UBC’s Vantage College: Canadian students need not be so angry


Author: Justin McGregor

UBC’s decision to build a school exclusively for international students was met with strong opposition from students and associations on campus.

Criticism of the college seems to be based on two grounds. The first attacks UBC’s willingness to spend over a $100 million at a time when, well, UBC doesn’t have over a $100 million to spend. In fact, UBC had to borrow the money just to build the college.

And the second line of criticism takes issue with the special treatment international students are allegedly receiving at the expense of current students.

It’s no secret that UBC, like most public universities, is facing serious financial problems. At the end of the 2013 fiscal year, UBC was about $414.7 million in debt. Tuition has been increasing steadily in the last couple years, and student housing is expected to increase by 20 percent.

Given all of this, it’s not surprising that UBC’s decision to invest $127 million into building a college exclusively for international students attracted some criticism. If money is so tight, first why is UBC spending money on building a new college, and second spending it on a college exclusively for international students? If UBC has any money to spend, one would think it should be on improving education for current students.

However, this fiscal objection carries little weight when you consider the potential long-term benefits the college could bring UBC. International students will be paying an exorbitant amount for tuition and accommodation—about $50,000 a year to be precise. To put that figure into perspective, consider that 100 students attending the college earns UBC $5 million. The school already has over 200 students enrolled, and it hasn’t even been built yet.

It’s true that the $127 million it will cost to build the college could be put towards building more housing for current students or finding ways to combat rising tuition costs. But it makes much more economic sense to invest in something that pays off more in the long-run than to spend $127 million on making marginal improvements now. The latter will only increase debt with no return. In contrast, the long-term revenue generated from the college can be used to address some of UBC’s financial problems, which directly benefits current, non-international students. Therefore, if the college will have any effect on UBC’s financial crisis, it will be to alleviate it, not exacerbate it.

The second objection is a bit more interesting. At the heart of it is a knee-jerk reaction to what many perceive as rich students getting special treatment. The college will only be available to international students who can afford to pay for the tuition and accommodation, which at $50,000 a year is realistically only the wealthiest of the wealthy. That international students will get an entire college to themselves almost seems as though UBC is implementing segregation. Some have gone as far as to suggest the college is evidence of “classism” and “elitism” at UBC.

Accusing UBC of elitism or classism seems a tad hyperbolic. There’s no evidence students from lower socio-economic statuses are being denied entrance into UBC, or receiving a poorer quality education than students coming from wealthier families. Tuition for domestic students is heavily subsidized, the Government offers student loans with fair interest rates, tuition increases are capped at %2 a year, and there are millions of dollars available in scholarships and bursaries, many of which target lower income students, visible minorities, and parents. How any of this smacks of elitism or classism is beyond me.

The argument that Vantage College creates a de facto two-tier system of education, one for the wealthy internationals and the other for the impecunious Canadians, is equally without merit. It is based on 1) a fundamental misunderstanding—and mischaracterization—of the school’s intent and 2) unfounded and egregious assumptions about international students.

As a starting point, I think we can all agree there is nothing inherently wrong in allowing international students who don’t speak English as a first language but who otherwise meet UBC’s academic requirements to attend UBC. Students born outside of Canada are just as deserving of a quality education as Canadians. Many people from across the world already immigrate to Canada because they believe there are more opportunities here. The same is true of education. In light of this and Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism, it only makes sense that our universities should be just as open and accommodating to international students, many of whom may plan to immigrate here one day.

Living in a foreign country and studying at an English speaking school presents challenges for international ESL students. Vantage College aims to remove some of these common cultural and academic barriers by creating a supportive environment in which international students can strengthen their command of the English language while working towards a degree. After finishing one year at Vantage College, students will be able to take regular UBC courses. The school thus serves as a stepping-stone for international students, easing their transition into undergraduate school.

I’m sure the predominant image of an “international student” which comes to the minds of many is a spoiled Asian kid, driving to school in a Mercedes bought and paid for by his wealthy parents. If this stereotype is based on any kernel of truth, I suspect that it is a very small one.

What these broad generalizations overlook are the international students relying on loans, and collective family savings, to pay for the same education that Canadian students receive at a fraction of the cost; the student born in a working class family whose parents want a better life for him; the student who takes the bus to school because he doesn’t have a Mercedes; or the student working hard to learn a new language and study a difficult subject matter in a completely foreign environment. International students attend UBC for the same reasons as you and I: to get a quality education that translates into a career. And they pay considerably more for that opportunity.

UBC’s announcement of Vantage College had brought out the worst type of critics—the armchair, I’m going to criticize your decision on vague, poorly defined principled grounds without providing any reasonable alternatives to achieving the outcome we all want. The current housing crisis at UBC can only be fixed by building more housing—and that costs money. And where do critics propose this money should come from, if not from the fruits of investments like Vantage College?

Tuition hikes? I highly doubt that. The recent %2 increase in tuition is projected to result in only $6 million-$8 million in incremental revenue. And that tuition increase, I should add, was vehemently opposed by many of the same people now against Vantage College. I also don’t imagine our fiscally conservative provincial Government will be forking out any more money for universities in the near future. In fact, they’re doing the exact opposite. Trees? We all know money doesn’t grow there—or perhaps some of us don’t know this.

I think it’s fair to say Vantage College is a reasonable solution to UBC’s financial problems. We’re able to give students from abroad access to quality education while at the same time creating some revenue for UBC. UBC is not the only Canadian university which accepts international students. Having a specialized college aimed at making life and school for international students easier is likely to attract more students to UBC. This results in more revenue, and puts UBC in a better position to address many of the financial problems which largely fueled (almost ironically) student opposition to the College in the first place.

Do CUS Punishments Threaten our Academic Freedom?



The results for ‘Frosh Week Controversy of 2013’ are in and the the BCom students have taken it by a landslide. The Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS) raised some eyebrows with a misogynistic cheer embracing ravaging non-consenting minors during their frosh week events.

Among the backlash the CUS is facing has come another form of backlash. That is, backlash against the backlash. A philosophy professor by the name of Mark Mercer wrote an article in the Ubyssey entitled “Sanctions against CUS set a dangerous precedent”. Mercer claims that by punishing the students involved, UBC is setting a dangerous precedent which threatens our academic freedom. I respectfully disagree.

Now first off, I want to make something clear. I value academic freedom a lot. I value the right of anyone to make any kind of argument, no matter how ludicrous or offensive. I embrace discussing people’s values and have little tolerance for restrictions on freedom of speech. In other words, I am extremely sympathetic to Mr. Mercer’s project of keeping our university administrators  from censoring our professors, and most importantly, our students.

Despite my sympathies to his cause, after reading about the specifics of the incident, I cannot help but feel he’s being a little too philosophical to dress up the CUS controversy into an academic freedom issue. Why? Because it has nothing to do with academic freedom and everything to do with inappropriate behaviour during a university frosh event.

Mr. Mercer starts by talking about the issue of freedom of speech and how the CUS’s freedom is being violated by university reprimands. Firstly, it is possible that the chant was so offensive so as to actually constitute hate speech and could be a reasonable limit on our s.2 Charter rights. But Mercer fails to make a key distinction; this is not the Supreme Court of Canada, this is a university administrative tribunal! Free speech might be a guaranteed Charter right, but that does not mean your speech is free from the scrutiny and subsequent reprimand from the academic institution you are attending (and possibly acting as a frosh leader for). We as students understand we cannot freely shout obscenities during professors’ lectures. So I think it’s important to make note of the broader social context of the university and why the same “free speech rights” that we ought to recognize legally might differ from the real free speech rights we can exercise in a university environment without getting into trouble.

That being said, obviously the university still needs to recognize the freedom of speech of their students and their professors. UBC has a mixed record on this account, with the APEC controversy of 1997 where a student protest ended up drawing a severe police presence and the extensive use of pepper spray, and in 2009 with the UBC catching the attention of the BC Civil Liberties Association by preventing students from putting posters in their dorm windows. But we also have to recognize that a misogynistic rape chant is not exactly a typical free speech issue, and certainly comes very far from any commonly understood notion of “academic freedom”.

Mercer warns us that university administrators will never be able to recognize the difference between academic freedom and freedom of speech; a typical “don’t let them open the flood gates” argument. Maybe he’s right, but if he is, we should hire some smarter administrators that are capable of making this distinction. Moreover, there may be reasonable limits on academic freedom in the university context. But I think most of us would agree that there are definitely reasonable limits on freedom of speech in the university context; and screaming “O is for oh soo tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent,” qualifies as a reasonable limit during a frosh event.

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Mercer’s plea for the university administrators to keep their noses out of the CUS’s business. The university’s reprimands seem reasonable and the suggestion that there be no reprimand (and possibly no response at all from the university?) seems unreasonable. The students willingly participated in an offensive chant that celebrates sexual violence against women. Maybe, as some commerce students have commented, it’s all in good fun – just a chance for the BComs to bond. But should they really be bonding through an offensive misogynistic chant, even if it is intended to be facetious? And is a university frosh event really the right context for such a chant? Is there any right context for such a chant?

Speech is not free when you are acting on behalf of the university. Students that volunteer for roles as frosh leaders ought to know that there is a standard of behaviour they are supposed to abide by. Speech that might stand as completely legal in a SCC trial could still be sanctioned by the university administration. Rightfully so.

The university has good place to speak up. While I agree that they should not be going on a witch hunt to punish and ruin the lives of the students involved, demanding the whole CUS to do community service and learn more about sexual violence is a great idea in its own right, and this kind of behaviour is a clear sign that the commerce students need more education on the matter. And hey, if a few of the frosh leaders that were proudly cheering about going to jail for sexually assaulting minors want to resign, I say let them.


2012 Law Revue Review 

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Larry Finkelstein – LAW III

The 2012 UBC Law Revue slimed and oozed its way across the Norm Theatre stage like a damn snail on March 19th and 20th. This obscene and offensive “variety show,” which is put on each year by the UBC law students least likely to find employment, was in especially bad taste this year. I feel that public shaming is the only appropriate response to such an insulting show.

The highlights of the show included an unimaginative opening “meta” scene. This skit consisted of the Revue “brain trust” shouting abhorrent “ideas” at each other that were presumably too colourful to make it into the show proper. It also included two of the students arguing over who had the better idea for a sexual assault sketch.

Also on the menu was the usual litany of misogyny, racism, and contempt for respected professors and judges. One of the skits mocked the venerable Lord Denning, who was singled out in a ridiculous Eminem rap sequence. Another featured not one, but two pairs of exposed male buttocks. Gratuitous and unnecessary violence was also heavily featured. In one scene the actors were pelted with cricket balls, and the infamous zombie sketch featured two unspeakable and fatal beatings.

Not to be outdone, the always over-the-line Daniel Wood was in fine form himself. Whether he was brutally belittling a vulnerable female student’s resume or fantasizing about Professor Christie Ford as a Realdoll, Wood showed that he has learned nothing about sensitivity and equity in his three years at law school. In one sketch, which Wood surely wrote himself, it was insinuated that Associate Dean David Duff drugs his colleagues without their knowledge, and that Professor Benjamin Goold is a cannibal. Even our beloved Legal Eye newspaper was referred to as more fit for use as a bib than as news.

The one genuinely good-spirited and pleasant sketch was about the delightful knitting club and their wholesome influence on the law school. Although even that sketch ended on a childish note with a juvenile penis joke.

Since the show, many students have confided in me, saying that they were sincerely offended and did not know where else to turn since both the present and future Law Student’s Society Ombudspersons were involved in the demoralizing production. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that 2012 has taken the Law Revue to a dark place. But apparently not dark enough, as the biggest complaint about this year’s Law Revue is that it was less offensive than last year’s show. Students have asked: Where were the homophobic and racist slurs? Where was the singling out of specific students and Eastern European chain-smokers? Where was the frontal nudity?

The blame for this disaster must be laid squarely at the feet of show runners James Boxall and Molly Shamess. The message to next year’s Law Revue producers is clear: push the envelope (if you know what I mean).

The Third Way

An artful example of the Third Way.


I grew up for many years thinking that as a Canadian I was one of many peaceful inheritors of a great land whose government resorted to little if any violent extremes to open and settle the country.

We were better than the Americans who openly boasted about their massacres of natives as great battles in the’ Indian Wars.’  This is a Canadian myth.  I have since learned, from working within native communities, from realizing my own heritage (which was hidden from us in shame for many years), from hearing the horror stories from the locals, such as the priests impregnating young women and getting the nuns to do the dirty work of covering up their crimes – that while the facts of Canada’s legacy may not be overt and violent – the history is insidious.  As well, this continent was already well-populated, with intact countries, systems of governance with constitutions and political orders, trade regimes, language groups, diplomatic assemblies; the list goes on.  In fact, were it not for the direct political involvement of Tecumseh, and the battle cries of his Shawnee army, we would not be having this discussion in ‘Canada’ at all, for this land would quite likely be just another American state.

Another myth that needs debunking:  native people regard themselves as victims.  This is part of the mythology that manifests because the divide between races has been allowed to flourish.  Native people believe no such thing.  After working and living among them I can attest to the fact that their communities are some of the most inclusive, loving, tightly-knit familial places I have ever seen; unrivalled, really, by anything outside.  And the people are full of pride in who they are and where they come from.

The recent issues at UBC Law like the curriculum change, and the LSS Indigenous position on the executive, have stirred-up a debate here at Allard Hall.  Good.  What some see as another affirmative native action plan being shoved on them is, to others a welcome and long overdue recognition that Indigenous people are not a ‘special interest’ group.  We use the term “un-ceded Musqueam territory” at UBC because, quite simply, that is exactly the status of the ground upon which we reside while we learn about the laggard, glacial pace of native land claim settlements in Canada.  Let’s deal with it.

We are future lawyers – some of the best and brightest minds in the country.  Why is it that the land under our feet here at UBC remains ‘un-ceded?’  What are the real issues?  What does a native community really want; what do they represent?  I challenge each one of us to visit a native reserve at least once during their three years in law school and to try to find answers to these questions; but also put our brilliant minds to use and come-up with creative solutions in the quest for a third way.