In high school, I had some romantic notions of what university ought to be. I was expecting a place which sought to nurture non-market values, encourage critical thought, and foster a vibrant campus culture. I was confident that UBC would mold me from a boy to a man, and from an ignorant student to an engaged citizen.
To some extent, this has proven true; but I have come to realize that, more than anything, I was being molded into a consumer.
In my first year, I wondered if I was attending a university or wandering a shopping mall. Walking to class involved passing bazaars filled with cheap trinkets, being sold on the merits of high-definition television, refusing discount subscriptions to sub-par newspapers, and being annoyed by a series of corporate giveaways (potato chips, gum, kraft dinner, soda, energy drinks, razors, frisbees).
Sure enough, I became a shopper in this mall. To say nothing of tuition, I paid exorbitant prices for textbooks, sweaters, sandwiches, laptops and lattes—they even made me pay for hot water!
Isn’t it fitting that many of UBC’s roads have the word “mall” in them? Granted, my analogy isn’t perfect; I can’t think of a mall that will ask me to rent a gown and pay for a photograph as I walk out the door.
Contrary to what the @freefoodubc Twitter account will tell you, there’s no free lunch at UBC; students and their families pay for this experience. Despite treating us like consumers, UBC doesn’t quite function like a market.
Picking classes at UBC is not like buying clothes in a mall or tickets to a movie; it’s more like gambling. Imagine the movie industry had no trailers, no posters, no Oscars and no critics. How often would you buy a movie ticket?
Until your later years when you become better acquainted with your department, you really have no idea what to expect. How often did you know what a professor was going to be like in terms of content, course structure and teaching style? How many of your years began with enthusiasm but waned when you learned your classes were too insipid to wake for?
We’ve all made bad bets on classes, but there’s very little we could have done to prevent it. Some suggest sitting in on the first class or two (“course shopping”), but this is a little bit like judging a movie by its first ten minutes.
If UBC will continue to treat us as consumers, it should consider providing us the information we need to make informed purchases (releasing teaching evaluations, streamlining and standardizing professor bios, writing detailed and accurate course descriptions, publishing the learning objectives of a class, etc).
This wouldn’t quite be the vision of education I had four years ago, but at least I would know what I’m paying for.