The Ubyssey Protected Students’ Rights By Releasing Undergraduate Admissions Rubric

Making the document available holds UBC’s feet to the fire
Neil Bassan, Contributor

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The University of British Columbia’s official student newspaper, The Ubyssey, released what is known as the Broad-Based Admissions rubric (BBA) halfway through February.

The UBC BBA, now available in full on the The Ubyssey webpage, informs graders who evaluate admissions essays from people applying to the university which attributes to look for from applicants. These attributes, including “leadership” and “sense of self,” are the qualities that UBC wants in its students.

Until recently the document was confidential, leaving applicants to guess what is expected of them while writing their essays. However, after a four year battle between UBC and the student newspaper, they’ve finally been released.

The Ubyssey did right in publishing the 2016 version of the BBA, which they acquired from an anonymous source. Though I would argue that journalists ought to generally guard against publishing private information unless justified—and that we always run the risk of knowing more than might be good for us—The Ubyssey’s leak appears to have occurred after much investigation, precaution, and deliberation. I find the newspaper’s decision to make public what should have been public in the first place a fine example of journalism challenging authority.

Keeping the BBA private is akin to a professor administering an examination without telling the class the subject of the exam. How can students prepare themselves to be evaluated without knowing what they’re being assessed on? They cannot adequately prepare without knowing how and where to best spend their energy.

Jack Hauen, coordinating editor at The Ubyssey, defends the release of the BBA.

“We feel it is important to try and level the playing field between high school students applying to UBC who don’t have access to prep-counselors, who are able to tell them exactly what the university wants to hear, and students who do have access to those counselors,” he says.

Hauen is careful to distinguish between giving prospective UBC students the answers and providing them with a rubric that clarifies essay standards.

“A rubric does not provide answers, inherently,” he says. “A rubric is what you get before you write a test or a paper. It is not a cheat-sheet.”

Placing blame and upholding legal liability is also part of Hauen’s argument in support of publishing the BBA. In an article published on Feb. 17 in The Ubyssey, Hauen made the objective of the publication clear.

“Though the university is required to comply with [Freedom Of Information] laws, they have sought to seriously undermine students’ right to public documents,” he wrote. “We see it as our duty to act as a check on the university’s authority, especially when that authority is being used illegally.”

What Hauen was alluding to is the often underestimated and underappreciated role of journalism: to use the power of words and reason, no matter how unpopular, for the purposes of morality, justice, and democracy.

“We have a right to see this document, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court,” he says. “It is our duty to hold UBC’s feet to the fire when they try and outspend us in the courts to avoid releasing this.”

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