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October 27, 2017 8:05 pm

New Book Chronicles Birth of UNBC

Sunday, November 27, 2016 @ 7:00 AM

Prince George, B.C.  – When a group of like minded people  got together in the 80’s,  they had a dream of  having a university in the north, one that would  help stop the drain of  talented young people to  post secondary  institutions in other parts of  B.C. and Canada, never to return.   While the  dream of a university became a reality,   the same effort that made  it come true  is required to keep it going.

That’s  one of the messages in  the new book ” Aspiration:A History of the University of Northern British Columbia to 2015 written by  UNBC Professor of History Dr. Jonathon Swainger.

Swainger   says he was  motivated  to write the book  after  speaking with  former  UNBC President Charles Jago, and  one of the founders of the Interior University Society (IUS), Murray Sadler  about capturing  the  beginnings of the  University.  “For me,  as one of the  early arrivals for the  University experience,  there was then the added value of  being able to reflect upon my own lived experience.”

He  conducted  80 interviews with the  folks involved in the drive  to  create the university to  chronicle its beginnings.

Here since  August of 1992,  Swainger says he  has learned  that the struggle  to  create the university  was just one of many “The  University has been  in an almost life and death struggle  for most of its history.  There have been  a couple of good periods.  There was a period just before the grand opening  for a  couple of years, and then there was the second Jago Presidency, other than that, we have had to fight hammer and tong  throughout.  Thus, the big take away was, UNBC  and its community, and most importantly the communities of Northern British Columbia, need to understand  that complacency is the biggest threat to the long term stability of UNBC.  Just because this place was built, just because of that  enormous  campaign by the IUS,  does  not mean the long term survival  of the University  is a foregone conclusion.”

He says the people of the north need to keep up the pressure  that the IUS started  back in the ’80’s when  they  pressed for  the  development of UNBC “They made it politically unfeasible to reject  the idea.”  He says  the Premier at the time, Bill Vanderzalm,  was “gob smacked that  16 thousand people would  pay $5 to put their name on a petition.  He knew that kind of political activism would  win elections. ”

Swainger says the persistent problem is that the Ministry of Advanced Education keeps  looking at UNBC  through a lower mainland lens.   He says from the very start,  the  bureaucrats in the Ministry didn’t want UNBC  to be  built and that sentiment remains,  so UNBC’s mandate  to serve  the people of Northern B.C.  “has been made increasingly difficult”.

Tasked with  serving a  broad geographic  region,  UNBC  has challenges  its counterparts in the lower mainland  do not.  “How many  universities have to support a geographical area the size of Northern British Columbia?” asks Swainger, who says the funding model  is based on the geography of the lower mainland  where within a few hours drive,  a person has access to a handful of universities.  “We have real geographical challenges here that no one else faces” and says the funding model  “is just not equitable.”

Struggling  for  fair and equitable treatment  from  Victoria is nothing new  to  those who live in the north,  it has been an ongoing  battle  says Swainger “Northern British Columbians need to scrap for every  crumb off the table, and unfortunately this is our lived reality since 1900,  it has always been the case.”  He says a different  funding structure is needed  if  the North is to continue to thrive “These are challenges of rural, remote dispersed populations across  an enormous geography,  For Heaven’s sake,  let’s  stop  pretending this is like the lower mainland.”

The basis  for  developing UNBC was to  recruit and retain talented people,  and  Swainger says  70% of UNBC  grads  do stay in the north “We’ve certainly hit our targets there. We’ve answered the challenge, we’ve done what we said we were going to do. These students are staying and better yet we’ve got students coming from outside of Northern British Columbia understanding that this is a very intriguing opportunity.”

While  the  goal of having a University  in the North  has been reached, Swainger  says  the fight to keep it  must continue “Fighting for this University is the most important thing so that we don’t become complacent” says Swainger  “The University of Northern B.C. needs all of the public of Northern British Columbia to continue  to make it  politically unfeasible not to support the University  in genuine and substantive ways.”

The official launch of the book is set for  Tuesday, Nov. 29th  from 3:30 to 4:30 on the first floor of the Geoffrey R Weller Library at UNBC.



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