UBC president Stephen Toope claims Metro Vancouver is attacking academic freedom

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      UBC president Stephen Toope has sent an e-mail (see below)  to UBC faculty, staff, and students describing Metro Vancouver's plans to deal with land-use planning on its Point Grey  campus  as a "devastating  to our  academic freedom".

      "I cannot overemphasize how important it is that UBC continue to fully and responsibly govern its academic land use," Toope wrote in the e-mail.  "The freedom to learn is fundamental to why universities exist, and that freedom must be underpinned by autonomy to decide what, where, and how to study. World-changing learning and research requires cutting edge facilities, and the infrastructure to attract leading thinkers."

      On Friday (November 20), Metro Vancouver's electoral areas committee will vote on a staff recommendation to endorse the terms of reference for a working group on additional land-use development mechanisms at UBC.

      According to a staff report, which is part of the committee agenda, this working group would ensure the effective implementation of the official community plan and reduce development impacts on neighbouring communities.

      The report notes that it would also achieve the goals of the as-yet-unapproved regional growth strategy, provide an "open and transparent public engagement process for members of the university community", and "ensure the quality of life is preserved at UBC".

      In addition, the working group would "provide clarity over the implementation of development goals and who will have jurisdiction for which aspects".

      The report suggests that one member be included on the working group from each of the following: Metro Vancouver planning, Metro Vancouver regional parks, UBC campus planning, City of Vancouver, University Neighbourhood Association, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, University Endowment Lands, Alma Mater Society, Musqueam Band, Pacific Spirit Park Society, and  Wreck Beach Preservation Society.

      The working group would hold four meetings over a four-month period, followed by a final public meeting, at which its report and recommendations would be issued.

      UBC and Metro Vancouver signed a memorandum of understanding in 2000 to deal with institutional and noninstitutional development on campus. Since then, there has been some controversy over how UBC has proceeded with its development, most notably with  its plan for  four student residential  towers  beside Wreck Beach.

      "Notwithstanding this agreement, Metro Vancouver has begun the process of pre-empting UBC's control over planning on its own academic lands," Toope wrote in his e-mail.  "A heavy-handed set of additional land-use provisions would impose nine new zones on the greater UBC area, including seven zones on academic land. Metro also proposes a costly series of development permit restrictions, which would create a regulatory morass that would put a choke-hold on our future."

      A second report going to the electoral areas committee recommends that Metro Vancouver staff work with UBC staff "to address the provision of   adequate community, recreation and green space for UBC campus".

      On October 22, UBC vice president Stephen Owen wrote a letter to the chair of the electoral areas committee, Maria Harris, and the other members  stating that  the "introduction of a zoning bylaw  that attempts to control academic land use is  in conflict with our mutual understandings".

      Owen also claimed in his letter--which is included in the committee agenda--  that this would lead to "over-governance of the campus lands", which would lead to "inefficiencies and difficulties".

      STEPHEN TOOPE'S E-MAIL:  

      -----Original Message-----

      Date: Sat Nov 14 19:45:50 PST 2009
      From: message@ubc.ca
      Subject: UBC Broadcast E-mail: Proposed Metro Vancouver Imposition on UBCLands

      To: undisclosed-recipients:;

      Although this broadcast e-mail specifically addresses an issue affecting the Vancouver Campus, it is being distributed to all members of the UBC community.

      To: All UBC Students, Faculty, and Staff

      Earlier today, Metro Vancouver moved forward with a proposal that would restrict and regulate how we use our academic lands.

      This is an attempt to intervene in the governance of UBC in a way that could be devastating to our academic freedom.

      I cannot overemphasize how important it is that UBC continue to fully and responsibly govern its academic land use. The freedom to learn is fundamental to why universities exist, and that freedom must be underpinned by autonomy to decide what, where, and how to study. World-changing learning and research requires cutting edge facilities, and the infrastructure to attract leading thinkers.

      As you well know, we are in an intensely competitive global environment, for talent and for funding. Our ability to respond quickly and nimbly is critical. To secure CFI (Canadian Foundation for Innovation) funding, and recent KIP (Knowledge Infrastructure Plan) funding, for example, we are required to begin projects promptly, not wade through multiple layers of municipal controls. In some cases we would have to seek permission through rezoning processes to proceed with academic projects, with no guarantee of approval.

      As we witnessed with delays over the student housing project on Marine Drive (a diversion that cost students more than $20 million and reduced the proposed student housing by a third), Metro Vancouver interventions can be incredibly time consuming and expensive, without adding anything that improves the situation for students, faculty or staff at UBC.

      By way of background, Metro Vancouver has certain responsibilities for delivering services to UBC and the UEL. For UBC, those responsibilities are spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding, which gives Metro Vancouver considerable control over the planning and development of family housing property while UBC retains control over the planning and development of academic and institutional lands.

      Notwithstanding this agreement, Metro Vancouver has begun the process of pre-empting UBC's control over planning on its own academic lands. A heavy-handed set of additional land-use provisions would impose nine new zones on the greater UBC area, including seven zones on academic land. Metro also proposes a costly series of development permit restrictions, which would create a regulatory morass that would put a choke-hold on our future.

      No other university in British Columbia faces this type of restriction Others are permissively zoned into one 'institutional' category.

      UBC is conscious of its responsibility to be a good neighbour - with those in the University Neighbourhoods and with communities in all of Metro Vancouver. We are also conscious that our robust development of academic infrastructure over the past two decades has created challenges, some of which we responded to more slowly than our community would have liked.

      Our consultation processes have not always been perfect. We have listened to our communities and have improved our public consultation processes to meet or exceed standards anywhere in Canada. For example, we are nearing the conclusion of a four-year consultation process that has engaged thousands of people in developing a new Campus Plan, and which provides a twenty-year planning framework for our academic lands.  

      Our consultation and planning processes are among the best in British Columbia. We have become leaders, not just in academic excellence, but in sustainable design and development. The flexibility that Metro Vancouver is now trying to challenge has been essential to our ability to become a global sustainability leader.

      UBC is, without question, one of the leading universities in the world. Our $1.8 billion direct annual economic impact pales in comparison to the overall $10 billion we annually generate in education and innovation. From fish to forestry, philosophy to law, to opera and beyond, every aspect of the B.C. economy and society is enriched by UBC's efforts and accomplishments. We cannot allow that role to be compromised. UBC's autonomy over its academic land is fundamental to the mission of the university.

      We have issued a press release summarizing our concerns about this proposed process, and plan to do all we can to urge Metro Vancouver to withdraw this unprecedented and intrusive bylaw. I will keep you apprised of our efforts and progress. If you would like more information, or wish to support UBC's academic freedom, contact academic.freedom@ubc.ca.

      Stephen J. Toope
       President and Vice-Chancellor

      Comments

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      14 Comments

      The Modern

      Nov 17, 2009 at 6:54am

      Mr. Toope could not be more correct. Vancouver is a city of extreme over-regulation. From zoning...to prescribing appetites and how much we can eat and drink at restaurants...to interfering with academic land use and planning. The C of V is a paternalistic, out-of-control bureaucracy and it needs to stop.

      bull

      Nov 17, 2009 at 12:11pm

      Toope is another one of Campbell's stooges. This is not about education it's about real estate development.

      It's the Region, not the City

      Nov 17, 2009 at 12:13pm

      The Modern: This article is about the Greater Vancouver Regional District, aka Metro Vancouver, and its role in managing land development at UBC. The City of Vancouver has no authority over the management and development of UBC lands, known as Electoral Area 'A' (http://www.metrovancouver.org/about/electoralA/Pages/default.aspx).

      Eric Chris

      Nov 17, 2009 at 12:47pm

      Land planning at UBC is really up to UBC. Metro can deal with air quality issues which it is good at ignoring. For instance, Metro might try to deal with the issue of the 99 B-Line and other diesel buses infringing upon the UBC trolley bus routes. Residents in Vancouver have made more than enough complaints over TransLink’s use of loud and polluting diesel buses on residential roads which aren’t designed to handle convoys of diesel buses for Metro to have intervened to put an end to it by now but Metro washes its hands of it by claiming to only have jurisdiction over stationary emission sources.

      TransLink hasn’t installed sound barriers and has destroyed the air quality with its crappy soot blowing diesel buses; meanwhile, the City of Vancouver, Metro and UBC are like whatever. We really need to start firing some people over this screw up and start getting the stinking diesel buses off the UBC trolley bus routes instead of trivializing the diesel bus issue as a minor nuisance which it certainly isn’t if you are affected. As far as planning for UBC, there is lots of room for improvement in my opinion and UBC might consider relocating some faculties to downtown to lessen the transit demand to UBC.

      Shepsil

      Nov 17, 2009 at 3:07pm

      Good point by "Eric Chris". "snip...consider relocating some faculties to downtown... snip", or maybe Surrey, Langley or Abbotsford!

      Kelly Smith

      Nov 17, 2009 at 4:46pm

      Bring on the zoning bylaws. UBC campus development is outta control!

      Derek Spratt

      Nov 17, 2009 at 5:53pm

      I personally welcome this Metro bylaw proposal. UBC is addicted to property development at the expense of the communities it boarders. Proper oversight has been severely lacking for decades. A little over-governance at this critical juncture is just deserts for the brass who run UBC with little regard to anyone but their own interests.

      AH

      Nov 17, 2009 at 6:14pm

      Totally agree with Kelly Smith: UBC NEEDS to be regulated. It's proven that it can't be trusted to abide by even the very limited democratic oversight it already has. And I'd love to hear more about how smart it was for UBC to take it's land assets (which would have appreciated in value) and turn them into liquid endowments to be invested in the stock market via mutual funds etc.: how much of that cash did we lose???

      Mike Puttonen

      Nov 18, 2009 at 9:37am

      UBC long ago gave itself up to unbridled and often unpricipled development. Often with the co-operation of the provincial gov't. Remember the tree cutting along U. Boulevard? Metro can't get in there soon enough.

      Oldman Sachs

      Nov 19, 2009 at 2:36pm

      You'd have to be brain dead to not see through Stephen toope's lame excuse. To build more Condo's for his bc liberal developer buddies. It's funny trying to hide behind" it's good for education". You'd need Stephen toope's salary to afford any ubc condo's