless of their party.

8) If you could not vote for yourself in Electoral Area A, who would you vote for?

Charles: Maria Harris. Maria has lived on campus since 1999. During this time she has been very involved in the life of her community. I have sat on UBC advisory committees with Maria in the past and have nothing but good things to say about her. I am certain she would do a good job.

Fred: I have not yet decided who that would be.

Matt: I would probably vote for Ben West, as he has similar views on the future of Governance, but I don't have access to any specifics of the plans of other candidates, so I couldn't say for sure.

Ben: I believe it is fundamentally important for whoever is elected to this position to have a solid understanding of student issues, and the perspective of young people. Although I cannot imagine voting for anyone affiliated with the BC Liberal party, I think student government is an excellent training ground for anyone interested in making the jump into the political world. Matthew Naylor clearly has political ambitions and is interested in making this leap, and I think this election will be a great experience for him. When I was a student years ago taking these first steps, it was a fascinating experience. What is important is remaining focused on community advocacy and not getting too caught up in the politics.

Maria: Undecided, I have a high regard for each of the candidates who have put themselves forward.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nap Time

It's the most wonderful time of year. The happy time of midterms, papers, 15+ page lab reports being due every week (I'm looking at you, physiology), presentations, and whatever else might be on students' overflowing plates. It also happens to be the time when you notice that people's eyes are bloodshot, when students have a sort of dead look in their eyes courtesy of sleep deprivation. I know I've certainly been in that boat the past 3 weeks or so, and my sleep deficit is quickly accumulating. Like many students, I have reverted back to the wonderful kindergarten custom of napping. As such, I figured that it would be good to share some great napping locations with all of y'all.

Irving K. Learning Center.
This library accommodates both the shy and the outright napper. Small armchairs located in the wings of the building are perfect for those of you who want to sleep, but don't want people to really notice you- you can curl up in some of the chairs, put a book in your lap to pretend you're reading, while actually dozing off for an hour or two. The armchairs are also conveniently tucked away in corners behind walls and other such barriers, so no one will disturb your rest. For those of you who don't care who sees you napping, there are plenty of places to lie down in the library, some of which are even cushioned. Plus, it's a library, so it's quiet! A definite plus for napping. And there's air conditioning, so you get some fresh air, and it doesn't get stuffy. Although walking people and the smell of new building may, in some cases, detract from your sleeping experience.
Overall, this location gets 4.5 futons out of 5.

The Aquatic Center.
While I personally have yet to go there, I have been told that the smell of chlorine and the warmth of the air are perfect combinations to knock someone o- I mean, help them fall asleep. Apparently, it's also fairly comfortable, and there is lots of room for you to lie down. And no one should disturb you either, as you're not taking up space in study rooms or something crazy like that, which is always a bonus- although there are usually multiple sleepers there, so you really have to watch out for people who might snore or talk in their sleep. I'd suggest monitoring which times of day attract the least number of questionable persons, and then schedule your nap times in around that. I'll have to check it out myself sometime. In the meantime, however, I give it 3 futons out of 5. Mostly because I don't love chlorine, but each to their own.

Buchanan A200 lounge.
Filled with couches and plenty of flat surfaces on which you can lie down, this room provides you not only with the perfect napping facilities, but also includes a snack bar which can serve you things like hot chocolate and brownies once you wake up. Granted, it's not completely quiet. You may also be thinking- but what if I'm not an Arts student? The trick here is to bring your favourite Arts textbook (say, economics or psychology texts), and put it somewhere conspicuous (but don't be too obvious about it, or else it will look like you're pretending to be an Arts student) so that you don't get any looks. I thus give this space 4 futons out of 5.

Abdul Ladha Science Student Space.
As a science student, I spend a fair amount of time in this building. I am thus quite familiar with the blue couches that are oh-so-suitable for napping, and which are mostly located on the 2nd floor of the building. I recently also discovered the back corner of the first floor, which is often unoccupied in the early morning hours- while this space has no couches, it does have a plethora of chairs, which cane be arranged to serve as a sort of bed. The space is great for the morning- but be warned. With the advent of lunchtime, there noise level definitely increases, as do the number of people who like to move furniture around and thus produce excessive amounts of noise. On the whole, I feel like the building deserves 3 futons out of 5 for napping purposes.

Now, I know it's a big library, and it was institutional lighting, but what better place is there to take a nap? You're surrounded by a myriad of textbooks, most of which may push you over that brink of sleep. Plus, if you go up to the third floor, it's really quiet, pretty deserted, and there are several study rooms. I'd suggest that you book some of those, and invite some of your fellow nap-needy classmates and have napping sessions. Not only does that make it safer, but at least you're then not filling up multiple study rooms. Note, however, that you should make sure that your classmates aren't noisy sleepers, as this will mostly likely detract from your ability to rest. I'd suggest ear plugs if you can't find another way out.

Liu Center for Global Research.

This one is great- it's far away from the center of the campus, which means that most people are too lazy to make the trek out there. However, there is a wonderful grad student lounge there, complete with several couches, and there's usually no one around (except for lunch time, when I suggest you move to avoid grad students poking you). It's perfectly quiet, has a wonderful view of the forest that you can fall asleep and wake up to, and comes with a microwave to warm your food up in when your nap is over.

That concludes the post- let me know if there are any places you may recommend. I was going to write about MASS, but there are few sleeping places there, although the armchairs are sort of comfy. But very conspicuous. In any case- feel free to weigh in on your napping experiences. Happy sleeping!


Monday, October 27, 2008

Farm petition to land on President's lap today

Today is an important milestone in advocacy for the UBC Farm, which is under threat of development to enrich UBC's endowment. The petition that the Friends of the Farm have been circulating over the past number of weeks (you can see the online version here), has more than 15000 signatures and will be presented to President Toope and VP External and Community Relations Stephen Owen later today, accompanied by some freshly baked pumpkin pies.

Whether this stack of signatures and statements will be enough to sway them from the three-option consultation rubrick being peddled by the Campus and Communiy Planning office as the current stage of the Campus Plan process is yet to be revealed. Let's hope they are. The options currently on the table with regards to the Farm (which were asstutely described by the SDS in a recent Ubyssey column as a "shit sandwich") are completely unnacceptable. Like I said in my statment on the petition, it's time President Toope took some cues from UBC's PR team and actually practiced some foresight. Here's hoping both Stephens do some serious thinking about what sustainibility, community, and foresight really mean while they munch their pie and wade through the knee-high pile of signatures.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Campus Shooting in US Kills 2, Injures 1

This from the Associated Press about an hour ago:

CONWAY, Ark. (AP) — A shooting on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas left one person dead and two people wounded.

University of Central Arkansas police said Sunday night the campus was locked down and that classes would be canceled on Monday.

Little Rock television station KLRT reports that campus police say one person was killed and two wounded in the shooting just before 10 p.m. near Arkansas Hall.

The UCA Web site says one suspect is in custody and that three more people are being sought.

The Arkansas Times, meanwhile, is reporting that two people are now dead.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Brief History of Athletics

This post was written by Neal Yonson, a chemistry graduate student who sits on the University Athletics Council and a committee looking at NCAA membership. Hopefully, this will provide everyone with some valuable facts about Athletics and the fees you pay to them.

The Athletics and Recreation fee has been controversial ever since its introduction in 1985. As a fee imposed by the Board of Governors, there has been very little student input into the collection of this fee, the amount charged, or its uses. As a result, it has increased by a monstrous 481% over a 23 year span. This is the equivalent of a yearly compound increase of 8% for more than two decades. Of the approximately $5.8M that will be collected this year on behalf of athletics, 80% or more will go into the Varsity program to benefit a few hundred students, leaving only a small contribution to serve the recreation needs of the many thousands of UBC students who play intramurals, go to the aquatic centre, work out at the Birdcoop, or go to drop-in at the SRC.


The AMS made an agreement with the university to collect and hand over a “Student Athletic Fee” of $5 per student. As part of this agreement, the university agreed not to increase the athletics fee without a student referendum (which did occur in 1977 to raise the fee to $7.)


Inevitably, the university eventually decided to institute its own $32 athletics fee. Despite being called the “Student Activity Fee”, it was clearly an Athletics fee, described in the 1985/86 calendar as being “used to support athletic and recreation programs and facilities.”

At the time, the AMS got legal advice that UBC was in breach of the 1968 contract: in order to impose this fee, the university should have had to go through an AMS referendum. Instead of suing UBC, the AMS exec ran a referendum (after the fact) which failed due to lack of quorum. Despite never having been approved by students as was supposed to happen, AMS council eventually accepted the $32 fee in exchange for seats on the University Athletics Council.


Starting at $32 in 1985, the fee increased irregularly, reaching $48.60 in 1992/93. At this time, UBC was looking to make Athletics a full ancillary and cut off all GPOF funding. To do this, they would need to raise the Student Activity Fee substantially to ensure UBC Athletics would still have a reliable source of funding. For the 1993/94 school year, in exchange for increasing the Student Activity Fee by $30.76, UBC agreed to reduce tuition by 1.68%, a decrease of $31.20 for a student taking a full course load. Sounds quite reasonable, right?

At the very same meeting, the board then decided to increase tuition fees by a quite unreasonable 11.9%, which was also applied to the whole amount of the (now increased) Student Activity Fee. The original $30.76 increase became $40.20. To make matters more complicated, the government at the time instructed UBC to cap tuition increases at 9.75%. In order to claim that UBC was within the government’s guidelines, President Strangway presented numbers which entirely ignored the promised 1.68% tuition offset. In effect, the tuition offset was cancelled (though the cancellation was never stated) but the $40.20 (83%) increase in the Student Activity Fee still went through.


Two years later, another large increase was proposed. The rationale was the same: increase student fees to reduce GPOF input into Athletics. In exchange for a $27.95 increase, another tuition offset was proposed. The increase in tuition fees would be $1 less per credit than planned, a savings of $30 for a student taking a full course load. This tuition offset did occur as planned. After the $27.95 increase was tacked on, another 3.5% yearly increase was applied to the whole fee, bringing the total growth this year to $32.07.

From $48.60 in 1992 to $125.22 in 1996, the Athletics and Recreation fee increased by over 250% in just 4 years.


In 1996, the BC government put in place a tuition freeze. Regardless, the fee went up $5.03 in 1997. However, by 1998 UBC had discovered, by way of a lawsuit, that ancillary fees were also subject to this fee freeze. The one way around this was that students could raise their own fees via a referendum. Maria Klawe, then-VP students of UBC, visited the AMS and asked them to raise their athletics fee for Athletics’ benefit. The AMS did put forth a referendum to introduce a new athletics and intramural fee (on top of an already existing $6 fee for intramurals). The new fee would start at $3 and go up by $3 each year for a period of 5 years, rising to $15 per student per year. It passed, and when added to the old $6 fee resulted in the current $21 AMS athletics and intramural fee.


The year the tuition freeze was lifted, the Athletics and Recreation fee went up 18.9% ($24.66). UBC Athletics used the argument that the fee had been frozen for 6 years as justification for the large increase. In reality, thanks to the 1997 increase and the 1998 AMS referendum, Athletics’ revenue from student fees had increased for all but the first year of the freeze. In fact, the AMS fee also had its last $3 increase that year; Athletics was double dipping in a big way.


In the five years since, there has been an increase every single year, although the rates of increase have been limited to 5% or less. These have been the highlights (or lowlights) of the athletic fee, which, with the exception of tuition freezes, goes up every year come hell or high water. It goes up even while user fees are being increased. It went up drastically despite the AMS raising their fees for Athletics’ benefit. It is still supposed to go up despite Athletics projecting multi-million dollar surpluses. Where will it end? That is a question I am hoping to find an answer to.

I’d like to give an enormous thank you to AMS Archivist Sheldon Goldfarb, whose assistance has been invaluable in researching this post.


CASA Membership Downgrade was the Right Move

In the post below, Maayan expressed shock that AMS Council would change it's position in CASA "without due diligence". I think that Council should be praised for its prudent political decision, not accused of haphazardly voting without thinking.

The concerns expressed by the AMS in the letter sent to CASA cannot be swept aside merely as minor. They are indicative of ongoing issues that AMS has had with CASA, which have yet to be resolved. The tone of discussions, language used, social activities, and unfair treatment of delegates at conferences are not problems that are easily reformable. They are part of the culture of CASA and require a serious and concerted introspection by the organization. More serious issues such as the AMS's alignment of CASA's policies and strategy, as well as concerns over CASA staff setting the political agenda of the organization rather than the delegates have been raised by the AMS in the past.

One of the major concerns with CASA not expressed in the letter is their decision to not run a federal election awareness campaign. Contrary to Maayan's suggestion, the AMS did not vote in support of this move. Rather, former AMS representative to CASA Matt Naylor voiced his concern over the poor quality of CASA's campaigns. The solution he suggested was to make the campaigns better, not eliminate them. This year the AMS had to run its own federal election campaign costing $12,000 without help from CASA, a reality that is particularly disturbing given that they are the AMS's federal lobbying organization.

The AMS is also evaluating the benefit of being a part of a federal lobbying organization. No one has suggested that CASA should turn its attention to provincial matters, but with limited resources, the AMS has to make a choice whether to focus more extensively on federal lobbying or provincial lobbying. Plus, it's quite possible that the AMS can do what CASA does, but better and more reflective of the AMS's principles.

What's the benefit of being in CASA? The argument that more students united together means more resources and more influence doesn't apply so well here. As mentioned above, CASA isn't acting as a useful resource for the AMS - certainly not to the tune of $60,000 per year of student money. The influence has been lacking too. It might be asserted that CASA is more adept at getting in meetings with decision makers in the federal government. While this might be true when the Liberals are in power, the AMS is just as adept as scheduling meetings with the government. During the recent federal election, the AMS met with and lobbied nearly every federal candidate in the Vancouver area. We are the largest student union in the country and that carries a lot of weight. The most significant benefit that the AMS receives from CASA is the ability to network with other student unions across the country. This benefit should not be underestimated, but being a part of CASA is not the only way to meet with other student politicians. There are conferences every year that student unions attend (including the AMS) to network with one another.

Let's be clear about this though - the AMS is not leaving CASA, it's stepping down to associate member status. What does this mean? It means we pay half the fees. It also means we lose our vote, which many will argue was virtually non-existent in the first place since the Eastern Block of CASA tends to band together and shut out the AMS. Most importantly, it sends a strong message to CASA that the AMS is serious about its concerns. CASA's response will largely dictate whether the AMS decides to stay or go - it's really up to them. CASA's national director, Zach Churchill, will get his chance to respond to the AMS this Wednesday.

Disclosure: Blake is employed by the AMS as Stef Ratjen's assistant.


CASA membership downgrade? Really?

As you may have read below in Blake's unopinionated news brief, the AMS has decided to downgrade its membership in CASA, meaning that they now cannot vote, and will pay about half as much money to the organization. Well, here's my opinionated take on it.

AMS council has allowed itself to be convinced without due diligence by a few members of the executive. In fact I'm quite shocked that council, a typically cautious group, would so willingly and unanimously change the AMS's long-standing position in CASA due to a laundry-list of mostly minor, and partially irrelevant complaints.

Lets talk about them shall we? The AMS's letter to CASA was full of valid, but minor issues like the tone of discussions, the language used, and the social activities offered at a recent conference. These were all reasonably addressed in the response which is linked below. More substantive issues like a difference in priorities (the AMS wants to focus on tuition, for instance) and too much staff influence on policy, are things that should be addressed within the organization at some length before threatening withdrawal.

Immediate complaints, like the fact that CASA no longer funds awareness campaigns during federal elections, the lack of capacity for provincial lobbying, and the supposed Eastern focus ofthe organization are just silly. The AMS voted to stop funding campaigns during elections through CASA last year. CASA is a federal organization and was never, ever intended for provincial lobbying. And while most CASA schools are actually in the East, last year's AMS president, Jeff Friedrich was the CASA Chairperson - literally the guy setting the agenda. So it's not like the AMS is being systematically ignored. The AMS's letter to CASA correctly points out that for the ~45 grand we pay them we could hire our own federal researcher/lobbyist. But the whole point of being part of a larger association is the increased influence and resources students have collectively.

AMS VP External Stef Ratjen, as a left-wing radical who thinks that "education is a right, not a privilege" is obviously not politically aligned with CASA. Fine. That doesn't mean that AMS councillors should ignore the AMS's long history with the organization and immediately buy into a mostly frivolous list of grievances. If the AMS decides, in a wide-ranging discussion with members that our investment in CASA is not worth the value, then by all means, it should reconsider membership. I have yet to see a convincing example to demonstrate this. The fact that nobody from CASA was invited to speak to council about yesterday's motion (they were only informed of it on the day) and that, according to a good source, the previous AMS executives consulted were highly selective, I question whether this discussion is particularly fair.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

AMS Council Votes to Change CASA Membership

In an apparent unanimous decision, AMS Council voted tonight to change its membership in CASA from full member to associate member. (View the AMS's press release here.)

The AMS is one of the five founding members of CASA, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a student federal lobby organization that is predicated on four main principles: 1) member driven policy setting 2) exclusive focus on post-secondary issues 3) fair membership regulations 4) exclusive focus on matters under federal jurisdiction.

The issues that the AMS has with CASA were expressed in a recent letter sent to the organization's national director. The letter as well as CASA's response can be found here:

AMS Letter to CASA (Aug 13 08)
CASA Response Letter to AMS (Sep 22 08)

Among the issues discussed in the letter as well as in an ensuing AMS working group are: staff setting the political agenda, respect for all delegates, troublesome bias in information documents, cost of membership vs. benefits received, the prioritization of federal lobbying over provincial lobbying, the decision by CASA to not run campaigns, and the AMS's opposition to CASA's new constitution.

The change in membership effectively means that the AMS will pay half of the regular membership fees, not receive a vote, but still be invited as a delegate to conferences. The move was designed to send a clear message to CASA that the AMS is serious about the concerns it has voiced with the student lobby organization, which have been largely ignored thus far.

Dropping to associate member allows the AMS to proceed with dropping out of CASA entirely next year, going back to full member status, or remain at associate member status.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


So most of you have probably already been bombarded with messages to vote today- I know I've certainly had 3 of my profs tell me a total of about 15 times to go out and vote. But even after all that, I found out that people were still not planning on it. So I figure maybe one more reminder might do it. Think of it this way- if you don't vote, you can't exactly complain when the country isn't being run well. Do you care for Canada? Do you care how it's run? Do you care about proposals that are going to directly affect you? If so, then vote. If not, then still vote, because it's still important. If you don't know who to vote for- check out the platforms, it's not too late. You have until 7pm! And don't worry if you're not registered- they'll register you there, and it takes all of maybe 5 minutes. So take a break from studying for your midterms (if you're reading this, you already are, and should go vote), and go to your nearest voting station!

Type the rest of your post here.


Friday, October 3, 2008


So lots of students societies finished their fall voting today, and I thought that it might be interesting to look at how elections are run. Being a Science student, and a SUS Council member for the past 2 years, I can at least comment on the way that SUS campaigns are run, and I would imagine that there are lots of similarities between SUS, AUS, EUS, etc. societies (although I could be fully wrong on this point). So let's take a brief look.

Visiting the SUS website, and looking at all of the candidates, it seems like everyone is essentially focused on the same thing- they're dedicated, passionate about SUS, they want to represent students. The things I've found severely lacking, however, are the actual plans that students have. The way I see it, everyone runs the same campaign every year- so I always wonder, how exactly are people supposed to decide? It seems to me that this sort of system perpetuates voting based on popularity and personality rather than any sort of credentials or something that might be even better- some sort of plans for what they want to accomplish. This is something that's painfully lacking- most campaigns include vapid promises about getting students 'in touch' and representing students at Council. It would all be great, if it weren't for the fact that year upon year students promise to do these things, and year after year, it's still a problem. I think it's getting better, but I still propose that candidates be asked to propose at least one concrete plan each time they run, and actually outline in concrete terms one thing they would like to accomplish, and how. Sure, it requires a little bit more work and more thought, and it might not always be something that's carried out, but I think this solution provides us with two things:
1.) It allows voters to distinguish between those they're electing, and vote on something more concrete than sense of humor or physical appearance of the candidates
2.) It actually forces the candidate to think about the position, what they're doing, and makes them more accountable- people can always ask how the project is going, or can think back to the previous campaign and ask what's been done.

I realize that lots of people run for Society positions to put something on their resume- but what exactly do most people do on when elected? There are certainly lots of very dedicated members, who help run events, who regularly sit on committees and actually do things. But there are also many who skip out on meetings, who don't come to any committee meetings, who I never see around during office hours, etc. So it seems like there needs to be some actual accountability- there's always a Code in place that enables people to be kicked off Council- but how often is the Code used? And why are people so afraid to point out to others that they're not doing their jobs? In an organization that's supposed to help students, it would certainly make people take the positions seriously. Yes, it might be harsh, and yes, I do realize that this is a volunteer position, but when a person volunteers at some organization, do they promise to do things and then don't deliver? Do they bother showing up for their shifts? Why should a Council position be any different, then, from any other volunteer job?

This isn't to say that there aren't always some excellent candidates who don't have a platform or any concrete plans- there certainly are. And there are certainly lots more people getting involved with SUS due to things like our Frosh program, which have been great at recruiting students to help with SUS events. However, I think that it might be best to look at how elections are actually run, and see if we can make student societies even better.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Two fun promos!

Thought I'd drop by to share a couple cool clips.

This is from Terry*, an interdisciplinary project at UBC that runs a course (ASIC 200) and an amazing speaker series. The newest branch of the project is Terry Talks, a one-day conference modeled on the popular TED Talks. It'll bring UBC's most dynamic students to give "the talk of their life" on a high-profile platform. All you folks should consider attending or even applying to be one of the special few!

Promo number 2 is from our very own AMS, starring Prez Michael Duncan. What happens when the Joker threatens to take over the AMS and blow up the SUB? There's only one way to find out dudes.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why UBC Should Not Join the NCAA

The issue of whether or not UBC should join the NCAA has been around for years and the discussion is reaching a peak with major consultations set to occur. I've been to a consultation meeting already and through my discussions with people on all sides of this issue, I think I've heard all of the major arguments for and against. Based on what I've heard, it has become very clear to me that joining the NCAA has overwhelming negative consequences for UBC and indicates a further deprioritization of non-varsity students by Athletics and Rec.

Without getting too much into the details, UBC-V has 361 athletes competing on 8 men's varsity sports teams and 9 women's teams. The varsity teams are members of either Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) or the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). In 2008, the NCAA Division II members voted to accept a 10-year pilot project to allow Canadian institutions to apply for membership. This has opened the door for UBC to apply for Division II, a desire that has been motivated by the Athletics and Rec department since the 1990's.

Cited Reasons to Join

  • Increased level of competition. UBC teams have had tremendous success, continuously winning championships. It is speculated that the NCAA Division II will offer a higher level of competition for these teams. But even if this speculation is granted as true, an increased level of competition only benefits certain varsity teams. For other teams, the CIS or NAIA offer the appropriate level of competition. Some varsity athletes have expressed the concern that the NCAA is not appropriate for their teams.
  • Put people in the stands. Students at UBC are not going out to watch their teams compete, even when they're winning all the time. Stands are regularly near empty and it is hoped that the prestige of the NCAA will get UBC students interested in their athletics teams. But increasing interest in athletics, as many of the student athletes themselves argue, is not best achieved by joining the NCAA. Interest in the NCAA stems primarily from Division I competition, not Division II. And if you look at the membership of the conference that UBC would be playing in, all of them are no-name schools. Who's going to get excited because the Notre Dame de Namur University is coming to campus?
  • Attract more athletes to UBC. The assertion is that the high school kid's dream of playing in the NCAA will attract them to enrole at UBC. The major oversight here is that the dream is to play in NCAA Division I, not Division II.
  • Bigger scholarships. The CIS and NAIA set restrictions on the financial incentives UBC can offer athletes to the cost of tuition and ancillary fees (NAIA covers room and board too). Under NCAA regulations, UBC would be able to offer prospective students lucrative scholarships, much like those offered in the United States. Athletics has no conception of how much this will cost, but they did say that it wouldn't be in effect until at least 2013. This point raises questions about how we want to use limited funds to attract students to UBC. Should we place the emphasis on varsity athletes or on underrepresented groups and high achieving students?
  • Increased fundraising. Athletics argues that the prestige of the NCAA will motivate a new $75 million fundraising campaign. Once again though, there is not really any prestige associated with Division II. How can we be sure that Athletics' level of confidence in their ambitious fundraising goal is merited? If they don't pull through with fundraising, the cost will fall on students. There is also an issue of equality of funding between men's and women's sports teams. Many donors will specify that they only want to contribute to a certain team, which usually turns out to be a men's team. As a result, there is a huge disparity in funding both between the sports, but also between men's and women's teams.
Reasons Not to Join
  • Accreditation and SAT. If UBC were to join the NCAA, the University would have to undergo accreditation and meet standards laid out by the United States. The implications of this are not entirely clear to me, but allowing the US to have any influence over the operation of our autonomous educational institution is worrisome, at the least. In addition, potential student athletes would be required to write the SAT to attend UBC and compete in varsity athletics. Forcing our domestic students to meet American standards of testing is something that should on its own raise serious doubts with regards to application to the NCAA.
  • Problems of dual membership. If UBC decided to apply and was accepted to the NCAA, they would only have observer status and not obtain full status until at least 4 years later. CIS has not yet decided on whether or not to allow dual membership for sports teams, but if they disallowed it (which is quite possible), CIS would kick out 7-8 of our sports teams and those teams would be without an organization to compete in during the 4 year observer status lag.
  • The NCAA is UnCanadian. UBC would be the only non-US institution to compete in the NCAA if we joined. Many student athletes are concerned that competing in an American sports environment is inconsistent with the values of Canadian sport.
  • Funding. All students at UBC are currently charged $207 in Athletics fees each year. This fee has been increased by UBC (illegally) by 30 times of what the cost was in 1985. Joining the NCAA will surely cost a ton more. Think about travel - half of the teams in UBC's would-be division are located in Hawaii. Then there is the general pressure to use student money to upgrade facilities for varsity athletes that will come as a result of being a member of the NCAA. The decision to pursue the NCAA clearly indicates that Athletics' priorities lie with the small group of varsity athletes, not the other 44,000 students. Varsity athletics is already eating up 80% of our athletics fund and it shows. Shouldn't the priority of Athletics be on programs that benefit all students, like perhaps a free gym or intramurals?
  • Slide into Division I. Athletics Director Bob Philips has been saying since 1997 that his ultimate goal is to join Division I of the NCAA. Given the shaky foundation of arguments to join Division II, it should be fairly clear that Division II is only meant as a stepping stone to Division I. I can't provide an analysis of the positives and negatives of joining Division I, but I do know that the average Athletics operating budget of Division I schools is over $35 million (ours is $3.7 million). We would have to increase our athletics budget tenfold to reach that level of funding. And where would the money come from? Students, of course.

Athletics is trying its best to appear as if its consultation is meaningful, but if you look at their consultation booklet, you'll notice that it reads more like pro-NCAA propaganda material than anything else. The consultation questions are suspect as well. Look at this one: "Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statement: 'Increased athletic financial aid for student-athletes through NCAA Division II membership is important.'" Athletics director Bob Philips has made it clear since day one that his desired legacy is to see UBC in the NCAA. It should come as no surprise that he's running the consultation as a top-down exercise consistent with that view.

How many times now have students been 'consulted' on this campus only to find out that their opinions made little difference in the decision making? This is yet another example. Since the consultation sessions are being run as pro-NCAA rally sessions, the only hope for opposition lies with our student leaders.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dion Coming to UBC

Hi everyone,

We just wanted to let everyone know that Stephane Dion is coming to UBC on September 23. He will be holding a town council at Hebb Theater at 4.30, so if you are interested in asking him uncensored questions, or just listening to what he may have to say, regardless of whether or not you have decided who you are voting for, this is a great chance to do so!


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Student Environment Centre's Annual Conference

Food is FUNdaMENTAL : A Conference on Mouths, Minds, Development and UBC Farm

The Student Environment Centre (SEC) and Friends of the UBC Farm (FOF) are thrilled to be hosting a conference at the end of September entitled “Food is Fundamental”. The conference is being held to educate, discuss and take action on pressing “food issues” that concern people, the environment and the economy in both local and global contexts. The timing of the conference is no coincidence as it is also meant to bring immediate attention to the situation at the UBC Farm as it is being considered for private residential development. In addition to calling these potential development plans into question, we are addressing publicized and popular food topics as well as those that are considered to be extreme or “on the fringe”, but are in fact resurging agrarian values and perspectives. In summary, we want to talk about FOOD! We want to create a dialogue that connects soil and land to our plates and we want to address the need to eat and live healthily and happily with significantly lessened adverse effects on the planet, people and our companion species.

Our speakers are all local, with one exception, and will be presenting on topics such as “dubious foods”, food crises, food sovereignty, the politics of genetic engineering, fisheries, First Nations and native foods, and many more areas of interest. Additionally, we understand it is one thing to talk about ecological, social, and economic responsibility and consciousness; it is quite another to actually live it. And whether it is intentional or unintentional, in virtually every aspect of our lives, we are currently supporting an economic system that inherently depletes, ignores and manipulates nature. This is especially true with our current industrialized and profit-driven systems of food production, distribution and consumption. There are however, many ways of condemning, resisting, and changing these systems. This must all begin the most basic and necessary form: personally and communally practicing a lifestyle and culture of food that does not endorse or support oppressive, violent, and irresponsible food-systems. This is exactly why the final and largest day of the conference, Saturday, September 27th, will be mostly workshops on subjects like: “alternative eating”, reducing and using food waste, growing your own food, brewing your own beer, how to shop responsibly and consciously etc. and what better venue to hold these workshops on than the UBC Farm, where talk and practice meet.

This conference will be a week filled with interesting and engaging learning, teaching, discussing, entertainment, fun and eating for everyone, so please, come join us at the conference because, indeed, “Food is Fundamental”!

Dates: September 23rd-27th

For schedule details and registration:

To volunteer during or before the conference email: or come to our weekly meetings: Tuesdays @ 12:30pm, SUB 245

Some Conference Highlights:

Tuesday, September 23, 12 – 2pm (Norm Theatre): Panel discussion on first nations food sovereignty

Thursday, September 25, 12-2pm (SUB 214/216): Panel discussion on GMO foods

Friday, September 26, 12 – 2pm (SUB Ballroom): A presentation by Nancy Knight about campus sustainability

Saturday, September 27, 10 – 1 (UBC Farm): Workshops, farm tours, presentations, and music

Saturday, September 27, 1:30-6:30 (MacMillan): Keynote speakers, presentations, workshops and free dinner by community eats


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

RBF's triumphant return

As you were wandering about campus this week, you might have noticed people strutting about in army fatigues, bright red shirts, and megaphones shouting vaguely about fun, beer, parties, beer, campus life, beer, politics, and beer. These are not drunk Russians left over from the soviet era. Nay, these are the members of the Radical Beer Faction, UBC's oldest political group. Back when the AMS elections ran with parties (called slates) RBF ran a full slate of joke candidates, ranging from fairies to fire hydrants. These days, RBF is an AMS club, focusing on fighting what they have termed the "war on fun" on campus. This "war," being waged upon students by the "axis of boring" of the UNA, RCMP, and university administration, has allegedly reduced the number of parties on campus due to restricted liquor licences, and bitchier neighbours. For the RBF's lobbying document, click here.

RBF VP politburo "Scary" Mike Kushnir recently had a nice little interview on the CBC radio drive-home show On the Coast explaining the Faction and the its activities at UBC. Have a listen.

Mike is a pretty eloquent guy. For the response from the RCMP and a shout-out from Grant Lawrence, CBC radio 3 host of awesomeness, here is part 2 of the segment.

If nothing else, RBF has built itself a kickass brand with Soviet-style iconography, enthusiastic membership, and a great message: the way we party is political. Take a look at some of Tim's old posts here, and here to see why. The issue of beer gardens and how students party on campus actually does relate to the fundamental issue of students' social and political engagement with fellow students. Props to the Ubyssey for harnessing the energy of this group in a by-weekly RBF column, which will be paired with a column from another active campus group, Students for a Democratic Society.


Monday, September 8, 2008


As many of you might know, UBC has been working for a while to try to find a method of getting lectures to be more interactive. The advent of things like PRS and iClickers has made it possible for professors to ask students questions in class in order to gauge their understanding of covered material, or at least to encourage student participation (or get students to attend class, which I think is generally a good thing). However, as much as I like these goals, and as much as I support involvement and interaction in lectures, there are certain problems with the way UBC is going about dealing with the issue.

The PRS system was first adapted a while ago, and since then students were required to buy PRS clickers ($45 at your friendly UBC bookstore- although I believe it was less 5 or so years ago) for certain classes. The idea was that they would be needed in several classes, and that they could be reused each year, or else you could sell them back to the bookstore for 50% of the current market price. Classes were also set up with antennas, which, according to my research, cost about $200 each. Professors were trained how to use the clickers. The problems came when they were actually being used, however- professors often had difficulty with the program used to run the clickers, some students found them to be a waste of class time, etc. So as a solution, UBC decided to adapt iClicker technology instead.

Now, there are several advantages to the iClicker, and this system addressed some of the issues that both profs and students were having with PRS. Namely, they are less expensive (only about $30), they're easier to use in that they don't require that you log into the class, and the technology is generally easier to learn. So far, so good.

So what's the kerfuffle? Well, first of all, it seems like UBC has actually overlooked students in their decisions. Students who purchased PRS clickers are now forced to pay more for a new clicker(or lose marks in class, for instance)- even those who managed to sell back their old clicker have to spend some money to buy their new one. But the issue seems to be multifold. First of all, the UBC Bookstore has imposed a 'quota' on how many PRS clickers they're buying back. This seems largely unfair- to state that you will be buying back clickers, and then to say that you've bought back enough and have reached some sort of 'quota' (that students didn't even know about) doesn't is dishonest to students who have been told that they can sell back what is now a useless piece of technology. It's not even so much the fact of having a quota- it's that they didn't inform students explicitly of it! It also means that some students have ended up having to pay $75 for technology that they have used in one or two of their classes last year, and might be using in one class this year. Despite what students end up paying in total for iClickers (be it $10 after the buyback, or $30 on top of what they paid for PRS last year), the issue is also that when students are regularly spending $700 for per term for textbooks, $10 still counts ($10 can pay for a meal, in fact!). And students aren't just spending money- they're also spending time lining up for 40 minutes at a time in the bookstore when purchasing these clickers. Furthermore, UBC has already invested in PRS technology- I don't know if the PRS antennas can be used for iClickers, but if not, then that's thousands of dollars spent on technology that is now obsolete. And where does some of that money come from?

The bigger issue, however, at least from my perspective, is that these new iClickers don't actually solve the problems of PRS. Sure, they may be easier to learn to use, or they might avoid the annoying problem of having to log into your class, but from my experience, the biggest problem with PRS was that it took up too much class time. Not because there were oodles of technological difficulties, not because professors couldn't use the program, not because it took ages to join/access a class- but because the use of the technology wasn't efficient, and was organized properly. My typical experience with PRS was a professor giving us a question, taking a while to explain it, giving students what I thought was too much time to actually solve the problem, and then giving us some more time because some students hadn't answered the question yet. I did see some effective use of PRS (in my chem 233 class, for instance). But face it- the new iClicker won't solve these issues. It was competely possible to use PRS effectively, to not let it guzzle up class time, to ensure that the answers were encoded properly. And the students who hated it despite all that will hate iClickers probably just as much, because lots of the problems associated with it were ones that were simply associated with trying to generate class discussion and participation.

I don't deny that there were technological problems with PRS- I certainly experienced frustration with the system. I'm also not saying that iClickers aren't a better technology- they certainly seem to address some of the student concerns about price, and professors' concerns about ease of learning. And on the whole, I love the idea of getting students to engage in the material covered in class, and I like the notion of student participation, and profs being able to see if students actually understand the material, or if they need to spend a bit more time on a concept. For first and possibly second year students who didn't have to get a clicker until this year, this issue may be largely irrelevant. All I'm saying is that I saw the system work quite well, and it's possible for the system to work well. I just don't think that the solution to the inability to properly operate technology that you've invested thousands of dollars in warrants the introduction of new technology that won't solve the actual problems, but that won't do so at students' expense. So what's the solution? I think that the Bookstore should buy back all of the PRS clickers, and ensure that next time, the policy on buybacks and 'quotas' is clearer.