Saturday, September 16, 2017

Driving the Underground Agenda: parking @ UBC

UBC is trying to move forward with a 200 car underground parking garage tucked into the space between the NEST, Bird Coop, War Memorial Gym, and the Alumni Centre.

As noted in a commentary from the resurrected blog, UBC Insiders, there is much to question about why such a facility is needed.

The underground parking garage is being brought to next week's (Sept. 20/21, 2017) Board of Governor's meeting for Board 2& 3 approval - the decision that makes the building of the garage a fait accompli.

There is a certain irony involved here.  UBC has been very loudly touting it's 'innovative' sustainability agenda which includes constraining individual car trips off and on campus. Yet here we have a project that's stated mandate is to facilitate and encourage car trips into the ceremonial center of campus.  Somewhere, somehow, some time in the recent past someone came up with the brilliant idea to build an underground garage to encourage cars into campus. The current sell on this presents it as fulfilling UBC's engagement mandate - engagement with off campus communities.

Who are these off campus communities that require a concrete underground parking garage? If we consider the facilities nearby one very prominent 'engagement' space comes to mind: the Alumni Centre.  All kinds of high level 'engagement' activities take place here: Board of Governor's meetings, President's advisory meetings, Alumni executive and related meetings, and donor gatherings.  Is it possible that this multi-million dollar concrete car storage and attractor facility is simply to further this kind of elite level engagement?

How does attracting and facilitating car transport of special off-campus elites really serve the best interests of our public university? How does encouraging cars advance UBC's sustainability agenda? Realistically this does not advance the over arching best interests of our university nor does it contribute to UBC's sustainability agenda.  UBC's management needs to carefully rethink this project. How can the asserted needs of 'engagement' be met through other means? Where is the modelling to see  what the impact on engagement might be in the absence of the underground parkade?

Before this project can be properly considered UBC's management team needs to do a fuller job reviewing their options and the implications of their planning.  We expect a lot from our management team, but aren't they the leaders of a top 50 global institution? Shouldn't we expect more than good, shouldn't we expect beyond excellence in planning and design?

The Ongoing Saga of Trying to Become a Member of the BoG's Governance Committee

One of the core reasons that I ran for a faculty position on the UBC Board of Governors was my concern over governance practices at the board. It had become clear that the board operated with a series of tacit and quasi-secret procedures and (as UBCFA FOI requests have shown) engaged in a bit of after the fact approvals. So with that in hand (and after topping the polls in the four-field election for one of two position) one of the first things I did was ask to be made a member of the governance committee.

The initial process involved a series of emails and then a meeting with the secretary of the board who advised me that I should start with something more fitting to my skills, like People & Community or Learning and Reserach.  These are two committed that, while important to what makes our university what it is, are to a certain extent marginal to the power center of the Board. I countered with suggesting Governance, Property, and the Land Use Planning Committee.  I suppose one should be willing to accept that two out of three aren't: I was eventually placed onto the Property Committee and also the Land Use Planning sub-committee as well as the Learning and Reserach Committee. But silence reigned on the matter of the Governance Committee.

Then in April I had a one-on-one meeting with Stuart Belkin (actually it was a two-on-one as Michael Korenberg, vice chair of the Board, was also there). It was a pleasant get to know you chat combined with a let me set out the rules to me chat. Toward the end of of meeting I brought up membership on the governance committee to which Mr. Belkin replied he would take it under advisement. 

That sat until late August when it seemed to be the time to ask again. To make a long story short, not yet a member of the committee.  But I can sit in on the meetings if I like as long as I can find the off schedule meeting notices for a committee that seems to meet 'virtual' more often than not with items decided through a consent agenda (complicated way to say committee doesn't seem to actually meet face-to-face). 

What follows is the current email exchange on the matter.

Sept. 10, 2017
Dear Mr. Belkin,

When we met near the start of my term on the board you stated you would take under advisement my request to be a member of the Governance Committee.  As of this date I have yet to hear from you regarding that specific request.

In the absence of your reply I wish to again put my offer to join that committee on the table. I note that the list of board committee members was circulated current as of Sept. 1, 2017 for information.  This item was sent on the consent/information agenda. Perhaps you might take this opportunity to clarify how committee assignments and where one might find the written policy and procedures for the Board to appoint members of the standing committees.

With regards,


Sept. 12, 2017
Dear Charles:  

Thank you for your letter concerning your wish to be appointed to the Governance Committee.

In carrying out the responsibility of appointing Board members to committees, I am bound as Chair by a number of considerations: the size of each committee as stipulated by the general principles the Board has followed for some years; the inclusion of representatives from both campuses; representation of the different constituencies that make up the Board; and a fair distribution of committee responsibilities among all members of the Board.  Acting under these guidelines, I have made appointments that I think will best ensure that we meet the goal of effective committee operation during the current Board cycle.

As you know, our practice is to permit any Governor to attend any committee meeting, with the exception of Audit, Employee Relations, and the Executive; so there will be opportunities for you to contribute to discussion concerning governance, should you wish to do so.  I am sure you will agree that, no matter on which committee Board members are asked to serve, it is of the utmost importance to the University that we work together on every issue to advance the University's best interests.  



Sept. 12, 2017
Dear Stuart,

I appreciate you taking the time to clearly lay out the reasons by which
you decline my request to serve on the governance committee.

While I respectful disagree with you analysis, I nonetheless appreciate
your consideration in providing me with a reply.

With warm regards,


Sept. 15, 2017
Dear Mr. Belkin,

I was just reviewing in detail the recently posted package for next week’s
board meetings and noticed a small item that perhaps you can clarify for

In your email below you say "As you know, our practice is to permit any
Governor to attend any committee meeting, with the exception of Audit,
Employee Relations, and the Executive; so there will be opportunities for
you to contribute to discussion concerning governance, should you wish to
do so.”  

However, at page 812 of the September board package the explanatory note
reads “All Board members are welcome to attend meetings of the Finance
Committee, the Learning & Research Committee, The People, Community &
International Committee, and the Property Committee; only Committee
members vote at Committee meetings.” The absence of the Governance
Committee from the list of committees with which all board members are
welcome implies that even if I were to wish to attend the Governance
Committee meetings I am not permitted to do so.

This has been the driving reason why I have continuously asked to be made
a member of the committee so that I have unambiguous access to
participate. The apparent contradiction between what you have said in your
email and what is printed on the list of committee memberships creates a
sense of ambiguity that would render it uncomfortable for me to attend,
given the I may well be asked to leave.

Is one additional, different voice really that much of a worry to you? I
was elected by my peers, in fact topping the polls significantly in a
field of four for one of two positions.  Issues of governance were front
and center in my run for election and clearly the overwhelming majority of
colleagues who voted saw that as a matter of critical importance. That
said, I appreciate (but disagree with) your assessment that none of that
counts in terms of how you will allocate people to committees.
Nonetheless, I will ask yet again that you reconsider your decision and
especially so given the ambiguity between your comment about me being
welcome to participate and the printed information that excludes all but
members of the committee from attending Governance Committee meetings.

With warm regards,

Charles Menzies

Sept. 15, 2017
Hi Charles:  I take responsibility for that omission of "Governance Committee".  It was not the intention.  Stuart is correct that any member can attend Governance Committee.