Sitting in the luxurious staff restaurant of the University of British Columbia eating fine food and looking out over the best view in the world, I have been honored to meet some of the top professors in the UBC mining department. So I am prejudiced and biased towards their success. Thus I was delighted to see that the Province of British Columbia is providing $7.5 million to expand faculty and increase student spaces in the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering. This money is in addition to the $7.5 million that Teck Cominco has also committed in support of the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering.
In announcing the award, Premier Gordon Campbell said: “British Columbia has the largest concentration of mining and related service companies in the world, and is a leading source of investment financing for the global mining industry. It is worth $5 billion to the provincial economy. The funding for this institute will help expand UBC’s teaching and research capacity and ensure the long-term success of the mining industry and its contribution to the B.C. economy.”
Apparently, the funding will add more than 80 new student spaces and three additional staff positions over the next five to seven years. I cannot but help wondering why it will take so long to achieve this. Do we really have to wait five to seven years to find three lecturers and enroll 80 students? In industry, three staff would be on board tomorrow and the desks for 80 new staff already on order.
At the CIM conference, I listened to some fine young professors from United States universities and other Canadian universities; my suggestion is recruit them now. Their ideas are fresh and future oriented. They are talking of computer-based management systems and community relations founded on data and quantification. None of the tired old stuff about sustainable development. It is sad when old men like me get into positions of power and hang on beyond our ability to think new thoughts. Maybe we should do in universities what the United States military does: retire them at 45 and bring in fresh people.
Come to think of it, I heard not one paper at the CIM from UBC mining. Have they nothing new to report? To be fair, some UBC names were listed on those phone-book-long-author-list papers. At the SME in Denver, there was one paper I slipped out from UBC on the need for more students. I had heard it before, so I wandered across the hall to a younger professor’s presentation.
Keep in mind this is a blog and so incisive comment is part of the recipe. Hence I say sorry to my lunch hosts in that beautiful on-campus restaurant for letting these irreverent thoughts appear. But if we cannot comment, nothing will happen. I would like to see in print from UBC something more substantive about what they will do with $15 million than the bland language of the press announcement which says that the institute intends to “develop students’ technical, leadership, interpersonal and language skills, which are needed by the mining industry to enhance Vancouver’s position as a world centre of mining expertise and technology.” This tells me nothing, and realizing we will have to wait five to seven years, I fret for more action and more specificity.
I know too little to say what should be done, so I invite your comments and suggestions below.