Allie Slemon, a fifth year English student at the University of British Columbia, was surprised to find a strongly worded email from President Stephen Toope in her inbox.
Toope warned of Metro Vancouver’s proposal to regulate academic lands on the Vancouver campus. He said this would be “devastating” to academic freedom and could put a “choke hold” on the university’s future.
Currently, Greater Vancouver’s governing body, known as Metro Vancouver, has the power to regulate family housing property on campus while UBC maintains control over its academic lands.
In November, the city proposed to extend its power to include academic and non-residential buildings through a contentious new zoning bylaw.
The university administration sees this as an invasive threat, while the city maintains it is an overdue update.
Rezoning would change decision-making at the university’s highest levels. But students interviewed said they feel disconnected from the debate surrounding Metro Vancouver’s technical and lengthy proposal, especially if they aren’t already engaged in campus politics.
Toope’s passionate email was not the ideal primer for Slemon.
“In universities we’re taught to read and think critically and to receive this email from the president was kind of an affront to that,” she said. She would have preferred to receive unbiased information that would let her form her own opinion.
Changing face of UBC
Metro Vancouver argues that UBC cannot continue as the sole and unelected supervisor of the use of its academic lands.
“Let me put it in clear terms: we’re not prepared to continue with the status quo,” said Derek Corrigan, the mayor of Burnaby, on behalf of Metro Vancouver.
He argued that the way UBC is run leaves the city in a situation where they are “responsible for things [they’re] not actually in control of.”
“When you chose to have 6000 people living in the neighbourhood, UBC changed, and you have to accept the reality of that,” said Corrigan, addressing UBC administrators at a recent meeting.
The city’s rezoning proposals closely follow the October release of the final draft of the UBC Vancouver Campus plan, which will effectively guide development and decision-making on UBC’s academic lands for the next decade and beyond.
The Ubyssey, the official student paper, has been covering the re-zoning issue since Metro Vancouver first announced its intentions.
It published four big articles in the paper, including a full-colour front page story complete with an eye-catching robot.
Still, news editor Samantha Jung admits the paper has had next to no response, especially from students who do not have official ties to organized groups.
The timing of the rezoning row is awkward. As well as cramming for exams, most students are preoccupied with the plight of a different president at UBC.
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