Monday, January 14, 2008

Issue of the day: Campus life

Boy, it's hard to write "Issue" posts when there's no candidate platforms four days before voting. Oh wait, the campaign just started today. Never mind that, then.

Last year I spent a lot of time harping on what I see as the slow and steady decline since I first came to UBC in the good old days (read: 2001). Then, it got worse: ACF died this term. In an unexpected decision in November, the ACF executive decided to disconitnue the event indefinitely in the face of declining ticket sales and mounting debt. (See our coverage here, and here.) At first, I chalked it up to external pressures (external to the event, not the University {like See our coverage RCMP, unsupportive faculty, recalcitrant sponsors}) trying to kill the fun. But then I realised that just as important were the internal, student based pressures, too. So that seems as good a framework as any to discuss student life and events.

For reference, I adopt "generally loud, slightly beer-y" as a general definition of student event. I fully understand that not all students events fit this description, but there's just something wonderful about the communities that develop, the memories that are created. I owe a lot of my student politics success to beer gardens, and the fact that they're dying is sad.

External Pressures
These are well-documented. They tend to fall into the following categories:

  • UNA and noise complaints about the residents
  • Safety and alcohol abuse
  • Fewer students engaged on campus generally
  • Enhanced RCMP and university enforcement of alcohol rules
  • Reduced liquor licenses
There's a place for student reps to address these issues. By starting a constructive dialogue with residents and the University, by teaching clubs how to run responsible events that don't attract unwanted enforcement attention, and good old-fashioned lobbying.

Internal Pressures
I've never seen an outpouring of student outrage like the ACF cancellation. There's massive support for the event. But that wasn't enough to save it. Why? Mostly because those responsible for the event didn't want to continue it. It had gone on for a remarkably long time, they said, and it was getting too tiresome to run.

But an interesting thought occurred to me. The AUS Council didn't want to end ACF; the ACF exec did. And there's an interesting point there. Which is that it's the same people who've been running it from year to year. And while the event is tired, so were they. The event was losing money, and these people were losing the energy to fight.

In short, the event was unsustainable.

Now it's not easy for student clubs to have a sustainable existence when there's constant turnover. People come, people go. A great person can be hard to replace, and when a person's involvement takes a year to gestate, they only have a couple years in a leadership role before they move on, to be replaced by a relatively unknown quantity. Similarly, student groups rarely have financial or budgetary expertise; they have to learn the way most of us do, by failing. Unfortunately, they're not usually around the next year to apply their hard-earned knowledge. And finally, they're often more susceptible to pressure mostly because they're often new at the game. And hell, they're students, not full-time event planners.

So why is it relevant? Because the AMS can help. There's a potential positive role for them to play, in terms of facilitating clubs and groups. Some financing options, maybe some financial planning. Ready access to event planning staff. Perhaps a central co-ordinating body for events or a way to leverage networks for publicity. And of course, ye olde lobbying. There are oodles of options. And it's not all bad either: beer gardens, despite the tougher social climate on campus, are persisting. has made a succesful return under the brew-mastership of SUS councilor Alex Lougheed, and is a great resource.

I imagine some of the candidates or readers might have some ideas. Anybody?

(Then again, maybe this is just on the brain because I'm writing this while watching Old School. Seriously.)