UBC Asserts Need for Autonomy over Its Academic Future

The University of British Columbia has advised Metro Vancouver that it will not participate in a working group formed to further Metro’s proposal to restrict and regulate the use of UBC’s academic lands.

“We have long accepted Metro Vancouver’s planning control over our residential neighbourhoods, but UBC’s autonomy over its academic lands is a key principle that any university community is obligated to vigorously defend,” said UBC President Prof. Stephen J. Toope.

“By seeking control over academic land, a regional government with responsibilities to provide infrastructure services is now threatening the university’s fundamental academic freedom by mandating where, how and when UBC fulfills its responsibilities for teaching and research. Such interference is unprecedented in our province.

“Further, Metro’s proposal puts at risk hundreds of millions of research infrastructure dollars awarded every year through competitions that require facilities be built within tight timelines. The proposed new layers of permitting and bureaucracy would create uncertainty that jeopardizes our province’s success in creating globally influential research in, for example, medical treatments, sustainable resource management and social policies that our society demands of its universities.”

A Memorandum of Understanding signed by Metro Vancouver and the university gives UBC explicit autonomy to manage planning of the academic lands that accommodate the university’s teaching and research facilities. Under this agreement, which Metro now seeks to ignore, UBC has become one of the top research universities in the world, and a major contributor to the regional and provincial economy that generates up to $10 billion in annual economic activity.

Earlier this week, UBC reiterated its request that Metro Vancouver withdraw the proposal, and advised that the university will not participate in a 15-member working group [membership below] that Metro is forming.

“The proposed working group is an example of the regional government’s lack of understanding of the university’s academic mandate,” said Stephen Owen, Vice President, External, Legal and Community Relations.

“UBC is a large and complex organization with myriad concerns — everything from student housing and services to cultural and academic facilities,” Owen said. “The working group makeup just makes no sense when you consider that the topic of conversation is not park use or residential housing, but control of purely institutional facilities that need to reflect the university’s very specific teaching and research priorities,” Owen said.

Representatives from the University Neighbourhoods Association, which represents non-student housing residents, have indicated that their organization will not participate in Metro Vancouver’s proposed working group as currently configured.

“We have serious concerns about Metro Vancouver’s proposal and find that their approach to consultation and discussion further supports our concerns,” said Mike Feeley, chair of the University Neighborhoods Association.

Below is the list of committee members that Metro Vancouver proposed.

  • Metro Vancouver – 1 member from Regional Development and 1 member from Parks
  • UBC Campus Planning – 1 member
  • UBC Properties Trust – 1 member
  • University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) – 2 members
  • City of Vancouver – 1 member
  • Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure – 1 member
  • University Endowment Lands (UEL) – 1 member
  • Alma Mater Society (AMS) – 1 member
  • Musqueam Band – 1 member
  • Pacific Spirit Park Society – 1 member
  • Wreck Beach Preservation Society – 1 member