Gupta challenged on student fee increases at lecture

File photo Mackenzie Walker / The Ubyssey

On January 13, UBC president Arvind Gupta gave a lecture at Green College entitled "the university of the 21st century: a catalyst for creativity and innovation," followed by an open question and answer session.

I Am A Student activist Jaslyn Haberl took the opportunity to question Gupta on what she seems to view as inconsistencies between his purported platform and actions. As far as we know, this is the only time that Gupta has spoken in public about the increases, though the reasons he provided are similar to those given in his official response to the AMS and ISA. The following conversation was recorded by the UBC Social Justice Centre.

"I would like to know how you reconcile your stated goal of making the university a space for students, faculty and staff and 'have access to a diversity of inputs' with the recently approved 10 per cent tuition hikes for international students, and the proposed 20 per cent hikes for student housing," Haberl said. "Does this move toward increasingly inaccessible education not strike you as being counterproductive to an innovative, creative university? And does the undemocratic nature of the university’s decision making process, when they didn’t listen to the students, who overwhelmingly and unanimously voted against these increases at the AMS’ annual general meeting after significant student organizing and mobilization not strike you as a discouragement to creative and innovative student involvement and organization?"

Gupta attempted to paraphrase the question, though Haberl interrupted to correct his interpretation.

"[We are] more concerned about, in general, accessibility for education, and we’re talking about having a diversity of experiences and access to different minds who have different ideas ... how can we really say that we’re interested in promoting accessibility and diversity on campus when we’re increasingly moving toward it being only accessible to a certain socio-economic class?" Haberl said.

Gupta responded by posing a (relatively rhetorical) question in turn to Haberl, asking her what she would expect to be the effect of increasing tuition on application numbers. Gupta went on to explain that, despite the increase, the number of applicants has "skyrocketed."

"Of course, we could try to measure the socio-economic background of those students. We could also try to use some of that money to broaden the socio-economic background of those students," Gupta said. "You know, here’s a question ... where was the discussion at 24,000? Were you asking those questions when the international tuition was 24,000?"

Haberl explained that she was not at UBC when tuition was $24,000, and opposes the increases from a ideological perspective rather than due to any direct effects they would have on her, as she is a domestic student.

Gupta went on to detail some of his reasoning behind the increases.

"But my point is that what we should really look at is what the best way is to build a great university that gives its students the kinds of outcomes that give them success in life. One of the right places to both raise money and invest to give students great outcomes in life. As hard as it is to believe, you actually need resources to invest in the university," Gupta said.

Haberl and other I Am A Student activists tried to continue the discussion, but they were cut short in order to return the conversation to subjects more directly related to the talk.

You can watch the full video of the scene below:

The original version of this article had Jaslyn Haberl's name spelled incorrectly. This has since been amended.The Ubyssey regrets this error.