Monday, March 31, 2008

Re-thinking referenda

Today is the last day to vote in this year's AMS referendum. The results of the four questions will determine if we continue to have a U-pass program, if we'll start subsidizing refugee students, if we'll build a new SUB, and if we'll make some by-law changes. The reason you need to we cajoled, marketed, and advertised into voting in this referendum by everything from t-shirts to 99 B-line ads is that according to the AMS's bylaws, certain things cannot be enacted by a simple vote of council, but need to get a mandate from students directly through a referendum. These things are any fee increases, and any changes to the bylaws themselves. Since referenda are expensive to run, inherently risky results-wise, and have a high quorum level (10% of students), they often fail.

Referenda used to be run more often (about once a year) before the advent of the U-pass. They failed quite often due to lack of quorum, or lack of support (I'll update with numbers as soon as I find out). Now, the AMS is running referenda less often, to coincide with the U-pass renewals every three years, which draw large numbers of voters. That means that other question can piggy-back on the U-pass and basically ensure quorum.

Now that's fine as far as it goes, but here's a different idea for how referenda can be used. Instead of once every while, and only when absolutely necessary for a fee or by-law change, a new type of referendum system could be invented to help with the democratic deficit in the AMS. As we all know, the AMS isn't especially representative because of low voter turnout, ignorance, and apathy. And this ultimately erodes the AMS's efficacy and power as a democratic organization. Imagine a real direct democracy system that asked students about issues. Regular yearly or bi-yearly referenda on issues would certainly draw lower voter turnout than a U-pass renewal for instance, but they would give the AMS clear mandates to address various types of topics in a certain way. The results of such referenda need not even be technically binding - they could be "consultative referenda" of sorts. A win could result in automatic placement on AMS council's agenda. If a question on such a consultative referendum had a lot of support, there would be political pressure in council to enact whatever it is. The point is to get ideas and issues to filter up from the grassroots student towards the AMS through a more populist issues-focused process than elections, which tend to be more about personality and networks. For this to work, many details would have to be thought out: how to qualify for placement on the ballot, how to administer/fund regular referenda, how much clout the results should be given, and so on.

Essentially though, direct democracy may have benefits to the AMS in terms of political engagement. Right now, I wouldn't say that it's impossible to get something onto council's agenda as a normal student (if you go through an executive), but there's certainly no established process for doing so. And even if something does get on the agenda, councilors are often unsure of what the popular opinion toward it would be. A regular consultative referendum system would provide both a mechanism to filter ideas up through the organization, and provide political consensus behind them. Some countries (New Zealand, Switzerland) have frequent policy referenda. Perhaps we can learn from them.

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UBC Farm politics, elaboration of.

If you've voted in the current student referendum, you may have noticed that there is no question about the UBC Farm. Most people of course, wouldn't have expected one, but it is a surprise to some. The Friends of the Farm started a campaign to get a question on the referendum ballot which would see students providing permanent funding for the Farm. A big step for sure. But this, and why it was ultimately abandoned as a funding/advocacy strategy is only one piece in the puzzle of convoluted politics that the UBC Farm is in the middle of.

Brendon wrote a good post about some of this earlier,HERE. I encourage you to read his post. There's more back story, and some more recent developments, however.

The Farm, since its existence in its current form as a multi-use education/academic/community resource has had a tough fight for institutional legitimacy and enough funding. That's not for lack of support from its home faculty, Land and Food Systems, but because first, it's a strange and hard-to-define space, and second, its land is a 250 million dollar cash cow waiting to be sold. These facts produce a climate in which the Farm's very productive, vibrant, ambiguity can be exploited in order to manipulate decisions and planning processes toward institutionally desirable outcomes. This attitude, which seeks to dissect out various "uses" and what fraction of land each occupies so that the rest can be cashed in to real estate development is patently against the desire of most students, faculty, and community members. Let alone against the spirit of UBC's much-vaunted mission statement, Trek 2010.

So what's going on? There's a few levels of really important people in this political scene. There's the very convincing folks in the UBC treasury office that have converted UBC's brass that a large-endowment strategy is the best direction for the institution. Thank Byron Braley and Terry Sumner for that. They in turn have influence over people like Nancy Knight, UBC's VP Planning, who have alot of power in determining the planning processes and baselines from which consultations are formulated. She in turn informs by the Board of Governors, which, being populated by business-type appointees, is disposed to like alot of money. Then there's president Toope, who seems genuinely well-meaning, but either doesn't know too much about it or doesn't have too much real leadership. On the other hand, there's some folks at Vancouver City Hall and the GVRD who have some ideas about local food systems and see the UBC farm as a boon. In the same type of vein are the residents of the University Neighbourhoods who see the farm as a community amenity and green space. Then there's the academic and student community, whose support will be the most important ultimately.

UBC's desire to sell off the Farm land is no secret. But here's a few incidents to put you on your guard about the manner in which it's trying to manage this:

  • Way back in 2005 the VP Academic & Provost and the UBC treasury office paid for a report to be written about how much land would be necessary for the UBC Farm to function. This study, which was thought to be a positive step in solidifying the Farm's uses of the land, has never materialized. It was researched and written long ago by Erik Lees, but since its completion, has been suppressed. Very good sources tell me that this report was revised more than seven times (rewrite #7 was due in July 06, and hasn't been seen since), and looks very different now than it did originally. If I can say "now" at all - it doesn't technically exist. It doesn't take a political scientists to realize that the UBC administration is suppressing this document, even though (or especially because?) they themselves commissioned it, since it does not jive with their vision.
  • UBC a few months ago the Campus and Community Planning office released some Requests for Proposals (RFPs). These are basically calls for consultants of various kinds to carry out a technical study. One of the RFPs was to do land-use planning in the "academic precinct" in South Campus, which includes the Botanical Gardens nursery, animal care facility, TRIUMF, BC Research, etc. In the terms of reference for the RFP, the UBC Farm's land was not included in this precinct. While this may seem like a low-level technical item, it's important, and it's nefarious. Technical studies and reports are what decisions are typically based on. When a political decision (like determining that RFP 's peopgraphic scope for the "academic precinct" in Sounth Campus should exclude the farm) is made by some anonymous person in the CC&P office, it's almost impossible to be accountable. In this case, it was too "low level" for the Provost or the Dean of LFS to know anything about, but such a thing could turn out to be tremendously important. Deligitimizing the Farm as an academic learning space is a strategy that is being used here.
  • Communication dissonance. Last year, when the results of the Campus Plan's extensive online survey was published, the UBC Farm was the single most mentioned topic. This month, when I attended an all-day campus planning design workshop, one of the instructions in the booklet was to retain a couple acres for a teaching and research farm. The base-line set for these creative workshops will materially guide their results, and the resulting options we're left with. And there's a clear dissonance. While data can be clear from consultation, it is up to Nancy Knight and the C&CP office to summarize and present it. I've heard considerable spin in these summaries before. The level of reasonable baselines can only be really established through popular sentiment, which some of the planners hope to slyly ignore.
As my good friend Rona says, I'll support the endowment next time it lowers someone's tuition. In the meantime, I'd like to see one of the best places at UBC continue to thrive. The next few months of consultation in the Campus Plan process will be critical to send a clear message about this. Please participate with your eyes open. Here's the campus plan website, which will tell you how to do so.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

What to learn from the Crompton Lougheed affair

The world has gone mad. I don't check comments for one day while working on a paper, and when I return there's a frenzy! Anyway. There's plenty of discussion in the below post about any and all aspects of this controversy. I want to zoom out and offer a few things we can take away from this episode.

  • Elections code needs to be tightened up: get rid of the ambiguity about 1 person 1 vote. Is the onus on the elections committee to ensure this, or is every person only allowed to cast one ballot, or both? Is there a functional difference between a cast ballot, and a counted vote? These are extremely easy to clarify.
  • Student Court should have its own appeals process, and its ruling should not have to be approved by council automatically, unless council specifically wants to call something in in order to overrule it (akin to a notwithstanding clause). AMS council should have a more defined role vis-a-vis the court - is it just an "advisory body" as some say, or is a real "independent judiciary"?
  • The AMS is vulnerable to cronyism, terrible PR, and political/personal motivations. Fact of life that ain't going away
  • On the other hand, AMS council will, (maybe even when they technically should not) make decisions that best serve students - in this way, councilors are actually fairly enlightened. This decision is an example: a lot of councilors I talked to made their decisions on the basis of what would make the AMS most functional and best for students this year. Though you can make legalistic arguments for either side here, I defy anyone to claim that disqualifying Alex over this and then running a by-election in the middle of exams, or in September would best serve students. Or worse, that running a petition (as Nathan Crompton is currently doing) to get Alex impeached will ultimately serve students best.
  • Code is important. Procedure is important. Communication and honesty is important. When process falls down, the real issue is that much harder to tease apart and evaluate. An example here is that while the case was actually "Crompton vs. Elections Administrator," Alex Lougheed was the one being essentially judged. All sorts of bad communication and confusing processes occurred as a result.

Now, lets all move on, shall we?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Student Court Decision

The Student Court released its decision today in the VP Academic matter. They allowed the appeal, ordering that Alex Lougheed be disqualified. The Court left the matter of how to fill the vacancy up to the AMS Executive. More to come later, undoubtedly after Council. But, for those interested, the excerpt that outlines the reasoning of the judgment after the jump.

EDIT: Council refused to "accept" the Student Court's judgment. That'll teach me to go to sleep and leave the blog un-updated. Though that's two straight Court decisions that have been politically overturned by Council. This may just be my lawyerly pre-disposition talking, but that begs the question: why have a student court at all? More to come.

PS - Please don't turn this into another silly slappy fight in our comments section. I hereby attempt to distract you by linking to The Devil's Advocate, which is back and awesome and only slightly libelous.

[5] The AMS Bylaws, Code and Constitution do not state explicitly that a voter must vote only once, but this principle can be inferred from the Code section IX A Article 5(7), which states, “The Elections Committee shall take whatever steps necessary to ensure that only eligible voters cast ballots and to ensure that each eligible voter votes only once.” Combine this with the generally-known fact that in a democracy, each voter is allowed only one vote, and with the procedure for online voting in the AMS election, which made it impossible, short of hacking the system, to vote more than once, and it is apparent that voters in the AMS election were each allowed only one vote. Mr. Lougheed voted four times in violation of the AMS Code.

[6] Mr. Lougheed’s testimony that he voted multiple times as a protest against the lack of secrecy in the balloting system is not only irrelevant, it is very shaky. It is irrelevant because it is the act of voting multiple times which is an offence, not voting multiple times for any particular purpose. It is shaky because he admittedly voted multiple times in last year’s election as well as this year’s, but for a different reason. It is very hard to believe that his multiple voting was undertaken as a protest this year when, as he described to us during the hearing, it was done as a joke last year. This is even harder to believe in light of the fact that the protest was not made public, as argued by Mr. Norouzi for Mr. Crompton. Mr. Lougheed’s extra votes did not affect the outcome of the election, but the very act of voting multiple times is repugnant to the fair running of a democratic election. By voting multiple times, he flouted the very system by which he hoped to gain legitimate office. This is a serious enough offence to warrant the candidate’s disqualification from the election.

[7] Section IX A Article 3(2) states that the Elections Administrator may, for serious offences, disqualify a candidate. He also has the power, under Section IX A Article 1(B)(2)(s) to rule an election valid based on whether any irregularities have materially affected the results. Since Mr. Lougheed’s multiple ballots did not affect the outcome of the election, it appears that the Elections Administrator was within his jurisdiction and discretion to make the decision he made.

[8] However, it is a principle of administrative law that a decision, though made legitimately in accordance with the decision-maker’s mandated power, can be appealed and overturned on the basis that the decision was either incorrect or unreasonable. In this case, the court must show deference Mr. Piovesan because: a) this is a matter of policy, b) because Mr. Piovesan was the Elections Administrator, he had special expertise, and c) although this is of central importance to the UBC system, it is not outside of Mr. Piovesan's area of expertise, reasonableness is therefore the correct standard of review to use. Given that Mr. Lougheed committed a serious offence by voting more that once in violation of the AMS Code and also in violation of the basic principles of the democratic system by which he hoped to profit, the Elections Administrator’s decision to declare the election valid was unreasonable. He also had it within his power to disqualify Mr. Lougheed, and this would have been the reasonable decision. This Court therefore overturns the decision of the Elections Administrator and disqualifies Mr. Lougheed from the election for AMS VP Academic.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Budget "cuts" are a pretty good idea.

As Tim mentioned below, the BC government had decided to reshuffle this year's post secondary education money, as reported in the Vancouver Sun. The result is that universities lose out on a percentage or two of funding and smaller colleges and professional schools get a boost. UBC specifically is losing 8.7 million dollars from its general operating budget, and SFU about 4 million. In today's Ubyssey, the AMS VP External Stef Ratjen has a letter condemning this decision (click!). And she makes alot of good points. Thing is, if you step out of the reactionary mindset of a UBC student that's just been shafted, this decision makes a whole lot of sense. To get a few things straight: this isn't a cut to post-secondary education, it's a redistribution from what the schools were told to expect for this year. Since the budgeting work for the coming fiscal year is mostly done on the basis of those expectations, it is a bit of a shock. As it says in the article, UBC (and all schools) are still getting more money than last year, event after the redistribution.

The Campus 2020 vision laid out ambitious goals in terms of accessibility and especially aboriginal participation in PSE. This shift in funds is strategically targeted in a way that makes sense with that. In the Sun article it says that the money is for recruiting aboriginal students and increasing programs that are relevant to the current job market. Colleges and professional schools are better positioned for those purposes than we are, as a big research-based institution. They're not as costly to attend, and the less centralized location and more direct application to the job market makes them more accessible to non-urban communities. Campus 2020 doesn't just talk about UBC and SFU - it's a more holistic document. And to really address accessibility, funding a diversity of more "practical" programs is a good approach. We need to get off of our high horse and realize that UBC isn't the be-all and end-all of higher education. If we don't have infinity resources, others benefiting from funding will sometimes result in UBC losing out a bit. And I can live with that.

The troubling thing is that knowing UBC, the shortfall probably won't come out of things students would care the least about. Expensive institutional constructions projects? check. Good and improving quality of education? Still missing.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Weekend Update

Various and sundry news items:

  • At SFU, the defederation referendum passed. Over 66% of voters voted in favour of leaving the CFS. 4500 votes were cast. To student politics people, this kind of referendum is the Most Important Thing Ever. But it goes to show that, to students writ large, it really isn't that big of a deal. Hmm.
  • The Globe and Mail contains an op-ed piece whose central idea is that the budget contains relatively good news for low-income students. The summary is that they've pretty much killed the Millennium Scholarship money, re-vamping low-income grants, and increasing and stabilizing funding levels. They're not relying on loans or loan forgiveness; the money will come throughout the school year. This is very good. They've also promised a "review" of the student loan system; who knows what that means, but the system sure as heck needs a review. Regardless, the piece is worth a read.
  • The Vancouver Sun wrote that government funding for universities isn't up to the levels promised in the funding letter. AvEd has decided to re-allocate funding, rather than just put it generally into universities. Anybody know what specific impact that had/will have at UBC?

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quick note on our comment threads

With the latest discussions around our guest editorials, we've been forced to remove some comments because they were outside the implicit code of respect expected on our blog. We have preserved the option for anonymous comments because we think it is an important option in some (though not many) cases. Anonymity is not an exemption from decency. Please respect your fellow readers, and please respect us.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

UBC and the NCAA

[I’d meant to write this sooner, but work commitments sapped my time and writing energies. As well, there’s a very good Ubyssey article on the subject; read it here. I also note that there has been some discussion at AMS Exec about the Athletics fee; I’m not sure what it is, and I’m not sure on the latest developments.]

The annual NCAA men’s Division I basketball championship is coming up in a couple weeks. I’m excited. But did you know that UBC could compete in it as soon as a decade from now? More importantly, did you know that, even if you don’t give a rat’s ass about sports or athletics, you should still care?

The NCAA is the US collegiate sports authority. It’s big. There are no non-US members. They recently voted to allow non-US members into Division II (their second tier) on a provisional basis. UBC harbours an intense desire to join the NCAA. Why? Better competition, more exposure, better development opportunities, and fewer restrictions on offering scholarships. In short, Athletics wants to be bigger.

But here’s the thing about joining the NCAA. It’ll cost a ton. Initially, only a few sports would join, which would only require an internal budgetary re-allocation within Athletics. But UBC’s athletics facilities generally are far below the requirements for NCAA competition. They need upgrading. And that’s where students come in.


Right now, students pay a levy of nearly $200 to Athletics and Recreation. There’s long been a simmering undercurrent of resentment about it, as students still have to pay for gym memberships and intramural events. Indeed, UBC is among the only universities in Canada whose students still have to pay for gym passes. UBC Athletics has also long desired to upgrade the SRC, which contains the Bird Coop. But they can’t do it without student support. Nor can they get through any of the other development they need to do in the face of student opposition. Indeed, there’s a chance that an attempt to raise funds could trigger a backlash and threaten their existing mandatory student funding.

Heck, everybody is a being cautious about joining the NCAA, including the NCAA itself. If students opposed it outright, that could easily scuttle the project.

What a smart student leader should see here is leverage. There are many ways in which Athletics can enrich the student experience. They could provide free gym passes to people other than varsity athletes, reduce Storm the Wall fees, co-operate with a renewed SUB to include free student fitness components (see Mike Duncan’s campaign platform). Because right now we have an Athletics department that can’t afford to provide free exercise equipment or affordable intramurals to students, yet is seeking to spend more on performance athletics. And that’s a tension that students can profit from. Indeed, it’s a no-lose proposition. Yes, there have been conversations about a new Athletics fee, but I’m not sure if the NCAA application has, on the student side, played a role in the negotiation. And it should.

I have no idea what the progress of the NCAA decision is. But the deadline to apply for 2009 membership is June 1 – very very soon. Students should demand to know what’s happening, and demand to play a role in the process before it’s too late.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Counterpoint: Of the Knolligarchy and Other Phantasmagoric Creatures of the AMS Politics

An opinion piece by Bahram Norouzi

When Maayan emailed me a week ago and asked me to write an opposing perspective on “power-mongering in the AMS assisted by AMS funds” by the “Knolligarchy” I knew that I was up for some crap, what I didn’t know was its magnitude. Having read the opinion piece by Jesse Ferreras, I now have a good estimate of the magnitude as well: a lot! If you are interested, Nate and Steve have addressed a good portion of this “objective journalism” in their response comments.

First, let us evaluate Jesse’s piece at his own level, at the level of the much-adorned ‘facts.’ Are the Knoll’s article published anonymously? Not the Knoll Weekly that I know. Please read all of our previous issues: besides the editorials, credit is given to the author of all pieces. The only issue with many anonymous pieces was the “People’s Guide,” but it is not particularly uncommon to publish guides with anonymous writers. Second, matter of fact, now on the subject of electoral fraud: does article 8.1 of the Electoral Code exclude submission of grievances and complaints after 72 hours from the announcement of the result? No. If Jesse had taken time to read the Electoral Code closely enough, he could see that paragraphs 8.21.c and 8.21.d of the code actually give the power to the court to, considering circumstances, hear cases even if the appellant did not meet the deadlines. Indeed, the fact that the court is hearing the case is a sign that the complaint is still valid. Other interested groups have tried to question the Court’s jurisdiction to hear the case, but the court has already decided that the circumstances justify the hearing of the case. So, what does Tristan’s “defacing” of “I Support Alex” poster have to do with Crompton’s appeal to the court? It is up to the Student Court and the AMS Council, and no one else, to decide whether there should be a by-election or not. Why is it so “scary” that a by-election mandated by a judicial and democratic process might result form this episode? (Jesse refers to the possibility of the by-election as the “scariest thing” in his article)

And since we are talking about facts, where has the idea of “power-mongering in the AMS, assisted by the AMS funds” come from? Neither this year nor last year did The Knoll receive any money from the Resource Groups to publish its elections issues, (I presume that by “power mongering” the “Knolligarchy” rhetoricians are referring to everyone’s democratic right to run in elections for positions of power?). Both years, The Knoll registered for the Voter Funded Media contest, won handsomely, and the Knoll covered the costs through our VFM prizes. We do receive funding for other issues from the Resource Groups, but first, when it comes to UBC, the Knoll is almost always, except for in its Elections Issues, directing its criticism towards the administration and not the AMS; secondly, the Knoll is not the only publication that has received funding from the Resource Groups; third, considering the mandate of the Resource Groups, which as their constitutions declares, include fighting imperialism, war, sexism, heteronormativity, and “oppressive structures like capitalism,” funding a publication like the Knoll is a fairly natural thing for the Resource Groups to do. Among many things, one purpose of the Resource Groups is to make critique and debate a part of the UBC experience; this is on the understanding that criticism of the status quo is a healthy part of any democratic community. Furthermore, the Resource Groups are more than a space for activist politics. There are six Resource Groups: Pride, Colour Connected Against Racism, Feminist Collecive, Social Justice Center, Allies (men against violence against women). Some of them are more focused on political activism, while some also provide a safe space for minority communities who feel unwelcome or unsafe at UBC. We also house a wonderful library of alternative literature.

Above I showed that Jesse too has made multiple unfounded or crassly false claims in a rather short article, some of which I have not noted. Surely the fallacy of the claims point to the poor quality of his article, but it also shows that it is fairly easy to pin point factual mistakes in almost anyone’s writings or spoken words. So, the question arises that even if we agree – just for the sake of the argument – with Jesse that The Knoll and the “Knolligarchs” have made some factually false claims, what does this have anything to do with the “Knolligarchy,” abuse of power, misuse of AMS funds or, indeed, what does this have to do with anything at all?

So much for discussion of facts, and let us go a bit deeper than the surface of facts. Jesse Ferreras has arrived at the great revelation that there is a logical link between the title of a facebook group called “Freeman Poritz Watch” and an anti-Semitic website called “Jew Watch”; the only link being that the two titles share the word “Watch”. What kind of mind can be reassured by this damning link? I, personally, learnt about the existence of the “Jew Watch” website after reading Jesse’s article. But if there is an organization that comes to my mind when I hear the word ‘watch,’ it definitely is the Human Rights Watch (HRW). I googled ‘watch.’ HRW is the fifth entry, and many “_____ watch” websites make the first ten pages, but Jew Watch doesn’t. So I am probably not the only person who had never heard of Jew Watch before reading Jesse’s piece, nor am I the only person who connects “watch” to HRW. Talking of Human Rights Watch (by far the most reputable human rights watchdog in the world) I would want to remind those who think of the membership of the IDF as a mere matter of personal choice, of the multiple reports issued by the HRW about continual crass violations of human rights by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). To take a strong stance against any proud member of the IDF (e.g. Freeman Poritz), for me, is a matter of ethics and respect for human dignity; in the same way that it is a matter of ethics for me to oppose the violations of human rights by those on the Palestinian and Lebanese side of the battle in question. There simply is nothing anti-Semitic here. To call Jasmine Ramzee Rezae anti-Semitic on account of a wishy-washy link between “Freeman Poritz Watch” and “Jew Watch” tells us a lot about Jesse’s degree of professionalism and his concern for biased journalism and defacement of people.


However, Jesse is indeed concerned about defacement and defamation, although apparently he has a special concern for the defacement of…a poster. On February 27th , Tristan Markle, an alleged member of the “Knolligarchy,” was caught on camera while writing “Right to Cheat” on a handmade poster reading, “I support Alex Lougheed!” This story, which has previously also captured the imagination of Mayaan Kreitzman and the editorial board of the Ubyssey, requires a bit of analysis. Nathan Crompton has made a complaint against the Election’s Administrator (EA) because the EA failed to consider the act of multiple voting by Alex Lougheed as a serious electoral irregularity. The forthcoming decision of the court has clear implications for Alex as the court might nullify the results of the VP-Academic election race. But let us consider what the posters were meant to support. If it turns out that Alex has not voted multiple times, then there is nothing to support him for. And if it turns out that he indeed has voted multiple times, then the producers of the posters are not supporting anything other than Alex’s “right” to vote multiple times. It might soothe Maayan, Jesse and the editors of the Ubyssey that the multiple ballots did not change the final result of the elections, but what is at stake here is not only the outcome of the elections, but the integrity of a democratic process. Multiple voting, independent of how it might influences the outcome of the elections, is a prosecutable crime in democratic states, including Canada. Whether or not it is also a serious electoral irregularity in the AMS is to be determined by the Student Court in a few days. But to interpret an act of multiple voting simply as “a joke gone awry” and to issue support posters for someone who is alleged to have voted multiple times, is to assume especial rights for especial people in a supposedly democratic process. What surprises me is not that Tristan corrected the posters – after all that is precisely what is expected from someone with true commitment to a democratic process. The surprising matter is that Ubyssey, UBC Insiders and other active participants or commentators of student politics in UBC did not help Tristan to correct the posters.

This brings me to my final point. Ubyssey, UBC Insiders and many of the AMS politicians have greatly succeeded in recent years to make student politics in UBC look like a joke game with relevance only to the insiders who are on their path to become the great politicians of the future. No wonder then that Jesse Ferreras takes great pleasure of downplaying student protests, seeing nothing other than a trash heap in the late Trek Park 1.0, for example. It is fairly difficult to build a park; it is more difficult to keep it clean while the park is vandalized on a daily basis, literally. I wish the AMS journalists and politicians who pay some lip service to the park, and yet bring nothing better than their sharp critical eyes to it, could spend some time helping us clean the park, or at least could write reports about the constant vandalism of the park. Jesse almost makes my case himself: on the one hand, he argues that “the Knolligarchy’s strength resides in caring about the things that most students don’t” and on the other hand he says the Knolligarchs “have managed to inject just a little bit of excitement into campus life with events such as Trek Park and Trek Park 2.0, as well as the recent conference.” At the factual level he is right: the “Knolligarchs” care about things that most students don’t care about simply because most student don’t care about student politics and campus activism of any brand, not least because there aren’t the proper democratic channels through which to learn and participate in campus politics. But of those who care about student politics, it seems to me, a good number of them care about what the “Knolligarchy” is caring about; at least, that’s how I explain the election of Tristan Markle and Stef Ratjen in the AMS elections, and the fact that Nathan Crompton lost by a very small margin in a race with a validity yet to be determined. The popularity of Trek Park among students is another testimony to the fact that the Knolligarchy and many students care about similar things – now, twice, The Ubyssey has run video specials about the park, asking students to comment on the park. Each time, The Ubyssey videos demonstrate a simple fact: people like the park!

For me and many of my friends, who the UBC Insiders might brand as “the Knolligarchy,” UBC Insiders and the various AMS insiders have long been irrelevant to student activism. Our activism perhaps is making the cohort of AMS elites obsolete as well. This fear of obsolescence, I would suggest, is the motivation for the magnificent piece of investigative journalism by Jesse Ferreras that has prompted this long response.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Financial Aid and Tuition


I have been meaning to post about this for quite some time now, being heavily subsidized by a european government to study one of the most expensive programs in a college (medical) for a registration fee (covering a half year buspass as well as heavily discounted warm lunches) of 200 Euros (300 CAD) a semester.

See this NY Times article which reports ivy league colleges (Brown, Harvard) and Stanford following a wider trend of waiving tuition for lower income students.


While relieving some of the financial load of lower income students solves part of the problem, cost of living is an unaccounted factor which seems at times deemphasized when talking about the whole issue surrounding tuition.

In Canada and North America in general, the trend is for lower income students to borrow money from the government or a private source, and pay it back afterwards with interest. The trend is similar here in Germany, but with some key differences.

By German law, parents who make over a certain amount are required to support their children's cost of living (housing, food, school registration fees). Yes, children have the right to sue their parents, and some even do. Tuition has been a non-issue until two years ago, when some regions implemented tuition as high as 400 Euros (600 CAD) per semester.

If the parents' income falls below a certain income bracket, the German Ministry of Education (link in German) chips in, to be paid back post graduation, in chunks determined by how much the graduate makes entering the job market. In instances when the graduate is yet again below a certain income standard, they are waived these repayments and thus have their education paid for fully by the government.

By the way, the Ministry of Advanced Education in British Columbia has been mumbling about similar repayment policies for a while, and this has been regarded as controversial by some.

While Germany's system is by no means perfect, it seems to allow for greater accessibility towards advanced education. I'll follow up with some numbers and stats later, but it creates some interesting social attitudes.

For one, there is a very relaxed attitude about university. Whereas UBC felt like a factory that churned out one graduate at a time, colleges here seem like a stroll through the park, with time to smell the roses so to speak. In classes, there are almost never any assignments - only a final exam. There is much less pressure in general to finish on time. This take it or leave it atmosphere has its pros and cons.

The pro is that it seems like students that are self motivated are allowed to thrive. They are not bogged down by assignments which confine the degree to which they want to steer their learning within a semester. I have met the most brilliant people during my short stay here, who in the truest sense of the word are intellectuals.

Unfortunately, for the less motivated, it has been suggested that it takes them years and years to finish even their undergraduate degree. This was the social argument from the conservatives behind the introduction of tuition fees.

I am no economist, but I expect one to say something about Canada having the advantage of individuals entering the job market at an earlier age and thus spurting the economy.

I would argue that this might be true only because German men are still required by law to either receive military training or finish a year of civil service after high school.

While Germany's education system is by no means perfect, its financial aid network seems to me much more equitable, allowing students to pursue the field of study of their interest, instead of having to worry about whether this degree will lead towards a job which will allow them to pay off their debts. Thus, it seems to me that over here, we enjoy a social safety net which better separates academic interest from the pressures of economy than in Canada.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Point: focus on the Knolligarchy

An opinion piece by Jesse Ferreras, M.J. Candidate, UBC School of Journalism. Counterpoint coming next week.

There’s a war on truth at this University, and a resurgent movement of leftist radicals is fighting on its front line. I’m speaking, of course, about the Knolligarchy, formerly a joke name that now encompasses UBC’s newly-visible activist front. It’s a group of people affiliated with the AMS Resource Groups that is hot off a “Resisting the University” conference, which culminated today with a march of about a dozen people and an invasion of a meeting in the Board of Governors chambers (to the amusement of all those present.)

First off, let’s give credit where it’s due. The activist well had run dry at this university – it’s been years since a decent protest has been held anywhere on the Point Grey campus, at least since the quiet, passive protests that came in advance of the Iraq War. In this context, the Knolligarchy is a breath of fresh air. They’ve managed to inject just a little bit of excitement into campus life with events such as Trek Park and Trek Park 2.0, as well as the recent conference. It was music to my ears to hear an activist yelling into a megaphone and leading a march across campus last Friday. It at least gave me the impression something was happening.

But that’s enough credit. Let’s cut to the facts.

The Knolligarchy gets its namesake from The Knoll, a partisan campus publication that seems to avoid editing and facts as a matter of editorial policy. Describing itself as a “Weekly” (a “Monthly” might be more accurate) it is published through the AMS Resource Groups. The groups collectively receive $1.50 per student per annum, according to outgoing VP Finance Brittany Tyson. This year the I can’t be sure of the amount of money that goes specifically to publishing the Knoll, but it must come from somewhere within that $1.50.

This money is put towards a publication that advertises itself as partisan news coverage and thereafter sets out on espousing what can be more accurately called revolutionary fervour than news, more anonymous articles than journalistic agency. They don’t, however, get their message out solely through the publication - they also do it through public appearances and direct action techniques.

An example is a little episode in the Ubyssey office in early January. Stefanie Ratjen, Jasmine Ramze Rezaee and Nate Crompton, three of the Knolligarchy’s most prominent members, came into the office to complain about the front page of its first issue in 2008. The top story, splashed across the top of the paper, was “Activists vandalize Ponderosa complex,” accompanied by pictures of broken glass. Beneath it, to the left, was “Trek Park bulldozed,” a story about the mysterious razing of the Trek Park installation.

Crompton, Ratjen and Ramze Rezaee, despite having a story on the front page, complained that the Ubyssey hadn’t put the Trek Park story at the top. They were unhappy about the association given to activists by placing the story at the top (a fair complaint) but also that the Trek Park story, despite being devoid of a good photo to accompany it, was not placed at the top. Crompton went on to complain that “I said all these interesting things,” going so far as to call the issue a “fraud.” Nate argued that the University had “declared war” on Trek Park, notably ignoring the fact that their protest had devolved into a trash heap after the elements caught up with it over the course of several months. The three of them left the office clearly dissatisfied with the dialogue they had with me and a few Ubyssey editors, with Ramze Rezaee remarking, “I hoped to get more out of this conversation.”

The campaign of misinformation began in earnest MKduring the AMS elections. Language is always subjective and contentious, but this group of students has taken misleading rhetoric at UBC to embarrassing new heights.

Stefanie Ratjen made grand overtures to students, spreading falsehoods like “Translink is a private corporation” until I called her on it on my blog. Ramze Rezaee was at her side throughout the campaign, at one point asking VP Academic candidates what they felt about military funding for the International Relations program. IRSA president Gordon Hawkins saved students the trouble of swallowing this tripe when he corrected her publicly, saying that the Liu Institute for the Study of Global Issues receives funding from the Department of National Defence, and not the IR program. Ramze Rezaee exclaimed, “It’s the same thing!”

The lies propagated by members of the Knolligarchy reached their peak when Ramze Rezaee created “Freeman Poritz Watch,” a Facebook group devoted to ruining his campaign for VP External, and had a curious similarity with the anti-Semitic “Jew Watch” website that Poritz himself noted. The group was registered under the name “Sandra Davidson” but the fact of its creation showed up in Ramze Rezaee’s Facebook mini-feed when she started it. In the group’s description she castigated Freeman as “anti-woman,” “militaristic,” a “frat boy” and “xenophobic,” with nothing credible to support the latter claim (the reason, if I remember correctly, was his unfortunate comment about feeling cheated that international students get their degrees and then leave – an impulsive comment, to be sure, but hardly xenophobic.) Its members eventually included Nate Crompton and others involved in the Knolligarchy. At some point the site was taken down, but Freeman was undoubtedly hurt by its claims, notably its unwarranted accusation of xenophobia and its similarity to “Jew Watch” - an antisemitic website.

Today we find the Knolligarchy in an unfettered quest for power at UBC – and they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty. Tristan Markle, your new VP Administration, got them covered with ink when he was caught on camera February 27 defacing posters near the Pit that read “I support Alex Lougheed!” with the added slogan “Right to Cheat.” The posters themselves have come in response to a complaint from Nate Crompton, who alleges that Lougheed voted for himself 12 times in the AMS elections for the position of VP Academic. The votes weren’t counted and the complaint came more than 72 hours after the election results were announced, thus nullifying the complaint according to AMS Code Section IX, Article 8 (1). Markle, however, is living on the hope that he can help put three members of the Knolligarchy on the AMS Executive, even though another election would likely have to be held if Lougheed was impeached, the only way he can be removed from his position at this point.

The scariest thing about this is his tactics may be effective. If there is another byelection, I have little doubt that Nate will run again. And given the pathetic turnout of voters to byelections, as in the VP Admin campaign, he could very well win.

The Knolligarchy’s strength resides in caring about the things that most students don’t. They rallied to Tristan Markle’s side for his election to be VP Admin and succeeded in putting him in office. I hadn’t previously believed it when Patrick Meehan told me the Knolligarchy could count for approximately 400 votes for any candidate – these days I’m more inclined to agree with him.

In short, the Knolligarchy is a force to be reckoned with, and its publication, The Knoll, is a great avenue for them to get their message out. You’re helping it get out there by paying your AMS fees. A small amount of those fees are being placed towards the AMS Resource Groups, and a portion of that amount is ensuring that the Knolligarchy has a publication through which to advocate their leftist political leanings. It’s starting to succeed to the same degree that Conrad Black did in making Canada a more conservative place when he started the National Post - of course, he wasn't funded out of the public purse. It won’t stop until someone reviews how funds are being allocated to the AMS Resource Groups – and specifically, the Knoll.

In any other governmental system, it’s deeply unethical to put public funds towards a partisan cause. Here, purely by paying your AMS fees on top of your tuition, that’s exactly what’s happening. Those fees are being towards the AMS Resource Groups and subsequently the Knoll, which is in turn publishing reasons why its friends and close acquaintances should hold public office at UBC. It’s like the Government of Canada, rather than the Conservative Party, using a pamphlet to campaign for Stephen Harper. Why should students get away with it?

Activism certainly has a place on this campus – without the Great Trek, we wouldn’t be studying or living in the buildings that we’re in today. But truth deserves a place here too – and the Knolligarchy doesn’t seem too keen to let it stand in the way of its actions.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

VFM launches at SFU

In my life, there's always time to kill. And now I have a fresh method of doing it. Mark Latham has begun sponsoring a Voter Funded Media contest of a slightly different stripe over at SFU. Take a look at the SFU VFM page HERE. The idea is broadly the same as VFM here at UBC, but instead of being a one-off coinciding with the student society elections period, prizes are instead being distributed on a monthly cycle of continuous voting. The prizes are $300-$500 per month, which will add up to around $5000 in a year (compare to UBC's contest which had a prize pool of $8000 for a whole year, given out all at once). Votes are calculated using the interpolated consensus method that we used here at UBC this year.

(Note to newer readers: VFM is the media contest that birthed this blog. According to Latham whose brainchild it is, rewarding media democratically from the public purse will improve democracy. For a previous posts discussing VFM, take a look here, here, here, and here. )

Another interesting difference is that the SFU contest is administered by Latham himself, not the Simon Fraser Student Society, which is equivalent to our AMS. This is interesting to note, because though one would think that having the institutional and organizational support of the student society behind such a project would be a boon, this year's contest at UBC was magnificently botched by the AMS, both on the political and bureaucratic side. Not surprisingly, Latham has managed to run things smoothly at SFU so far.

The continuous monthly model maps much more closely to the ultimate goals of VFM: providing long-term, in-depth media which are accountable to their readers through a democratic reward process. SFU certainly has a smorgasbord of contentious issues to deal with at this moment, with their SSFS elections and referendum to defederate from CFS, the national lobby they are a member of. Media outlets could certainly provide a valuable service to the SFU community by providing some insight on these issues, and make a buck into the bargain.

All this is to not say that the SFU contest is anywhere near effective. So far, it seems to be marginal in both content and readership. The SFU campus radio station has entered, which I think is a brainwave (hint hint, CiTR), and one or two of the blogs have some content worth reading. Nobody seems to be trying very hard at this point. But these things take time to build momentum, and it seems almost stochastic whether such an idea will catch or not.

The question is, how much of a future does VFM really have? If Mark continues to encounter tepid half-successes, how long can he be expected to fund these experiments? And if he stops before the value has been unequivocally demonstrated through a jump in voter turnout or irrefutable data (which the AMS has yet to collect through exit polls. *strangle strangle*) would student societies be inclined to fund such innovations themselves? According to Jeff Friedrich, the incumbent AMS President, probably not. He told me in a meeting last year, that to him these projects are bonuses, and not as essential as making the AMS democracy itself run well through systemic reform in the AMS structure which has yet to be achieved. To me, innovative democratic projects like VFM (or a students' assembly) should be looked at separately from improving the AMS democratic and organizational structure. We shouldn't shy away from investing time and money in either.

For now though, Mark is still willing to pick up the tab. And UBC may soon be transitioning to the continuous model itself. A proposal for this just went up today on the VoterMedia.org website - take a look.

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Why can't we all just get along? the executive dynamics post.

Once upon a time amidst the tacky coloured walls of the Almar Mater Society’s student union building, executive council was dominated by slates (basically political parties). Back then, elections were in some ways more colourful (in both the literal and figurative sense). Brand names were recognizable from miles away – the extreme conservative “The Right Choice” in navy blue, the centrist “Students for Students” in a lighter hue, and a communist resembling “SPAN”, not to be confused, though understandably often mocked, as SPAM. I need to insert here right away that I am a political product of the latter, though my political career took me past the great era of formal slates. Anyhow.

I have seen my share of executives interact with one another over the years, since 2002 until 2007, both before and after slates existed. By being a peripheral nuisance around the office, and having inherited some institutional gossip, I find myself unable to feel the same degree of outrage over recent events as the visitors who comment on this and other blogs

The reason I bring in slates into the picture is because they were a key vehicle through which politics was driven at the executive and council level. And I also include petty bickering into the term ‘politics’.

When I was running with SPAN, I experienced for the first time the true viciousness that is brought out of individuals during the electoral process. For instance, a colleague who I had previously considered a friendly acquaintance, sprayed me intentionally with water in order to get to a key postering spot before me. At another instance, physical threats had been posed. By the time the elections were over, the atmosphere was so tense that it was difficult to separate the personal from the professional. I personally got over it. And because my slate had swept the election that year, I did not experience the tensions that threaded through the year before.

Apparently (and this is a one sided claim) within executive council, it was an iron rule that each member of one slate would vote one way, and the other slate would oppose. Frequently the minority slate was voted down in their endeavours to the point where it was suggested that it was purely for the sake of sabotage. How valid this claim is I cannot assess, but I am willing to entertain the notion.

Enter the banning of slates. Former AMS president Spencer Keys championed this project primarily from an inclusiveness standpoint –individuals, no matter how qualified, who do not gain access to slates are severely disadvantaged in an election. This is true in “real life” as well, and in the AMS especially so.

Others would claim that there were other reasons why they supported this motion. For one, they found the blind loyalty towards a strict party line excessive and tiring. They may have felt like a footsoldier than a free thinking individual. There was enormous peer pressure within one slate to oppose the other parties.

Whether slates should in some way or form be reinstalled is a debate I would like to see on a different post. If I have one last comment on this, it would be that emotional baggage is an unfortunate part of continuity of a slate and its agenda. It’s the nature of the beast. It happens in the real world too.

And it’s this emotional baggage inherited from all these previous years which may have culminated into bitter executive dynamics, which is more the topic I would like to focus on. From the comments seen in previous posts, there seems to be a romanticized ideal of ‘executive cohesion’ floating around, the purpose or exact definition of which has not been elaborated by anyone so far. My guess would be that the executive should achieve a certain amount of reliability and trust among one another, as well as the ability to collaborate on joint executive projects. Personal squabbles should not sabotage the job they are elected to do, as in “I hate A so I am going to vote against anything A wants to do”. I don’t think anyone expects AMS execs to be best friends, or wear the same T shirts, or have brunch together every Sunday, or engage in a communal brainwashing program such that they become the same person (although I wouldn’t be surprised if these things have been done before).

This idea of ‘cohesion’ has been brought into conflict with an individual’s political agenda. The question here, then, is if there is a degree to which an executive (and I would argue council member) should limit her/his own politics in order to achieve cohesion with their (potential) colleague(s). This question has become especially pertinent in this particular case regarding the photo we published, where the political agenda antagonizes the very position of their colleague. I suppose it is a sticky situation. I can see how it could be taken personally by the individual affected. But should it? And will it?

Is it too na├»ve to believe that in our post-slate era, we should still be allowed to charge with political valence while allowing others to do the same? Removal of official slates did not equate political lobotomy. In the past few years we happened to experience little slate-like activity and consequently, a relatively quiet year. However, political assembly is a right everyone can exercise, and it is inevitable and arguably necessary at times. Kudos to A-Lo fans who mobilized to launch a poster campaign. Kudos to Knolligarch(s?) for mobilizing to deface them. I suppose I expect a sort of cordial professionalism once in office, which allows for a working rapport while their own individual politics still manifests into defacing each other’s posters.

In the end, and from the practical perspective of a former councillor, I would sprinkle enough of this “cohesion” ingredient into the executive bunch in order to achieve productivity from them – as individual executives fulfilling their elected portfolio, and as the group that is at times required to present some sort of unified front. It seems to me like the latter point is threatened for some readers here. From a very systematic point of view, the people have picked their representatives and all the strings that come with these individuals. The political passion which I see in both team Lougheed and team “Knollarchy” does not have to be squashed just yet for the sake of executive cohesion, or pleasantries, or platitudes. Not yet at least. It will be the role of AMS council to watch the progress of the executives and decide if some or all of the executives are unable to splice out the personal from professional well enough to meet council’s standard. I have a feeling it will become obvious soon enough.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Transit: Kevin Falcon speaks

A few months ago, BC Transportation minister Kevin Falcon announced a 14-billion dollar transit bonanza for B.C. The announcement made front page news in a both national newspapers, and rightly so. It is rarely in Canada that we see such long-term investment in long-term infrastructure. The money will see five new rapid transit lines being built in the lower mainland over the next twelve years (one of which will branch to UBC), a doubling in the bus fleet (up 1000 buses) and the development of a new network of rapid bus lines (akin to the B-lines we all know and love). The goal is to double transit ridership by 2020. Info on the plan is available on the provincial government website, here. Falcon, in addition to these transit commitments, is also going forward with the controversial highway expansion plan that would see the Port Mann Bridge twinned in the "gateway" project. He has also overseen changes to the structure of TransLink: it now consists of an unelected professional board, and overseen by a mayor's council instead of the previous arrangement which had elected appointed members of the GVRD on 1-year turnover cycles.

Last Friday, Falcon was on campus for a brief but intense gathering hosted by the UBC Young Liberals at Mahoney's pub. He mingled for about 5 minutes, spoke for about 20 minutes, and answered questions for another 15, as people munched the complimentary heart-attack-on-a-plate deep fried snacks. Falcon started his spiel with a general campaign-style defence of the budget Carole Taylor just released - including the much-touted carbon tax. He then focused in on his transportation plan, outlining the main spending areas. Falcon was quite direct. While the fluent and campaigny extolling of everything the Liberals have done, are doing, or will ever do was a bit tiresome, as was the self-glorification about making "tough" decisions (isn't that the definition of leadership, pray tell?), Falcon was actually quite convincing in the question/answer period.

There were some tough questions. When challenged that the new TransLink structure was less democratic and accountable Falcon was blunt. He said that the old structure was dysfunctional because of the high turnover and lack of expertise. He defended the fact that the new board's meetings are closed to the public, saying that letting people come in to "scream and shout" wouldn't accomplish anything. Now, you can agree or disagree about that, but he didn't beat around the bush. When asked if the highway expansion to the suburbs negated plans to increase public transit ridership, Falcon was also blunt. He said that compared to the road and bridge infrastructure Vancouverites enjoy, Surrey and the fraser valley are very undeserviced - and as the fastest growing areas in BC, they deserve to have both better transit and better commute times. To me, this sort of missed the greater point, which is that as a province with pretensions to sustainability, we should be looking at ways to make Vancouver more affordable, thus minimizing the sprawling growth of suburbs in the first place. Unfortunately this is beyond the scope of Falcon's portfolio per say (and also way beyond his staunchly suburban constituency voter base).

With rapid transit out to UBC by 2020 a few things could happen: the importance of living close to campus in the Kits and Point Grey areas will decrease. You'll see alot more students talking advantage of cheaper rents in the tri-cities and Surrey. Demand for on-campus housing will probably stay the same. There will always be people in search of the campus life experience, and that won't change. We'll just see commuter student living farther away, and perhaps even less able to participate in campus life. On the other hand, people that do stay in Vancouver will have an easier time getting around, and might engage more. Analyzing student engagement on the basis of transportation is always a bit dubious - just because the reasons people choose at what level to engage on campus are complex. We don't have good data about it, that's for sure. The AMS should look into including some well-designed questions about finances, location, and transportation on its next survey.

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

UBC Farm: Why they aren't taking a referendum question to students this March

Most students know by now that the future of the UBC Farm is shrouded in uncertainty and controversy. This year strong student supporters of the Farm (particularly Friends of the Farm), wanted to hold a referendum question asking students to increase their student fees to support the farm’s programs and development. The hope was that a passed referendum would show UBC just how much the community supports the farm, and would help secure the farm’s future. But the current political situation within UBC and the region has made some supporters of the referendum question if now is really the right time.

Find out why behind the jump...


A brief history of the UBC Farm:

When UBC first decided to build market housing on campus, they ran into some concerns and push-back from the community (students, faculty, staff, residents in Vancouver and the UEL). So, the GVRD stepped in and said that there would be some regulations and guidelines for how UBC could develop that market housing community. Those rules were all outlined in the Official Community Plan (OCP). Of course, the Farm sits in the middle of prime land that the University ultimately wants to sell to developers. After public outcry over the farm in the development of the OCP, the farm was slated for “future housing reserves” – meaning that they weren’t going to develop housing there right away, but it would be set aside, and we would come back to it later to make a decision (that date is supposed to be 2012).

Of course, this stamp of “future housing reserves” also gave UBC an excuse to not invest in the Farm, and refuse to help build its research capacity and refuse to see its value as a community amenity. In fact, when some market housing residents worked with the farm to create a community garden, UBC denied the proposal and said it wasn’t allowed! UBC has been actively impeding any development of the farm for many years, so that they can more easily deny the farm’s importance in 2012 when the issue is up for consideration.

The current situation:


To understand the current situation, you have to understand some local politics. UBC would like to make changes to the South Campus Neighbourhood Plan – they would like to densify the neighbourhood (add more units, make more money). This requires a change to the OCP, which requires approval from the GVRD.

However, the community has some allies in the GVRD who have an interest in a) preserving the farm, and b) seeing UBC become part of the City of Vancouver. Both of these fit into policies that the GVRD already has (for the farm, they are worried about food security and how quickly farmland in the region is being depleted, for governance, they GVRD would like all electoral areas to become part of a municipality). Therefore, some elected officials at the GVRD were saying to UBC: “We’ll let you densify the South Campus Neighbourhood, if you promise to deal with the farm issue and do a governance review.”

Well, UBC doesn’t really like the prospect of being told what to do by the GVRD when it comes to the Farm or governance, so at the most recent Board of Governors meeting, UBC decided not to pursue the South Campus Neighbourhood densification – for now…

But to appease the GVRD, UBC also said that they are going to deal with the farm issue and the governance review right now. I told the GVRD at a recent meeting that I didn’t really believe UBC’s commitment to dealing with the governance issue – I genuinely believe they are dragging their feet, they have no interest . And the farm issue is going to be dealt with through the Vancouver Campus Plan…this is where the concerns from Friends of the Farm comes from.

Hidden motives:

Nancy Knight, UBC’s Associate VP Campus & Community Planning, has decided to ‘deal with the farm issue’ through the Vancouver Campus Planning process. That may sound like a good idea at first, but its much more complex than it seems.

The Campus Plan process is an institutional planning process, meaning UBC has complete control over that process, meaning the GVRD has no say in what decisions are made. Thus, when the farm gets addressed through the Campus Plan, we lose some really powerful allies in the GVRD who could put a lot more public pressure on UBC to “do the right thing.” For now, we as students and as members of the University community have to flood the Campus Planning process in order to save the farm. Of course, we all know that UBC isn’t that great at listening to students, and is quite selective about what it hears in consultation processes.

The point is that if the farm review is part of any OCP changes, then the broader community, including the GVRD, and the UNA residents have some sort of say in what happens to the farm. If it’s a Campus Plan process, then UBC gets the ultimate say, and the GVRD really has power to interfere. The Campus Plan is about institutional spaces - aka, learning and research spaces. Taking care of the farm through the campus plan process conveniently means that UBC can look at it primarily for its research value, and thus it’s easier justifying that it move to the bio sciences research area – the same amount of research can occur no matter where its located.

Now add to this the fact that Nancy Knight and the team at Campus & Community Planning have gotten external consultants to come in and review the “potential” of the farm. These consultants were chosen without letting the farm or the faculty of Land and Food Systems know, and it has mostly been all behind closed doors. Nancy Knight wants to have these consultants come back and say: “the Farm is very valuable, but they only need half the land and could probably move to the Bio-Sciences research area and still do the same great work.” Perhaps she sees this as some sort of compromise between the Board’s agenda to maximize the $250 million that can be made off of that area, while still preserving some sense of a farm for the community.

As long as the Farm issue is dealt with through the Campus Plan, the result is going to be cutting the area by at least half, or moving it way down to the bottom of campus in a very remote and inconvenient location, or both.

The other thing to consider, is this process to deal with the farm through the Campus Plan is only looking at the farm from a research-value standpoint, and not from a community amenity standpoint. The Farm is so much more than a research facility, it’s a place that brings students and residents and researchers and learning all together in one place. This is more than just an institutional facility, it’s a community facility, and the community should have a much greater say about its future.

Canceling the Farm Referendum

I told the Friends of the Farm that it was a big mistake to back down from the referendum now. The concern is that the political situation is too tense right now to take the risk. I say that a referendum is always going to be extremely risky. The only reason there are more backroom deals being made about the farm right now is because UBC is facing a lot of pressure from the GVRD, students and the community-at-large to save the farm. As long as UBC is facing pressure on the Farm, they are going to push back, and push back hard. The farm lands are worth over $250 million dollars in Endowment revenue. We’re up against a huge beast, and that is never going to change.

But, if we as students could come to the table and say “students care about the farm so much that we are willing to pay out of our own pockets to develop the farm’s capacity” then we’re in a really strong negotiating position. Don’t forget, it’s UBC who has been financially neglecting and starving the farm for years, and its students who are stepping up and footing the bill.

If the referendum were to fail, then it would be a tragedy. But, as far as I’m concerned, certain people within the University are always going to misconstrue the evidence and use any referendum outcome against us. But there are also a significant number of people in the University who will take a passed referendum seriously, and that will be way more powerful than the few who discredit it.

The Farm needs a student movement behind it right now, and there is nothing better to get a student movement started than through a “Save the Farm referendum campaign.” Getting hundreds of students around campus, handing out pamphlets and saying “UBC is trying to take away our farm, we can’t let that happen” – what better way to start a genuine student-movement. That’s something almost all students can say yes to.

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