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 5th 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.

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.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The tactic of silencing.

There's a lot of virtual ink spilt these days about silencing conservative voices and the tyranny of a radical-feminist-postmodern-neomarxist-SJW conspiracy on campus. Apparently people like Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Milo Yiannopoulos, and other voices of the conservative elite aren't getting their fair chance to share their views.  Yet, these individuals continue to speak out, to have platforms on university campuses, and (by all media accounts) to make a decent penny doing so. I'm willing to bet most people reading this recognize those names and have no trouble figuring out where they stand on the important issues of today.

The campus reality is different than what conservative elites claim. The people who are being silenced and threatened are far more likely to be progressives than conservative speakers.  The people who run our campuses have their social roots in the boardrooms of major corporations: they are, in fact, often members themselves of  the conservative elite. Take a real look at who actually makes the decisions on campuses.

Who is really being silenced on campus?

The evidence suggest the story is not as the conservative elite believes.  Over the past few years we have seen vocal attacks on Sunera Thobani for her comments on US Imperialism,  the wrongful withdrawal of a job offer to Steven Salaita for daring to compare the situation of Palestinians to the genocide perpetrated on Native Americans, to a myriad of little threats of litigation against outspoken faculty. There are many more who face the same targeting. What we see is that progressive faculty who criticize social inequality and oppression are the ones most often targeted.

The campaigns against individuals like Peterson, Shapiro, Yiannopoulus, involve mass movements, political mobilization, and public demonstrations. They engage wider publics in debate and discussion. The debates can at times be raucous, even intemperate, but they are discussions nonetheless that allow people to examine the arguments against them and for them. Rarely are such conservative voices silenced in any meaningful way.  If anything, they are encouraged and supported to continue. Some even urge their follows to actually attack faculty they disagree with.

Attacks from the right, from the conservative elites, however, often deploy instruments of class rule - legal threats to economic wellbeing through litigation (which pulls a secrecy blanket over details and is expensive), threats of criminal investigation (as in Thobani's case), and challenges to a person's fitness for employment (as in Salaita's case). These are not tactics of engagement or discussion. These are the tactics of power being deployed to silence and create fear and anxiety. Alongside the formal tactics of silence is an accompanying storm of violent threats against individual faculty members.

These tactics shutdown debate.  They quiet discussion.  They are about maintaining social power in a few hands.  There is nothing in the tactic of silencing that in any way encourages authentic democratic engagement.  What we are witnessing is a descent into authoritarianism.

The only way to confront these tactics is through the longstanding tactic of mass action and solidarity. We need to honour the old slogan "an injury to one is an injury to all."  In the face of the power of conservative elites the only way truth and justice will ever be achieved is by standing up to them.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Annual Code of Conduct Acknowledgement and COI #UBCBoG Forms

Each year governors are asked to sign an acknowledgement of the code of conduct and commit to following it.  Governors are also asked to declare any conflicts of interests. As per my commitment to transparency you can find my signed forms here:
Code of Conduct Form

COI Form
For reference, you can find my initial forms from the start of my term and my comments on the code then in play here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Moving Beyond Campus Politics These Days

To read any commentary on campus politics these days one could be forgiven for thinking it's an acrimonious battle between two forces: the majoritarian New Puritans versus beleaguered Free Speech advocates.  Any casual web search will reveal scores of articles documenting tales of some misanthropic faculty member shutting down the free speech and free thinking of some student or another.  Dig deeper and we find accounts of student groups demanding that their faculty decolonize themselves. Further down we can learn about emotional labour and how women and people of colour are doing a disproportionate share.  This is all then placed in the frame of an epic battle between a crazy marxist post modernist cabal in control of our universities shutting down a small, but vigorous movement for free speech.

Something is really wrong with this picture. It's not accurate. Campus politics are not riven by ultra left students and their faculty mentors stifling free thinkers. Truth be told the lines of adhesion are between student activist and students politicians and university administrators.  Typically it's front line faculty (of all political stripes) who are the targets of this neo-liberal university alliance.

There has been a change in the nature of student and campus politics in which alignment between students and administrators is closer than at almost any other time over the past fifty years.  Of course, collaborationist politics in which student politicians aligned themselves with university administrations is not new - there is a long history of that.  To be fair this is, for many,  a reasonable approach to take. If one is generally pleased with the shape of the world then it is reasonable to assume that one would align one's politics in such a way as to accumulate as much social capital as one can. Yet from the 1960s into the early 1990s campus politics included far more variation and a lot less reliance upon administrators to act as a 'progressive' vanguard.

One can peruse the pages of the 1980s era student newspaper The Ubyssey and find story after story of anti-tuition protests, petitions, and occupations of the president's office and of the Board of Governors meetings.  One can still find the student politicians who are quoted saying things like quiet lobbying works best or that the administration does care about students. But, the tenour of the day found administrators to be opponents, not allies.

The 1970s and 1980s were materially differnt political and socially from our current period. Economically speaking the big post-world war II economic boom had come to and end, left-progressive politics were being out manoeuvred by a new brand of conservative (represented internationally by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Francois Mitterrand and locally by Bill Bennet and Brian Mulroney). At the same time student progressive politics was still being lead by activists who considered fundamental social change possible. This was a politics focused on direct action, mobilizing public protest and using the instruments of governance as tactics to transform the fundamental economic and social nature of society. But defeat has its cost and demoralization resulted in new forms of politics emerging that were less coordinated,  inconsistent , and more libertarian and individualistic.

The post soviet collapse, the irony of the People's Republic of China being a leading capitalist power, and the total annihilation of most progressive social movements leaves little room, it seems, for any kind of politics other than accommodationist. Clearly the official representatives of student voices on university colleges works within the accommodationist mode. Here at UBC it is very clear that the effective student leadership is all about finding accommodations with the university administration. Where they do disagree it more about a matter of degree than kind: for example, not whether there should be tuition fees, but how much they should go up. Even the erstwhile critical protesters are not arguing for expanded democratic practice and fundamental structural change, but rather they ask for alterations and modifications of administrative policies.

The material conditions of the current moment are shaped by low & stagnating wages for the working classes combined with accelerating incomes for the business & managerial classes. In this context the university's ideology of producing leaders obscures the reality that we are producing labourers for the machinery of business. Like most capitalist ideologies the university's promotes an idea of unlimited success. The ideology producing units highlight notions of innovation (turning research into commodities), valuing diversity (the promise that anyone can become a member of the managerial class), failure is ignored by the constant focuses on success (never truly define),  and through all of this a constant messaging to students that their experience, their feelings, their voices are what matters before else.  Like all ideologies - which are simply idea systems tied to structural power- there is a germ of truth in all of this, most especially that one's experience and sensibilities are important - but when the entire edifice that such experiences are premised is falsely constructed it leads to a problematic politics that merely reinforce the hegemonic structures.

Yet, it is the ideology (not the reality) that the mainstream student politics operates within and for some of them the payout is that ideology becomes reality and they are able to leverage their experience of accommodationist politics into positions within the managerial class leadership of capitalism.  The current movement of student politics reminds me of an older debate within the socialist movement: "is the union leadership the right wing of the working class, or the left wing of the ruling class."

Is there a strong countervailing, counter-hegemonic ideology motivating an alternative student politics?  It doesn't really look like it.  Even those activists that present themselves as opponents of the administration remain locked with an individualized politics framed by the ideas of personal power and privilege.  Accommodationists (those in leadership positions who seek accommodations with administrators) and Oppositionalists (those who agitate against administrators, but expect administrators to change policies) are linked through a similar individualist theoretical approach rooted in ideas of intersectionality (though some more explicitly than others).

Many see intersectionality as in some ways a critical, progressive, paradigm. Some even consider it anti-capitalist. All of this is generally correct in terms of the initial formulations and application.  However the deployment of intersectionality in popular practice has reduced the meaning and utility of the theoretical model.  Intersectionality highlights the intersections of differnt personal identities with a notion of power (often framed as a kind of privilege) and how that shapes an individual's experiences and life possibilities.  While some variants of intersectionality root it analytically in Marxist concepts of exploitation and oppression, vernacular rhetoric and politics has rendered it down to just aspects of personal identity, power as privilege, and thereby produces a set of moral principles about the value of particular types of people and forms of speech.

Oppositionalist political discourse is replete with references to privilege that attaches to individuals as a result of their identity. A great deal of the policy changes the Oppositionalists propose are aimed at undermining privilege that might accrue to race (i.e. being white), gender (being male), seniority (being old), or sexuality (being straight).  This is tied to a moral hierarchy that is considered an inversion of the standard power structure in which older white straight men are seen to be unfairly vested with all of the privilege and power that a society might grant.  Even though social class might have been a component in earlier configurations, in the Oppositionalist politics class is simplistically equated with personal income and wealth.  The policy changes that Oppositionalists agitate for involves replacing the actually existing privilege hierarchy with their transitional inverted morally just hierarchy (ultimately the notion of a hierarchy would disappear as the ill effects of privilege are disassembled).

In practical terms Oppositionalist calls to action urge a redistribution of 'emotional' labour (considered to be disproportionately carried by black, indigenous, women of colour), a removal of special privilege based on gender or sexuality or race, and a realignment of proportions of identities on decision making bodies.  This is very much the same demands the Accommodationists make, except the Accomodationists frame their demands differently as a call for 'diversity.'

Both forms of student politics don't fundamentally challenge the operations of the capitalist economy nor the ideology of individualism - in fact, to varying degrees both approaches validate current structures of power while calling for a redistribution of rewards within the context of the existing power system.  While Oppositionalists will decry an over representation of white men in the professoriate, their solution is not to transform the organization of post secondary education but rather that the ranks of the professoriate be rejigged so that historically marginalized groups are more adequately represented amongst the ranks. There is little talk of undermining the very idea of a ranked professoriate.

Accommodationists call for greater diversity within the professoriate. While less insistent about overturning the rule of white men, Accommodationists call for greater diversity amongst the general student body, on governance bodies, and among groups they refer to as role models.  The arguments here are based on the idea that social and ethnic diversity improves general outcomes (such as productively, wellbeing, effectiveness, etc).  While Oppositionalists call for a similar outcome, they base their argument upon a moral claim of equity - that is all groups, but especially historically marginalized groups, deserve equal inclusion in all aspects of society.  The success of these politics are measured by the number of differnt types of individuals found in the various social groups and categories.

Both Oppositionalists and Accommodationists expect power holders to shift the policies and procedures. There are no calls for self-organization, direct action policing of power elites, or independent organization. Rather, both strands of the dominant campus politics call on the administrators to make all the changes.  This creates intersting alliances in which the parties that end up outside of the power of decision circle are more likely to be working class staff and faculty  and the organizations that represent them.

Capitalism is an amazingly resilient and flexible system of exploitation.  Capitalism cares little as to the race, colour, gender, or age of a worker. Capitalists will use such differences if it works to keep workers weak and divided against ourselves.  If they can get an diversity bonus for being inclusive they will.  But adding a bit of diversity to the mix in the centres of power doesn't change the fundamental basis of exploitation or oppression To address the root problem we need a politics that doesn't make accommodations with those in power nor engage in oppositional  tactics that simply targets individuals as proxies for system change.
  • We need a revitalized progressive politics that is not about what is wrong, but rather argues for what can be better.  
  • We need a class politics, not based on subjective identities, but rooted in our common experience as workers in a capitalist economy.  
  • We need to organize collectively to take power directly, not waste time petitioning administrators to act for us.
It is time to build socialism from below.  If we really want a better world we must imagine what a future without capitalism is and build our politics around that.  Pointing to differences between us and celebrating these differences works well when there is no effective progressive movement. It helps us feel good about who we are and gives us grounds for a sense of moral superiority, but it doesn't help build a better world. To make things better we have to find common ground amongst us.   That commonality is the way in which value is extracted from our labour.  This is also our strength - as the grand majority we are the ones who make the economy work, it is our labour that drives the system.  Without us nothing can happen. But as long as we fight amongst ourselves over scraps from the bosses' table, as long as some of us keep trying to curry favour with the bosses, nothing will change. It's time to reject both versions of campus neo-liberalism: accommodationism and oppositionalism.

A future without capitalism is conceivable. We have the power. All we need to do is act upon it.

For a good explanation of exploitation and oppression, that avoids many of the pitfalls of Oppositionalist discourse, see: Abigail Bakan. “Marxism and Anti-Racism: Rethinking the Politics of Difference" in Bakan & Dua (Eds) Theorizing Anti-Racism.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Controversial Events on Campus: a review & reflection

Last man standing. That was my thought as the workshop "Controversial Events on Campus," hosted by UBC's Equity & Inclusion office, drew toward its close. After nearly two hours of conversation the majority of participants were now seated around the edge of the room leaving a lone woman, the moderator, standing  alongside an elderly gentleman with the two of them facing a small group of young men.  Wow I thought - this is a stark example of the problem.

The workshop had begun with an overview of of UBC policies, ideas of free expression, and the standard discussion of the agenda.  Participants, of which there were around 60 or so, were seated in a big circle and the moderator, Dr. Aftab Efran stood at the nominal front of the room. It wasn't long before she had us all in the middle of the room engaged in what she called a "soft shoe shuffle:" a moving conversation that allows all voices to be heard. The process starts with someone making a statement or asking a question and the group either moves towards or away from the speaker according to each person's agreement or disagreement.  It's a facilitation technique that has the potential to work well with a rather diverse set of perspectives.  I am unclear, though, to the extent that this can actually reconcile differences of perspective when they are deep, profound, and fundamentally antagonist to each other.  That said we all seemed willing to give the process a try.

We compliantly shuffled around the room shifting one way or they other through a range of fairly generic topics. The Ubyssey has a nice review of the topics in their article. As time went on people seemed to become comfortable with floating ideas potentially more controversial or provocative. With these more explicit expressions of perspective the room started to clearly subdivde into one larger, quieter, gender mixed group and then one smaller, louder, predominantly young male group.

At one point one of the young men, in response to a question as to why more people don't speak up, said something along the lines of "they have an obligation to speak if they object. We can't respond to what they don't say."

At which point I spoke about how  amongst the Tsimshian peoples on BC's north coast silence is not quiescence nor agreement. Rather, silence and non-participation is a profound statement of disagreement.  The young man interjected "that's just one culture." Without stating it the young man revealed his own cultural bias - the idea that a certain type of speech is universally dominant in a way that removes it from the notion of being 'culture.' Indigenous protocols and governance procedures are, for him, 'cultural' and thereby particular and (I assume for him) problematic and flawed.

To assert one cultural norm - "speak up or forever hold your peace" - over another without any other reason except a bald assertion this is just the way it is is a profound form of tunnel vision. It is tied to a variant of eurocentric thought (say we cay 'culture'?) that aggressively projects itself as the only civilized way of organizing human societies. It's the same set of beliefs that contributed to european elites expanding globally in one of the largest smash and grab operations the world had ever seen. But it takes a certain kind of blind arrogance to ignore the myriad of ways human beings can (and have) organized themselves.

There has to be something profound to learn from a society that has remained socially stable, healthy, productive, and creative for millennia. I don't mean the Europe that languished on the margins of the old world in relative isolation from the centers of cultural innovation until well into the middle ages. I am talking about the world here, a world within which UBC is located. 

UBC is situated on Indigenous lands. That's a legal fact - title has not been extinguished. No treaties have been signed dealing with the land UBC sits on. The young men from the workshop can complain, can say has history has moved past, they might even point to how Indigenous cultures are primitive and people just need to get over it (and cite a person they mentioned at one point, Frances Widdowson, whose published work equates Indigenous societies to the era of savagery).  The material facts, however, challenge their assertions.  The detailed scientific record documents long lasting societies in which massive cedar frame homes existed in the same place for centuries. It wasn't perfect (tell me a human society that was or is ... ), but it was one way that human beings found to live engaged, creative, productive lives that respected an interplay between collective and individual wellbeing. But our young men appeared unwilling to hear the possibility of other ways beyond their own way of doing things.

As a man, as a father of young men, as a university teacher I feel for the angst these young men expressed during the workshop.  But I am pretty sure they have got it wrong. They seem to feel that other people are getting an advantage over them - by other people I think they mean women and people of colour.  But what they are experiencing is in fact having to compete with a group of people who had previously been excluded from the competition in the first place and in comparison, many of them come up lacking (not all, but enough to motivate a movement).

One of the successes of second wave feminism involved dismantling a lot of the barriers that women faced. My late mother, who was a school teacher, used to talk of how she came out to UBC as a young women to talk with faculty in the horticultural program about studying there (keep in mind this was the late 1940s or early 1950s).  They sized her up and said, without even discussing academics, women aren't good horticulturalists, maybe you should consider becoming a nurse or a teacher? Her experience was not dissimilar among women of her generation.  Second wave feminism attacked those false boundaries. Admission requirements (formal or informal) based on gender are no longer supposed to be tolerated. In this context, and despite the expansion of post secondary opportunities, young men are finding themselves at a disadvantage - not becuase of unfair advantages granted to women, but becuase they just don't measure up now that the special advantage of being male has been removed. 

Now before anyone suggests I selling my gender out or that I might be suggesting no young man is smart enough to make it, let me be clear that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that even as the barriers to women's full participation in post secondary are coming down the messaging to young men hasn't yet caught up. The old message implied that being a boy and a young man gave you something a little bit special. The new message is that being a human being in our various and marvellous forms is what makes us special - not the gender assigned to us.  But while young men are still hearing the old whispers about how special they are, they aren't seeing as many special rewards as they might think they deserve.  In fact some of them rather feel like they are being made fun of, dismissed, rated down and discriminated against: but they are not.

And there we were at the end of the workshop with a half dozen young men stading in a half circle facing down the moderator and one elderly gentleman. It was as though they thought that if they expressed their feelings enough times, if they shifted their circle a bit tighter, if they said it loud enough, then all of us sitting quietly around the outside might somehow change our minds and "say you're right, it's so terrible that your special privileges are being taken away." But that isn't going to happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Building a better future in the university

a partial manifesto for moving forward.

The struggle for social justice has no intrinsic direction. With every step forward we seem to find ourselves pushed back. In moments of success those who take advantage of the victories at times were those most silent during the struggle. Yet we can maintain hope that it is in the partial victories, the half steps, and the hesitant actions that foundations for fundamental change can be laid. This is a partial manifesto for a better future in the university.

A better future in the university must build upon a better future for the working class.

A better future in the university places improvements for working people at the heart of the movement.

Workers, not customers, not donors, not managers, workers must be at the center of the movement for a better future.

A living wage for all workers is the principal upon which all compensation for labour in the university is to be based.  This means:

  • an immediate freeze on all salaries in excess of 150,000 per year until the lowest salaries all exceed the minimum living wage for Vancouver (currently 42,000 per year).  
  • establish compensation grid for all staff in which the difference between top salary and bottom salary is no more than 3:1.
  • shift from 'funding' graduate students to employing them as full time workers with a living wage represented by a trade union. 

This builds and elaborates a set of comments I previously posted on twitter.

Previous social justice posts.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Calling on #UBC to step up and support our alumna Loujain Al-Hathloul (Arts, 2014)

29 May 2018

Lindsay Gordon, Chancellor, UBC
Santa J, Ono, President and vice-Chancellor, UBC

Dear Mr Gordon and Dr Ono:

“Pursuing excellence in research, learning and engagement to foster global citizenship and advance a sustainable and just society across British Columbia, Canada and the world.” – UBC’s purpose per Shaping UBC’s Next Century: Strategic Plan, 2018-2028

A UBC alumna, Loujain Al-Hathloul (Arts, 2014), has been detained without clear charges and without ability to contact her family in Saudi Arabia.  Ms Al-Hathloul is a well-known human rights activist in Saudi Arabia. The nature and timing of her detention strongly suggest that it is part of a crackdown on human rights in Saudi Arabia.

We, the undersigned, are deeply troubled by the following official response to a request that UBC comment on Ms Al-Hathloul’s detention:

“A spokesperson for UBC declined to comment on the case, saying the university has over 300,000 alumni and that it would be ‘inappropriate’ to comment on actions unrelated to their time at UBC.”

As a degree-holder from UBC, Ms Al-Hathloul is a life-long member of UBC Convocation.  In this sense her time in the UBC academic community has not ended.  We as faculty members at UBC (and thus as members of Convocation also) expect and demand that UBC show more concern for the welfare of all members of the UBC community—and certainly those whose human rights are actively being violated.

Moreover, we do not believe and would be entirely chagrined to discover that Ms Al-Hathloul’s human rights work is “unrelated to [her] time” as a UBC student.  UBC endorses human rights in many of policies and statements.  We expect that these values will be instilled in all of the members of our community.  When alumni lead in the effort to advance human rights around the world, we must actively support them.  Otherwise we cannot fulfil what our new strategic plan claims to be our university purpose—the advancement of global citizenship and justice around the world.

We, the undersigned, call upon the President, the Chancellor, and the Board of Governors to fulfil their obligations to Ms Al-Hathloul: to actively and publically demand that she be treated justly in Saudi Arabia and to work to assure that she is so treated. 

Dr Ono is quoted in Shaping UBC’s Next Century as saying “This is our time to inspire.” In this matter UBC has been anything but inspiring, anything but just.

  • Alan Richardson, Professor, Philosophy
  • Nassif Ghoussoub, Professor, Mathematics
  • Charles Menzies, Professor, Anthropology
  • Sima Godfrey, Associate Professor, French Studies
  • Ayesha Chaudhry, Associate Professor, 
  • Judy Z. Segal, Professor, English
  • Anthony Paré, Language and Literacy Education
  • Jennifer Berdahl , University of British Columbia, Sauder School of Business
  • John Stockie (UBC Alumnus), Simon Fraser University, Mathematics
  • Carla Nappi , University of British Columbia, Department of History
  • Don Baker, University of British Columbia, Department of Asian Studies
  • Siobhan McElduff, University of British Columbia, CNERS
  • Miranda Burgess, University of British Columbia, Department of English
  • Michael Krisinger, University of British Columbia, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
  • Tal Jarus, University of British Columbia, Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy Department, Faculty of Medicine
  • Brian McIlroy, University of British Columbia, Department of Theatre and Film
  • Adam Frank, University of British Columbia, Department of English Language and Literatures
  • Sheryl Adam, University of British Columbia, Koerner Library
  • Stephen Guy-Bray, University of British Columbia, Department of English
  • Sebastian Prange, University of British Columbia, Department of History
  • Juliet O’Brien, University of British Columbia, Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies
  • Alfred Hermida, University of British Columbia, School of Journalism
  • Stephanie van Willigenburg, University of British Columbia, Mathematics
  • S Dollinger, University of British Columbia, Department of English Language and Literatures
  • Miguel Mota, University of British Columbia, Department of English Language and Literatures
  • Maureen Ryan, University of British Columbia, Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory
  • T’ai Smith, University of British Columbia, Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory
  • Bruce Rusk, University of British Columbia, Department of Asian Studies
  • Thibault Mayor, University of British Columbia, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Michael Smith Laboratories
  • Elyse Yeager, University of British Columbia, Mathematics
  • Hotze Rullmann, University of British Columbia, Department of Linguistics
  • ND Ruse, University of British Columbia, Dentistry
  • Patricia Badir, University of British Columbia, Department of English
  • Tai-Peng Tsai, University of British Columbia, Mathematics
  • Carolyn Gotay, University of British Columbia, School of Population and Public Health
  • Alan Mackworth, University of British Columbia, Department of Computer Science
  • Joshua S. Mostow, University of British Columbia, Department of Asian Studies
  • Sam Rocha, University of British Columbia, Department of Educational Studies
  • Ross King, University of British Columbia, Department of Asian Studies
  • Joseph Stemberger, University of British Columbia, Department of Linguistics
  • Christian Schoof, University of British Columbia, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Michael Zeitlin, University of British Columbia, Department of English Language and Literatures
  • Ignacio Adriasola, University of British Columbia, Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory
  • Judith Paltin, University of British Columbia, Department of English
  • Kellogg Booth, University of British Columbia, Department of Comupter Science
  • Thomas Kemple, University of British Columbia, Department of Sociology
  • Alla Sheffer, University of British Columbia, Computer Science
  • Richard Froese, University of British Columbia, Mathematics
  • Gordon Slade, University of British Columbia, Department of Mathematics
  • Sunera Thobani, University of British Columbia, Department of Asian Studies & Social Justice Institute
  • Joy Dixon, University of British Columbia, Department of History
  • Nathan Hesselink, University of British Columbia, UBC School of Music
  • David Kirkpatrick, University of British Columbia, Computer Science
  • E. Wayne Ross, University of British Columbia, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Kurt Huebner, University of British Columbia, Institute for European Studies
  • Tina Loo, Department of History
  • Jessica Wang, Department of History
  • Andrew Rechnitzer, Professor, Mathematics
  • Michael Tenzer, Professor of Music
  • Suzana K. Straus, University of British Columbia, Professor of Chemistry
  • Susanna Braund, CNERS, UBC
  • Bill Winder, French, Hispanic and Italian Studies, UBC
  • Stephen Petrina, Professor, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC
  • John Roosa, Department of History, UBC
  • Bruno D. Zumbo, Professor & Distinguished University Scholar, Department of ECPS, UBC
  • Stefan Taubert, Medical Genetics, UBC
  • Anne Gorsuch, Professor, Dept of History, UBC
  • Gunnar Ólafur Hansson, Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics, UBC
  • Jennifer Love, Professor, Chemistry, UBC
  • Sven Bachmann, Assistant Professor, Mathematics
  • Alexei Kojevnikov, Associate Professor, Department of History, UBC
  • Cristina Conati, Professor, Department of Computer Science, UBC
  • Scott Anderson, Associate Professor, UBC Department of Philosophy
  • Mark Mac Lean, Department of Mathematics, UBC
  • Rik Blok, Lecturer, Integrated Sciences, UBC
  • Lisa Matthewson, Professor, Department of Linguistics, UBC
  • Jude Walker, Assistant Professor, Educational Studies, UBC
  • Ed Perkins, Department of Mathematics, UBC
  • Katherine Bowers, CENES, UBC

We have this letter on two blogs and there are signers adding their name here.  I will add names to this copy as well, as time permits. 

Colleagues are invited to send me their names if they wish to be included as signatories to this letter.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Departure of Dr. Chaudhry from the #UBCBoG

The seat for an elected Vancouver faculty member on the Board of Governors that is currently held by Ayesha Chaudhry will become vacant as of June 30th, 2018.  To fill this vacancy, this is a by-election for one (1) eligible faculty member from the Vancouver campus to serve for the remainder of the 2017-2020 triennium, for a term beginning July 1, 2018 and ending on February 29, 2020.
It is a disappointment to lose a scholar and public intellectual like Ayesha Chaudhry from the Board of Governors at UBC.   Over the year that I have served with her on the Board at UBC I have found my own understanding of our world broadened. Not a scholar of religious studies or classics I will confess to having been unfamiliar with her research prior to meeting her on the board. What a revelation, what a privilege to get to learn from her through her engagements on the board and through exploring her publications.  When the university publicity people talk about excellence at UBC it is colleagues like Dr. Chaudhry who give actual meaning to that often empty term.

In the discussion of her departure colleagues have speculated as to why she has left.

Dr. Chaudry has pointed to her coming sabbatical as the primary reason for her departure. 

Sabbaticals of course are not guaranteed. At the start of the year we might apply and not know the answer for some time.  Sabbaticals take time and require our focus on research.  When we are provided with a sabbatical opportunity it's important we follow up on it and make it productive. In addition, when we take leave for a sabbatical we are supposed to step aside from our various administrative commitments.

We do get a hint at Dr. Chaudhry's impression of work on the board when she tells The Ubyssey that
she plans to apply what she has learned at the Board to her research “turn[ing] historically white, heteronormative institutions into spaces that celebrate diversity in a way that is equitable and sustainable, without tokenizing and exploiting the very people who are brought in to diversify a space.”
I can't help but wonder had the Board acted differently might Dr. Chaudhry still be a governor.

Dr. Jennifer Berdahl posted a comment to her blog earlier today that compares her own experience on the Presidential Search Committee to what she imagines Chaudhry experienced on the Board.  At the heart is the way the current power structures create a sense of futility for those of us intersted in effecting real, meaningful change.  As Berdahl notes: "If Prof. Chaudhry’s experience was anything like mine on the UBC Presidential Search Committee, she quickly realized how alienating it is to be one of only three faculty members on a 21-person corporate-controlled Board. It was likely even worse for Chaudhry as a woman of colour. Combining this with the Board's shenanigans that are designed to manipulate information and process to achieve desired decisions and minimize academic voices, a sense of helpless futility can set in."

It is too soon to say whether anything will change with the new board chair, but the experience over the past year (from my perspective) has been fatiguing.  For Dr. Chaudhry and myself, who were elected on a platform of change it takes a lot of emotional energy to engage in an environment where what we say is either ignored,  dismissed, greeted with an obfuscational answer, or we are explicitly told we are wrong.

Reviewing governance, tinkering with procedures and rules of order for meetings, are all well and fine.  However, if the cultural practices of racialized discourse, gendered power, and inherent valourization of wealth over intellect remain unchallenged no amount of tinkering with rules and procedures will create a better outcome. If the board is serious about engaging honestly with all faculty (not just those that agree with them) and sincerely wants to create the capacity for real diversity, then they will need to address the cultural practices that fundamentally exclude and demean those of us who are not members of the corporate elite.