Crossroads

The soaring birth rates and living results of the post-war ‘baby boom’ are reaching maturity and affecting university enrollments across Canada. Suddenly, UBC sees an unprecedented flurry of undergraduate registrations that predictably results in the administration scrambling to ensure facilities and staffing are able to support student numbers.

The increased demand for higher education equals a need for more faculty — yet ‘home grown’ qualified PhDs are hard to find in Canada. As a result, recruitment from the United States, Britain and Europe grows, creating a more diverse faculty who influence curriculum and teaching.

In 1960, students, staff and faculty pay only 25 cents an imperial gallon for gas, the equivalent of 5.5 cents a litre, and a mere $13,105 for an average Vancouver single-family home. UBC’s local community is, as a result, largely an academic one as many faculty purchase and live in the nearby Endowment Lands. With increasing student numbers, however, there are more students coming from outside Vancouver, and UBC begins to invest in on-campus infrastructure and student housing. Despite this, the issue of overcrowding persists. The options are limited: either cap enrollments or embrace the expansion of facilities, equipment and programs.

UBC chooses the latter, focusing on research-related initiatives: expanding the Library and Health Sciences buildings, creating the Faculty of Dentistry, the Department of Asian Studies and the schools of Librarianship and Rehabilitation Sciences and purchasing a new refrigerator-size IBM 7040 for the Computing Centre. 


In 1960, students, staff and faculty pay only 25 cents an imperial gallon for gas, the equivalent of 5.5 cents a litre, and a mere $13,105 for an average Vancouver single-family home.

In 1962, Dr. John B. MacDonald becomes UBC’s fourth president. Faced with a swelling undergraduate population and overcrowded classrooms, MacDonald looks beyond the campus, seeking to distribute education to communities through a college system based in rural communities across BC. The subsequent MacDonald Report proposes a comprehensive plan for higher education in BC and recommends the creation of additional provincial universities and two-year junior colleges for technical and vocational training.

However, budget shortages and lack of government support prevents the execution of the report’s recommendations. In keeping with the student-led ‘Great Trek’ protest of 1922, UBC students once again ‘take to the streets’ — only now it’s province-wide. With the endorsement of the Faculty Association and Alumni Association, 500 students fan out across the province, gathering public support and signatures, distributing ‘I Back Mac’ buttons and posters, and looking to protect their own futures and the future of higher education in BC.

Mounting public pressure shifts the Social Credit government enough that it amends the University Act, allowing Victoria College to become the University of Victoria and creating the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). As well, rather than being a four-year college as suggested by the MacDonald Report, Simon Fraser University (SFU) opens as a full-fledged university; UBC donates books and staff time to help this newest BC university get its own library established.

Meanwhile, UBC is a hive of research activity as plans for the TRI-University Meson Facility (TRIUMF) are led by UBC physicists Drs. John B, Warren and Erich W. Vogt (returning to UBC after a nine-year stint at the Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario) and J. Reginald “Reg” Richardson from UCLA. Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria and UBC jointly develop the site in the south end of UBC’s campus. TRIUMF’s massive new cyclotron is the largest of its kind in the world and positions UBC as a global academic contender in the field of nuclear physics.

Outside the benign borders of Point Grey, the Cuban Missile crisis, Vietnam War protests, the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy and other events ignite societal revolution and protests across North America.


At UBC, the spirit of counterculture and unrest eventually comes to a head on October 24, 1968 when, prompted by a visit from American activist Jerry Rubin, more than 1,000 students ‘liberate’ the Faculty Club. The headline in the student newspaper The Ubyssey screams PROF CLUB INVADED.

At UBC, the spirit of counterculture and unrest eventually comes to a head on October 24, 1968, when, prompted by a visit from American activist Jerry Rubin, more than 1,000 students ‘liberate’ the Faculty Club. The headline in the student newspaper The Ubyssey screams PROF CLUB INVADED and breathlessly describes the all-night protest:

The students created mass confusion and participated in such activities as drinking the faculty liquor, smoking their cigarettes, doing up dope, climbing over furniture, burning dollar bills and an American flag, swimming nude in the patio pool and basically enjoying themselves... Most of the faculty in attendance seemed to accept the situation with resignation and merely left when it became apparent that the students wouldn’t.

With the end of the decade, student ranks continue to grow, as do large private donations to help deliver the 4,500 or so courses now on the roster. Along with the added burden of higher registration on a campus not yet equipped for the influx of students, there is increased conflict between students and the administration.

With the support of the Alma Mater Society (AMS), students find the ‘voice’ to challenge the administration and help the push for much-needed equipment, classroom space, and additional faculty and staff. When the Senate meets on September 10, 1969, the number of student representatives triples from four to 12, and they successfully shift the balance of power and conversation to more student-centric concerns.

It’s a time when free expression, artistic expression, and self-expression are blooming and nowhere more obviously then in the Festival of the Contemporary Arts, which Bertram Charles “B.C.” Binning, artist and Fine Arts department head, creates in 1961. The Festival features artists from multiple disciplines including musicians, dancers, visual artists and poets who, in addition to local artists, travel to UBC’s campus from as far away as San Francisco and New York. The popular Festival is held over a five-year period and attracts more than 30,000 people to UBC’s campus.

By 1969, UBC’s decade of expansion gives rise to questions about centralization and de-centralization that challenge administration, faculty and students alike. UBC, it seems, is at a crossroads. While not quite a world-renowned research university, on all levels it is striving to be exactly that while coping with operational demands from a soaring student population and the increasing costs of its research ambitions. 

1960–1969: Timeline

Explore the era

  • Students protest during the ‘Back the Mac’ campaign for higher education in British Columbia, 1963. 

  • Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson delivering a speech in the Student Union Building at UBC in 1965.

  • Students protest for more housing at UBC and create a ‘tent city’ down Main Mall in 1966.

  • Famous Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, reading poetry at UBC in 1963.

  • UBC students drink beer on campus to protest the lack of a campus pub, 1968. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Sun.

  • A student knits a ‘tipi’ during the Festival of Contemporary Arts, circa 1965.

John B. MacDonald

“When I arrived at the University of British Columbia in July 1962, the most urgent task, clearly, was to provide a comprehensive plan for the development of higher education in the province.”

John B. MacDonald
President, 1962–1967

References:

Credits:

UBC is proud to mark its 100th anniversary as a global leader in education, research innovation and community engagement.
Learn more about the UBC Centennial.