A “hundred,” President says, “would have been very, very helpful”

At today’s meeting of the General Faculties Council, President Samarasekera informed those present that it has been the Administration’s “strategic choice” to have its “conversations” about the university’s need for “appropriate and visionary” funding “directly with the government, not through the media.” The government is “hearing our message,” we were told, and this “behind-the-scenes advocacy has worked.” Does this mean that an announcement of one-time funding that will help the university out of this year’s budget difficulties is pending? Are support staff and faculty positions in Arts and elsewhere at the University about to be saved?

At the same time, President Samarasekera was greatly critical of most of the discussions that have been taking place in the media. These discussions were characterized as “negative advocacy,” in relation to which she has received, over the last several weeks, five emails expressing concern. Perhaps President Samarasekera would be cheered if she read some of the comments on the Care2 petition site for the petition “Sustain the University of Alberta & Freeze Tuition Fees.” Despite the fact that we have no formal mechanism for disseminating knowledge of the petition, on it are recorded, for every email that President Samarasekera has received, a hundred signatures from Albertans who are standing up for the University and calling for stable, visionary funding for it. 

The President’s concern that media coverage is “turning the public towards the here and now” and damaging the reputation of the university led one student to note that concerns about “reputation” should not be permitted to get in the way of our telling “the whole story” or what one professor referred to as the “ground-truth.”

The President did, however, praise Professor Ryan Dunch’s piece in the Edmonton Journal as “magnificent.” “If we’d had a hundred of those,” she said, “I can tell you that would have been very, very helpful.” Start writing, everyone! Write in to the Journal now! 

The President then shared some of the data (in the form of charts) that she presents to government when making her case about why we need public investment in the university. None of these charts generated any obvious excitement. A student suggested that it might be helpful if the President’s approach involved “narrative” about the university rather than “data.” President Samarasekera said that she did “not want to turn this into a conversation about the philosophy of how we advocate.” Kudos, nevertheless, to the student who asked this question. He hails from the Faculty of Arts, where some of us may crunch data, but where we generally understand the vital importance of narrative and philosophy.

One final note: President Samarasekera also noted that she is hopeful that there will be “last-minute changes” to the provincial budget that will help the University towards a prosperous future. We “must not lose what we have gained from our investments,” she said. The President was referring in part to the hiring of new professors during the 5 years in which the provincial government allotted 6% increases to the Campus Alberta Grant. This is precisely, of course, what we have been arguing here at Arts Squared — that we must not lose the various gains that have been made over the last several years by letting faculty “lines” or positions close, or faculty retire without being replaced. Given that President Samarasekera is so convinced that other forms of advocacy for the University have no effect, we look forward to the proof that the “behind-the-scenes advocacy” has worked.

In the meantime, we are all supposed to promote the University by getting a 100 people to attend some dodge ball event. If you would like to attend an event more directly relevant to University issues, attend the Rally that students are planning for the National Day of Action on tuition fees in the Quad at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 1st

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