This week took it out of me

I witnessed two people who ought to have known better act like the worst kind of junior high girls this week and part of me just died. The coordination it must have taken to make sure that within three seconds of getting off the phone they wanted to make sure I knew they’d lied to me and I just couldn’t help but wonder if the mean-girl vibe was worth the OMFG, did I really just encourage a staff member to *lie* to a member of the public for no reason? moment.

The UBC policies state that encouraging someone else to break a policy is the same thing as breaking the policy. I hope for the minion’s sake, their office isn’t hanging them out to dry because their boss didn’t actually say “lie to a member of the public, despite that being against our policy of being professional and courteous.”

I sent off my first email to the Dean complaining about the lack of educational theory in my degree in May of 2021. If there’s a hell for educators, it’s watching people making serious lapses of judgement that have long-term consequences without being able to help them. Elisabeth wanted me to quit almost immediately.

But I knew the Dean had taken less than two hours to consider whether or not my complaint had any validity. I realized, in that instant, that none of it had mattered. I’d been so accommodating I’d withdrawn from the classwork because everyone found the mention of craft in their critiques just that upsetting. I’d adjusted to every single “be less craft-focused” email I got until it finally became obvious that “less” meant “none” and rather than raise a stink at a program that had craft-based in the mission statement banish the subject entirely, I kept my head down and just tried to graduate.

I tried to work with every instructor I had. I set up a direct line of communication with the Chair so that if she was going to ignore policy again, none of her staff were going to get into trouble just for following her orders. I followed the letter of not one but two policies in the off-chance that I might talk to someone who had been recently hired enough to have their training fresh in their mind.

I randomly called people’s phones trying to find someone in HR who would care that the only person trying to follow the policies is the student in question. Nothing. I randomly called a new hire lawyer I thought for sure would be objective enough to compare the actions to the violated policies and not to the title of the people violating them.

It didn’t work. But not only did it not work, she made the situation so much worse as one of her first actions on the job.

Hell, for a trainer, is watching people choose to follow the existing hierarchy and not the policies. Hell is following a policy any student should have been able to follow. It’s knowing that every person who wrote, “No, we’re not following the policies, we’re doing what we’re told” has made their life infinitely worse, just because I approached them as the policy required.

But students are being harmed by this program. I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to figure out I was wrong about everything I thought I knew (but didn’t) about craft. But my classmates have to realize UBC is wrong about craft, first.

When I called Equity and Inclusion, I had two people explain to me that harassing behaviour that is unique to an academic setting that doesn’t break the law is fine. I knew it was bad advice — so bad in fact that I actually raised my voice and told the person I was speaking to that they couldn’t say that to a student. I wasn’t angry for me. I knew eventually someone was going to have to sit down with this entire department and explain how to read policy.

But I was furious for the student who didn’t know what I know. That student couldn’t possibly have known that the director couldn’t act as though the university cared whether the improper conduct came from breaking the law, breaking the policies, or telling other people to break the policies. They’re all improper conduct.

When I asked for the decision to be appealed, I was told it couldn’t be, because it wasn’t against the law. What random student would know that any decision made at UBC can be appealed?

As an educator, I didn’t feel I could quit. I could hope each time I sent an email that this next person down the chain would approach the issue objectively as I’d always been trained to do. Each time they came back assuring me that their boss said they didn’t have to follow the policies. At least it wasn’t that random student who would think after 10-15 nos, that maybe they didn’t really have a case.

It’s current precedent that the only way to have academic freedom is to never challenge it. Because once a student tries to question, comment or criticise freely, all protections from those acts are stripped. Instructors and administrators alike are allowed to harass and retaliate against students who try to share opinions in a peer review setting that doesn’t fall in lock-step with the program’s groupthink. I didn’t quite get banished to the cornfield, but I hung out there by myself for most of my third year.

I wonder if the provost understands that by “protecting” the chair, he was hanging them out to dry. To err is human but to catch the minor fuck up before it becomes a major fuck up is policy.

But it’s been exhausting. And then UBC got a Minister to not even consider her obligation to the public because I’m pretty sure she was just following what she assumed was still the current play on the field.


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