All Posts Tagged With: "government"
If governments won’t support the liberal arts, someone else is going to have to do it.
Canadians have for many years been justly proud of their system of public universities. And as with publicly-insured health care, our system of government-funded universities serves as a means to distinguish us from the U.S. Sure, we say, Harvard and Yale may be great schools, but their costs make them almost exclusively for the elite few, while working-class Americans have to settle for modest state schools or community colleges that no one takes seriously. Here in Canada, by contrast, anyone can go to any of our high quality public universities.
So far, so good, but the times are changing, and changing fast. It is increasingly an accepted article of faith among university administrators and government officials alike that universities are economic levers. As such, programs that seem to have a clear economic benefit — business, engineering, computer science — are increasingly understood as the disciplines that matter, while the traditional areas of studies — the liberal arts in particular — are viewed as old-fashioned, irrelevant, and economically unsustainable.
Like many professors of the humanities, I have railed against this view, with no success. No matter how many times people like me argue that education ought not to be mainly about training workers who can create value for corporations, the march of the Philistines goes on. No matter how many times people like me point out that research shows how liberal arts grads actually end up doing better economically than graduates from applied programs, English Literature still appears to be the discipline you can’t do anything with, while Entrepreneurship seems street smart and savvy.
So be it. Governments have the right to fund what they see as important and if the electorate doesn’t make an issue of it, I suppose we shouldn’t expect our politicians to do so either. The barbarians aren’t at the gate: they’re in the cockpit.
But if governments refuse to properly fund and support and promote the liberal arts, they should allow — indeed, by all rights they must allow — the creation of private universities for those same liberal arts. It’s one thing to deny funds to such programs. It’s entirely another to deny the whole populace the right to pursue the kinds of education they want. Notice, by the way, that I am not talking about for-profit institutions, only institutions that do not rely on regular government funding.
Can such institutions be viable? I think they can be, though the gestation period will be long and difficult. For one thing, they would require a certain amount of start-up capital, and that would mean private donors. But building a foundation of private donations is not impossible, and many existing universities got their start just that way. Such donations would go mainly towards building and furnishing a building (or renovating an existing structure), providing books for the library, and creating an endowment from which an annual investment revenue could be drawn to continue to cover the maintenance costs.
Once a base of donations has been gathered and the start-up costs have been covered, the running of a small liberal arts college is actually extremely cost efficient. Without expensive labs and scientific equipment, and with an endowment to help cover day-to-day costs, the largest expense for such an institution would be faculty salaries, and these could be covered through tuition. I could imagine a small, credible liberal arts university with, let’s say, five departments: Literature, History, Philosophy, Anthropology/Sociology, and Languages. We could tweak the exact organization and complement, but let’s start there for argument’s sake. Now, let’s imagine five members in each department, and let’s say every faculty member teaches 3 courses per year with 30 students in each class. That’s enough room for 450 students taking a full course load. Now, let’s say each of those students pays something near the top end of the existing Canadian tuition scale (and why not for an elite liberal arts school?) or $7000 per year. That’s about $3.2 million in revenue. Our 25 faculty members, making, let’s say $75 000 per year, cost about $1.9 million for their salaries, leaving us a surplus of over a million dollars to spend on other things such as administrative costs.
Readers might argue with the particular details and the exact arithmetic, but the basic point holds: a small, private liberal arts university would not be particularly expensive to run. And with a small faculty and student body, the army of administrative staff that bogs down the budgets of other universities could be largely, though not entirely, avoided. There would be no need for Deans or Chairs or their secretaries. Similarly, by focusing only on academics, needless expenses like football teams can be forgone, too. Many aspects of campus life — residences, food services, the bookstore — could support themselves with the revenue they generate.
But why would anyone go there? For one thing, there is still a large number of students (and parents) who understand that the joys of communing with the great minds of our past and present are too great to pass up. Moreover, such a university would attract the very best scholars and teachers in the relevant fields, because Canadian liberal arts professors generally feel undervalued and would jump at the chance to teach in a small university dedicated only to their disciplines.
Moreover, employers would scramble to hire graduates from my little university because they would recognize that their well-developed curiosity, imagination, and critical faculties make them much more valuable in the long run than graduates from public universities trained in technologies that will be obsolete in five years. And so students will be all the more eager to attend, knowing that a degree from Pettigrew University really means something.
But wait, don’t such colleges already exist as public universities? They do, but given current trends, they won’t in the long run, and those who want to save the liberal arts traditions from the unexamined dustbin of history have to start preparing now. If we don’t, the last university liberal arts program will be cut by the end of the century, long after there are enough people left who remember why it mattered.
But to start now we need to do two things. First, start keeping your eye out for rich people who want to leave a legacy akin to, say, the Stanford family and when you find them, encourage them to establish a foundation for a private liberal arts university. And get them to tell their friends, too. Second, give up the notion that Canadian universities all have to remain public and get your provincial government to give it up, too.
Once you’ve done those things, contact me, and I will take it from there.
Up to the government, or the university?
In a case regarding equality rights at the University of Guelph dating back in 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada released a decision defending the autonomy of Canadian universities in the name of academic freedom. Essentially–the government declined to stick its nose in university affairs.
Equity policies may have little impact.
Two things have put affirmative action on my mind lately. One is the Tory musings that the government might abandon the federal affirmative action policy. The other is that I am on a hiring committee at work.
My august institution has an affirmative action policy that seems, at least, in theory, fairly reasonable to me. In a nutshell, the policy says that well qualified members of visible minorities and well qualified women should at least get an interview — even if just on the phone or by video conference. Moreover, if it comes down to two more-or-less equally qualified candidates, the minority candidate or the woman should be preferred to the white man. Fair enough, I say, because the policy does not call for the less qualified to be hired over the more qualified — with all the potential pitfalls that can arise from there. And hey, all else equal, surely going for increased diversity is better than flipping a coin.
But does my university really need such a policy? And if we do, is it doing any good? I am doubtful on both counts.
Though university professors are far from perfect, they are, in my experience, more than usually aware of bias and more than usually broad minded. At the very least, they are intensely interested in seeming broad minded. Indeed, faced with a candidate who is a member of a visible minority, I suspect most university professors would make a point of being particularly open to the candidacy, if for no other reason than to allow themselves hearty self-congratulations later on.
The ethnic diversity of my university faculty colleagues seems to bear this out. Cape Breton is not, itself, particularly diverse, and it is not always easy to attract candidates who may feel out of place on a small, sparsely populated island where they are less likely to meet others with the same religion, linguistic backgrounds, or cultural traditions. Nevertheless, the university is far more culturally diverse than the surrounding community. I have colleagues from around the world and who follow a variety of religious traditions. The university is also one of the few places in Cape Breton where alternative sexualities can be openly discussed and displayed without fear of unwanted social consequences.
As for women, female faculty abound here, and not just in the arts, but in many science disciplines, too. The inequities that remain seem primarily a result of the fields that women choose to pursue — which may be a problem in itself, but not one likely to be helped much by affirmative action. I was on a Philosophy hiring committee once, and of the twenty-five applicants, only one was a woman. Why don’t women want to be philosophers? On the other hand, female candidates have always been taken seriously on the hiring committees that I have served on, and when it comes to continuing positions in my department, they have been evenly split between men and women — at least since I’ve been here.
Still, diversity in the ranks doesn’t proves the policy is unneeded. It could be a sign that the policy is working. But I doubt it. First of all, the affirmative action policy is trumped by Canadian law which privileges Canadian citizens and permanent residents; recent immigrants, who may often be minorities, are often neither and get pushed aside. Moreover, the policy does not cover every element of diversity, only visible minorities, persons with disabilities, and women. In other words, the policy does not help you if you are gay or of a minority cultural group that is not visibly different (as with Jewish people of European descent, for example).
More importantly, the policy only applies to you if you self-identify for the equity initiative. This makes a certain amount of sense, of course: you can’t necessarily recognize a member of a visible minority when you can’t see the candidate. And you really don’t want a committee trying to guess. In practice, however, surprisingly few candidates self-identify, especially women. I’m not quite sure why this is. Perhaps they feel that self-identifying makes them look weak in the eyes of the committee. Or, they may feel that they don’t want special treatment — that they want the job only if they are clearly the best candidate. So, if the job-seekers don’t want affirmative action, whose interests does it serve?
Finally, at the end of the process, the committee still chooses the best candidate. If that candidate is a member of a visible minority the policy was never needed; if she is not, the policy does not apply. In theory, the affirmative action policy might force a committee to consider a candidate they would have dismissed, only to find out he was great and hire him after all, but while I would welcome such an outcome, I have never seen it happen. Similarly, there could be a theoretical tie between two very good candidates, and the minority applicant would be chosen, but, again, while I would have no problem with that, I have never seen that happen either.
So while the current policy has little or no effect, a tougher policy would achieve more diversity only at the cost of fairness and academic quality. And how much more diverse than the surrounding community does the university need to be? But who knows, maybe this hiring committee will be the one. We professors are unusually open-minded, you know.
Government caps set limits on seats
Hoping to get into med school? Great marks, tons of unique extracurricular experience, volunteer work, and high MCAT scores aren’t necessarily enough.
I recently read an article in the Globe and Mail (I happen to know the writer) that gave an overview of the whole application process. For med school hopefuls like me, it didn’t paint a very optimistic picture for Canadians. According to the article, due to government caps on med school seats, only a fraction of the qualified applicants to Canadian med schools are actually getting in.
If you were unlucky enough to be born in Ontario, your chances of getting in are the lowest in the country. The article mentions that in 2009, there were almost 5,000 qualified applicants to the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, with only 194 accepted. Given the fact that Ontario has more med school applicants than any other province, there’s a disproportionately low number of seats in the province’s med schools. In-province applicants to the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Medicine, class of 2013, had about a 33% success rate, with 295 applicants and 98 students enrolled. The success rate for Ontario applicants to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine? Only 4.3%, with 1,845 applicants and 64 seats in 2006/2007.
It’s not much better anywhere else in Ontario. Applicants to the School of Medicine at Queen’s University had an 8% in-province success rate in 2006/2007, and applicants to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto had an 11.4% in-province success rate. As the article from the Globe and Mail points out, it’s the opposite of what you’d expect: Ontario has more med schools than any other province. But it has the lowest applicant success rate in the country, at 19%. Keep in mind, these are all excellent applicants, with high GPA’s and the qualifications each med school demands as a minimum to even apply.
It’s a little scary. For students working towards med school, the course of your future is riding on that application. But regardless of how hard you work to earn and maintain a high GPA, volunteer countless hours towards a worthy cause, and want to have a career one day in medicine, at this stage, so much is beyond your control.
Well, unless you move to Grenada. Or Manitoba.
-photo courtesy of salimfadhley
What’s that feeling I get when the Big Five University Presidents talk about higher education? Oh, I know what it is. Terror.
I haven’t read something as frightening as this account of our university presidents’ views on education in a long while. For instance:
“The big five presidents worry about drift and lack of direction in our higher education system. That direction can only come from political leaders. So all of the presidents, even Montreal’s Vinet, called for Ottawa to pay more attention to what happens on Canada’s campuses.”
What you have to realize of course, is that contrary to popular imagination, university presidents are not academics. In fact, most academics see their university presidents as tyrants to be avoided when possible and thwarted when necessary. Why? Because they want more funding and they are happy to have Stephen Harper direct Canada’s universities if that’s what it takes. These executives have no interest in scholarship, only building their brands and competing in the global marketplace. If they actually cared about scholarship the last thing they would call for is more government control of teaching and research.
The reasons are so obvious that I am reluctant to point them out. For one, governments tend to support what they can sell to the public, not necessarily the best research. Second, governments are usually behind the times, solving yesterday’s problem, not tomorrow’s. Third, governments (like corporations and greedy university presidents) like to focus on the bottom line, but that robs valuable funding for important, but not easily commercialized research in the humanities and social sciences. Fourth, most government officials wouldn’t be able to understand most serious university research. Finally, and most important, one never knows where the search for truth will take us. As Carl Sagan wisely pointed out, no mid-nineteenth-century scientist could have invented the television, no matter how much government support he had, because the basic work hadn’t been done. And when it was done, it was done on a purely theoretical level. Similarly, no government-corporate partnership would have created a thinker like Northrop Frye, but he stands as among the greatest scholars Canada has ever produced.
I shudder to think what Frye would have made of his University of Toronto president today. And then I just keep on shuddering.
Last-minute cuts incense hundreds of students
It’s understandable that in tough economic times, governments will make funding cuts. The BC government’s latest $16m cut to education funding, however, is completely inexcusable.
Not only is it in clear violation of the BC Liberals’ May election platform promise (p. 26) to “maintain this year’s funding levels for student aid,” but according to BC MLA Gary Coons, “the Campbell government delayed telling students the programs had been cancelled… in order to hide the cuts until after the election.”
Indeed, several students who applied for the March deadlined Premier’s Excellence Award – a $15,000 scholarship awarded to the top high school students in the province – recently telephoned the Ministry of Advanced Education requesting the results of their applications. They were told that the judging process was complete and that the winners would be notified shortly.
When the news came that the scholarship was eliminated, most students, including myself, reasonably assumed that this year’s winners would still receive their awards and that the program would cease to exist next year. Alas, this was not the case.
After several phone calls to various government representatives, it has been confirmed that the program will be eliminated immediately, meaning even those students who applied and were apparently selected as recipients this year are out of luck.
This failure to notify students before they spent hours applying for the scholarship – or at least before they spent months anxiously awaiting the results – has been met with understandable outrage.
Other cuts include eliminating the Nurses Education Bursary at a time when the province is in dire need of more nurses, as well as the:
Permanent Disability Benefits
Debt Reduction in Repayment
BC Loan Reduction for Residential Care Aid and Home Support Worker
Health Care Bursary
Early Childhood Educator Loan Assistance
Ontario will get nearly $1.5 billion to build “long-term capacity for research and innovation”
The federal and Ontario governments will spend nearly $1.5 billion over the next two years on infrastructure projects at Ontario’s universities and colleges.
Industry Minister Tony Clement said Monday the $1.476 billion will give short-term economic stimulus to communities in the province and help strengthen research and innovation.
“Our government’s investment provides significant short-term economic stimulus in local communities throughout Ontario, while at the same time strengthening Canada’s long-term capacity for research and innovation,” Clement said in a statement.
“The renewal of college and university facilities will encourage more world-class researchers to work in Canada and give them the tools they need to make further discoveries that will benefit Canadians and people around the world.”
The spending will include $587 million in federal funding, $641.2 million in provincial funding and $248.1 million from other sources including the private sector and the universities and colleges themselves.
The monies will come from the federal Knowledge Infrastructure Program announced in the 2009 budget, a two-year, $2-billion economic stimulus measure to support infrastructure enhancement at Canadian post-secondary schools. They will be used to support deferred maintenance, repair and expansion projects at the colleges and universities.
A total of 28 projects at post-secondary institutions throughout the province will be beneficiaries of the first round of funding with another round of qualifying projects to be announced Friday.
Funding released to the schools included:
- $137 million for the University of Guelph and Conestoga College
- $31.23 million for Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
- $50 million to the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a centre established by Research in Motion (TSX:RIM) co-CEO Jim Balsillie
- $70 million for the University of Toronto’s campus in the eastern suburb of Scarborough
- $80 million for the University of Ottawa
The real question is: why would anyone want to be a backbencher?
The latest issue of Academic Matters is online. Included in this month’s issue is an article by political scientist and former Conservative campaign manager Tom Flanagan discussing why “true” academics rarely run for political office.
In the past, Flanagan says Canada has had plenty of political leaders who have taught at the university level. However, with the exception of a few, none spent a substantial amount of time as full-time academics engaged in the research of the academy.
He notes that university professors make more than the most Members of Parliament and that leaving the Ivory Tower for Parliament Hill results in another sacrifice: the lost of the guaranteed job-security of tenure.
Other observations made by Flanagan include the fact that politics is not about the pursuit of truth or knowledge; but the pursuit of power and popularity.
To my mind, the most important observation he makes is that many academics avoid politics because they are forced to put their field of study aside for the years they are in public office. An MP who is elected into a majority parliament will serve for five years. In many fields of study, an academic absent for five years will face great difficulty reintegrating into their field and will have damaged their academic career in their absence.
In the piece, Flanagan also addresses his own personal experience as a senior staffer for both the Reform and Conservative parties.
One observation Flanagan fails to make is the difference in freedoms afforded to backbench MPs compared to the lowliest tenured academic. A tenured academic can express pretty much any opinion they have on any matter of public interest. A backbench MP is much like a children’s pull-string doll: pre-programmed to say maybe three or four meaningless answers no matter what is being asked.
There is also the matter of how irrelevant Parliament has become with the centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office. (A centralization that Flanagan has helped contribute to.)
The real question is not why academics don’t run for Parliament, the real question is why any esteemed academics would want to banish themselves to the backbenches of Parliament and have less influence over the direction of Canadian public policy than a member of the rock band U2?
On the web:
Academic Matters – www.academicmatters.ca
“Business-related” research gets priority over social work, health and education
The federal government is willingly abandoning social sciences and the humanities in favour of business-related research, which could have devastating effects on thousands of students and academics across the country, according the NDP’s post-secondary education critic.
“Scholarships granted by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) will be focused on business-related degrees,” reads one line in the Jan. 27 Conservative budget. That’s a statement that has Niki Ashton, the member of Parliament for Churchill, Manitoba, up in arms.
“This is not just an attack on future research, but an attack on research that is actually taking place,” says Ashton. “That the government is stipulating where money from a peer-reviewed, independent research council ought to be spent is wrong.”
When the budget was first released, Ashton says she initially overlooked the detail. However, since starting a petition on her constituency website, she says she has been approached by an “overwhelming” number of academics and students who are concerned what the move will mean for their research in fields including literacy, poverty reduction, education and health care.
So far the petition has gathered more than 17,000 signatures.
The NDP has attacked the decision to direct funds to business-related research as an “abdication” of the goals of the research council and the ideals of a “well-rounded society.”
“This recession will end,” says Ashton, who received a SSHRC grant while studying political economy at Carleton University. “We’re not saying that business doesn’t deserve support, but that this isn’t the way to go about doing it. There should be broad investment in all types of research.”
At a time when the new American administration is putting big money into research, she says it’s an embarrassing choice of words on the part of the feds, but is also setting a dangerous precedent that could give the government of the day an ability to direct funding to disciplines with more political clout.
“We don’t think this is the way to go for Canada,” says Ashton. “It’s only one sentence, but it’s one sentence that says so much.”
After controversy last year, university chairman says process will be “open, transparent and accountable”
The Newfoundland and Labrador government won’t interview candidates for Memorial University’s presidency, the chairman of the school’s board of regents said Thursday.
“The minister of education will not be involved in interviews,” Bob Simmonds said at a news conference. “The process we will follow in finding a new president for Memorial University – and please note these words – will be open, transparent and accountable.”
Simmonds said the independent search committee tasked with finding Memorial’s next president will decide on a preferred candidate and pass that recommendation on to the government, as was done in the past.
The controversy surrounding Memorial’s presidential search erupted last year after Education Minister Joan Burke said she personally interviewed and rejected candidates for the position.
Burke’s involvement sparked accusations from some faculty and the university administration that the government violated the school’s autonomy – an allegation she has denied.
Under provincial law, the cabinet has the authority to approve or reject an independent search committee’s selection for Memorial’s president, though approval has long been considered a formality.
In many other provinces, universities don’t need the approval of their provincial governments to select incoming presidents.
Simmonds said if the government were to reject the search committee’s recommendation for president, he would quit his post.
Memorial’s acting president Eddy Campbell was one of the two presidential candidates that the provincial government dismissed. He has been recommended for the presidency of the University of New Brunswick and is expected to take office this summer.
Memorial has been without a full-time president since December 2007, when Axel Meisen announced his resignation earlier than planned.
- The Canadian Press
Isn’t it the mandate of the CFS to lobby on behalf of students, not political parties?
At the CFS conference that was held this past weekend, the organization opposed the economic update presented by the government. Below is the text of the motion, that can also be found on La Rotunde’s Celine Basto’s blog.
Whereas the federal conservative government has tabled an economic update that ignores the need for investment in public infrastructures and furthers an ideological agenda through reckless tax cuts and wrongheaded limitation of union rights ; and
Whereas investment in accessible public post-secondary education is an important economic stimulus and a proactive measure for promoting economic stability in a knowledge-based society; and
Whereas in a minority parliament, opposition parties have the power to work together to oppose regressive policies and pass policies that reflect the priorities and interests of the majority of Canadians ; therefore
Be it resolved that the November federal economic update be strongly opposed ; and
Be it further resolved that the opposition parties be called upon to work together to oppose the economic update and to develop a plan to increase funding for public infrastructure, including a dedicated provincial transfer for post-secondary education that promotes national standards in quality and affordability.
Normally, the CFS’ (or any lobby group for that matter) opposition or endorsement of government legislation would be rather mundane and routine. But the context surrounding this particular economic update is definitely not routine. The Liberals and NDP have been in widely reported talks aimed at toppling the Conservatives and installing a new coalition government over the update.
Is the endorsement of a new coalition government what is meant by calling on the opposition “to work together to oppose the economic update and to develop a plan to increase funding for public infrastructure”? The phrasing is admittedly vague, but what else, given the context, could it mean?
The CFS is not simply calling for a specific action to be taken, as they do during election campaigns when they (appear) to lobby all parties to endorse particular policies. Here they are calling for specific action from specific political parties, the result of such action could be the installation of a new government. One wonders if the CFS has abandoned whatever veneer of non-partisanship they may have had.
One also wonders what regular students, those who fund the CFS, think of the organization offering an implicit endorsement of a change of government? Since when is that in the mandate students supposedly give the CFS when they vote to federate?
Is it not the mandate of the CFS to lobby on behalf of students, and not political parties? If the Tories survive the next few weeks, this makes it all that much more easy for the organization to be dismissed as an extension of the opposition.