Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

College try


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To borrow a phrase from the movie Animal House, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son." That may be so, but once upon a time it was a great way to get through college.

I had an awesome, if not particularly enlightening, time. I drank beer, played rugby, hung out with friends and occasionally went to class — enough to keep my grade point average up and my ass from getting kicked to the curb, but as a student I was probably a huge disappointment to my professors.

I did learn my trade well enough after four years (probably two more than it should have taken) and depending on whom you talk to in town it's going OK.

So whenever I hear plans for a university in Whistler, I cringe. This town doesn't need 1,500 younger me's running around. The image of the polite, sober, studious, overachieving university student, brimming with bright-eyed optimism you see on the front cover of brochures from higher learning institutions doesn't quite square with my own experiences.

The university, if it ever gets built, will bring students, and students like to party. They party hard. And, if they're like me, they'll be broke by sometime in November and spend the next six months eating instant noodles and stockpiling pickle juice to keep the wilting vegetables they bought on clearance edible for a few more weeks.

Leveraged to the hilt with loans, unable to find summer jobs that pay better than minimum wage, university students are not this town's economic saviour. It makes me sad a little that we would even consider a university in terms of economics, as a boon or a way to diversify our economy. If money is our goal we could probably do better building a prison.

As you can probably tell, I'm skeptical about the touted economic benefits of building a university here — although there's no question that various Halifax bar owners are a lot richer for having known me.

True, a lot of short-term jobs will be created while building Whistler University, and in the long-term there should be a new professional class of professors and university workers in the area — but then jobs never really were something in short supply here.

Good jobs, yes, they're rarer than Sasquatch in this town; but then again how many of us would really qualify to work at this university? I suspect most professors and administrators will ultimately be imported and many will choose to live in Squamish or Pemberton for the same reasons as 20 to 30 per cent of our current batch of employees.

At this point there is too much we still don't know about this project, which is why council really had no choice but to punt. Staff is now evaluating the risks and benefits, and a report is expected sometime in the spring — far enough down the road that frustrated Whistler University proponents said they might scrap the project entirely.

You might read this and think I'm opposed to the university, but I promise that I'm keeping an open mind. Any opposition I have is purely out of self-interest.

Adding 1,500 locals to the mix means longer lift lines, at a time when all 3,307 hectares of skiable terrain, and thousands of hectares of trees runs and out-of-bounds skiing is gobbled up by lunchtime. We all know it's not tourists shoving each other in lines or crashing the gate when the lift bell rings, it's thousands of "locals" from the North Shore to Pemberton. We all know the terrain like the backs of our hands and show up on pow days with a plan to cut it up as fast and efficiently as possible. Given that the mountains will continue to be the mainstay of our economy even with a university in town, do we really want to add more people into that mix?

If it sounds selfish, then call me selfish. I like powder. I don't want to share it with more people, and especially not a bunch of snot-nosed me's that will cut class the moment the first flake falls.

In my mind, that's the conversation we should be having. We've already made the mistake of building too many hotel rooms, we don't need to compound it with anything that further weakens the tourism experience.

As for the possibilities of higher learning in Whistler, they still exist and were never dependent on building a university. There are literally dozens of unused meeting rooms around the resort and classrooms that could be used after hours for a decentralized college — and a surplus of hotel rooms at certain times of year for students taking work placements. We could have a Learning Annex where you could teach and take any kind of course, and that wouldn't compete with Quest or Capilano universities in Squamish for students.

Or we could have a university, and hope for the best. I know the 19-year-old me would be thrilled by the prospect of spending a few years here scraping out a degree while living off student loans, beer and pickled vegetables... which is probably the reason my 20-year-old me doesn't think it's such a good idea.