Two U of A Students, Dongwoo Kim and Navneet Khinda, Publish OpEd on “Enterpreneurship”

“Entrepreneurship has become the very reflection of rampant individualism that our society champions wholeheartedly. . . . Further, it should be noted that among young people, only a few can afford to sail on this entrepreneurship cruise. . . . we strongly believe that Generation Y is the generation that must strive to be more mature and socially aware – the challenges we have ahead of us are bigger than ever and we need to find the “we” in all of these free-spirited “me’s” to deal with them effectively.”

Full OpEd at


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Last week, President Samarasekera reported some big news: for its scholarship in English language and literature, the Department of English and Film Studies has moved up in the QS Rankings from last year’s #37 spot to #22. This puts EFS in some very prestigious company, indeed. Yet how bittersweet the news is for the Department, given that at 30 June 2014, as a direct consequence of the Government of Alberta’s cuts to Alberta’s budget for postsecondary education in 2013, several of its faculty members will walk out the door, with the Department having no guarantee that they will be replaced.

The news has taken on a sharper taste for some, as there has been little by way of institutional fanfare. Even in the President’s post, the news was reported in a single sentence — “In a timely coincidence, this past week the U of A’s Department of English and Film Studies moved up to 22 from 37 in the QS world rankings.” (The “coincidence” is that the Government is promising to provide $500M each for the next two years in a new “Social Innovation Fund” for “translational” research.) The single sentence is odd, “Anonymous” claims on Colloquy, given that the President’s post concludes with an entire paragraph on a win by the University’s women’s curling team, the Pandas.

A member of the Department reports that her own comment on the President’s Colloquy post has gone unpublished. 

Here’s why everyone should be celebrating the English department’s great success, fleeting as it may, sadly, prove to be, given that the Government of Alberta’s 2014 budget returns to the University’s budget only a fraction of the dollars cut from base funding in 2014 and research in English language and literature is not necessarily of the “translational” kind that will be funded by the Government’s new “Social Innovation Fund.” We’ve seen how Science across Canada is suffering from funding arrangements that prioritize the “translational” over the “pure” or the “basic” yet here we are, succeeding so gloriously at the “basic” at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts. Let’s have the recognition that nurtures that!

In other news, even as the Dean reports the Faculty of Arts will face another 7% cut this year, the Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education Dave Hancock and his Ministry have been energetically tweeting the news that the Government is giving Grant MacEwan $30 million to build a new “Arts and Communication” Learning Centre. Nowhere can I find a single tweet about the Department of English & Film Studies’ success.

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Great Class, Dr. Samarasekera! (Guest Post by John Considine, Professor, English & Film Studies)

The scandal of overpaid administrators does not only affect the University of Alberta. There are university presidents across North America whose salary and benefits come to a million dollars a year and more. How might the University of Alberta show leadership in this sorry situation? Now that “Leadership College” has become Dr Samarasekera’s favourite fantasy rather than “Top Twenty by 2020,” perhaps her colleagues might be allowed to fantasize about what leadership means too. Let’s make this a two-part fantasy.

Part One is obvious: this university is crying out for a rule that no member of university staff be paid more than the premier of the province of Alberta. Nobody believes that running the university is more demanding than running the province. Is the presidency of the university so repulsive a job that it has to be sweetened with yearly millions? If a person has to be paid a million dollars a year to overcome his revulsion at the thought of running a university, then he had better not do it.

Part Two is less obvious, but it starts from an obvious point: that there are two kinds of people in a university. There are people who teach and learn (all learners are also at work teaching their peers, which is why we ask them to meet with each other in classrooms, and all teachers are also at work learning, which is what makes the difference between a teacher and a television set). There are also support staff, who are there to facilitate teaching and learning. Our support staff do a great job, and we need them very much, but teaching and learning are the vital part of the university.

Now, is Dr. Samarasekera a teacher? She has a teaching qualification, which is why she has the title Dr., and she used to teach before she came here. But I don’t see her name on the list of professors in the Faculty of Engineering, and I don’t see her Friday messages beginning with a report of the week’s teaching. Could she combine teaching and the presidency? Yes of course; Shirley Tilghman did at Princeton. She was a university president and also a professor of biology (likewise, her provost, now her successor, was a professor, active in teaching). She didn’t settle for a job on the support staff of her university: and her university didn’t have to put up with a member of the support staff in the top job. So, Part Two of my fantasy: every administrative position which is held by a qualified teacher must be so designed that it permits, and requires, teaching. A president who was an active teacher, and as such a member of a community of teachers, might find it easier to understand that her income should be in line with that of her colleagues in that community; she might find it easier to understand that at a healthy university, the most important leadership happens in the classroom; she might even notice that the leadership happening in her classroom is often coming from her students.

So, will we advertise for our next president with the stipulation that she or he should be paid no more than the premier of the province, and that she or he should be a professor who continues to teach during the presidency? No, probably not, and that’s a pity. Because if we did, we might find ourselves with a president of whom we could be rather proud.

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What is the “Social Innovation Fund”?

Today both the Government of Alberta and the University of Alberta issued media releases about a new $1 billion “Social Innovation Fund.” The two releases describe the fund in very different ways. President Samarasekera’s description of the fund praises it as  a “third pillar” of funding that will “stand alongside Alberta’s other major research endowments, which support research in the natural sciences, health sciences, and engineering,” and makes it sound as if the fund constitutes a direct investment in “scholarship, creative activity, and knowledge translation across the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts [as] fundamental to the inspiration of human imagination and creativity, the education of leaders and global citizens, the production of art and transformational thinking.” (President Samarasekera’s emphasis) The Government’s release more vaguely refers to the fund as designed to support “world-class research on transformative approaches through knowledge dissemination initiatives,” and places its emphasis on the fund’s role in solving social problems “such as poverty and family violence.” It also notes that the fund may “support social entrepreneurship” by “identifying and testing new models” of “social finance.”

In one release the fund is about thinking; the other, applications of thought to social problems, including investment, it seems, in new financial mechanisms.

What exactly is this fund designed to support?

Global TV’s headline: “Alberta redirects $1.1B from Heritage Fund to fight poverty, aid agriculture”

The dollars, by the way, are not new. As the Government’s release makes clear, they will be drawn from the Alberta Heritage Fund.

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Update on Proposed Lougheed Leadership Institute: “Virtuous Leadership” (Oxford), “Ethics in Society” (Stanford)

This is an update to the February 8th post on the General Faculties Council discussion of the proposed Peter Lougheed “Leadership” Institute.

On February 12th, the student newspaper The Gateway quoted President Samarasekera declaring that the Institute has “garnered” the support of the General Faculties Council. This affirms that GFC should always vote on issues brought before the council so that its views may be formally recorded.

Here are two further items that pertain to the issue.

Oxford University is currently running a series of round-table discussions on the importance of the humanities. Next in the series, a discussion of how the humanities contribute to “virtuous leadership”: 

Whether in banks or on the battlefield, in the NHS or in national newspapers, the need for virtuous leadership is now patent. An education in the humanities is, in fact, an education in virtues that are at once intellectual and civic, underscoring its importance fornon-economic public flourishing. Continue reading

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What’s in a Name?: Lougheed, Buffett, Shakespeare (Report from the General Faculties Council Meeting, 3 February 2014)

Collegial governance is not having an easy time of it at the University of Alberta’s General Faculties Council (GFC).

Four items came before the Council at its meeting last Monday, with only one of these an action item, and items that were for “discussion” were unlikely (it seemed) to return as matters for GFC to vote upon. On the one item on which it could vote, GFC approved a new UAPPOL policy in which student groups must secure approval before hosting any event. Members of GFC raised questions about the policy, including what was meant by “event” and whether this was an attempt to control whom students could invite to the University as speakers, but despite the fact that GFC’s Terms note that “debate should be either for or against a motion,” no one who stepped up to the microphone expressed themselves as if they were declaring positions to help shape a vote. Instead, GFC members asked questions, and though the answers made it clear that the language of the policy was very vague, GFC voted for the new policy, reassured, it seems, by claims that it is simply intended to support students in their activities. (As called for in GFC’s Terms, the minutes should fully reflect the basis of the decision taken in the vote.)

The general disposition of elected representatives during discussion of the one action item carried over to the rest of the meeting. The lion’s nails have been so clipped it has forgotten how to roar. And so when an even more weighty matter came before the Council there was no sense that its members had the power, if they wished, to exert authority to take the matter being discussed back into their jurisdiction.  

The matter in question was the proposed Peter Lougheed Leadership Institute. Continue reading

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What is a college? (And what is leadership?): Guest Post by Professor John Considine (English & Film Studies)

The last Gateway of January reminded its readers yet again that our senior administrators’ plan for a so-called “Leadership College” is not welcomed by actual student leaders. Dustin Chelen, the SU Vice-President (Academic), “forcefully maintains that building an elite housing project is not the right way to facilitate leadership on campus.” There speaks a real leader: somebody who thinks independently, and thinks about what other people need.

In fact, the idea of a leadership college is deeply incoherent. I am not sure if any of Dr Samarasekera’s advisors studied at collegiate universities; if so, they should have explained to her what a college is. I did study at a collegiate university, so I can explain. A college is not an exclusive body. The members of a college are a cross-section of the university: they bring a very wide variety of talents, interests, and ideals to the college. They did not choose each other (that is why a college is not quite like a club or fraternity, though fraternities have something of the collegiate ideal). They have not been set aside from the rest of the university because they are special people. They live and study together, teach each other, and make decisions together, rather like an extended family. Like family life, collegiate life can be far from idyllic. But a family whose members see themselves as an elite set apart from the families around them is a sick family. An elite undergraduate college would be a sick institution.

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