UBC: The Next Century
October 1, 2020
Review By Dale M. McCartney
To begin, this review must clarify that this book has a misleading title. The book has been published to mark UBC’s 100th anniversary (technically in 2015), and the title promises it will explore UBC’s future. This is a worthy topic, as even before COVID-19 Canadian universities faced a barrage of challenges that were likely to reshape them in difficult to predict ways in the coming years. But this book does not address the future of UBC at all. Instead it presents a very rosy snapshot of where UBC stood in 2018-19, carefully enumerating the accomplishments of virtually every department in the University, as well as the awards won by many of its most prominent faculty. While beautifully illustrated and competently written, the book is essentially a promotional pamphlet for UBC expanded to nearly 200 glossy pages. The fact that the copyright for the book rests with UBC itself, and not with the author or publisher (Figure 1 publishing), makes it clear that this book is essentially swag meant to be distributed to visiting dignitaries and potential donors as a form of institutional advertising.
Given its purpose is clearly promotional, the book can reasonably be called a success. The illustrations especially take advantage of the beauty of UBC’s campus to paint the institution in a very positive light. However, the book offers little insight into the nature of UBC’s achievements, never addressing how UBC became “one of the world’s foremost universities” (1). Moreover, there is almost no discussion of students here, who are instead relegated to the role of unnamed extras in the campus photography. Perhaps most importantly, the book entirely ignores the spate of scandals at UBC over the past decade. While unsurprising considering the book is meant to advertise UBC, it nonetheless results in a lack of complexity that makes the UBC depicted here feel hollow and unreal. For an informed reader, the book’s portrayal of UBC as a sunny campus full of smiling students and world-renowned researchers comes off as disingenuous and overly celebratory.
Bridge, Tyee. UBC: The Next Century. Vancouver: Figure One Publishing, 2019. 160 pp. $40 paper.