Bigger is better?

Posted by: | April 4, 2007 | 12 Comments

I’m very loyal to Arts. But people tend to respond defensively when I criticize, so I’m forced to preface this by saying “please don’t respond defensively.”

In their most recent elections, the AUS had 400 voters. SUS? 1400. Which is quite the difference. But it’s even more stark if you realize for a second that Arts is more than twice the size of Science. Now I know voter turnout is a pretty poor measure of engagement. And might be explained by other factors, like online voting in SUS, and campaign differences, on which I’d rather not dwell. But I think it’s relatively clear that, on-campus, Science students are more engaged with their student society than are Arts ones.

This makes me sad. To be sure, there are probably reasons related to the management of the undergrad societies, but those are almost certain to provoke the defensive responses that make me cry myself to sleep at night (or not). So let’s focus on the systemic reasons this could be the case:

  1. Faculty size. Arts is huge. Science less so. It’s a very de-centralized faculty, and there is little shared affinity between people in various programs of study. By contrast, Science is at least smaller, there are more common classes (in early years) and, most importantly, there’s a sense that being “in Science” means something that being “in Arts” doesn’t. What’s the solution? Perhaps leveraging AUS council and contacts to work to develop affinities at the deparemental level, and complete the circle by ensuring that there’s some way the departments come back to Arts at the end of the day.
  2. Physical space. I’ve mentioned this before, but the new Ladha centre is far superior to MASS. MASS is designed in such a way as to place the AUS at the centre whilst relegating students to the periphery, while Ladha, even though it houses SUS offices (which are smaller than those for the AUS), is far more student-friendly. It’s also important to note that spaces like the war room and other ones in MASS aren’t used as much by students as the Ladha ones. No idea why. (The AUS ought to also consider learning from SUS which has managed to leverage its fantastic new space… it’s become a hub for all sorts of student-friendly activities.)
  3. Arts County Fair. Ask any AUSer what they’re doing this time of year, and they say “Fair.” Cuz they are. It consumes the AUS for a good chunk of the year. While I love ACF, I can’t help but wonder if this is a service that the AUS ought to invest to much of its time and energy. (I should first note that time and energy are necessarily a zero sum game – if someone is spending time on A, then that is less time they can be spending on B and C.) What’s the return to Arts students for the fair? They get no additional benefit. Hell, they don’t even get a discount on admission. It’s an Arts event in name only. Which I’m fine with, but it clearly comes at the cost of other engagement. Moreover, there exists a perception that “all the AUS does is ACF.” While I’ll be the first to say that’s not the case, that perception can quite readily alienate the thousands of Arts students who don’t attend the fair. I’m all for ACF, and it’s a valuable campus service, but we can’t disregard the cost.
  4. Snobbery. Arts students have an inferiority complex that makes me sad. There’s the “would you like fries with that” stigma that surrounds an Arts degree, and I suspect it contributes to a drop in affinity.

I’m sure there’s more, but I’m late for real estate transactions. But I’m curious as to thoughts. It’s an uphill battle in Arts, and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. I’m also at a loss for solutions. Any thoughts?


12 Comments so far

  1. Gerald on April 4, 2007 2:55 am

    “Ask any AUSer what they’re doing this time of year, and they say “Fair.” Cuz they are. It consumes the AUS for a good chunk of the year. “

    That’s a shitty excuse on your AUSer’s part; I can think of maybe four people on ACF staff who would be consumed with ACF to such a large extent that they wouldn’t be fulfilling their AUS duties, and two of them manage it anyway and the other two don’t have AUS duties to deal with.
    There’s also more of a divide between ACF and AUS, since we opened up and allowed anyone to volunteer (not that it wasn’t the case before, it just wasn’t advertised) and as a result there are more people doing ACF work that aren’t doing AUS work, thus allowing those who are doing AUS work to do more of it.

    In short, AUS=! ACF.

  2. Gerald on April 4, 2007 3:00 am

    oh, also: the Glass Donut is a terrible design, and from talking to people as far back as Christina Tinson (AUS President, 2000-01) who worked on the MASS project, there were numerous attempts made to change the design so that were rebuffed by Michael Kingsmill; if I remember right, there was one suggestion that basically moved the center office complex off to one side, and there was one that changed door placement to the sides rather than the ends.

    In addition, the doors were originally intended to be sliding doors, so people didn’t have such a rough time getting into the office, but that was also changed.

  3. Stephanie Ryan on April 4, 2007 3:29 am

    I agree with Gerald; we’ll do as much this year as we can to mitigate the Donut design (we thought about opening up the East and South sides for more meeting room space, but that’s fairly unfeasible all things considered).

  4. Emily on April 4, 2007 7:41 am

    1) Faculty-size: NAILED it. It’s just the way people work. The larger the group the harder it is to create a sense of ‘brotherhood’. For example, I’m a double major in English and Creative Writing and our student community is WAY more tight-knit (in CRWR) based on the fact their are about only 15 new undergrads admitted a year. I have NEVER heard a thing about the English Students Society in our classes, or seen fliers about meetings, other than knowing a couple of them put together UPROOTED somewhere in BuTo. Believe me, I’ve looked, I’ve tried to find them. Reason why? English is HUGE.
    2) MASS: Ding Ding, you win.
    3) ACF: Agreeing with my boy Gerald on that one.
    4) Snobbery: I definetly have friends that don’t tell people they are getting an Arts degree right off, because of this right there, so clearly they aren’t going to join something like AUS or even take ANY interest in it. Also, I think groups like Engineers, Commerce and Science instill such a sense of community based on this concept too. I remember being at Imagine and watching the sea of purple drifting across main mall and the pockets of blue and red, running in between shouting how much we suck and will never make money. We in Arts have learned to be self-depricating, but sometimes we go a little too far, develop a self-image problem and drink a little too much to numb the pain. BTW…


  5. Tim Louman-Gardiner on April 4, 2007 7:56 am

    Gerald and Emily,

    I recall, not too long ago, when AUS Council was stocked with departmental club reps, who only sent a rep because they wanted AUS money, and the AUS only gave them money if they cleaned up after ACF.

    If that’s the case, it suggests a bit of a group tunnel vision. I’m not suggesting AUS=ACF, but when all the elections ballot boxes are marked with ACF pimping, when all the “why should we vote?” explanations include ACF, as does almost every campaign poster, there’s definitely a perception issue that just might need to be looked at.

  6. Anonymous on April 4, 2007 9:01 am

    Eet eez because we study too much philosophy und political science to feel that student elections are anything but a bunch of hacks.

    To be serious though, right on with the MASS.

  7. Anonymous on April 4, 2007 11:37 pm

    I have to agree with the ACF = AUS thing. Just look at the cast list of who’s got what job at the fair.
    It reads like a roll-call for AUS council. Hell, even people that haven’t lifted a finger for the fair thus far get slotted in.
    It seems to have really turned into a glass doughnut. Those in the center get the nice posting by virtue of AUSness/friendship/time spent playing Nintedo (in that order of priority) those outside get shafted.

  8. Gerald on April 6, 2007 12:26 am

    you wouldn’t have seen the list of ACF day-of jobs unless you were on staff – why won’t you sign your post?

    In any case, more than half of the ACF Exec aren’t on council (and this is before turnover), and those that are were chosen based on their performance and interest in previous years, not because they play Nintendo or drink with us or were elected. The only position on the ACF Exec tied to one on the AUS is Campus Relations, which goes to the President. Heck, one of the exec isn’t in Arts at all.

    “Hell, even people that haven’t lifted a finger for the fair thus far get slotted in.

    It seems to have really turned into a glass doughnut. Those in the center get the nice posting by virtue of AUSness/friendship/time spent playing Nintedo (in that order of priority) those outside get shafted.”

    Tyler and I wrote the day-of list, using the recommendations of the other exec, people’s listed preferences, previous experience, and everything we’d learned by working with and watching people – if you’re unhappy with your posting come talk to us and we’ll work it out; so far I’ve heard from exactly three people (out of roughly fifty) who weren’t happy with what they wanted and all three were put somewhere else where they’d be happier.
    Seeing as you got the email, you clearly have the contact list and would know how to get in touch with us, so drop me a line. I understand you’re frustrated with what’s happened and I’d like to work it out.

    Gerald Deo
    Communications Director
    Arts County Fair 16.

  9. angela on April 6, 2007 5:34 am

    I’m all for ACF, and it’s a valuable campus service, but we can’t disregard the cost.

    sorry. to your average artsie/internet troll, acf *is* the only thing that even gets the aus anything remotely approaching street cred. its not a bad event – after a few beers, sam roberts can sound like [insert whatever you think youd rather be listening to besides the musical wing of the ndp here]. plus, all your mates are there and its just a grand ole effing time. id be fine with council investing a lot into it.

    the only major problem i have with acf is that the performers are routinely assaulted by concert-goers. it makes me really embarassed to be a ubc student.

    also, anon. is right about the weak ass use of mass. i have spoken about this many times. they have a lot of shit crammed into their donut hole. ha, that sounds dirty. anyway, the place is a mess. the war rooms are equally cluttered.

    playing nintendo surrounded by your own filth is perfectly fine in rez, but its an abuse of mass.

    if any over-sensitive ausers read this, id like to remind you that as politicians/representatives, you *are* at the mercy of the internet trolls/journalists/cranky voters. it’s part of democracy. now, you can either brush off my cranky suburban votertude, respond diplomatically, or pull a big whiny stephen harper style baby fit… no names mentioned.

  10. Emily on April 6, 2007 7:08 am

    Angela, I know what you mean about not exactly being proud of your fellow students when they start turning any object in to a projectile and hurling it at the stage. You have to consider 2 things:

    1) Large scale festival concerts ANYWHERE in the world will have some of this going on at some point during the day. Obviously, the less shit thrown at a rockstar (no matter how much they might deserve it) the better. But it’s something that has come a fact of life in the ‘rock and roll biz’. (While stagehanding Cold Fusion in the SUB Ballroom this year I took a bottle of Grey Goose to the head. It was fantastic- but empty and that was sad.)
    2) Diversions. Drunk people are like toddlers and puppies- you must keep them busy or else they will shit on your television and chew on your shoes. One of the greatest things ACF has EVER done is bring DJ My Gay Husband out between sets to spin. Instead of getting bored and creating their own fun (throwing shit at stage), drunk people hear phat beats and magically move to the music and become occupied. If anyone saw between sets last year the mosh pit routinely turned into a dance club as soon as My Gay came out. With any luck, he’ll make you all wanna shake what your momma gave you again this year.

  11. Michael on April 9, 2007 2:59 am

    And as a candidate in an election, it’s probably diplomatic to not see criticism of yourself as a baby fit. But that’s just a suggestion, Angela.

  12. Mike on April 16, 2007 1:35 am

    So, I am procrastinating and thought that it would be a good opportunity to add my own post.

    1) First of all, I don’t think size really affects the difference between arts and science. Yes, arts has 11000 students, but science has 7000. Well I do agree that size affects how you are able to communicate with your society, I think that both faculties have the same problems to pretty much the same amount in relation to size.

    The reason science was able to muster up such a large voter turn-out was due to 3 reasons:
    a) WebCT: every science student has to learn to love webct as most courses use it. SUS was lucky enough to be able to use this program to facilitate the elections.
    b) Competition: there were at least 3 positions this past election that had 4 competitors. Many more with 3. The candidates HAD to campaign really hard if they wanted to win. More campaigning = more promotions.
    c) Ladha Centre: SUS finally has a large building to hold their society. Not only this, the building is in a PRIME location. Regular students are starting to realize what SUS is and what SUS does.

    I still agree that SUS has less apathy than AUS, but I think there were other factors involved in the election turnout.

    2) Regarding the effective use of the building I have one thing to say. Hiring a building manager was the best thing that SUS could have ever done to deal with the building. James Zhou (sus building manager) has been able to effectively book out the Ladha Centre and to deal with all the problems that arise for it. Maybe this is something the AUS could try.

    3) SUS has been consistently working on improving their relations with students, science clubs, and other campus groups. We are really focused on this and I am really glad that you have seen our efforts Tim. We still have a long way to go, but I believe we are on the right track.

    That being said, I would love it if SUS had a sweet party like ACF to call its own. Don’t get me wrong, cold fusion is amazing, but it just doesn’t compare to ACF. If I were an artsy I know I would be proud of ACF. I think, however, there might be more the AUS could do to ensure that ACF focused on benefiting arts students more.

    4) I doubt there is anything that can be done regarding a certain amount of the apathy. Most science students are in science because they love, or at least enjoy science. Many arts students plan on going on to other things after their arts degree (or transferring into a different faculty after their first year). That is the basis of why their is a difference in pride in the two faculties. It is unfortunate, but it is a reality. Look at commerce or engineering. These students are in those faculties to stay. They are in there because that is what they want to do when they graduate and that gives them much more pride than either science or arts.

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