By R. D. Dunn, M.A. (Brit. Col.), D.Phil. (Oxon.), UBC Professor (retired)
1957 – 1980 Preamble
1957 – Dr. Leon & Mrs. Thea Koerner’s gift of $600,000 for a Faculty Club
1959 – Lasserre (central portion) completed and opened; membership only voluntary
1959, July 15th Official Opening by Her Canadian Majesty, Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada
1968 – Erickson Wing (west, lower level kitchen and Cafeteria) opened, after additional gift of $700,000
1980’s – guest rooms added to northwest corner intended primarily for visiting academics
1985 – 1997 Administration of David Strangway
Sometime in early 1991, the Faculty Club’s board of directors, under Professor Aubke (Chemistry), decided the Club needed a new look in the hope that refurbishment might generate increased voluntary membership, increased use, and improved financial stability. No doubt they meant well, but their decision could not have been more ill-conceived, ill-timed, and, in fact, unnecessary because the original furniture was solid and in good condition, especially the handsome leather sofas in the Lounge side (east side) of the main floor. It looked like a Faculty Club. It felt like a Faculty Club. A fresh coat of paint was all it might have needed. Unfortunately and to make matters worse, they engaged a pair by the name of Henry Hawthorne and Tony Robbins who clearly had no idea of what a university faculty club should look like, no idea of an appropriate ambience, no idea of a sober and dignified setting. The result was a disaster, as can be read from an exchange of letters to and from Aubke, including mine. To their credit, Aubke and the directors themselves were dismayed at what they had wrought.
After the expensive and unnecessary renovation, voluntary membership did not improve, although, paradoxically, lunch served downstairs in the Cafeteria (now replaced with classrooms) continued to thrive. Indeed, it was quite often difficult to find a seat, indoors or outdoors on the lovely patio in summers, the Cafeteria was so very popular, busy, and profitable.
During this period, the administration, responding to funding reductions from government, focused solely on the $, and regarded the Club as a financial liability and a burden, which, structured with only voluntary membership, it undeniably was.
This situation was greatly exacerbated by the sky-high labour costs of unionised staff at the Club, about which nothing could be done because the Club had no choice but to retain unionised staff.
When the Strangway administration announced its intention to close the Club, Professor Slonecker (Science) bravely and nobly tried to marshal faculty. The response was pathetic. A mere six or seven, including myself and Professor Tony Lavin (English), showed up and lamented the imminent doom. Only after the Club was closed on 7th August 1994, only after rumour spread of a plan to demolish the Club entirely and replace it with a commercial hotel, only then did Faculty rouse themselves and fill to capacity the largest amphitheatre on campus, many standing or sitting in the aisles, but it was too late. The Strangway administration, as if to make its decision irreversible, sold all the furniture and all the Club’s assets.
In December 1996 the then Board of Governors, as if awakened from slumber, struck an Advisory Committee, honourably chaired by Professor Slonecker, to “prepare a development program”. They issued questionnaires and solicited ideas and so forth, but never addressed the essential, imperative question of restructuring membership as universal, automatic, and obligatory for all Faculty. In consequence, the compromise that emerged from that committee’s labours served only to accelerate the building’s decline.
1997 – 2006 Administration of Martha Piper
Sometime fairly early on in her administration and presumably in response to the Slonecker Committee’s findings, President Piper reopened the main floor of the building but only as a public restaurant, a commercial enterprise intended to add revenue to the university coffers. The popular Cafeteria was left derelict. Retired professors, with nowhere to meet, managed to persuade the administration to sequester one room for Professors Emeriti (near the east entrance), but it was such a potent, sad reminder of what had been lost that none ever used it and, inevitably, it was closed. Presently, it is nicely refurnished but sequestered for use by the Peter Wall Institute, along with the second floor and all the former guest rooms originally intended for visiting faculty.
2006 – 2014 Administration of Stephen Toope
I do not know the precise dates, but it was in the latter years of Toope’s administration that the building was closed for the better part of a year possibly more, allegedly for “seismic upgrading.” Under that guise, the once enormously popular, successful, and profitable Cafeteria was removed and the lower level converted to student classrooms—a final coup-de-grâce, as it were, to kill the thing dead and prevent any possible reincarnation of it as a proper Faculty Club.
On the lower level, a small snack bar has been added, open to anyone. The ambience of the restaurant on the main floor, now a “Bistro,” is so loud, vulgar and trashy that I, and all those I know, have sworn never again to set foot in it. The “Bistro’s” décor makes the trashy “designer” renovations of 1991 look good. The bar, where once there was a pleasant and popular breakfast nook, looks like something imported from the seedy side of Granville Street.
As it now stands, the building is an insult to Leon & Thea Koerner and an embarrassment to the university—neither fish nor fowl, neither one thing nor the other. It is, however, a perfect monument to a succession of blinkered and myopic administrations that have failed utterly to grasp the need, the very great need for a gathering place, a fixed venue, a proper Faculty Club where faculty can gather, separate and away from students, a place where faculty can meet spontaneously for refreshment and for much needed COLLEGIALITY, a place something approximating a Common Room such as the University of Toronto’s constituent colleges enjoy, a place for spontaneous (and often fruitful) exchange of opinions and ideas by the academics, the very people without whom there is no university. The new Alumni Centre is no substitute and never will be.
The Strangway, Piper, and Toope administrations all had an opportunity to restructure membership of the Club as it ought to have been structured when it opened in 1959: automatic, universal, and obligatory, or, at the very least, they had an opportunity to encourage Faculty to see the urgent need to do so, to unite, and reorganise themselves as a Club for ALL faculty members. With a steady stream of reliable, modest annual membership dues from ALL, there would have been no financial strain on the university. It could have been done. It should have been done. It might still be done, if ever Faculty could unite. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
As it stands now, the building is a monument to the more or less total disconnect between faculty and administration, including the Board of Governors. A few weeks back, Andrew Wilkinson, provincial Minister of Advanced Education felt sufficiently provoked to admonish the flourishing, weed-like growth of UBC’s administration. Meanwhile (and as I heard even just today), untenured faculty members live in fear of reprisal should they speak their minds.
Is it too much of a stretch, to trace the current UBC malaise, the regrettable adversarial climate on campus, back to the 7th August 1994? Perhaps; perhaps not.
With nowhere to gather collegially, all are Orphans of the Faculty Club.
Link to photographs of the Club as it was before 1991: