Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Last updated: 3 hours ago

Last Words: Sleazy ‘sugar baby’ coverage and a step forward for female profs–to be managed

Comic Indiana Joel/The Ubyssey

Comic Indiana Joel/The Ubyssey

“Sugar babies” represents the worst of university news coverage

Most media outlets have a pretty limited playbook when it comes to covering universities.

College coverage tends to focus on one of the following subject areas: sex, student debt, depression, booze, hazing, feel-good scientific research, university rankings, etc., etc. The general public, reared on films like Animal House and American Pie, don’t have an appetite for much else.

This past week, we had a groan-inducing trifecta. It came in the form of seekingarrangements.com, a website that hooks prospective “sugar babies” up with wealthy benefactors who provide thousands of dollars a month in exchange for youthful “companionship.” Turns out, more and more Canadian students are selling themselves, because — you guessed it — they’re in debt. The website recently released a list of students at Canadian universities using the service. UBC ranked 12th in the nation, with 60 alleged “sugar babies” on campus (alleged, as many of the profile pictures on the site are stock images).

The media love lists, and they love sexy, broke young people. So for outlets like CTV and the Globe and Mail, the story was a no-brainer. For a day or two, the story was one of the Globe‘s top shared articles.

This kind of coverage shows an incredibly shallow understanding of this generation in particular and universities in general. It’s an understanding rooted in 1980s sex comedies, rather than the reality of Canadian universities today. On the heels of a Maclean‘s cover story that declared ours a lost generation, this sleaze was salt in an undeserved wound.

Bridging UBC’s gender equity gap

It’s good that UBC has moved to address pay equity for its female faculty members.

Equity problems in the university’s faculty ranks have been a nasty issue underneath the surface ever since a 1995 report on gender discrimination in the political science department. Two years after a study showed an average $3,000 pay gap between equivalent male and female profs at UBC, it’s good to finally see movement on this issue.

There are remaining issues, though. The equation used to settle on a two per cent pay increase adjusts for rank and advancement, which is a good compromise but a keen reminder that female faculty make up only 38 per cent of UBC’s tenure track. Only 21 per cent of full professors are women.

So steps are being taken to make things a little less of a boy’s club, but there’s still a ways to go.

A pot of money for post-secondary research? Hope this works…

So the AMS wants to pay students to do research on post-secondary issues. It’s a pretty great idea. Rather than going up against powerful groups like UBC or the provincial government with pleas and platitudes, they can arm themselves with actual research numbers about issues like housing, tuition and transit.

The student society gets to do better advocacy, students get to do fancy-looking research they can put on their resumés, everybody wins. Well, sort of.

We’re really hoping this plan works, but the way it’s being rolled out so far leaves something to be desired. The pot of money the AMS has for the project mostly comes from UBC, and it comes with strings.

There’s a cap on how much money can go to one student, so we’re talking about six-month part-time projects done by undergrads, not deep, intensive work from grads with more experience in their fields. And UBC gets a significant presence on the committee that evaluates research proposals, meaning there’s the possibility they could deep-six proposals that plan to look at the university with a critical eye.

Also, the AMS thinks they can just put money on the table, and students will bring forward great, useful proposals for interesting projects without any outside help. It’d be really nice if they get so many good applications that it’s hard to choose what to fund. But realistically, untrained undergrads, many of whom are more concerned with beefing up their resumés than post-secondary lobbying, may not have ideas that are all that great.

We’re speculating, of course. Maybe this thing will take off. Maybe there are a ton of eager students waiting to do policy research. Here’s hoping.

  • David J. A. Foster

    I like the research idea. Undergrads don’t have enough research opportunities, they should be able to learn how to do it in a real-life situation before grad school. And for a low-income student on loans/financial aid, even a small amount of money can really help pay the bills. If we had this program at UVic I would apply.