Thursday, December 15, 2022

"What's your Nation?"

"What's your Nation?" That's one of the first questions I got asked in the First Nations Longhouse shortly after I was hired at UBC in 1996. I'd been invited to a board meeting with other Indigenous staff and faculty at the Longhouse (a monthly occurrence in those days). The meeting was in the afternoon. It was my turn to pick up my twin sons from kindergarten (it was half day in those days). I mentioned to the person calling me with the invite I would have my five year old sons with me,  which they simply ignored and said they looked forward to seeing me at the meeting.

Later that week I arrived at the meeting, sons in tow, and proceeded to have the perfect distracted parent experience as my sons settled in as any five year olds might when they'd rather be somewhere else.  It was in the midst of that meeting that the question came up.  Back home folks locate each other by who we're related to, in the university context where people come from all over the place and the chance of knowing each other's relatives is a bit less likely, identifying by our Nation is more common. Just the same I find a lot of folks I'm related to in Indigenous circles on campus, on staff, in my classes, and occasionally even among faculty. "What's your nation?" is a shorthand way of figuring out who one is and how one might be connected.

Being willing and able to locate oneself in a Nation and a family is a critical part of being Indigenous. Previously I have described this form of identity following Cherokee academic Jeff Corntassel take on Indigenous Identity. He defines it through a 'peoplehood' approach:  connected, committed, and claimed. That is a person is related in some manner through family and history to an existing First Nation. This person is involved in their community and maintains active linkages. The community itself acknowledges them as a member and claims the person as their own. People outside that intersection of 'c's might have Indigenous 'heritage' but, by this model are not Indigenous qua Indigenous. 

There are a lot of folks who might be connected but not claimed. They might be claimed but not connected. They might even be very committed to the cause (but not actually connected). This is often the place in which a university administrator shakes their head and says, "but it's so complicated" and then stays silent and inactive.  

I am well aware of the complexity of these matters professionally and personally.  Professionally I am an anthropologist and much of what anthropologists study is how people form themselves into meaning making groups built around identity and practice. Personally I am an enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska (a US federally recognized Tribe) and a Status Indian member of Gitxaała Nation in Canada. My mother was from a settler family. My father is First Nations. I grew up in town, not reserve. All of these things shape my personal sense of identity and play a role in the social reality of being Indigenous. Complex, but not really complicated.

Complications and complexity are insufficient rationales for administrators to remain silent when people occupy these spaces by pretending to be something that they are not. The question needs to be asked, "What's your Nation?"

This becomes particularly important when scarce resources -student fellowships and awards, research grants, positions of employment- are allocated in accordance with one's putative identity.  It should not be taken as an affront to be asked "What's your Nation? especially if it is part of how one is positioning themselves to gain access to things marked off for Indigenous people.

UBC has an obligation to own their own actions, not to go silent or pretend an Indigenous identity was not part of their consideration. Yet time rolls on and UBC remains silent at the upper levels compounding the ill effects caused by their continued inaction. 

Saturday, December 10, 2022

#UBCBoG 2022 Election Results

The 2022 Board of Governors election for faculty governors came to a close Thursday, Dec. 8th at 4pm. Results were announced to the candidates late Friday afternoon.

Declared elected were Anna Kindler (260 votes) and Charles Menzies (225 votes). 

560 of the eligible 2816 voters cast ballots. Most voters selected two candidates each. Based on the number of total votes cast (1051) and the potential total vote (560 x 2 = 1120) we can infer that 69 people plumped (voted for only one candidate).

The vote spread between the last elected and third ranked candidate was 17 votes. Total vote spread between first elected and fifth ranked candiate was 93 votes.

None of the candidates received a plurality of votes. Candidate shares of support (% of eligible voters who voted for them) range from a high of 46% to a low of 30%. Both elected candidates each received more than 40%. During the last election (2016) both elected candidates were elected with 50% or more. 

Overall close to 20% of those eligible voted, which is significantly more than for the last actual election in 2016 in which 15% voted. The 2020 election was by acclamation so no one voted for the two declared elected candidates in that election.

2016 Election results.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Ubyssey election profile transcript.

Last Friday I was interviewed by The Ubyssey for a profile piece on faculty candidates for the current board of governors' election. This is a slightly cleaned up version of my answers. I have removed comments from the reporter and inserted simple questions in their place.


Q. Why are you running for the board?


[00:00:33.190] - Charles

I was on the board three years ago, I served one term. About six years ago I ran for the board because the University Board of Governors had taken to meeting behind closed doors, avoiding publicizing what they were talking about. And [they] were literally caught scampering around campus avoiding the press. And that point in time faculty voted a motion of non-confidence in the Board of Governors. And I thought at the time we needed people on the board who were willing to speak with a different voice, weren't afraid of speaking out publicly. And so I ran. And was elected that time. And at the end of that term things looked like they'd improved a bit. They had a board, a chair of the board, who was willing to push the administration to keep things in the open. It wasn't perfect, but it looked like things [had] been done and it would be nice to have some people in there who were kind of less publicly expressive. But it seems that the board has become more entrenched [in secrecy]. The Pandemic gave them the opportunity to retrench behind closed doors. They've been massively defensive. The meeting to come up on December 5, for example, has literally 90 minutes of public debate.


Everything else has gone to be either closed meeting or consent agenda where the full board won't talk about it. The board will probably say the material has been discussed in the committee meetings. The committees are now structured so they're [a] subset of the full board. And not all board members are either welcome to attend those meetings, nor are they encouraged to, given the fact [of] the way it's set up. So that means a small subset of the board is making decisions that have major importance and then it just gets tossed to the consent agenda and then they meet behind closed doors. That needs to be addressed. Mark Maclean who isn't running this time, has been very public towards the end of his term about this. And I think that it's unfortunate that a large public institution's board of governors would use such kind of managerial secrecy to govern itself


Q. What are your specific goals?


[00:03:05.880] - Charles

While the two basic principles that motivate me are what you might call ecologically grounded growth and paying attention to the primary mission of the university. This institution is currently in a visioning exercise. They're trying to scale up massively the campus facilities, the residential components, and it's all being framed as an ecologically growth based program. I'm not convinced, but I think when we look at this, we need to ask, do we have to be constantly growing? How do we maintain the core academic mission of the university? And to do so in a way that's ecologically grounded, that recognizes the climate emergency that we're in, that attends to the academic mission, not the corporate profits of the development sector that is very large, even under, a nominally centrist government (the provincial government). We actually have a board of governors that still favour a development orientation on campus, which isn't really in the best interest, I would argue, of students, staff or faculty or the people of the province British Columbia. I've lived on this campus for 26 years. I've worked on this campus for 26 years. My kids grew up here. They went to school in the nearby schools.


We first rented from UBC Housing, then we rented from Village Gate Homes, and then we were able to buy a condominium in a co-development for faculty and staff at university. … During this time I've sat on our Faculty Association executive a number of times. I've been an elected resident director on the University of Neighborhood Association. And of course, I’m currently sitting on the Senate in Vancouver as a joint faculty senator. And through living here, working here, playing here, raising a family here, being involved in these things, you meet a whole range of people from across campus. So I think I find myself with a kind of interesting point of view of seeing a wide perspective of people. I think had I just lived off campus, I would have a very different viewpoint of the situation. But by living here and working here and being so involved, we recognize the things that we really do. And I think that brings me right back to the idea about how we structure this question about growth.


I think as a society we really have to ask quite seriously about whether how we do [development]. I'm not opposed to, [not saying] do nothing. That's the wrong approach. But it has to be an informed model [or growth] that is actually consistent with asking with literally with each building we put up, each job we create, with each sort of program we structure: ‘What's the actual long term cumulative effects of doing this?’ So far, we [consider] every piece of [development] segment by segment, 


Q. What is the relevance of your past experience?

[00:06:27.060] - Charles

I think one of the things that tends to happen is the people who go to the board tend to be department heads, deans, associate dean, things like that. And they're really tied into the management track at university. For better, for worse, I have not been part of the management system on this campus. I've been involved in the front line of faculty teaching my four courses a year, like regular faculty in arts do, doing the different service activities, doing my research, doing publications, doing grants, training students, doing all that work. And when you do that, after a quarter century, you start to realize there's things that don't work. …  So you recognize these problems, and when you see it from the grassroots level, you see it differently than when you're sitting up in the management level of things.


That's a different vantage point. We need that viewpoint [management’s]. I don't disagree with that. Point is we need to make sure that the kind of grassroots, that actual faculty member who's been in the trenches all through the years doing the work, that's the voice we [also] need sitting on the board at the governors’ table. Because otherwise people are kind of too isolated from what's actually been happening. And there's a kind of bubble built around the dean's office, the president's office, the senior management offices, where they kind of inform each other of what they're doing, and that closes in [on them]. And when you're down here, and like I am living here talking to people, I meet a lot of different people from different things, different walks of life, literally as I'm walking and running across campus. And we need that voice because the board of governors doesn’t really know anything [about UBC]. The people who are appointed, they don't know anything really about UBC, they don't live here, they don't work here. They maybe went to school here years ago, or they have a child that might be going to school here, or a husband or relative or something like that.


Someone's [on the board needs] to have an actual connection. [From the grassroots we] see a different level. They [appointed governors] actually need to hear that voice. And that's where the faculty, the staff and the student representatives really come in and play a major role, because we are so closely tied to [the on the ground experience], that our voices need to be heard and we need to be confident and willing to articulate a clear, independent voice as faculty, students, or staff represent on the board. I think that's more important than anything.


Q. What would you like to accomplish?

[00:09:45.870] - Charles

I think it's really quite simple. More meetings in public. Open meetings. I find it hard to actually believe there's so much business going on that somehow needs to be kept closed. I think that something else is happening. That there's just a reluctance to be viewed and people feel uncomfortable [being seen]. And I get it. When I make decisions about teaching my classes and a student comes and asks me a question, a query something, Yeah, I don't necessarily want them to see all my back ruminations on how to do that, but I actually think [sharing that helps] explains to the student. [If I share] all the process I've gone through, [how I] establish this particular type of assignment or this decision on how to do things? It helps them understand, and they can, like, say, oh, I agree with you. You're right. [Or], actually, professor, did you notice when you said that you actually avoided, miss a whole category of things that you should have thought about? If I don't share that information with the student, I have no way to learn from that experience. If the board doesn't share what they're talking about behind closed doors, if there's no way of releasing it, we have no basis to evaluate or understand what they're doing.


So the solution is simple more meetings in public. I actually think that more people who appointed the board have a public duty to be public and expressive of the decision-making process in what they're thinking of. They shouldn't be allowed to sit in quiet in the background not being observed by the general public. Under the Liberals. I will say this lately, as I said at the time, a lot of the Liberal appointees, they thought it's a plum to get a UBC appointment. And it was more prestige than. Of course, in their version, they tell you it was public service. There was a kind of prestige mark. I had an associate of an in law of mine who was a hardcore Liberal who really said that there was a kind of ranking of who you got [what appointment]. I don't think the NDP is approaching that yet. You have to be in power a little bit longer before that starts to kick into play. It's generally happened the last time they were in power. By the time the end of the 90s came around, the people they were pointing to boards, it was patronage appointments type stuff, but they're appointed they have a public duty.


So we need to know where they stand on the issues that they're voting on, because they're making, they decide about tuition, how many people I'm almost willing to bet on this, how many of the board members are going to necessarily say anything very much about tuition? Probably the students, a number of the faculty and the staff reps are probably the ones who say the most about it. And you'll get the people who say why we do need to have tuition fee increases from that core? And then there'll probably be a good chunk. Hopefully I'll be wrong if they read this before the meeting, but there'll be a good chunk that will just say nothing and it will go through. But I think people should have an obligation if they have given such an important thing. This is a multi billion dollar enterprise. We need to know where they stand and all these issues. We need to know what they think about development. We need to know what they think and not just a vote. That's not actually how they think. Get to the positions that they've arrived at that should be public. That's a kind of radical perspective.


A lot of people don't think that's appropriate and they especially don't think it's appropriate in the corporate board. But this isn't a corporate board. This is a public university board. And so it makes it all totally different.


Q. Anything else to say?


[00:13:25.620] - Charles

I'd say that any two out of the five people whose names have been put would make amazing and excellent Board of Governors members, and I think that we're blessed to have so many people. The last election we had didn't have an election. When you look at the people I see, there are four colleagues who have all put their names forward,  all of them I know. I admire, respect and value each of them and would be pleased to see any of them be a member of the Board of Governors.


Saturday, December 3, 2022

#UBCBoG Faculty Elections - last chance to vote

Voting in the UBC Board of Governors' faculty elections ends at 4pm on December 8th.

If you haven't yet voted and want to here's how:  

To Vote  

  1. Go to:
  2. Click “CWL login” on the right hand side to login with your CWL credentials
  3. Click “Vote” next to the “UBC Vancouver Faculty Representative - Board of Governors (2022-2023 Triennial Elections)”
  4. Vote for your preferred candidates (up to 2) by clicking on the box next to the candidate’s name
  5. Click on “Submit Vote” then click “ok” to confirm your submission before logging out

Polls will be open via WebVote from the morning of Thursday 24 November 2022 until 4 pm on Thursday 8 December 2022.