Being somewhat “Asian” myself, I remembered being intrigued when the Administration brought to the Board of Governors the project of building a hospice on the UBC campus. Who managed to sell them this idea? I thought. I also recall mentioning in that meeting how “taboo” the subject of humans facing their own mortality can be, and how important it is to research the various facets of this natural, yet mysterious phase of the life cycle. But then I was struck for a moment by an intense feeling of embarrassment. What if I was the only one in the room who thought it was a “taboo” subject?
Fast-forward to November 2010, when I posted, “How come we never talk enough about death?” I was reporting on the memorial service for fellow UBC Governor, Virginia Greene, and lo and behold, the issue of the hospice resurfaced in my consciousness. I wrote that the BoG “had discussed how such a facility could be connected to various research activities at UBC, in medicine and pharmacy of course, but also in theology, philosophy and psychology.” I then added, ” I really hope this facility will live up to its expectations and address some of (these) issues. And please hurry.”
I was unaware then, that the first proposed location was rejected by the students, and that a new UBC location had to be found for the hospice. Now, I hear that some condo owners in a residence neighboring the new proposed location are also up in arms trying to halt the project.
The story of this hospice is turning out to be a fascinating and sad tale of human failings, of trans-cultural misconceptions, and of a distinctive display of administrative ineptitude. Little did I know how many lessons we would all learn before the project even gets off the ground.
1. We learn how our society still try to hide our elderly, our ill, our dying from public view.
2. We learn about the continuing “tabooization” of death, and the persistent medieval belief that “the ghosts of the dead will invade and harass the living.”
3. We learn that our youth are unaware that professional hospices are as much centres for the living, as are their dormitories and sports fields.
4. We learn of a petty side of human nature that would –reportedly for materialistic considerations– deny people at the end of their lives a restful and peaceful place.
5. We learn about developers and real estate agents either misrepresenting or failing to explain the nature of living on a university campus.
6. We learn that groups with no identifiable affiliation with UBC are meddling with the research priorities of the university.
7. We learn of the extent to which the “Senate’s Academic Building Needs Committee” at UBC is under-used and marginalized.
8. We learn how UBC can get paralyzed by competing interests for a land it has been entrusted with.
9. We learn of the importance of having a well-coordinated development plan, that weighs carefully the functional interfaces between the various user groups of the university land.
10. Finally, we learn of how important the issue of governance of university land is, and how ominous the responsibility of the BoG is in safeguarding its academic designation, especially given that UBC is considering a major expansion of the university town.