Photos by Megan Lambert – Email
Online: March 4, 2015
On Feb. 25 at 11:20 a.m., The Cascade’s video editor and I stood at the base of the Green on the Abbotsford campus, wondering aloud if the Writing Centre protest was going to be noticeable or effective.
The protest had been in the works for about three weeks. Shortly after the UFV administration announced its plans to change the model for the Writing Centre into an Academic Support Centre staffed primarily by students, alumnus Jack Brown started a petition and set the date.
It was about 10 minutes before the protest scheduled to take place against the closure of UFV’s Writing Centre. As we walked up the path to the Peter Jones Learning Commons — the building that houses the library, Tim Hortons, and the Writing Centre — bright green signs and cheerful faces popped into view on the horizon. Dozens of students, faculty, and alumni had congregated there, continuously growing into a group of about 70.
“This Writing Centre is about more than just simple skills that students get from it. It’s about what the university community wants,” Brown said into the megaphone before introducing political science professor emeritus Scott Fast to speak, then College of Arts Council student representative Jennifer Colbourne, and finally Gloria Burrows, a member of the Writing Centre faculty.
Burrows spoke about the difference between learning simple writing skills, like grammar or punctuation, and learning to organize and express your thoughts in writing.
“If you cannot master this critical engagement as a thinker and a writer, then you will always be at risk of being a zombie: someone who will be led by others, but will never lead,” she says.
At its inception, UFV brought a new flavour to the valley, and it has served as a site for dialogue in a community context. In 2000, when Abbotsford decided not to have a pride parade, UFV students held their own on campus in the form of protest. Before that, students have marched down King Road to protest funding from the provincial government.
So it came naturally: chants composed on the fly were initially fumbled before protestors picked up the pace: “What do we want?” “PROS!” “What are we saving?” “…” (The Writing Centre!) The first attempts were marked by a kind of smiling self-consciousness.
At one point a faculty member approached the megaphone and offered something a little wordier but more rhythmic: “No consultation deserves agitation!”
These were the words that stuck as the protestors, at precisely noon, marched from the Learning Commons to the junction of A and B buildings, where provost and VP academic Eric Davis would be waiting to receive the petition. As they gained momentum, so did their voices. The chanting reached its peak when those gathered, nearly 100 in number, stood in a semi-circle as Davis walked into the melee.
The provost did not take the megaphone as he accepted the petition that had garnered over 800 signatures from the UFV community; instead he spoke directly to Brown, noting quietly that he, or the UFV administration, supported the right of the protestors to speak freely and demonstrate. Davis and Brown shook hands.
Then Davis turned and retreated back into A building, then up the wide stairs of alumni hall to his office on the top floor.
The crowd began to disperse peaceably, lingering in small groups to chat. Undergrads joked and laughed; a few went to collect signs remaining on the Green; faculty and staff remained deep in conversation. They exchanged thanks and long hugs.
In his office, Davis offered a response to the protest. Part of this inevitably included his position on the decision; he reiterated that this was not, in his view, an end, but an expansion to the services UFV offers. He also made a point of stressing his stance on students’ qualifications for the new model of the Academic Success Centre.
“Some of my students are more qualified than me in some ways — they’re brilliant. That doesn’t make me a poor instructor; it actually enriches the class,” Davis said. “The quality will not suffer.”
The new model, however, is untested at UFV. As it doesn’t exist yet, only time will tell whether the Academic Success Centre will be the best way to guide students toward academic success.
As far as the persuasiveness of the protest goes, Davis said he would review the petition. There is a committee forming for the Academic Success Centre, and Davis says that somebody with an opposing opinion would be allowed to join.
“If a student was out there protesting today, and [if] by the time we set up the oversight committee they feel like [they] can contribute in a constructive way to ensure that this model works, I would not turn down that student,” he says.
The lifespan of the protest was just under an hour. When I returned to the site after my short interview on the third floor, the crowd had dissolved, and there was no physical indication anything had occurred.
At time of print, there are no additional protests in the works, nor other noticeable public attempts to persuade UFV to change its decision, despite Brown’s promise at the end that the fight isn’t over.
Whatever happens, this protest did prove one thing, a question that has been long debated.
“Do you think this is actually going to be a thing?” I asked at 11:20, before ascending the slope. There was a threat of rain in the air, in the clouds overhead. There had been no mention of free food.
But it happened—people came. UFV has a community, and that community has a voice.
Whether or not that’s enough to preserve the Writing Centre is up for debate. But Nadeane Trowse, another Writing Centre faculty member, says anything can happen.
“It’s evolving every day as you watch. It’s like watching an old-style film develop — only bits and pieces are emerging.”
Brown is right in at least one way — this story isn’t over.
Make sure to check out our video coverage.