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:
Date: Sat Nov 14 19:45:50 PST 2009
Subject: UBC Broadcast E-mail: Proposed Metro Vancouver Imposition on UBCLands
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen J. Toope
President and Vice-Chancellor