Stop selling off UBC

2008-12-06

in Canada, Economics, Rants

It seems that the University of British Columbia has granted a temporary reprieve to the on-campus farm, deciding that it will not be converted into housing “as long as the university’s housing, community development and endowment goals can be met through transferring density to other parts of campus.” While this strikes me as a modest victory, I have long had the feeling that UBC has had its priorities wrong in terms of campus development. Often, it seems to behave like a tax-exempt land management company in possession of a lot of prime real estate in Point Grey. The fact that the company happens to run a school can seem incidental.

The UBC endowment lands are meant to exist as a perpetual legacy for the university. It isn’t clear to me why selling so many of them for commercial development has been beneficial for the student body. To me, it seems the best course of action would be a freeze on new construction not related to students, coupled with a renewed focus on education, rather than property management.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan December 6, 2008 at 9:39 am

UBC’s property management does not exist in a vacuum – the tactic of exploiting the value of high end built housing on campus only began to be expoited after it became clear that cash transfers from the province were not going to return anytime soon to pre-Liberal funding levels.

The becoming-corporation of the university/ neo-liberalization of education is a larger issue than UBC’s land policy, although the latter is certainly a direct effect of the former.

Milan December 6, 2008 at 11:17 am

How big were the annual cash transfers beforehand?

Sarah December 6, 2008 at 1:27 pm

To me, it seems the best course of action would be a freeze on new construction not related to students, coupled with a renewed focus on education, rather than property management.
I think UBC are fully aware that the decisions are unpopular and short termist. However its governance structure promotes such behaviour and the fact that it exists outside the municipality of Vancouver means that no overseeing body can restrict its developments. Moreover, there have been longstanding concerns about the very low turnout and about metro Vancouver’s failure to inform students about the election (in contrast to those living in commercial property on campus) see http://votebenwest.ca/metro-vancouver-fails-ubc-students-residents . Some people have made efforts to get UBC transferred from Electoral Area A into Vancouver itself and this would almost certainly lead to more restrained & more accountable development.

Tristan December 6, 2008 at 7:46 pm

They were large enough for the University to run balanced budgets with frozen tuition and no land sales for many years prior to the election of the Liberals.

I wasn’t able to find the data with Google, but don’t you remember when cash transfers to UBC we’re being reduce while tuition was going up? It was a central issue I remember in UBC politics while we were undergrads. It was why there was no truth to the idea that education would improve as a result of higher tuition – UBC’s budget for faculty didn’t actually increase as a result of tuition going up.

Milan December 15, 2008 at 6:46 pm

It would be interesting to know exactly how much financial pressure they were under, and the extent to which land sales have affected their financial status.

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