Last updated: June 1, 2012 1:49 pm
Will Whistler University actually benefit Whistler at all?
ABBOTSFORD (CUP) — Towering mountains, a bustling village, sensational restaurants, and now university students? The internationally-known vacation destination for both summer and winter sports will soon be home to students not unlike us. Whistler University could open its doors as early as next year.
What good can this possibly bring to the Olympic village? It will be a state of the art facility, constructed on some of the last remaining wetlands in the area. The proposed private university's programs are clearly aimed at an international market rather than bolstering the local community. An influx of students looking to combine vacation and education is expected. At a projected capacity for only 1500 students, 70 per cent of them will likely be international.
Whistler is already the place to be if you want to rub elbows with people from every corner of the planet. But the community is also ripe with locals that have made their home in the mountain resort, and this university doesn’t seem open to those looking for a close-to-home education. This is tourism in the guise of education.
The website claims to have a focus on sustainability that will ultimately benefit the local community. But it also boasts an international draw, appealing to students both young and mature for an exotic learning experience.
While many of the programs directly relate to Whistler's most important industries, they encompass a random smattering of educational avenues. You are welcome to study tourism, sustainability, leadership, culinary arts (as per request by local restaurants) or a master’s in business application. There are also programs set up to “provide university preparatory programs … to give our First Nations students a better chance of success in university than they currently achieve.” A fair trade, considering the school is being built in their traditional territory.
The question is, what exactly will this school do to bolster Whistler's economy? I don’t even think they know, as the website overview offers a buzz-word heavy plan to serve the local community.
The locals, however, have been against it for years. “Pave paradise to put up a parking lot,” said one Whistler resident, quoting Joni Mitchell. J. Wright has lived just south of the village for the last 12 years. He is sure that while the University may accomplish some of its initial goals, it will also create a bigger party scene than the village already experiences. After all, students have to blow off steam somewhere and the village is ripe with pubs, clubs and restaurants.
“One day tourists will decide they’ve had enough and stop coming, and no one will know why,” Wright said.
What about other schools nearby with similar programs? The Vancouver Sun reports that both UNBC and BCIT are in support of the project, assuming it will attract more students to their institutions as well. Sure, studying in Whistler would be neat, but it’s may be one of those "too much of a good thing" scenarios.
Ultimately, Whistler U will feature primarily two types of students. There will be those who are too busy to enjoy where they are, who will hole up in their rooms studying — and therefore not buy into the consumer economy. Then there will be the other kind of student — the partier. These students will wholly contribute to the restaurants and bars, but will forget that they are there to learn. They will tarnish the winter paradise image that Whistler has maintained.
Whether it’s the destroyed wetlands, the lack of support for locals, or the likelihood of party-loving students overtaking the town, Whistler University is just a bad idea, through and through.