UBC’s outgoing president speaks up on money and diversity

Aerial view of the University of British Columbia campus

The job of university president is relentless, Stephen Toope says.

As head of the 59,000-student University of B.C., Toope met other university presidents who have grown pessimistic and depressed.
How to count the problems in academia and at UBC? There has been shrinking funding, dwindling student loans, Metro Vancouver’s “outrageous” housing costs scaring off faculty, self-segregation by students based on ethnicity and gender, and language barriers.
Even though he is “genuinely excited” that UBC has so many international students, the campus is also shaped by a Metro Vancouver population that is 45% born outside the country.

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As a consequence, Toope, like others, has noticed increasing “self-segregation” on campus based on ethno-cultural background.

Unlike the University of Toronto, where diversity is “spread out among many, many different ethnicities,” Toope says a few ethnic groups at UBC are unusually large, such as Chinese and Korean. “It is therefore easier for some groups to focus attention on themselves and for other groups to not be as welcoming.”

UBC faculty, in addition, have “discovered some of the most intense conflicts are within ethnic groups,” Toope said. “For example, people of Chinese origin whose families have been in Canada for a long time may not feel any sense of camaraderie with first-generation students who have just come from China.”

Language differences have also led to edginess.

Like others on campus, Toope realizes some UBC students are frustrated with teaching assistants who can’t speak understandable English and so-called “classroom discussion” that is often non-existent…

“Diversity” stats for UBC:

  • Chinese: 39%
  • White: 35%
  • South Asian: 9%
  • Korean: 5%
  • Japanese: 2%
  • Aboriginal: 1%
  • Other: 7%