As has already been discussed in a number of places already, UBC has recently created a Student Editorial Team to go along with The Administration Blog, where Pierre “zeeVP” Ouillet and Brian “BowtieBrian” Sullivan can communicate directly with the UBC community. The fact that the various different media have managed to each take something different from what was discussed during the first meeting is, I think, a positive thing. In that spirit, this posting is about something that definitely won’t be appearing in any other media source.
During the meeting we were discussing the (then-upcoming) CUS fee referendum when BSul mentioned something about an athletics fee at UVic having been recently turned down. It was a throwaway line, really, but my ears perked up due to my fanatical interest in athletics fees. As I looked into the details surrounding the proposed UVic athletics fee I realized something: UBC already did what UVic had proposed and had gotten away with it, successfully avoiding ministry intervention. And not only that, UBC will probably get away with it again in the future too.
The story at UVic goes something like this: there are two main athletics facilities on campus. The first one, the McKinnon Building, is old. The second one, the Ian Stewart Building, is in good shape, but inconveniently located. UVic hatches a plan to renew the McKinnon Building through renovation and addition, and upon completion, would repurpose the Ian Stewart Building.
In order to upgrade McKinnon, they need money, and they’d like some of that to come from students. It is proposed that the mandatory Athletics fee (currently at ~$73 per term) be raised by an extra $55 per term to help pay for the new athletics facilities. In October 2009, UVic held a student “consultative ballot” to gauge the interest in such a fee and the result was that 53% of students voted in support of the fee, with a voter turnout of approximately 20%.
Despite the “consultative ballot” this fee was to be put in place directly by UVic’s board of governors. Unlike at UBC where the AMS represents all students, at UVic there are separate students societies for grad students and for undergrads. UVic’s Graduate Students’ Society (GSS) represents the former, while the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) represents the latter.
Even before the plebiscite took place, members of UVic’s GSS campaigned against the fee increase on the basis that it violated the province’s tuition policy limiting mandatory fee increases to inflation. They took an activist route, being vocal in the media, and going directly to the university administration (lame response from UVic here) and the Ministry of Advanced Education with their concerns. It was a campaign of slow escalation, keeping constant contact with the appropriate parties through response and reminder letters. It reached the point that one of the final steps involved threatening UVic with judicial review of the fee.
On the other hand, the UVSS appears to have taken a hands-off approach. On his blog “Eye on The UVSS”, writer David Foster outlines his disappointment with the UVSS for not taking any noticeable action in fighting the fee increase in spite of their CFS leanings on tuition. Even the little amount of postering they did came as a result of pestering by the GSS (who is not a member of the CFS).
Finally, on February 15 of this year, the Ministry of Advanced Education rejected the proposed fee saying it did not conform with the ministry’s guidelines on tuition increases, precisely the point the GSS had been arguing. The letter was addressed to the chair of UVic’s GSS, in response to a letter they had sent the ministry back in October 2009. A notable omission in the list of people cc’ed on the letter: the UVSS.
So what’s the point of talking about all this stuff going on across the straight?
When UBC-O joined the UBC family back in 2005, UBC’s Board of Governors laid out their plan to make the mandatory athletics fee at both campuses equal. At the time, UBC-O’s fee ($66.00) was much lower than UBC-V’s fee ($172.53). The plan was to increase UBC-O’s fee by ~$30 each year for four years, at which time parity would be achieved.
|Campus||Year||Athletics Fee (per Academic Year)|
|UBC-O||2009-2010||Parity with UBC-V|
Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. Notwithstanding the fact that UBC-V’s already-too-high mandatory fee was a preposterous target to be aiming for, as soon as the UBC-O fee hit $125 in 07-08, the following year’s increase was limited to 2%. The reason given was that while parity of the fees was still the long term plan, the large increases were going to be postponed until UBC-O facilities were more comparable to those at UBC-V; they don’t have a pool at Okanagan, among other things. According to the December 2009 Board agenda they are still exploring options for these facility upgrades.
The point of all this: if the proposed athletics fee increase at UVic is not within AvEd’s guidelines, it’s clear that the increases seen at UBC-O were not either. UBC violated AvEd’s tuition policy and got away with it. Not only that, they plan to do it again at some point in the future. And when they do, I’ll bet the increases will once again go through without any problems.
So why didn’t the ministry also rule against the fee increases at UBC-O? My guess (and this is just a guess): because no one asked them to.
In UVic’s case, it took the ministry four months to respond to the initial letter sent by UVic’s GSS. That’s an excessive amount of time to issue a decision that should have been pretty much clear cut based on current policy. However, it’s a decision that probably wouldn’t have been rendered at all without the GSS’s advocacy on this issue. While the GSS did apply sustained pressure on this issue, it was something as obvious as sending the Ministry a letter which ensured the issue was on the ministry’s radar and forced AvEd to issue a response.
In a moment of candor after the ministry reached its decision, a UVic communications officer was quoted as saying: “We’ve known all along that the current policy doesn’t allow an increase to existing fees.” That knowledge did not stop them from trying.
One suspects that if the UVSS was the only student union at UVic, with no meaningful opposition to the plan, AvEd could have just stayed silent and UVic probably would have been able to move ahead with the fee. I suspect this is what happened at UBC-O. (I’m sure there’s a digression possible here about how, for all their rhetoric on fees, CFS-member student unions fail their constituents at actually getting anything accomplished on that front, but let’s not go into that.)
What probably happened was that no one at UBC-O stood up to oppose the fee increases, and so AvEd either didn’t notice or didn’t care. And whenever UBC decides to resume the greater-than-inflation Athletic Fee increases at UBC-O, it will probably happen the same way. It might be that no one notices. It might be that no one cares. It might be that no one wants to take action. Or it might be that no one has a clue about how to go about proper advocacy. As long as any one of those things happens at UBC-O when the day comes, the university shouldn’t have any problem pushing it through.
There’s probably no particular take home message from this except as an instructive example of how and how not to undertake proper advocacy on behalf of students and the real differences it can make. Painfully obvious but still true: complacency doesn’t get results.
If someone at UBC-O cares enough about the athletics fee issue to take it on, they would be strongly encouraged to do so. The experiences of UVic’s GSS has even generated a road map on how to prevent future increases. Not only that, reversing past increases and recovering the fees is a possibility. Anyone want to stand up?