Does UBC need a VP Students?

Posted by: | June 15, 2007 | 6 Comments

Due to a hole in WordPress, this post’s author is misattributed. The follow was written by Tim Louman-Gardiner .

Disclaimer: I have some privileged information on subjects related to this one. But any information contained herein comes from some other source; nothing in here is confidential in any way.

Brian Sullivan has served as UBC’s Vice-President, Students (VPS) since 1999. His portfolio includes the registrar’s office, alumni, recruitment, student development, housing, athletics, student services, and managing the relationship between the University and its students. But consider the following:

1. The VP Students office has been completely re-organized. Specifically, the newly created position of Associate VP, Student Development has taken responsibility for many of the services and student development programs.

2. There’s no new direct report to the VPS.

3. UBC is the only Canadian university to have this position. Most Universities have a Vice-Provost, students, who reports to the VP Academic.

4. The newly-hired Provost is the former Vice-Provost at the UofT, with responsibility to students there.

5. Prof. Toope is creating a new VP position, to encompass development and alumni. This removes yet another portfolio item from the VPS portfolio.

Within a year, most of the existing VPS portfolio will be out of the office. It’s reasonable to assume that Professor Toope doesn’t see a VP Students as a necessary, important, or beneficial part of a University.

Is it? I’m of two minds. On one hand, it’s good to have a central place for students to go. And when there’s one person whose sole job is to ask “how will this affect students?” without having to worry about, say, the faculty association or any other stakeholder, then it can help create a student-centred environment. Finally, there’s increased communication and teamwork when all these disparate services are united under the common umbrella of “students.”

But at the same time, it’s symptomatic of a University in which “students” (by which I primarily mean undergraduates) are marginalized, to say the least. There’s something about the VPS portfolio that speaks to a ghettoization of the student interest. And it would be great if this University didn’t need one.

My guess? It’s safe to assume that, at this time next year, UBC won’t have a Vice-President, Students. Is that a good thing? I have no idea.


6 Comments so far

  1. Fire Hydrant on June 15, 2007 6:21 pm

    A couple things I can add:

    I think there’d be a perception that Martha needed such a position, but Stephen seems more student-friendly, and might not require it (perhaps he could absorb it himself). And, as mentioned, we’ve hired Toronto’s equivalent of Brian Sullivan.

    A number of the things that fall under Students are ancillaries, capable of setting their own budgets, managing themselves, controlling their own fees, and basically doing as they please without having to worry about intervention from above. Whether these need substantially more oversight or next to none (as now — does this require a VP?) would be a matter of opinion. One key responsibility of the current portfolio has been taking the flak for others’ decisions (e.g. large and arbitrary tuition increases). I don’t know where that could end up.

    I tend to view the current portfolio as a bit of a collection of leftovers, without much of a coherent theme (it isn’t alone in this regard — External and Legal Affairs is/was far worse). That doesn’t imply the solution is to eliminate it, but the position should be looked at.

  2. Bowinn on June 17, 2007 11:43 pm

    Oh wow.

  3. Gina Eom on June 18, 2007 4:07 am

    I agree with you on your second point, Timbits. Is the student portfolio not a key component of every aspect of the University’s portfolio, ranging from Research to Finance to Academics?

    “Ghettoization” is a good term to describe the offloading of student relevant matters (and I would argue, moreso undergraduate than graduate) to one VP compartment such that the rest of the VP’s duties are “cleared” of considerations to us.

    I propose one illustration: Wouldn’t it be more beneficial (and appropriate) for the VP Finance to conduct a tuition “consultation” to the AMS?

  4. Nathan on June 21, 2007 7:47 am

    The VP Students position is a way to “deal with students”. Since students are a major obstacle for the university, the position should be eliminated, from the perspective of students, if that could mean the elimination of conditions that make a VP students position necessary (i.e., conditions that make it acceptable for all VP’s not to be considered VP Students). The position can only be made obsolete by reforms to the university and University Act, which, is a demand that many students will begin to make in the coming year.

    I think the VP Students position is like the “indian agents” of our recent colonial past – members of the public service sent in to “deal with the indians”, and, of course to “represent them”. The Indian Agents were considered the foremost voice for the tribes, and their decisions always trumped those of band leaders. Good people always fought for the elimination of the position, and unfortunately it only changed to “Government Agent”, who continues in bad faith (the Musquaem were illegally deceived by their government agent, which, in fact, led to the famous Guerin V. The Queen decision).

    We should be unhappy with Brian Sullivan as our Indian Agent.

    I’m impressed, too, that Darren still considers the president to be “student-friendly”. Given the events of mid-May, that is a serious loyalty. I think the administration is very lucky that students are willing to be glad about their second rate position!

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  6. Maayan Kreitzman on June 26, 2007 8:21 pm

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