Thank you to everyone who has written in over the last two days. It is quite astonishing how many people have been visiting the Square and doing so from around the planet. Please encourage friends and alumni of the Faculty to write in too. Let’s have as many voices as possible raised against the Progressive Conservative party of Alberta’s budget decision of March 7th, for not just Albertans will feel the consequences of what is unfolding here.
Developments occurred thick and fast yesterday. They included several statements from the Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, Thomas Lukaszuk, on Twitter and in the media. Lukaszuk declared that only courses that are “relevant” to the “world outside the University” should be offered, students should find a “glimpse” of the educational opportunities available to them in MOOCs (massive open online courses), and Deans in all faculties across Canada should follow Dean Lesley Cormack’s “courageous” lead in cutting programs. (Academics across Canada, take note.)
Lukaszuk also had this to say to the Edmonton Sun about the 20 programs that the Dean is proposing for “suspension” at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts:
Let’s get this right.
After arguing for months that the historic cut of $147 million delivered to Alberta’s postsecondary education system in the Progressive Conservative’s budget of March 7th is supposed to drive the eradication of “duplication” in the system and the finding of “administrative efficiencies,” the Minister is now suggesting that the cutting of programs at the University of Alberta is an “opportunity for smaller institutions” elsewhere in the province to offer “similar courses”? The province’s flagship institution is to cut courses from its curriculum in Arts at the University of Alberta so that institutions elsewhere in the “Campus Alberta” system have the “opportunity” to create them?
The Minister’s remark suggests that the Government is acting according to an agenda that involves something particular about the University of Alberta.
In the Journal Lukaszuk declares “People argue that if you don’t offer everything, you’re no longer a good university. Just the opposite is the case. You don’t judge the value and the excellence level of the university by the number of courses it offers.”
You sure don’t. Neither Teresa Sullivan’s argument nor my own nor any other I know of on this front is about the number of courses. The arguments are about what makes a university, especially a great university: the diversity and complexity of its academic programming, determined in relation to the scope, depth, and various aspects of world knowledge and world thought, and determined not according to market criteria but by rigorous internal discussion amongst the academics who are building that knowledge and contributing to that thought. Academic programming is only woefully determined in relation to cuts to the funding of postsecondary education, especially cuts that are both draconian and senseless, as others are saying much better than myself. (See the comments on “Dean Moves to Suspend Arts Programs.”)
The argument we’ve been hearing for the last couple of days is that programs should be cut from Arts if students are not interested in them. But we must ask why students are not interested in taking courses in Arts, or why enrolment in certain courses offered by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts may have been low or dropped over the last several years. The general enrolment in the Faculty, it must be noted, is very high, with the Faculty enrolling thousands of students every year in its programs. How can we not acknowledge that waning interest in course x or program y has something to do with the relentless talk from right-wing commentators across the “First World” about the alleged uselessness of degrees in Arts – talk that flies (as much right-wing commentary does) in the face of all evidence, including:
It is part of the responsibility of the academy to show the culture it serves the many important and splendid things it ought to be interested in, especially as students getting an education of wide exploration and enduring importance before going on to create their careers. Where a government chooses not to invest in postsecondary education the academy’s capacity to do its work diminishes.
Let us all remember that this particular year of crisis for the University of Alberta, arising from a depth of funding cut to postsecondary education in Alberta that has been witnessed only twice before in Alberta’s history, comes after years of funding cuts to the Faculty of Arts – five years, to be precise, with the first round of damaging cuts to the Faculty coming when departments were told to cut 50% from their operating budgets in 2009-2010, and another particularly damaging round of cuts occurring in 2011-2012. (In that year, the Faculty lost many of its support staff.) We can only teach our interests, and show Albertans through our teaching why they ought to be interested in them, with the appropriate financial support — support that must come to a great public university from the Government precisely to guarantee that, as a public good, a social good, the University may function with the necessary autonomy from market forces, the “interests” they dictate, and the interests of private wealth.
To put the point more bluntly: all Albertans should be interested in educating this generation of Albertans for global success in a wide range of careers — including careers that take them to the far corners of the world, where (amongst other things) knowledge of other languages and other cultures may prove to be great assets — because all of us gain from what Albertans educated within the supporting matrix of the social good of a great public University may bring to a rapidly changing planet. And Albertans should be able to secure all of this in one place, at the University of Alberta, the university in which generations of Albertans have invested. We must not betray the interests of the past, present, or future generations of Albertans, and certainly not do it according to the claim that cutting programs at the University of Alberta creates a wonderful opportunity for academic programs to be offered elsewhere. For it is elsewhere that both professors and students will go, taking all of their interest-bearing talents with them — and that elsewhere will not be “smaller institutions” within the province of Alberta.