Insiders 3.0!

Posted by: | August 26, 2010 | 1 Comment

Here at Insiders central, if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s leaving old websites in our wake.

First there was Insiders 1.0. No joke, it was pretty awesome. It gave everyone a great outlet to talk about issues, occasionally flame each other, but most of all to learn about the issues of the day.

About a year ago, Insiders got some new editors and moved away from the dinosaur known as blogspot to these swanky new WordPress digs as part of UBC Blogs (back when it was a more exclusive club). It may have been slightly aesthetically lacking but the core was based on some really kick-ass stories.

This is one final post to announce the creation of, AKA “UBC Insiders 3.0” where we now live and have discovered the that using pictures is a good thing. We’re excited and hope you’ll continue to visit us there.

Universities are strapped for cash. Being debt-restricted by recession-paranoid governments, many schools are looking to alternative delivery models to meet the demand for housing stock across the country.

At the University of Toronto, housing stocks are low, and plans are underway to build a tower of a tower. Thirty-plus stories of student housing. Typically, more beds is met with much rejoice, but this is being met with caution. The plan is to have the tower managed privately, through a Public-Private Partnership, which involves the university relinquishing control over certain aspects of planning, management, and operation.

UBC faces a similar housing-crunch. While past UBC administrations have fought vehemently against the P3 model, advocating for its own UBC3 model (where the public partner is UBC, and the private partner is UBC), rumour has it that the current admin has been reassessing that stance to meet demands. (Sidenote: There’s great stories of Martha Piper shouting at senior ministerial staffers on this very issue. It worked.)

In light of numbers assessing the need for more dorms, the Campus Plan states UBC’s goal is to have 50% of its undergraduate population on campus. The Campus Plan does not answer how, and P3’s are the low-hanging fruit.

The Province will not likely be able to commit the money for the massive expansion. UBC had to exert considerable pressure on them for the debt needed to expand Totem Park by a few hundred beds. Image the The problem: Government doesn’t like having the million-dollar debt-loads on its books, when it won’t be seeing the black for some time, particularly given the recession. A P3 model gets around this problem. The debt isn’t carried by UBC, it’s on the back of hedge funds.

It’s still too early to see if this is a win for students. Private firms are concerned about one thing, their bottom line, while Universities are concerned about their reputation. Typically, private firms respond to demands because it effects their bottom line, but given the absurdly high the demand for student housing is, the inability for true low-/no-income rental competition in West Point Grey, and the simple appeal and added-value of being a student on campus, there’s plenty of opportunity for gouging.

And that gouging would fester in the regulation blackout of many campuses, UBC included. Educational institutions are given wide-range to run housing as they see fit, often exempted from the rules of the private market (see: 4b.) This is somewhat appropriate, because the bottom line matters less to Universities, who are more interested in providing a holistic, accommodating experience to their students (it is half of their business, after all.) For private firms, all that comes secondary to more profit, so students would need rent controls and other tenancy rights to protect their interests.

How these concerns are managed and negotiated at UofT will set the model for the rest of the country. At stake is how public our public institutions ought to be, and the role of universities in providing student life.

The AMS’s 2010-11 budget is coming up for approval tonight, and it’s something councilors should be looking at very closely, as there are some concerning things in there.

First of all, the format used makes it difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on sometimes. There are no actual totals from last year included, and lines that have been eliminated from the budget (Block Party, Equity and Diversity, Safety Coordinator, Policy Analyst) do not appear in the document to let you know that they did in fact exist in last year’s budget.

Going into the content, it’s important to know that this budgeting process has been ongoing for a while now. Back in March, council overwhelmingly supported the principle of eliminating the structural deficit. And this budget has met that goal: nothing is coming out of unreplenished funds (savings, essentially) to make it balance.

However, how they ended up there is not exactly how they said they’d do it in March. At the time, they played the doomsday card in order to undertake the cutting/restructuring of some AMS Services, Equity, and Safety. And it wasn’t just the services that would be cut; other parts of the AMS would suffer too. The preliminary budget presented in March summarized the major cuts as follows:

Change in Prelim Budget Description Change in Actual Budget
– 22,000 Contribution to UBC Ombuds Office – 22,000
– 15,000 Safety Office – 15,000
– 12,000 Equity and Diversity – 11,300
– 6,000 AMS Ombuds Office – $5,500
– 42,000 Exec Offices + 28,000
– 11,000 SAC – 11,000
+ 24,000 Committee Chairs + 26,000
– 7,000 FirstWeek – 15,000
– 7,000 Welcome Back BBQ – 9,000
– 7,000 Block Party – 38,000 (eliminated)

For the most part, they stuck to the targets, with two glaring exceptions. At the time, they still planned to hold Block Party, albeit with a reduced budget. Instead, they unceremoniously dumped the entire event.

And then there’s that line that goes from a fairly large red number on the left to a fairly large green number on the right: Exec Offices. Rather than trimming their budgets by $42,000 as promised, it actually increased by $28,000. Read more

First meeting in a month, but a relatively light agenda. Here’s a rundown of what’s coming up.


Strategic Plan – Bijan Ahmadian
Budget Committee – Elin Tayyar/Ben Cappellacci

Vague titles, but you can guess what sorts of things will be in them. The presentation arising from the Final Report on Systemic Discrimination in the AMS was slated to happen this month but is not. The reason given by Ekat is “BECAUSE WE ARE EVIL”. That may have been a joke answer, with the real reason being that they didn’t want to have too many presentations on the agenda. However, using “keeping the meeting short” as a reason to leave things off the agenda should really be considered a joke as well.

2010-2011 AMS Budget

“BE IT RESOLVED THAT the 2010/2011 AMS Budget be accepted as presented.”

Dear Councilors: please scrutinize this budget in depth. If you have not read the budget in detail, abstain from voting on it. Voting on things you haven’t read through fails pretty much everyone. Read more

It’s been a bit quiet around Insiders lately: writing long posts take work, and we’d rather be enjoying the sunshine. But that doesn’t mean things have stopped happening. Make sure to check out AMS Confidential’s News for N00bs for the latest news (and lulz!); rather than overlap, we’ll come up with our own alliterative title and report even hackier things for you. Without further ado… Read more

There seems to be a common assumption many students, media, and parents hold. It’s an assumption that’s flat out wrong, and only those who don’t understand how academic institutions work hold it. It runs wild in the media, in parents’ minds, and is abused by many for cheap political gain.

That assumption: that a grade percent, standing on its own, means something.

The Vancouver Sun recently posted an article entitled “Want to go to UBC? You’ll need an A average”. In the article, UBC’s associate director of enrolment states “I wouldn’t have got in with my grades 20 years ago, but if 20 years ago the cutoffs had been what they are now, I would’ve worked harder and I would’ve got in.” He’s assuming that higher admission grades means one has to work harder to be admitted.

Now, I’m not sure if Arida is deliberately giving the Sun what they want to hear here, but he’s not being exactly truthful. Fact of the matter is, your grade percentage is irrelevant. What does matter is where you fall compared to your peers.

UBC tries to admit the best students it can. The province tells UBC how many domestic students it has to admit. So, UBC takes in as many applications as it can, sorts them from best to worst, and takes as many as they can.*

That’s it. A cutoff average is just UBC’s estimate to get a desired class size. It’s not some magical metric of difficulty of transferring to UBC from high school. That metric is the percentage of students admitted from the applicant pool. Counter to the picture the Sun paints, the trend in BC has been more students being admitted to university, and less students graduating from high school.

Our high schools have bumped the curve to the right, while provincial policy has shifted the z-score to the left. Despite students now needing 6 more percentage points, it’s actually easier to get in. That’s the fallacy of absolute grading.

* This is a simplified model. UBC takes in the applications and modifies them according to broad based admissions, province of origin (Alberta students get a boost), and other considerations. With international enrolment UBC is free to do whatever.

Just a quick post to let everyone know the 2010 congregation ceremonies are taking place this week. Yesterday, English, Econ and other small arts programs crossed the stage. Today it’s more of the same, including Poli Sci, Law and Education.

Telestudios airs a live stream of the ceremonies, unfortunately using Microsoft proprietary platforms (.asx and Silverlight). If anyone knows how to get those working on a reasonable platform leave a note in the comments thread. I tried to get a capture stream running in VLC, but failed.

On a more personal note, I’ll be crossing on Monday at 1:30pm. Tune in for what hopes to be a spectacular student speech by my former boss, Michael Duncan (no pressure), and come meet up with us for photos after the ceremony’s over!

Coming to the Board of Governors in early June is a new set of Parking Rules for UBC. According to the document, the reasons they are looking to enact new rules are:

(a) revise UBC’s traffic and parking regime so that it interlocks with the new legislative framework;
(b) update and streamline the existing traffic and parking rules, which have been overtaken in many instances by changing technology, management practices and by the evolving character of the Point Grey campus;
(c) establish a uniform traffic and parking system for UBC and UBC Okanagan; and
(d) add flexibility in order to meet future changes

Someone who regularly drives to and parks a car on campus might now be interested to hear what changes are in store for them. In response, UBC would like you to stop paying attention, because this process is not a big deal and should be entirely uncontroversial because it’s simply formalizing current practice.

It is unlikely that the users of parking services at either UBC Okanagan or UBC Vancouver will even realize that the Proposed Rules have been adopted unless they take the time to read and compare them with the existing rules.

In fairness, that’s largely accurate: the new parking regulations are indeed mostly a restatement, in better legalese, of UBC Parking’s current parking regulations.

That’s the problem. Read more

UBC Insiders Reader Feedback Survey!

Posted by: | May 17, 2010 | Comments Off on UBC Insiders Reader Feedback Survey!

Last September UBC Insiders had a bit of a rejuvenation with a new website, new staff, and new ethos. At the time, we weren’t sure how it would work out, and we’re still not: that’s why we want to know what you think. Please let us know how we’re doing by filling out the survey below.

On a more personal level, this past year has brought out the highs (digging into some really interesting stories; seeing change as a result of things that have been written) and lows (endless meetings; being worked to the point of exhaustion during AMS Elections) of working on a blog like this but it’s always been rewarding and worthwhile. Thank you for reading.

Lougheed note: A huge thanks to all those who have offered support during this venture. This was definitely my proudest side-project this year, and it couldn’t have happened without the constant feedback, positive or negative. In particular, I’d like to offer a huge thanks to Neal, whose cunning, acumen and persistence kept me going even when there was no midnight oil left to burn.

Policy 116: Coca-Cola and the Freedom of UBC’s Information

Posted by: | May 10, 2010 | Comments Off on Policy 116: Coca-Cola and the Freedom of UBC’s Information

Back in January, UBC Insiders broke a story about email voting by the Board of Governors. At the time, we intended to actually go into the board policies that were involved. Life and AMS elections got in the way.

Hubert Lai, University Counsel (ie. UBC’s lawyer), gave an interview about Policy 116: Commercial Agreements Initiated by External Affairs and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, where he explained what the policy was and why it was repealed. Most of all, he repeatedly played down the importance of the repealing of this policy, saying it was obsolete and should have been taken off the books years ago.
Read more

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