Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NCAA Committee Results

After almost a year, the NCAA Division II Review Committee has finally released its final report regarding UBC-V’s potential application to NCAA Division II. At 588 pages including appendices it’s a monster, but unless you are an absolute nut for documents, the first 28 should suffice, along with the Consultation Summary Report which was posted online earlier this month (also included in the overall report).

So what exactly does it say?

I will mention at this point that I sit on the NCAA committee as a representative of the AMS (and by extension, students at large) and was involved in the whole process of arriving at this final document, so I hope you'll excuse me if I'm very careful in my analysis. I should also point out the obvious fact that I am speaking on behalf of myself only, not on behalf of the committee.

I would also like to say that at the beginning of this process, many people had fears that this would be a rubber-stamp, faux-consultation situation. I hope that after reading the report and consultation summary, no one continues to feel that way.

The first important thing to note in this report is what it doesn't say. While there are recommendations contained within, it does not take a stand on the whole underlying issue: should UBC join the NCAA Division II?

While the committee could not come up with a definitive answer, President Toope will have to (but not necessarily soon.) Publicly he has been very quiet on the subject of the NCAA and it's impossible to guess what the final outcome will be.

Do you agree or disagree that UBC Vancouver should proceed with an application for membership in the NCAA Division II?
Agree – 48%
Disagree – 52%

What is clear is that it will take a lot of leadership to simply make a decision - any decision. One of the recommendations contained in the report is that UBC complete its communications plan prior to announcing its decision. The cynical view of this recommendation is that UBC will be trying to use a PR campaign to push through an unpopular decision. Unfortunately for UBC and the cynics out there, any decision they make will be unpopular, which is why this recommendation is vital. If public opinion above is to be believed, the outcome is the same: you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

Recommendation A: Should UBC Vancouver decide to proceed with an application for membership in the NCAA Division II, the committee recommends that the University, prior to making any application for membership, seek an exemption from the requirement of academic accreditation.

This is a BIG DEAL. NCAA bylaws require all member institutions to be accredited by a US accrediting agency. While some faculties like Sauder and Medicine already get US accreditation, most of the university doesn't. As mentioned in the report, the accreditation process would cost, at minimum, $500k-$1M every year. The university would be the one paying for this, diverting these funds from research and learning. Dealbreaker #1.

As well, many areas of the university would have to alter the way they develop curricula to suit the new accreditation requirements. You would need widespread buy-in from faculty to make this happen and that doesn't seem likely. Dealbreaker #2.

Seeking US accreditation simply so that our sports teams can play in the NCAA is absurd. It's possible that the NCAA could exempt UBC from this accreditation requirement, with the recognition that we already have Canadian accreditation and oh yeah, we're pretty reputable to boot. If that exemption comes, the door to the NCAA is still open. If not, that door is slammed shut.

...members of Division II believe that a well-conducted intercollegiate athletics program, based on sound educational principles and practices, is a proper part of the educational mission of a university or college and that the educational well-being and academic success of the participating student-athlete is of primary concern.
NCAA Division II Philosophy Statement

One of the things that needs to be made clear is that Div II != Div I, and that's a good thing. Div II does have a strong commitment to academics and it appears this commitment isn't simply idle chatter. It was refreshing to learn that schools in Division II take this ethos seriously and practice it.

The committee believes that were UBC Vancouver to join the NCAA Division II, there would be an inherent pressure to seek membership in Division I.

Of course, it's never that simple, right? UC-San Diego is a fascinating case study and the only academic comparator to UBC in Division II. Formerly a Division III school, they moved up to Division II because they were simply too large of a school to fit with other Division III schools. Despite moving up, they are now facing pressure to move up again, to Division I. Alarmingly, it is believed that if UBC were in Division II, we would also be under constant pressure to move up to Division I. For UBC, the thought of Division I should be absolutely out of the question for so many reasons that I don't have enough fingers and toes to count them.

Much of this pressure to move up is inherent in being an institution which is much larger than your peers. Based on my research, of the 282 Division II schools, only 6 have more than 20,000 students (UCSD is second most populous, at ~29,000). UBC would easily eclipse those schools in size. If UCSD were to move up to Division I, UBC would be left with no academic comparators in Division II, likely adding even more pressure for UBC to move up as well.

The student body at the University of California, San Diego, an academic comparator to UBC Vancouver, exhibits a level of campus interest in varsity athletics that is not dissimilar to that seen at UBC Vancouver. This is explained in part by the fact that students do not see the competing Division II member institutions as what can be termed “fraternal institutions”.

In the consultation discussion guide the only potential benefit listed for regular students is "enhancing school spirit and pride". The committee found that it is extremely unlikely that having the NCAA on campus will have any positive effect on fan support. In fact, it might even get worse since the Division II schools have zero name recognition. Getting people out to games requires marketing, plain and simple, and that can be done regardless of where UBC plays.

These financial indicators suggest that Athletics and Recreation is in a sound financial position as evidenced by its seven-figure net income in each of the past two years.

The revelation that UBC Athletics is in a good financial situation should come as news to no one. Although Athletics has certain unrealistic financial expectations regarding joining the NCAA (such as >100% increase in gate revenues), in the short term joining the NCAA wouldn't change the budgets much.

What happens after the short term is the unanswered million-dollar question (or more likely a multi-million dollar question). UBC's varsity budget currently stands at about CAD$4.5M. The average varsity budget of a NCAA Division II school with football in the first quartile is around USD$9M (at current exchange rates, about CAD$11M.) As mentioned above, UBC would be by far the largest school in Division II. In the long term, would UBC Athletics be happy at current varsity funding levels? Or would they try to drastically increase their varsity budget to bring it in line with other large Division II schools?

So what about UCSD, who moved up from Div III? Well, in 2007 they passed a fee referendum that saw their athletics fee more than triple, going from $95 to $329 (!) This increase effectively doubled the budget of their athletic department, in order to put them in the same realm as other large Division II schools.

UBC Vancouver’s consideration of application for membership in the NCAA Division II has proved a catalyst for opening discussions about changes to the CIS.

Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) is still a big question mark, in that they have been oddly silent. While there have been meetings between UBC and CIS officials, nothing particularly notable came out of them. CIS did release a document last October in an attempt to demonstrate their commitment to excellence but it isn't clear if action is following their words. While visiting Ottawa in February, I went into the CIS offices to ask if they had released anything else relevant since then. The answer was no.

Whether or not CIS intends on changing anything is still a mystery. Hopefully more will be revealed at the CIS AGM in early June. Bob Philip was asked about whether he would still want to be in the NCAA if CIS were to adopt NCAA-style financial aid rules and a higher calibre of play. The response was a non-committal. For athletics, it seems like the dislike of CIS goes deeper than just the rules on the surface.

The committee observed that the operations of UBC Athletics and Recreation were not well understood by the academic units of the university.

And that brings us to the last recommendation: an advisory committee to facilitate communication between Athletics and the academic departments. UBC seems to be very committee-happy though that might be a symptom of any large organization. All I can say is that it's not a bad idea, but if a committee of this type is formed, it needs to have some real powers, not just talk about things. Being able to report directly to the president, as proposed in the report, would give this committee some much-needed clout.

I encourage you to read the report for the full story and to make up your own mind. I hope the Ubyssey has something upcoming on this report, since they (Justin McElroy in particular) have had lots of meaningful NCAA coverage this year.


Monday, March 16, 2009

ACF Cancelled

This just in as a press release from the AUS:

March 16, 2009 – Despite months of planning and organization, Arts County Fair will not be not be revived in 2009. Approval for the Arts Undergraduate Society’s (AUS) April 3, 2009 event has been denied by the UBC Classroom Services and the RCMP. This event, a revival of the largest student run event in Canada which was forced to be cancelled due to logistical difficulties in 2007, was to be held on Main Mall between the Flag Pole Plaza and Neil Wyman Plaza. Preparations and early promotions were already underway, in the assumption that an agreement in good faith could be reached with all relevant parties. During the process, the AUS consistently approached concerns with nothing but good faith and a willingness to compromise in order to ensure that this event could take place. Through such a process,Capt. Bill Douglas of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services and the AUS were able to modify the event plans appropriately, gaining the approval of the VFRS. Similar meeting took place with the RCMP’s Sgt. Dan Wendland. Classroom Services denied the AUS' request to book the Main Mall venue on February 26, 2009, citing “concerns raised by internal parties at UBC.” AUS requests for more information, including suggestions on how to change the event plan to gain approval were not answered. The AUS began an appeal of Classroom Services' decision, finally being granted a meeting with Classroom Services staff. On March 13th, the AUS was notified by Classroom Services that the RCMP's University Detachment has was refusing to entertain any request for the Main Mall venue, despite verbal agreements to the contrary. “I was shocked at the decision,” said event organizer Mike Kushnir, “I had expected that the good word and the handshake of Sgt. Wendland would hold our agreement in principle until other logistical difficulties could be dealt with.”
The AUS and RCMP had tentatively negotiated a capacity of 2,500 patrons, on the clearly stated understanding of the AUS that, in order to ensure sufficient supplementary police resources would be available, the AUS may be expected to cover some of those costs. The AUS is disappointed by the lack of willingness to negotiate and collaborate in good faith on the part of Classroom Services. The inability to secure meetings to engage in a dialogue regarding existing concerns was a significant problem - only after speaking with senior administrators in the VP Students office was a request to meet with Justin Marples, head of Classroom Services, granted. During the meeting Marples was adversarial and disrespectful, displaying the lack of good faith that has characterized this process.
The AUS had been willing to make significant changes to event plans and specifically meet with and address concerns of campus stakeholders. “It seems to me as if we were the only ones in this process with any willingness to come to the table,” said AUS President Avneet ‘AJ’ Johal.
Thoughts on the matter? I'm always slightly skeptical when I do hear only one side of the story, and it seems that a statement such as this won't do the AUS too many favours if they would like to hold the ACF in future years (calling someone adversarial and disrespectful is a touch antagonistic, no?). It seems that the only way to really be able to have the ACF again is to demonstrate that the AUS is capable of hosting a big event that does not result in the problems of previous years. It's too bad that Classroom Services was not willing to uphold the verbal agreement, however, as that doesn't do much to strengthen the relationship between students and the university- really, both sides need to demonstrate a degree of trust. And maybe a written agreement would be better next time, given that verbal statements can be interpreted differently by different parties.


Friday, March 13, 2009

SUS Elections

Results are as follows:

Jimmy Yan

VP Internal
Amandeep Sehra

VP External
Sumedha Sharma

Director of Administration
Jennifer Fong

Director of Finance
Justin Yang

Director of Sports
Soroush Liaghat

Public Relations Officer
Annie Yun

Bryan Tomlinson

Social Coordinator
Eugene Wong

AMS Representatives
Tahara Bhate
Maria Cirstea
Justin Yang
Aaron Sihota


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

SUS Elections- Turnout and Endorsements

It would seem that SUS elections are facing a record-low turnout this year. So far, voter turnout is only about 1/3 of what it was last year. Granted, elections haven't really been promoted all that much- there have been reminders on the Science-wide email, as well as through other mailing lists. I would thus highly encourage everyone who has not yet voted to vote before noon tomorrow, where the voting period officially ends. So for everyone sitting at home and reading this- you have about 14 hours to match last year's turnout! So go to WebCT and vote- it will seriously take no more than about 1 minute of your time.

I do have some conjectures as to why voter turnout is so low, however. Despite the push for election advertising this year, many candidates are running unopposed, which reduces the incentive to really promote one's candidacy. Sadly, even with yes/no votes, it is highly unlikely that enough people will vote No to keep a candidate out of office, no matter how unqualified. Candidates who do have competition I feel are relying on popularity, to some degree, although there are some candidates who are definitely pushing to advertise elections and do classroom announcements- Jimmy Yan, Andrew Hurlburt, and Tagh Sira are among the candidates who have done so. The problem is that 3 people telling others to vote is not enough- you definitely need a critical mass of people promoting the elections to see a shift in attitude. When many students don't even bother to read emails that come from UBC/their faculty, promotion becomes much more important, and I'm not sure that enough is being done. I haven't seen the same level of posterage as in the past years. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that voting should also happen on paper, as it's much easier to get people walking by Ladha to vote right then and there than to get them to go get their laptops and then log in to do so.

Now, in terms of endorsements... I know some of the candidates too well personally to say definitively who I prefer, but I can do some analysis.

This one is tough- it's a hard choice between Tagh and Jimmy. Tagh has the advantage of having been on a variety of committees, he knows how the university works, he's a good team player, and he'll have lots of time on his hands next year (he's delaying graduating in order to run for the position, and last I heard he's intending to take 1 course next year, leaving him lots of time to do SUS stuff). He has been IT Manager this year, but that's also about all the SUS experience he has. Jimmy, on the other hand, has more SUS experience, having been VPI for 2 years, but is also going to be taking a full (or more than full) course load next year and will be writing an Honours thesis (before you all get suspicious of how I know this- we're in the same program, and I'll be in the same boat), which I feel would limit his time. He also has a more aggressive leadership style. That's about as much as I can say- the rest is up to voters, and I'd encourage you all to check out their platforms.

For all the unopposed positions, I am voting Yes. I know all of the candidates personally, and feel they would do a fine job in their positions.

I would vote for Bryan Tomlinson. I have had the pleasure of working with him in the past, and he is a very dedicated individual, and really does things on time. While Aaron has served on Council for longer, there have been rumblings of unhappiness about the job he has done as Director of Finance this year, and the budget for the 2008-2009 year was only passed at the end of November. He will also have his hands full with SLFS, which I feel would detract from the Senate job should be win that as well.

Director of Sports
Andrew Hurlburt is my pick- he's shown great enthusiasm, which is hugely important in this position, and he's had lots of experience with running similar events. He's also been involved with Council for a while, and knows the ropes, so to speak. He would definitely be my pick.

This one is hard in the sense that I find it difficult to choose 4 candidates. So I only chose 2. My picks were Tahara, who has had a lot of experience, although I wished she would come to more meetings this year and let people know what's going on with the AMS. My other pick would be Justin, who has shown enthusiasm, dedication, but most importantly a genuine care for students, which I feel is a rare quality among people who run for the position. I know that's a bit harsh, but I think I'd like to see some effort to help the student community from a lot of the candidates, or at least some commitment to coming to Council meetings, getting to know the system, and actually being transparent about what goes on in the AMS. The AMS should not be used as a chance to launch a career in politics, it shouldn't be used as an opportunity to fill your resume up with impressive-sounding committee names, nor should it be joined for the purposes of hanging out with people you might know. The job entails representing students' interests- which can't really be done unless people actually talk to students, or at least attend Council meetings and talk to people there. This isn't a general seat- this is a seat for Science students, and as such, it is Science students' interests that must be represented. I'm slightly disenchanted with some of the other candidates, so please don't make me pick.

That concludes tonight's verbose discussion of more politics. Stay tuned for results!


Monday, March 9, 2009

SUS Elections

I have been incredibly busy the past few weeks, but I do want to remind people to vote in the SUS elections. Voting is taking place on WebCT- so be sure to vote this week! I encourage you all to go to the SUS website and check out the candidates, what they have to say, and what their plans are for the next year. I would also encourage you to visit both the Spectator and the RBT to see their thoughts on the election. I will be posting more once my month of ridiculous busy-ness is over!

Also, I am currently looking for bloggers. I can't do it all by myself with 7 courses on my plate (pardon the pun), so if any of our readers are interested, please send me an email!