The Henry Angus Tuition Fee

Posted by: | March 10, 2010 | 10 Comments

Commerce students are before the ballot now. There are some good backgrounders out there. We scrapped ours because frankly, it was too dry. The important lessons coming from the history are:

1. The rhetoric behind accreditation grew stronger with time. At first it was not being mentioned, then there were short references, now there’s direct citations from documents no one’s seen.

2. Fun accounting tricks took place. The development was “phased” and then a lot of the project was shifted into Phase 1 slowly in what is most likely an attempt to maximize funds from the first CUS referendum. This includes things that didn’t need to be there, like A/V.

3. Phase 2, in a sense, has to happen. If only Phase 1 occurs, its costs go up because building code and seismic improvements are in Phase 2. When you’re tearing down walls to upgrade to code, you may as well save money and make those walls pretty. It would be really stupid to not do Phase 2.

The fact that ‘phasing’ is irrelevant if you have to do both is beside the point. What’s important to note from the history is that there is this financial model that was created by the administration, and they’re relying on the inflexibility they built in to get a desired outcome. It’s like arguing “we shouldn’t stop the train, because I deliberately broke the breaks.”

This piece goes into the nature of tuition and student fee accounting, what’s wrong with this question, and the bad precedents it is setting.

Student Fees Are Not Tuition; This Is

Tuition is a highly politicized issue in Canada. The reason for this is that optically, it’s a big lever on determining who can and cannot attend university. Canadians widely believe that the basis of admissions should be based on merit, and political parties differ on how to make it as such. To achieve a more meritocratic university, and simply because there’s so much public investment, government keeps a firm grasp on the lever.

Main Image

The upcoming CUS fee is best accounted for as a tuition increase. Historically, the only financial onus on the student body is tuition, which goes towards recurring costs like salaries. Buildings are typically constructed from some combination of government grants (provincial and federal), UBC investment (endowment funding and donation-matching), and private investment (individuals and corporations). Students have never contributed. This is deliberate, as students contribute their share through tuition, and it’s the job of government and the University to come up with the finances for buildings. The government is clear with this.

Student societies, such as the AMS, exist to represent and service the student body in ways the University cannot. Needing some way to finance their operations, the law states they can levy fees off the student body via referendum. AMS fees fund services like the Advocacy Office, pay for renovations to the Student Union Building, and fund the salary of the AMS executive.

Student fees have also funded buildings in the past. The AMS has a legacy of building student facilities on campus, such as the Aquatic Centre and SUBs past and present. Recently, undergrad societies have taken up the idea of building their own quarters as well. The Meekison Arts Student Space, Abdul Ladha Science Student Centre, and prospective EUS Building are all examples of constituencies taking after the AMS and constructing their own student facilities. Each of these facilities share a common principled link, and it’s because of those principles that students contribute to them. It boils down to a matter of purpose and control.

Students build buildings to ameliorate the student experience in a way the University cannot. For instance, students wanted a place to swim on campus, so they paid for a pool. Students wanted a sanctuary from academia, so they built a SUB. Engineering students wanted somewhere close for social activities that isn’t a dilapidated shack, so they’re building the EUS Building. In each case, students identified something lacking, and drafted a plan to get it done.

And because students created the idea, they control it. For instance, the AMS ran the Aquatic Centre up until about 3 or so years ago. The highest managerial body had over 50% student representation on it, and as a result, when the Centre’s management tried to close the weight room, students objected, and the weight room remains open today. The SUB is run by the AMS through a lease agreement with UBC. Students decide what goes out and what goes in. MASS and Ladha are run by the AUS and SUS respectively, and the EUS Building will be run by the EUS—or the EUS won’t build it.

Angus Doesn’t Fit the Model

What’s happening down Main Mall breaks this model. The first time this question was asked, it was deemed Dean-initiated. Why? Because the fee was, and continues to be, Dean Dan’s idea. There is no student vision, no student push, and no student reflection in this fee at all. It’s the same fee that was launched last time, which came from the Dean. And it makes sense for the push to be coming from the faculty’s chief academic officer, as this is chiefly an academic fee.

Since it didn’t come from them, the CUS has no control once this vote is passed. My reading of the question is even such that if the CUS tried to exercise control, they would be at fault and liable to UBC. The only ‘get’ the CUS has here is a single seat on an advisory board, which they already have a seat on. Hilariously, the CUS has wanted something in the new building for some time, but the faculty denied them. Why they’re not saying “we’ll give you millions of dollars, if you at least give us this thing we wanted,” shows a misunderstanding of how to leverage your capital.

Lastly, this is clearly something the University would do without students. The University has an inherent interest in building and maintaining classrooms and offices—it needs them to perform the most basic operations of a university. If they don’t, people get rightfully fired for not doing their job.

Three Bad Precedents

This fee, once it passes, sets three bad precedents which span beyond the walls of the commerce faculty, and begin to create the case for intervention by other faculties and the AMS. There’s a managerial precedent, a political one and a foundational one.

Management-wise, passing this fee amounts to a bailout of ambitious, irresponsible financial planning. The only reason the financial plan got the go-ahead from the Board of Governors is because they were given the confidence that the Dean’s original plebiscite would get provincial approval. Well the province said no, but walls were already being knocked over, so UBC bailed out the project by providing a loan off the backs of everyone. (A note: the people most pissed about that? The other deans, who would never be able to do that if due process is followed.) After such a failure, any reasonable project manager would scale back plans, until new sources of revenues come up. That didn’t happen. In fact, planning became more ambitious as time went on, and alternative revenues were not secured. The reason? Dan assumed he could ask again, this time with his ducks in line, while assuming the CUS would support him and that it would pass. Well, when Dan went to the CUS and said “you need to do this, because I’ve been expecting you will,” they turned around and said, “but of course,” and started down the road of a bailout—a terrible precedent.

minFrom the Government to UVic, with love. Feb 2010.

Politically, this serves as precedent in favour of privatization. If you’re against privatization, you should oppose this, as government and UBC will use it as evidence that students are willing to contribute more money in realms government once did.

The last precedent is easily the most dangerous. This skirts the provincial authority on tuition fees through a legal back door. Using the back door removes the public oversight of the tuition debate. A country that’s founded on principles of equal access to education, and that also firmly believes in a meritocratic educational system, needs to maintain a grasp on the tuition lever irrespective of the direction it goes. To allow a private back door in which this very important public policy issue can be decided avoids the public discourse that’s needed to maintain good government in this country. A Canada based solely on peace and order is not the Canada we know and love.


This fee will pass. The student leadership in Commerce is doe-eyed, and the dean and other faculty members are actively campaigning for it. The Faculty cares so much they even threw up their own “concerned students’ FAQ“, successfully alienating the students within their faculty who are critical of the administration. It’s at the point that even Associate Professors have publicly expressed disappointment in students.

commerceassociateprofessorRead the thread for full interactions.

There is still hope though. Although the referendum will pass, the fee might not. There’s hope that government could rightfully rule it as tuition. The only reason the government said no at UVic though is because there was a group of students who rose up to let government know their thoughts. Will this be the case at UBC?

Note: the images in this post are from the renovations already completed.


10 Comments so far

  1. Alex Lougheed on March 10, 2010 5:14 pm

    You need not look farther than the comments of two donors to the renovations about the importance of students not being on the hook here.

    Irfhan Rawji, BComm 2000.

    John Williams, BComm 1958.

  2. TLG on March 10, 2010 5:33 pm

    Good post. That’s the real issue here – the backdoor tuition hike.

    Three points I’d add.

    1) The principle behind “students pay tuition, government/universities pay buildings” is sound. Students’ time is transient; they pay transient expenses. Buildings that outlast any cohort of students are permanent and paid by the permanent tenants/beneficiaries.

    2) Yet another dangerous element to the precedent (in addition to those mentioned herein) is that this threatens to increase the ever-growing gap between have and have-not faculties. There are demographers and stats geeks who can make this point better than I.

    3) Finally, let’s dispense with the “we need a nice building so the world respects us” crap. I went to law school in a universally recognized dump of a building. That didn’t devalue my degree. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of the legal community and, quite frankly, to the faculty as well, in that it suggests that they are incapable of rising above the limitations of the physical plant.

    3a) By the way, law’s getting a new building. Why? Because the law community recognized that it was about damn time, and ponied up millions over millions of dollars. Strangely, the business community has declined to do the same. What does that say about the reputational argument?

  3. Jeff on March 10, 2010 6:45 pm

    Great article Alex. You hit all the issues. Hell, imo, you should be providing the debate for the no vote.

    Regardless of such, great article. I vote tomorrow, and I’m so torn behind the decision.

  4. Jason on March 10, 2010 7:34 pm

    I’m curious as to what you think about the point raised at the bottom of page 5 here:

    Basically they’re admitting that other business schools did not levy direct student fees due to provincial grants, but they also argue that those schools have higher tuition which makes up for the lack of an explicit fee.

    As far as I know, no school has had to raise tuition as a direct result of a new building. That was not the case in recent examples such as Queen’s, Ivey, and Rotman.

  5. Annon on March 10, 2010 10:24 pm

    Interestingly, there are Tax Implications to the new proposal. Under the Dean’s original proposal, the “Building Fee” was going to be structured to be tax efficient, which likly would have made it as a tax credit for education.

    Under the new referendum the fee will be strictly a “Student Association Fee” which H&R Block says is not eligible to claim as a credit.

    Under the ITA Donations must be voluntary, and so one cannot consider this to be a “donation” and so again no credit.

    This works out to about $410 ($300 + $110)which would have been available in credits.

    We can all play accounting games…

  6. TLG on March 10, 2010 11:12 pm

    @Jason – That last paragraph is pretty much a lie. It’s not as though it’s one giant pot that all money, including tuition, goes in to, and all expenses, including capital costs, come out.

    Capital costs are, and have always been, treated differently from tuition. Though I’m over-simplifying the extent to which they are in siloes, the paragraph you referenced is at best ignorant and at worst an outright lie.

    Maybe I’m just bitter. Let’s face facts – there’s nothing about a commerce degree that justifies a more fancy learning environment than, say, an arts degree. Nothing. Underlying this whole affair appears to be an underlying notion that a commerce degree is in some way special such that it requires a cutting-edge classroom. That’s a crock. Commerce students deserve leading-edge facilities just as much as every other student deserves leading-edge facilities; students in other faculties just haven’t been brainwashed into thinking there’s a high-paying glamorous job for them on the other side.

  7. Alex Lougheed on March 11, 2010 1:27 am

    Now the Faculty has offered their own FAQ.

    If this was an actual student fee, the Faculty would have minimal interest in its outcome. Posting their own, independent FAQ, addressed to ‘concerned students’? Please.

    @Jason, TLG summarized well why that point contains “clearly faulty logic”. The opposition is coming from that the University is pushing to increase the overall cost of a degree to students, by manipulating some students and using a hole in the law.

    Also, there’s still a gaggle of issues surrounding referendum procedure.

    It would be foolish to acknowledge these precedents. I would highly advise anyone in Commerce to vote no on the fee, and let your renovations come off the back of all UBC students (myself included). I would much rather mismanagement be addressed as mismanagement and legal loopholes that undermine a well-functioning democracy not be acknowledged as legitimate.

  8. ~*~Sexy Brunette~*~ on March 11, 2010 1:28 am

    Props, yo.

  9. Tom Dvorak on March 11, 2010 1:49 am

    Alex, you of all people should know that this is not setting a precedent. In January of 2009, you personally moved a motion at AMS Council to approve a $300 increase in Architecture student fees. This fee increase was going to be transferred to the school to cover a deficit in the faculty’s IT budget, as well as to “create a buffer for the future” (See item #10:

    Even before that, the original $266 CUS fee was put in place to fund career services, as well as pay for computer labs in Henry Angus. Since then, the school has seen more resources become available and has been able to take on much of that responsibility as it rightfully should. The CUS still contributes to the Business Career Centre, however now it is based on performance for getting students jobs (this year it’s ~$58 per student; a far cry from the full funding that the CUS used to contribute).

    I would hope to see the same happen in the future with the fee currently being considered. As University resources become available in the future, the school will step up to contribute heavily to this initiative like it has in the past.

  10. Alex Lougheed on March 11, 2010 2:04 am

    @Tom You of all people should know that such a motion was moved by me because the VP Academic has the responsibility to ensure the AMS’s very rudimentary electoral checks go through. In retrospect, I regret not keeping a higher standard of political scrutiny on whether or not they should have been voting on their fee. I do recall some of my sharper colleagues at the time voted against that motion.

    I think these votes /have/ set a precedent. You’ll note that you’re quoting precedent I established as a reason that I should be ok with it. Precedents are tricky like that.

    You’ll also notice the University is becoming more and more interested in pursuing this option. Round 2 for Sauder, round 1 for architecture, and in those same minutes, you’ll note Clare Benton mentioning the possibility of a $1000 student fee for the new law building. Same thing at UVic, but the Ministry seems to be catching on… All of this within the past two years, and before then, hardly any examples? It seems like there’s a rush to get through the hole before government patches it up.

    What concerned students /can/ do is help government patch it up.

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