Author: barbarageiger

The UBC will be a case study on how good institutions go bad

Some time prior:

Policy #3, the Discrimination and Harassment Policy was an academic policy that listed the activities UBC had to protect for academic freedom and their discrimination policy.

Despite being an academic policy under the control of the VP of Academics, the Board of Governors allowed the UBC to remove the protections from the protected activities and the complaint process to make academic freedom complaints without properly assessing the risk to the institution’s reputation for having done so.

Controlled documents are living documents. That means nothing to the UBC, obviously, but a living document means every edit is still a part of the document. That the document now says that academic freedom is unprotected doesn’t matter because the intention for the policy was to protect academic freedom. The protection for academic freedom and the process of taking academic freedom violation complaints must have been moved to another controlled document or the requested edits must have been denied.

The UBC — being an institution that had to protect its controlled documents to operate as an institution that is given public funding — had no other options. No publically-funded university may legally serve its University Persons’ interests first.

That the UBC “allowed” itself to substitute the protection for activities necessary for Academic Freedom with just the Respectful Environment Statement that only protects office workers was a controlled document handling error. Any edit done in error cannot change the document’s controlled intention.

But the UBC didn’t care. The Law Society of British Columbia’s Code of Conduct states the following:


3.1-2  A lawyer must perform all legal services undertaken on a client’s behalf to the standard of a competent lawyer.

[15]  Incompetence, negligence and mistakes – This rule does not require a standard of perfection. An error or omission, even though it might be actionable for damages in negligence or contract, will not necessarily constitute a failure to maintain the standard of professional competence described by the rule. However, evidence of gross neglect in a particular matter or a pattern of neglect or mistakes in different matters may be evidence of such a failure, regardless of tort liability. While damages may be awarded for negligence, incompetence can give rise to the additional sanction of disciplinary action.

The UBC University Counsel wrote a lawyer’s note that forgave policy violations. It could not have been a legal opinion because policies are a non-legal matter. Instead of consulting a policy expert as per that code of conduct, the UBC university counsel gave the UBC permission to redefine “improper conduct”, “UBC Persons” and ignore its obligation to academic freedom.

The last time I think the UBC knew it had to respect Academic Freedom was in 2015 when a UBC board of governors member violated a professor’s academic freedom.

In her Summary, Honourable Lynn Smith found the following:
-That the UBC community is not aware that academic freedom is required to be protected
-That lack of action is an action that violates academic freedom
– That the UBC has a positive obligation to defend academic freedom.

Dr. Martha Piper, the interim President at the time, said that the UBC will do the following:
-Hire an Academic Freedom Specialist that would work with the university to ensure academic freedom is respected.
-Train new hires and promoted UBC Persons to the importance of defending academic freedom
-Create a system to record and track academic freedom violations
-Train board members specifically on the importance of understanding academic freedom.

None of these steps were completed. Instead, in 2016 the UBC hired Dr. Santa Ono who left an error report that involved the institution’s academic freedom open for all six years of his presidency. Not one of the actions that UBC promised it would do was done.

Fast forward to 2018. A student enrolls in the UBC Creative Writing MFA. They enrolled assuming that the UBC understood its obligations to the University of British Columbia’s institution, academic freedom as a concept, and it respected all its UBC Persons. Because — on paper — that was what the UBC was pretending to be.

In February 2020, I filed a complaint against my director. Her actions had violated the following policies and statements:

-The Respectful Environment Statement
-The Academic Freedom Statement
-The Scholarly Integrity Policy
-The Retaliation Policy
-The Discrimination Policy

But Director Narain told me that the only policy the institution “had to care about” was the second half of the former Discrimination and Harassment Policy that talked about discrimination. Even a respectful environment “wasn’t legally required.”

The UBC was so incapable of operating as an institution that it believed that if discrimination was against the law and ignoring policies wasn’t, the UBC could ignore the multiple policies and dismiss my complaint based on my harasser not violating the law.

Narain — whose department was responsible for explaining policies to students — didn’t know “protected” was a protected term. She understood what a “protected characteristic” was but didn’t care what a “protected activity” was.

But she had been promoted to her position between 2015 and 2020. Had the UBC completed its obligation to her to train promoted people on the importance of respecting academic freedom, this wouldn’t have happened.

But because the UBC failed to complete its obligations to train UBC Persons to know lack of action was an action that violated academic freedom and that they had a positive obligation to defend it, Director Narain got a “team” together to ensure that when she denied a UBC Person their rights for being a UBC Person, that she was doing it legally.

Legally, Director Narain had no obligation to serve the institution’s interests above the interests of my director to make the academic freedom complaint against her go away. Director Narain should have known that in a controlled environment, giving incorrect policy advice is a live policy error. If she was signed off to give proper policy advice, she would have known that a live error is the worst kind of error to make.

Legally, non-Board of Governor members of the UBC could ignore any policy they wanted. By working for an institution, the institution has paid millions of dollars to ensure that every member of their institution knows what they should do in any situation.

It doesn’t matter if a UBC Person decides to violate UBC policies despite their training or because they weren’t trained to know they couldn’t. It is the UBC’s responsibility that they did. It’s why violating policy is legally allowed. An institution holds the responsibility that its Persons understand its policies and know that they must be followed.

It’s why any institution invests millions in the training documentation of its employees. So when shit goes down, the institution absolutely knows what its Persons signed off that they understood the proper way of doing things.

The UBC Person’s choice to do it any other way risks their continued employment.

But the UBC didn’t even want to understand that UBC Persons not being legally punished for violating policy doesn’t mean there are no institutional consequences for the UBC. It can’t ignore its UBC Persons committing vast amounts of institutionally-defined and institutionally-applicable “improper conduct.”

As an institution, the UBC doesn’t have eyes. But that doesn’t mean it can turn a blind one to its Persons abusing their authority.

And as soon as Dr. Ono was made aware of the situation and didn’t act to preserve the UBC’s best interest over his own best interest to keep the complaint off the record, the UBC was legally in trouble. As the University Act makes clear in section 19.1:

Best interests of university

19.1  The members of the board of a university must act in the best interests of the university.

Dr. Ono is most certainly innocent until proven guilty that he violated the university act by ignoring the UBC’s best interest to serve his own.

But he certainly violated multiple aspects of his Code of Conduct for his Board of Governor’s position and the Board of Governor’s Mandate. He ignored his Roles and Responsibilities to the UBC. He disregarded every one of his Duties to his position and he pretended there was no highest ethical consideration he had to hold himself to in the Manual.

But whether doing all that illegally served his interests over the best interests of his university will have to be determined by someone else.

the UBC Board of Governor’s Code of Conduct is straightforward

I don’t really enjoy reading policy. There is very little plot progression and I’ve never read to the end of a policy and really felt like the author has taken me on an engaging experience. However, the Code of Conduct is very interesting in the “wow, eventually the UBC is going to learn that a lawyer’s note can’t excuse them from any of these obligations” kind of way.

If you read it just for the opening that makes it clear that these expectations are set up in the University Act alone, it’s worth it. The Code makes it abundantly clear that the Board of Governors must comply with the legal expectations set in law.

So, in that regard, the Code is quite a riveting read. Chapter 7 is my favourite. The author made me believe that the Protocol for Dealing with Conflicts of Interest actually mattered. I’d recommend it to anyone whose life is about to be impacted by their decision to ignore it entirely. Imagine assuming that wanting to keep academic freedom violations off your permanent record not being seen immediately as a conflict of interest.

The UBC institution made it clear that even a wiff of a conflict of interest must be reported and that Academic Freedom violations will not be tolerated. The only real criticism I have is Chapter 9, when the policy slips into pure escapist fanfiction:

9.3 University Counsel
The Conflict of Interest Advisor, the Board Chair, the Governance Committee Chair, the Governance Committee, the Secretary and/or the Board may consult the University Counsel on the interpretation, implementation and operation of this Code, including possible conflict of interest situations that have been raised under this Code

The real UBC University Counsel put in writing that any Code of Conduct — from their own to the one listed above — is a work of speculative fiction.

The sequel — The Board of Governor’s Manual — really hammers home that “highest ethical standard” that the average UBC Lawyer knows isn’t legally required.

Gallant and Goofus: the UBC edition

GallantU is a good academic institution. Goofus is UBC. Let’s see how these two differ in their administration!

first image: Gallant recognizes all GallantU Persons who work and go to GallantU as a GallantU Person with all the rights and privileges that entails.

second image: UBC holds up a measuring stick that reads “you must love the UBC this much to have UBC Personhood. No lawyer’s note accepted.

GallantU knows that if a student goes to its university, they are dependent on the institution to protect their rights. The UBC believes that not liking a program is a reason to deny their obligation to that student.

first image: GallantU is wagging a finger at GallantU’s lawyers. He is protecting his policies from them.

second image: UBC Lawyers divide the non-legal policies from the legally enforceable policies. UBC carts the non-legal policies to an incinerator that is already burning binders.

GallantU knows only to ask lawyers what is legal and what is not. He understands expectations in an institutional setting can exceed the legal standard to ensure all his Persons can learn in a respectful environment.

The UBC believes other than the law, that they are a law unto themselves and answer to no one.

first image: GallantU treats all its GallantU Persons the same, regardless of what kind of GallantU Person they are!

second image: Some UBC Persons have gold stars on their belly. Some do not. The ones that do not have one are clearly second-class UBC Persons.

GallantU knows that policies do not give a flying fuck who the respondent and the complainant are in a complaint.

The UBC knows complaints don’t have to be taken against a star-bellied sneetch high-ranking UBC Person.

first image: GallantU acts as a fiduciary for the university as a legal entity separate from the GallantU Persons needed to operate the institution as an institution.

second image: the UBC acts as a fiduciary to just the UBC Persons who operate it. They don’t believe that the UBC has a separate, legal entity beyond the meatsacks who run the UBC as a private business.

Gallant knows a fiduciary must work in the best interest of what they are a fiduciary for. Financial advisors must work in the interest of their clients instead for the investments that offer the most kickback. GallantU Persons know to put GallantU’s interests above their own.

The UBC believes it is possible to be a fiduciary and ignore their institution’s controlled documents meant for all UBC Persons to follow so that the UBC can better serve its meatsacks’ best interests.

Rapid fire round!

GallantU believes its programs should offer its students knowledge that will not harm their future profession. The UBC gives their student the education they’ll need to provide a glowing evaluation. If they continue to struggle in their publishing goals and teach that there is nothing to learn to writers trying to publish, that’s a “them” problem.

GallantU believes when he reads a policy that is a controlled document, the words mean exactly what they say they do. The UBC believes that a lawyer can tell them what they really mean with their extra special, lawyer x-ray vision.

GallantU believes that scholarly integrity is necessary for the running of an academic institution. The UBC believes that because their Scholarly Integrity policy is non-legally binding, it is non-institutionally applicable.

GallantU believes that students learn best in a harassment-free environment. The UBC believes this too, unless that harassment is based on academic freedom. If harassment is based on “only” an academic freedom violation, the harasser may continue. The student had just better watch what they should have been able to freely comment even more carefully because their harasser now has a green light to continue.

GallantU believes every university should have a training department dedicated to training its employed Persons to know the standards the university expects of them, even if their boss comes to them and tells them to ignore their training. The UBC believes their training department should remain comatose and just let them do what they want.

GallantU knows that if they don’t comply with their own policies that they wrote and codified for them to follow, the student is free to report them for doing so. The UBC believes if they work together as a team, they can make any complaint disappear from any official record and there will be no consequences.

Be like GallantU. Don’t be like the UBC. Don’t believe lawyers when they say anything legal will have absolutely no consequences in a controlled environment. Institutions require policy adherence to operate. (See: Donald Trump’s four years in office.)

tension does not mean what a lot of writers think

It’s another post where I mention Donald Maass, but this time, it’s about the one thing I think he got less than perfectly accurate. I’ve been to two of his workshops. In the workshop regarding Writing the Breakout Novel there were two things you had to walk out of the session knowing.

The first is, there should be no backstory for the first thirty pages. I agree 98% with this. To paraphrase Maass loosely, he said that reader doesn’t have to know about the character’s then to care about the character’s now in the now of the piece.

Those thirty pages are your book’s entrance. By the end of the third chapter, the world, stakes, character, and the character’s problems should be firmly established. There is no room in doing all of that to waste the word count needed to inform the reader of the why the character yet. They are who they are. Tragic past reveals can wait until the character has established who they have become because of it.

But, the 2% that doesn’t agree thinks that the author can hide any bit of backstory as long as it is attached to a sense. What a character smells, hears, tastes or sees (if they must) can remind them **BRIEFLY** of the same memory elsewhere in their history. I can’t even remember where I heard that.

It was his other piece of advice that I agree with in principle but not how he says it. He says there should be tension on every page. And he’s right. There should be. His suggestion of printing off the book, scrambling them so that the pages are non-sequential and then reading for a moment that matters is a great one.

My issue with the statement is about the “on the page.” Tension does not exist on the page. It exists in the reader as they put pieces of the story together in their head and realize the consequences of choices independent of the character’s understanding. Sometimes the realization is parallel to the character’s. Sometimes it can race ahead of what the character can’t grok yet. It can also lag behind what a character understands but isn’t ready to acknowledge yet.

But the word “tension” has the same problem “conflict” has. They mean different things IRL than in creative writing. Conflict isn’t arguments, it’s what the character has to overcome to accomplish their goals. Even a story where the only thing stopping the nicest character in the world from doing what they want is how it will be perceived can have as much conflict and tension in it as a Vin Diesel action vehicle.

It’s just a different kind of conflict and a different kind of tension. The reader knows what the character ought to do but they can still invest in the journey of a character who has to overcome who they have become as a person and tries to assert boundaries that must be respected in a healthy relationship.

No spaceship needs to explode to be a gripping story. The conflict is internally motivated by the character’s conflicting desires. The tension of watching a character struggle with the consequences of their choices while trying to change their expected outcome — for better or for worse — is felt inside the reader without a single space station imploding.

I realize that “there should be a moment on every page that impacts the reader as they put together for themselves how what is happening matters to the story” is a larger mouthful to say than “tension on every page.”

But if most underpublished writers’ working definition of tension only means the summer blockbuster kind, then only a fool would agree that a planet needs to stop existing on every page. It’s why teaching from the summit is so dangerous to learners. Experienced writers may know that conflict is what the character has to overcome to accomplish their goal and tension is how the reader feels about it, but their colloquial meanings are being taught in the MFA classrooms that produce the next generation of writing instructors.

If tension only means “the pacing of Sixth Sense or better” to a writer, they are not going to even try to have moments in their work where what is happening means more to the reader than the character experiencing it.

If tension is one thing, it’s that.

ikebana and the learning of craft

I watched one demonstration of ikebana in Japan and it changed my philosophy of writing. To be fair, I was only twenty-one at the time, so I hadn’t yet developed a philosophy of writing other than “I want to tell cool stories about cool characters doing cool things.”

And it took about seven years.

The Japanese master I observed picked up a chrysanthemum stalk with two beautiful flowers on it. The arrangement was meant to have a beautiful flower at three different heights to signify something I’ve long since forgotten, but that was the arrangement she was creating. I thought she’d put down the stem that had two beautiful flowers as one had a 90-degree angle to the stem and pick up one of the others, but its stalk was the length she was looking for.

So she picked up the snippers and cut the second flower off despite it being as beautiful as the one she needed. From my immature and western perspective, I remember feeling horrified at the waste of its potential just because it wasn’t what was needed in the moment. But she was an artist using pretty flowers to say something significant, not using pretty flowers to be pretty flowers.

If anything didn’t suit the arrangement she was creating, it could not be there.

The only strictly Japanese hobby I enjoyed when I was there was etegami — the art of painting postcards. It was held by the seniors in my town. The more Japanese I spoke, the more I could have meaningful interactions with people who always spoke absolutely textbook Japanese slowly and carefully enough for even my ears to follow when I started. I had loved watercolour since high school and I understood the aesthetics of negative space. I even knew how to control my brushwork.

Most Japanese art forms codify the basic practice again and again and again and again before you ever get to do “the fun stuff” like painting fish in bubbles with as few brush strokes as possible. The joke for the kyūdō club that was in the closest city to me was that by month I-can’t-even-honestly-remember, you got to hold the bow.

But that’s the thing about creating art. The artist hones their craft so that they can speak more significantly to themselves.

It took me years of never seeing a single scene that didn’t progress the story yet still served it for me to realize my scenes that didn’t serve the story needed my attention. Even moments of relaxed tension serve the story if they are in contrast with multiple scenes with a lot of tension as the character (and the reader) would understand tension to be.

Scenes with low tension and stakes only work as a contrast to the rest of the story.

I had to see it a thousand times in other people’s work before I even realized it also applied to my work. I thought my lateral story movement was so good it was worth the movement away from the progression of the piece. It never was. It still isn’t.

And as soon as I realized that I wasn’t trying to make nice arrangements of words — and given enough cooling-off time — what did or didn’t fit a particular story became painfully obvious. No matter how much I loved any one particular scene in the first draft, if I could tell what was revealed in it at an earlier point in a more engaging way, I replaced it.

I replay the image of the second flower falling with an entirely new understanding of the value of caring more about what is trying to be said than how an earlier draft said it.

Flower arrangements don’t have to be culturally significant statements. They can just be beautiful flower arrangements because their purpose can also be to show other people that people are thinking about them and want some beauty in their life. Their beauty as beauty still serves a purpose.

Prose that is only well written does cannot serve any purpose in its arrangement. It can be revised to serve the story by whatever means necessary or it can be cut. No matter how the reader got the book in their hands, the reader still has to invest their spare time into its reading.

Holly Lisle says in Mugging the Muse that the writer makes the reader five promises. One of them is that the author will not waste the reader’s time. The other four are just as valuable.

And as lovely as my classes were, the fact that they only taught their learners how to improve what they were already doing well made the methodology antithetical to the learning process. That’s not me speaking, that’s the learning process. The moment it taught craft isn’t even required to be discussed, the UBC’s methodology broke.

The program’s mission statement states that its learners will be assisted in their intentions for the piece. If the learner’s intention is publication — on repeat: a Master’s level program in Canada must be at the forefront of professional knowledge — a methodology that stresses craft must be taught.

Again, this is not me saying it. It is what the University of British Columbia’s School of Creative Writing Mission Statment when I enrolled in the program said. It promised it would be the purpose of its institution. The UBC didn’t even think its MFA in creative writing had to be guided by its mission statement.

I remember how much disdain I had when I first learned about mission statements. They seemed so ivory tower. But I didn’t know anything about teaching until after I graduated with my teaching degree. I had to learn how to teach before I had a professional opinion as to the value of a mission statement. If I didn’t agree with it, I could avoid the program. But the UBC just put pretty words up and hoped no one would call them on it.

So asking, “okay, but *how* does what you teach in class assist the objective stated in its mission statement?” broke a university at one of its most basic functions.

That’s not me saying that, either. That’s the University of British Columbia’s Academic Freedom Statement. But as soon as UBC realized its policies were not legally enforceable, it abandoned its principles entirely.

It only took terrible legal advice, a Provost who was quoted on that page as supporting “unpopular opinions” but didn’t want to put his reputation where his mouth was after he realized he’d put in writing: No! Our pedagogy is TOTAL ACADEMIC FREEDOM VIOLATION!, and an “academic” “institution” so poorly trained that it didn’t know it should have set dragons to defend its institutional definitions over completely irrelevant-to-the-situation legal terms.

But the UBC just needed to hear it only had to hold itself accountable to one of the definitions of improper conduct and it committed improper conduct as an institution. In one policy expert’s professional opinion, that’s a very bad thing to do.

And this was all because I was told to suggest craft might be important was an unsuitable opinion to have at a provincially funded university. No university should have wanted to silence that opinion. Academic freedom states they couldn’t have, even if they wanted to.

Until UBC lawyers got involved.

I can’t imagine what a regular student would think of the UBC

I had to know how to teach and write to know that the UBC was offering its students an anti-pedagogy. To get those sweet, sweet student evaluations, the UBC just had to lock the necessity of learning the craft of writing to improve stories at a structural level behind the University of British Columbia’s reputation as a preeminent institute.

And if that meant the average graduate of their program has to conceive the notion that the UBC might be wrong first before they could consider structure might help their career goals, so be it. The graduate has already completed their glowing evaluation of a program that taught them that no story ever needs anything but a nice polish.

Any masters program in Canada should be on the leading edge of its profession and academia. My MFA told its student body to just do what they are doing but this time, slightly better and hope for significant change after having paid tens of thousands of dollars of tuition.

It was a degree that worried only about the 1% law without concern for the craft yet to be learned. Every writer assumes they are just breaking the rules when all they know how to do is tell the audience what is important. And with the success of the very small subset of learners who just needs to practice the 1% law, the program is considered to be of value to all learners.

But did my instructors even realize they were teaching the same lesson to at least three types of learners? Only the group that contained a handful of students could have benefited without being harmed having only learned how to discuss polishing techniques.

But those students just perpetuate the problem of instructors just teaching the writers who are like them. If a program can only teach writers who are near-clones of the instructor, it cannot reach the average learner.

A pedagogy’s success is not judged on the very small percentage of the learners who succeed despite the methodology. It is judged on the outcome of the average learner. The average learner never learns that the secret to a learner’s success in the UBC methodology depends entirely on how their writing ability already stacks up to the professional standard of their genre at the time they applied for the program.

I’m guessing not. They believed their program was “learner-focused.” They should have been forced to advertise their program as “learner *like me* focused.”

But there’s weirdly no truth in academic laws like there is in advertisement. And so, there are no student protections.

Students in a quarantine are the least likely to have the funds to fight it. But first, they’d have to find a lawyer who hears anything more than blah blah blah when someone says that lawyers violated their professional code of conduct to ignore academic freedom violations.

My complaint was not that UBC Officers were committing improper conduct. It was that the UBC was not stopping their officers from committing it. But not being an injury or a wrongful dismissal, it was beyond the lawyers I spoke to mortal kens.

The training department of their law firm failed to train them to understand that policies must be followed despite being a non-legal matter. Institutions hold their officers to institutional standards willingly and not just because they might be arrested if they do not.

I tried to complain about the UBC’s lack of scholarly integrity that it would violate academic freedom because it was not against the law not to. The UBC pretended it isn’t the kind of university that abandons its scholarly integrity at the drop of a law degree if its university counsel advises it that its Scholarly Integrity Policy isn’t legally enforceable.

This shit mattered to me. I always thought I just had to tell the next person on the appeals process that a megalomanic was trying to ruin UBC’s reputation by assuming he could close an academic freedom violation complaint against himself. Instead, they ensured nothing could slow their momentum before the entire university drove off that cliff.

I remember how carefully I tried to make it clear to Andrew Szeri that he wanted to keep the issue internal. It was going to be reported at that point, one way or the other. If he wasn’t going to allow his institute to self-report his blatant conflict of interest, I would.

But the UBC didn’t even teach its staff conflicts of interest are bad, mkay?

And as I’ve already said in one of my privated blogposts, the only thing worse than having an error state “We have fucked up considerably” is having that report be externally generated by an outside regulatory agency that says, “You have fucked up considerably.”

I almost thought the UBC didn’t have a training department at all. But I did manage to contact them once. Whoever I spoke to told me that contacting them to report that no one was following policy was against policy. When I told them I was the only one trying to follow policy, I was advised to just follow policy even more. I can’t say I wasn’t speaking to an AI program just trained to repeat the common phrases a trainer would say.

But a regular student without my extensive policy training would think that an academic institution can decide which opinion is really allowed to be shared and which has to button itself up, despite what the academic freedom statement says.

As a reminder, it states violations will not be tolerated. But the UBC has told the non-SOP trained student that the UBC gets to decide which valid opinions it can silence. In a university that understood its obligations to academia, it would be obvious that if the truth can’t exist in a methodology, it’s the methodology that is broken.

If the methodology ensures that it is unacceptable to suggest that a rewrite might be necessary, learners learn rewrites are not necessary. “Standard industry tools” do not include trying to compete in a slushpile with work that has a nice polish on a first draft.

The student who understood the market their classmates were trying to publish in and how to recognize a methodology with no workable pedagogy would know the UBC doesn’t think students deserve a respectful environment if they state an opinion their instructor disagrees with.

I didn’t like the methodology of the program. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t see how it could work. Despite all of those facts, I respected the fact that it must have had a pedagogy deep down. So I could at the very least respect it until I was told by two UBC Officers that there was no pedagogy to be had.

I never complained I didn’t like the way it was taught. The teaching was fine. What was and wasn’t being taught was the problem. But none of my instructors could respect the freedom I had to voice an unpopular opinion about the necessity of craft in a program with rigorously craft-based in its mission statement.

That student would think institutional policies truly are pies in the sky and not an expectation set between the British Columbian government and the University of British Columbia that they must follow to operate as an institution with public funding. Policies set the standard expectation that anyone in X situation will be treated like Y. It doesn’t allow itself to take into consideration who the “anyone” is.

If a UBC Person makes a complaint, they are the complainant. If a UBC Person is complained about, they are the respondent. We use these terms in policy because it does not matter who the respondent and complainant are in relation to each other. All complainants will be treated exactly the same, no matter who or what they are complaining about. All respondents will be treated the same, no matter how big of a corner office they have.

Instead, the UBC went to their lawyers and said “Legally, how do we get out of following our policies?”

And somewhere in this world, a monkey paw’s finger curled up against its palm.

Because the university counsel was absolutely right. Legally, they didn’t have to follow the policies. Legally, they could do whatever they wanted. The UBC just has to accept the consequences of being the institution that ignored a conflict of interest to strip the academic freedom from a UBC Person so the UBC wouldn’t have to hear how their program assaulted academic freedom.

When UBC Persons attack another UBC Person’s academic freedom, it should have been a five-alarm fire.

When the institution officially assists those UBC Persons in attacking another UBC Person’s academic freedom, they burn the fire-fighting equipment.

If I wasn’t aware that lawyers couldn’t refuse to do their duty to their institution or that UBC officers couldn’t choose to ignore policies because their boss told them to, I would have walked away knowing the University of British Columbia under Dr. Ono’s administration could do anything they wanted to cover up harassment and the institution would assist their harassers.

All because lawyers thought a legal opinion could redefine “UBC Person” to exclude students and “improper conduct” to exclude policy. Why didn’t John S. Montalbano ask a lawyer just to write him a note excusing him from his academic freedom expectations?

the ubc was shockingly incompetent at the u part

At best, they are in fact located in British Columbia.

I’ve never experienced such a professional clusterfuck. My instructors gave me feedback that set me up for failure time and time again. They had three years to explain to me that when they said “be less craft-focused” they meant “our methodology teaches learners that they have nothing to learn. It doesn’t work if you keep having the opinion that most first drafts are not structurally perfect. This program only knows how to discuss *final* draft concerns despite requiring the student to submit first drafts of work written for the class.”

Other learners — occasionally — touched on the same structural issues in their critique that I saw. I always wondered if they got the lovely “Fuck academic freedom and its protection for commenting freely. We’re never actually going to say ‘don’t talk about craft’ because even we know how bad that would look in writing, so less is implied to mean absolutely none.”

When Andrew Szeri “explained” that that was intentional, it blew me away. When the program’s director couldn’t explain why they were teaching the program the way they did, it was bad enough. When Szeri said the program’s objective was to control what was said and how it was said so as to not even nudge a learner’s preconceived notions, it explained everything. But I couldn’t believe the Provost of a premier “university” would put in writing that they intended their program to attack academic freedom at the methodology-level of the program.

But then he also put in writing that his program uses “standard industry tools.” He refused to answer my question as to how teaching writers that their final draft is a first draft plus polish is even a non-standard industry tool.

Academic freedom is the protected freedom to question shit. Andrew J. Szeri, Dr. Santa Ono, Dr. Ono’s entire administration, and the University Counsel all cash their metaphorical cheques from an academic **institution.** That means they have to abide by the rules of that academic institution.

If I worked at a gas station, there would be policies dealing with cheques, cashing out and opening procedures. They are not the structured, controlled documents that an institution requires to operate as an institution, of course, but if I took an out-of-town cheque without taking any form of ID from the cheque casher for hundreds of dollars over the total, I could be fired. If I was late all the time, the company wouldn’t even need to write a “don’t be late” policy so that I could be fired for breaking it. If I just had a bad attitude, I could be let go.

None of those things are against the law. All of them would have been valid reasons to be fired given enough attempts to retrain the worker. If I hired a “U”BC lawyer to represent me because it is not against the law to be late, I would be laughed out of my wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

But the University Counsel, because they had no training in the subject, assumed that if something wasn’t illegal, it was permissible behaviour that would have absolutely no consequence for violating it. And by doing so, they turned the individual problem of institutional officers committing improper conduct into a institutional problem where the institution willingly overlooked its institutional officers committing improper conduct.

From a policy perspective — something lawyers would know nothing about — that is infinitely worse. Having instructors that steal lunch money from their students is bad. Having an institution not care if their instructors are stealing lunch money is a completely different problem than the first.

Improper conduct is improper conduct in an institution. It’s disgusting that had my lunch money been stolen, the UBC would know what to do. But when its officers attacked my academic freedom, the academic institution of the University of British Columbia didn’t even realize it was an issue serious enough to take a complaint about.

Mark Crosbie insisted three times that the “university” of British Columbia doesn’t have to listen to harassment complaints or academic freedom violations from students. In an actual university, that would be legal malpractice. In a bunch of nice buildings at the tip of the Point Grey Peninsula located in British Columbia, it is their Standard Operating Procedure.

In 2015, the head of the Board of Governors had to step down because he had threatened a professor’s funding for having an opinion he disagreed with. But the Honourable Lynn Smith didn’t find that the UBC had infringed on the prof’s respectful environment.

I was told I didn’t deserve a respectful environment because it wasn’t legally required to be provided. Lawyers had decided they had the right to tell the UBC that not all UBC Persons were “real” UBC Persons.

The UBC didn’t need to hear anything else.

slideshow for yesterday’s word on the street presentation

I got a second piece of advice that said each slide should be a week’s worth of class. They are not wrong. The presentation is meant for writers who have tried their best for an extended period of time and have not achieved the results of their instructors.

But my entire theory revolves around the fact that it isn’t enough to actually know something. Knowledge that isn’t practiced and honed by the learner remains in the theoretical realm until it is.

the UBC and monkey paw legal advice

The thing about magic in fairytales is that it almost never actually works for long if it is not used by a wholesome person for a wholesome reason. Using magic for ill always has a cost. The monkey paw legend is a good example of this. Whatever happens does so exactly as requested but each time, with dire consequences.

The UBC asked the wrong question when they asked the lawyers what was asked of them. No one was going to be arrested for violating policy. No one was going to be arrested for redefining improper conduct definitions to just the definition that a lawyer needs to care about.

No one will even get arrested for having the legal opinion lawyers can decide policies don’t have to be followed despite policy not being a legal matter. In the “did you answer the client’s questions correctly” category the UBC lawyers would get a 100%.

Nobody will get arrested.

But they work for an institution. If the institutional officers decide they’re not going to play by the rules, the institution is the one that bears the brunt for not stopping itself from violating its own policies. It’s not up to an officer of an institution to look away from improper conduct.

And through it all, UBC students were held to the student misconduct policies, even though only plagiarism is illegal. The UBC thought it could punish its student body for conduct violations without holding its officers to the same expectations.

There is nothing worse in this world than hypocrites. Holding young people whose frontal lobes haven’t fully developed to the expectations their staff were advised the institution was totally cool with violating enrages me as an educator.

By thinking they could eliminate two of the definitions of improper conduct, the lawyers committed improper conduct to advise improper conduct could be committed. Just from a policy perspective, what they did was improper and should have been dealt with. But despite their professional code of conduct as lawyers saying otherwise, the UBC university counsel believed they had the right to decide how something well outside their expertise will be administered.

Against an expert in that field. An expert that the Law Society of British Columbia suggests to suggest to the client to be referred to (if my training documentation were up to date and signed off on correctly, of course.)

I tried to report the most obvious case of academic freedom violation and retaliation I had ever heard of in my academic history. But lawyers decided that they got to decide which reports of harassment the institution wants to hear.

No one is going to be arrested, but someone has to answer for the harm done to the student. A student was told, “look, even though we put zero thought into this, we all think that you just don’t have any right to complain.”

Since my complaint was “just” about academic freedom, the UBC didn’t even take the complaint. They thought they could unprotect academic freedom so they thought they did. Any protection for my activities that ought to have been protected was null and void because lawyers thought they could decide it was.

It was also something he had zero clue about and an obligation to report his knowledge as such.

But because of that buffoonery, I wasn’t even to be given an appeal based on an academic freedom violation because my harasser had not broken the law. That was all the “don’t do bad stuff” a lawyer could dream of in his philosophy.

And despite the fact that I knew the UBC didn’t have a toe to stand on, I only asked the Director of my program for an apology. She was so incompetent that she told me that my thinking MFAs need a workable pedagogy and her thinking that an anti-pedagogy that harms learners in the long run but produces great student evaluations in the short was just a “difference of pedagogical opinions.”

I have always known that the primary function of any university was academic freedom. I understood that institutions do not get to decide which complaint they wanted to hear or what policy they want to follow. I knew that no institution can just decide to unprotect academic freedom.

I have always known that pedagogy must be explainable.

But my complaint about the quality of my education once it was revealed that not even the director understood how what they taught in class assisted the learner in their goals wasn’t heard. The UBC already thought it could control which complaints get made.

Any policy change must go through a risk assessment to the institution’s reputation. Instead, lawyers thought they could just say academic freedom was unprotected and be done with any obligation to the truth, its pursuit, and the interrogation of the status quo forever.

All the while, their institution was holding a symposium on the subject.

The Honourable person whose summary was accepted the last time the UBC fucked around and found out about academic freedom actually spoke at that symposium. The board of governors’ head guy stepped down for one statement that violated academic freedom.

Dr. Ono turned violating academic freedom into a UBC cottage industry.

But there will never be a law that says “hey, don’t do the kind of shit that gets your ass fired from any job.” Freewill is still free. If your institution says don’t do this and a meatsack does it, it’s not up to the other meatsacks to ignore it happened.

And the fingers on the monkey paw spring back to three for the next sucker who just wants to wish away their problems. The paw is a metaphor for the consequences of not doing the hard work to solve your own problems, you see.

The King/Sawyer method of thematic management

In On Writing, Stephen King’s method of thematic relevance is to write the first draft as is and then find an organic theme, and pick out the threads of it in the rewrite. The Robert J. Sawyer method is to write to the specific purpose of setting the protagonist against a pre-determined thematic question.

A lot of writers will benefit from combining the two methods. I do. While writing Kakotopia(prime), the first draft of the piece had a theme for one of the two protagonists and their POV unfolded better than I could have possibly hoped.

The other protagonist existed to serve the first character on their thematic journey alone. The first character had been the kind of character that appears in the first chapter and then starts running the show. The second character had no character arc at all in the first draft.

I had to read through the second character’s story to find a hint of thematic relevance to pick out. When I found one that worked for the character and the structure of the story, I realized the work was going to need a near-total rewrite for thematic tension.

Kakotopia(prime) wasn’t a well balanced piece. The organic character written to a theme had taken over and the non-organic character only had about 30% of the story. I had to create the story beats that would bring their stories on par with each other.

For the first 60,000 words, I was able to keep the existing structure mostly in place. But by the time I crossed over the halfway point, the second half of the first draft stopped working. I could either try to perform a line-by-line complicated surgery to make what existed fit with what had to change, or I could cut 40,000 words and rewrite the ending that brings both the character plots and themes to a second, more organic for both characters’ conclusion.

I’ve cut 40k from work before and agonized over the decision for months. This was an easy snip. In fact, I had cut 40k, wrote 12k, realized the scenes could be told over a 2k bridge and cut another 10k in the same week.

King’s method isn’t easier than Sawyer’s. Going back and picking out a theme means being willing to murder actual darlings if required for the structure of the piece.

But for most writers, including myself, using Sawyer’s method of writing to a theme is still not effective enough for me to produce the level of writing I want. I work best when I use Sawyer’s method for my first draft and King’s method for the second draft/thematic tension rewrite.

It was never easy to write in a 2k story beat in the second character’s POV where no beat had existed before. To know the scene had to progress the plot meaningfully one way or the other without making significant plot changes to the overall story was difficult. But I seemed to always find something I still needed to establish in the second draft that hadn’t been established yet to fill that void with.

But it was still hard work. I had so much empathy for all the people I’ve edited work for. It’s easy — as an editor — to point out a story’s pacing is off. It’s terribly difficult — as a writer — the recognize that problem with the pacing is so severe that if changes aren’t made to it, the final work will suffer for it.

But it’s even more difficult as a writer to know exactly what changes would be required at the story level to rebalance the work so that it doesn’t feel like the tale of a protagonist and another character that just follows them around on occasion.

There were times I wanted to just pretend I didn’t see the need for any change at all. A 2k scene was an entire day’s work. I wasn’t going to get any rewriting done and it was going to add to the amount of hot copy in the third draft that was going to need careful line editing.

But if I wanted Kakotopia(prime) to be the best story I could make it so thee change had to be made. Writers who do not know how to manipulate a work’s structure to build a better reader’s experience do not know how to reach their work’s fullest potential.