New Book Chronicles Birth of UNBC
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.