At yesterday’s Town Hall for the Faculty of Science, Dean Jonathan Schaeffer declared that in light of the Government of Alberta’s declarations that it wants a 7.2% cut to the budget of the University of Alberta for 2013-2014 “there’s a cut-throat competition between Deans right now.” There are three faculties in his view that need not, however, worry about the bloodbath about to take place if the Government of Alberta is not compelled, over the next two weeks, to see the irrationality of its decisions in regard to the funding of the public sector, including postsecondary education. Shall we all guess which of the faculties Schaeffer would have safeguarded against the bloodletting? “Medicine, Engineering, and Science,” Schaeffer declared, “though not in that order.”
Last year, those of us standing up against the devastating cuts to the Faculty of Arts that saw us lose so many of our support staff were told repeatedly that we were not to speak of the virtues of the Faculty of Arts for this was to indulge in “Arts Exceptionalism.” Well, look where that got us. And where is it going to get us now when the Dean of Science can so blithely say “what may be politically incorrect”: that the exceptional Science is to be spared from the vertical cuts imposed on other faculties? Hear him make this declaration for yourself at about the 48-minute mark on the Science Town Hall video, which is here: “If you’re going to cut, don’t cut the strengths, don’t hurt the faculties that are making the University of Alberta’s reputation what it is.”
Apparently, Dean Schaeffer thinks it is perfectly acceptable to ask other faculties to offer up their throats to the butcher’s knife — and declaring that “across the board cuts are not acceptable,” yesterday he urged the Central Administration to proceed to that slaughter as soon as possible.
The charge of “Arts exceptionalism” was totally unjust when it was levelled at those of us defending the Arts last year. All we were doing was explaining what those of us in the Faculty of Arts do, and why it is of such immense cultural value. The charge of “exceptionalism” sticks fairly and firmly, however, to what Dean Schaeffer did — without apologies — so publicly yesterday. If Central Administration heeds his argument, look to see other Faculties carved up. For about a minute later in the Town Hall, Schaeffer explained what has been asked of the Deans: “We’ve been tasked to come up with scenarios that involve cuts of 20%.” Now things could not be clearer. Deans have been “tasked” to work within such a scenario, in what President Samarasekera has declared a “thought challenge,” so that some faculties can be put through cuts of that magnitude while the other, exceptional ones, are — as Schaeffer urges — spared.
The gauntlet could not have been more dramatically thrown. Can our Dean pick it up — without indulging in the same divisive activities? Why is there any need for the throat-cutting of our fellow Faculties here? We should all be standing up for the University as a public good — and standing up for all parts of it without arguing that we must wrest “opportunity” from “crisis” around notions of “excellence.” Has none of our Central Administration read Bill Readings’ The University in Ruins (Harvard UP, 1996)? Yes, the University is quite clearly, as Schaeffer declared yesterday, at a crossroads. But there is no need for us to turn that crossroads into a site at which siblings murder one another. The Government of Alberta has made a decision that will devastate Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. Let us compel them to reverse it.