Saturday, December 1, 2018

Is there any good reason for tuition fees?

I suppose it depends upon one’s perspective.  University administrators have long argued that, due to the inadequacies of government funding, there is no choice but to charge tuition fees. These administrators have phrase their support of fees and fee increases as a reluctant necessity of life; something that any reasonable person would understand. But there is something more important that tuition fees allow these same administrators: it allows them a form of flexibility that they would not have if they relied directly upon government funding.  This fiscal flexibility is, it would seem, the more fundamental reason that administrators have long supported tuition fees. With regular increases.

Tuition fees are not the only non-government funding that university administrators seek out. Large dollar donors are also high the list of admin wants. The plus 5 - that is, more than 5 million dollar donor- is especially valued. Donors, rather like governments (but without the political oversight) come with wishes and desires. They have their own pet projects and their own vanity that requires being assuaged.  Donors create a climate in which the university can both break free from a democratic government’s policy framework and create a culture of venerating people for their wealth, not their merit.  But this takes us away from the question, “is there any good reason for tuition fees?”

There must be other, better, reasons for tuition beyond simply making up for a lack of government funding.  

There is the market idea that a student is purchasing a commodity - an educational certificate and the accompanying experience. This argument translates education into a transaction between the university as vendor and the student as client mediated by a cash for certificate exchange.  If we were to follow this Milton Friedmanesque logic to it’s end tuition should be allowed to float to the level the market can bear. Advocates of this argument say criticism of tuition is misplaced. They argue that by allowing tuition to rise to it’s appropriate market price a social decision can be made to allocate some of the surplus toward funding meritorious students who lack their own resources. The contemporary variant of this argument says that this way diversity can encouraged (wherein they assume people of colour more likely to be impoverished than the supposedly non-diverse white student). This view combines a paternalizing idea of charity with market moralism - that is those with more deserve more, the unfortunate bright student should be helped up so that they might also become a ‘success’ and join the ranks of the deserving wealthy.

While the Freidmanesque view provides the underlying logic of tuition fees, in actual practice fees have long been tied to a mid-range compromise between market ideals and social expectations.  That is, tying a belief that a student (as a user or consumer) is obligated to pay some portion of their education to the expectation that post secondary should be reasonably accessible to any citizen. This is what justifies holding fees for a category of insider lower than for a category of outsider. This is what justifies the current NDP governments waiving of fees for youth who were wards of the state.  But is this pragmatic balance between a users obligation to contribute with a societies expectation of accessibility really a good reason for keeping tuition fees?  What is the principle that we, as a society, demonstrate in this model of paying for post secondary education?

Contemporary society, more than at any time in the past, expects productive members of society to have some degree of post secondary education. Rare is the job that does not require a certificate or degree be it trades, technical, academic, or professional.  We live within a certificated society and our transforming workforce requires highly educated participants.  Is there not a societal obligation and responsibility to provide our youth and young adults with the appropriate educational background in a way that will not beggar them? I think there is. 

It’s time that we simply abolish tuition fees across the post secondary sector.  Our university leadership can play an important role in facilitating this transformation. They are the ones -from BCIT to Emily Carr to UBC- who have been loudly announcing the benefit, the need for a highly educated workforce ready to move bravely into a new wave of economic transformations.  Post secondary education is now, more than even a necessity.  We no longer expect people to pay for public K-12 education. That argument was settled long ago when it became clear that a high school education was a requirement for an effective labour force; today the first level of post secondary is ever bit as necessary as high school graduation was for our parents.

I will be doing my part of December 4th by voting against tuition increases at UBC. I will also be advocating that our Board of Governors and our university’s president, Santa Ono, explicitly, publicly, and loudly, calls on the government to begin the process of abolishing tuition fees across our post secondary system.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The BoG's Housing Working Group

Recently UBC's Board of Governors set up a working group to develop housing strategies to provide some solutions.  After it was set up several months ago everything seemed to go silent.  As of this post neither of the two UBC-V elected faculty governors are on the housing working group. So I wrote to ask the BoG Chair where things were at on that front and letting him know that if it wasn't clear to him, I would be intersted in serving.

Dear Michael,

I am concerned by your silence on the housing working group that you announced at an earlier meeting.  

Perhaps you expected me to clearly state my interest in being part if it, but I did assume that as a faculty member who has been a resident on campus throughout my time at UBC and who has been active in all areas of this issue that I would have been asked to join the working group. 

So – in the event that it has been my lack of self-advocacy that explains the lack of an invitation to participate on the working group please hear me know – I wish to be involved on the housing working group.

I look forward to your response.

With warm regards,


I sent the above email twice, separated by several weeks.  Only after this most recent dispatch did I receive a response.

Dear Charles:

Thank-you for your email. 

While we appreciate your interest in being a member of the Working Group (which is not a committee or subcommittee of the Board, but rather an advisory group), we have (based on past commentary from him and a meeting that Sandra and I attended in which he participated) decided that Christopher Rea would be invited to join the Working Group, an invitation he has accepted.  We also extended an invitation to Max Holmes of the AMS to join, and he (too) has consented.

As you will recall, you strongly urged me to appoint you to the Presidential Search Committee for the new VP External.  When we were determining who should be on the Working Group, we took into account the fact that you were/are representing the Board on that Search Committee.  From records that are regularly updated to me as Board Chair, I note that you missed two of the first three meetings of that Search Committee and, in fact, we had only one Governor in one meeting and that person attended by conference call. 

You will be welcome to make submissions to the Working Group.  It has no autonomous decision-making power, and will be returning to the Joint Property/Finance Committee meeting with any recommendations it may wish to submit.

I trust that you understand.  By the copy of this email sent to her, I will make sure that Shelley Milne (our Interim Board Secretary) knows that you (and all Governors) are to be given access to materials developed for the HAP Working Group.



You will note that the approach the chair takes is to (1) inform me who he has selected and then (2) point to what he sees as deficiencies  in my capacity to serve (ever so politely, I would add).  Reminding me that I asked to be on a hiring committee and then noting (with out consideration of the reasons) absences from that committee. To be clear he does not explicitly link absences from the hiring committee as the reason, but the subtext is there. 

My reply follows. It is not one of my more temperate or politic responses. It is, though, honest and heartfelt.  Despite some overtures to the contrary, if anything, the current board and administration continues the tradition of discretionary, closed door, decision making processes that caused so many colleagues such grief and heartache and lack of faith in the governance practices of the Board previously.

Dear Michael,

So let me make certain I am understanding what you are saying, including the subtext. Because I said that I wished to be on a vp external search, and since my UBC work related activities took me away from being able to attend said meetings, and since I was never consulted by the people organizing the meetings as to my schedule (much of which was preset before the vp committee was set up), your determination is that I should not be included on the housing working group.

This is all very intersting but actually has no direct bering on whether a faculty member (who has direct and long term understanding and experience of UBC’s housing issues, having been at UBC and lived at UBC for 22 years now) should be included in his role as an elected governor on the housing working group.

So actually. No. I do not understand your explanation. Nor do I find your rational based in any real, empirical evidence, except that you would rather not have me participate on that committee.  That is, of course, within your total discretion. But let’s not demean our collective intellects by implying –as you have-  that because I was chairing a national SSHRCC grant adjudication in Ottawa and presenting a Keynote address to an International Indigenous Research Conference in Auckland, hosted by the Maori Centre of Research Excellence, that I was in someway not reliable enough to sit on a advisory ad hoc committee of the board to provide input into the housing needs being experienced by university faculty.


And then the reply comes back. It is gracious.  [Though, the academic in me can't help pointing out that, despite to below declaration, there is always a subtext - it's just that calling it out essentially violates the technical language of managerialism which asserts that communication is simply what is said, nothing more..].

Dear Charles:

Thank-you for your explanations as to your absence from the Search Committee meetings.  It is my hope that you will be able to be present for the remaining meetings of that Search Committee.

There is no subtext re the Working Group.  We feel that the interests and views of faculty will be taken into consideration, and that Christopher Rea (with whom I told you in Kelowna that we had met) can and will be an important member (and a faculty member) of the Working Group.  I see that you have cc’ed Nassif.  I advised Nassif that it was my intention to add Christopher Rea to the Working Group membership back in September.  To the extent that you wish to provide input/be heard on matters considered by the Working Group, that will be welcome (as I have welcomed your input on any matters about which you feel a desire to speak).



Friday, November 16, 2018

Assistant Professor, Tenure Track in Indigenous Fisheries


The Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries (IOF) in the Faculty of Science invites applications from outstanding new investigators for a faculty position in the area of Indigenous Fisheries with expertise in social or biological fisheries sciences who have significant experience with Indigenous fisheries’ communities and territories, practices, issues, perspectives, and cultures. This will be a tenure track appointment at the rank of Assistant Professor.
A successful candidate with expertise in biological fisheries sciences (ecosystem and fisheries resource management) will be expected to develop an independent research program and engage in issues related to habitat, stock assessment, quantitative ecology, fisheries management, conservation, resource development, and the attainment of biological knowledge that is relevant to Indigenous communities.
A successful candidate with expertise in social fisheries sciences will be expected to develop an independent research program and engage in issues related to Indigenous food systems, Indigenous food security, Indigenous fisheries policies and co-management, pre-contact knowledge related to ecosystems, fish, shellfish and marine mammals, and ethnozoological investigations of aquatic resources in traditional territories.
The successful candidate should have demonstrated knowledge and experience engaging and working with Indigenous communities in British Columbia and Canada. They will be expected to participate in community-based research, and train students to collect and analyze data related to aquatic resources in traditional territories. As a faculty member within the IOF, the successful candidate will also be expected to effectively participate in undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate teaching and supervisory activities, collaborate with other faculty members, secure external funding and make academic service contributions.
Candidates must have a Ph.D. in fisheries sciences or a related field. Applicants must also demonstrate excellence or potential for excellence in both teaching and research.
The IOF ( is home to a world-leading multidisciplinary research team with particular strength in innovative marine conservation and ecosystem-based management approaches and tools. It promotes and integrates research on fish and fisheries, including ecology, fisheries assessment, oceanography, community-based management, marine protected areas, fisheries policy and ethics, interactions with marine mammals, and aspects of fisheries that draw on economics, law, sociology, history, anthropology, and other disciplines.
The position is subject to final budgetary approval. The anticipated start date is July 1, 2019 or upon a mutually agreeable date.


Applicants should send a detailed curriculum vitae, a statement of vision for their research program, and a statement of teaching and training philosophy, to by January 15, 2019. Applicants must also arrange for three confidential letters of reference to be sent directly to the same address by this date.
Questions can be directed to the search committee co-chair Dr. Andrew Trites at
Equity and diversity are essential to academic excellence. An open and diverse community fosters the inclusion of voices that have been underrepresented or discouraged. We encourage applications from members of groups that have been marginalized on any grounds enumerated under the B.C. Human Rights Code, including sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, racialization, disability, political belief, religion, marital or family status, age, and status as a First Nation, Metis, Inuit, or Indigenous person. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply, however Canadians and permanent residents of Canada will be given priority.
UBC’s strategic plan identifies inclusion as one of our key priorities. We welcome colleagues with the experiences and competencies that can contribute to our principles of inclusion, equity, and diversity throughout campus life. In your application, please include a statement describing your experience working with a diverse student body and your contributions to creating/advancing a culture of equity and inclusion on campus or within your discipline.