Letter 1 (Faculty in English & Film Studies)

 

 

 

5 December 2011

 

Professor Lesley Cormack

Dean of Arts

University of Alberta

 

Dear Lesley,

 

We write to express our grave concerns about the disposition and approach being taken to the proposed budget cuts to the Faculty for this year, and the proposed cuts already being demanded of us for next year. At this difficult time, we wish to rally around you as our advocate and champion, and we ask that you take some steps to facilitate this. In our view, the proposed cuts are untenable, and we ask you to let us help you fight them so that we may together ensure the immediate and long-term health and vitality of our Faculty.

 

We thank you for holding the open forum of 21 November 2011, but those of us who were present were very disappointed to hear you set out the dilemma before us, to an audience of primarily graduate students, as if faculty salaries were the principal problem. You must understand that the faculty, students, and the administrative staff that support them are the core of the Faculty, and that the teaching and research of faculty members are the fundamental activities upon which this Faculty depends. We feel it does not help, then, for you to intimate that if we simply get rid of some administrative staff this year and some faculty next year we will solve the Faculty’s financial difficulties. We ask that you find ways to resolve the current budget crisis and the looming one for next year that do not involve the loss of any jobs either at the administrative or faculty levels, and do not involve the creation of ill-will or resentment towards faculty members.

 

What, then, is to be done? Each of the signatories below has his or her own ideas of how we might proceed to resolve the current budget crisis, and the pending one, and we do not propose to set out all of our ideas here. Some of our members have already written or will write to you individually with their particular suggestions. We do, however, wish to ask for a fundamental reorientation in your thinking and approach to the matter. We find it dreadful that our administrative staff members have already been living for months with the proposition of losing their jobs, and we ask that we establish as quickly as possibly a different way of proceeding, with a different end. Amongst many other things, our administrative staff do our budget work, support research and teaching, help us to be a leader in online educational development, and are the first point of contact for students. We do not accept the logic that the ADPrep process is about a review of “functions.” These are human beings, human beings who already do three times the work expected of them, and our large department cannot continue to be the efficient and creative workplace that it is without the vital services they provide. Solutions to the budget crises before us cannot involve cutting off our hands and feet, or our arms and legs, or striking at our head and heart.

 

First and most importantly, we ask you to proceed with these matters as matters to be collectively determined – that is, as matters that we should be resolving by way of collegial governance. The “consultative process” that you defended at the Arts Forum has not, in our view, being sufficiently vigorous or comprehensive.

 

We also urgently call for creative emergency thinking, and the kind of dedicated public relations campaign that the historian Keith Thomas asked for, from British academics, last week, in the London Review of Books. Thomas wrote, “What we need to do now is to clarify our aims and then to form a pressure group . . . . We should hire a public relations agency and take our case to the country.” We want you to draw upon us as a constituency comprising people of immense imaginative and intellectual capacity, and great rhetorical talent, who can help you take our case to the government of Alberta. We need an explicit and rigorous public relations campaign on our behalf.

 

In this regard, we do not understand the creation of and commitment to a middle-level administration of VPs at the Central level and assistant and associate deans at the Faculty level. If we are in such beleaguered times, how can we afford such administrators? Why are such administrators, for whom we do not receive an adequate annual accounting, considered more valuable than the administrative staff upon whom we crucially depend for the daily operations of our departments?

 

We recognize that there is not a great deal that you can do, individually, about the state of affairs in Central Administration. But we cannot help but wonder what we might gain not just financially but psychologically at the Faculty level if, instead of having our current full complement of assistant and associate deans, we chose instead to have a flexible pot of money that was used to buy select faculty members out of a course or two each year so that they might contribute (for example) to the brainstorming of how to justify the Faculty to government. We believe that we would get a good deal further for far less expense if we reinstituted a form of collegial governance, one that eschews the corporate-style model of the highly-paid VP with a fixed portfolio, in favour of a form of governance that draws upon the extensive imaginative and intellectual resources of the members of this Faculty on an ad hoc annual basis, as funding permits.

 

We therefore call for the Faculty to conduct a review process for this level of administration in tandem with the administrative review process that you have chosen so that we can collectively decide what forms of administration we can afford in this time of crisis. We do not accept that because a review process of this kind has recently taken place it should not factor into the decision-making for this year and next. If you can be calling for us to cut 15 of our administrative staff members this year, and some faculty members next year, then we need another review of what we are spending on this Faculty’s upper-level administration.

 

 

Let us close by reiterating our desire to help you meet the challenge before us, the challenge that, in your view, positions you as the “decider.” We understand that the Board of Governors defines your role as that of a CEO of a small corporation within the larger corporate structure of the University, but we feel we must take every step to run the Faculty according to other terms. We want to rally around you not as corporate “decider” but as our advocate and champion for a Faculty freshly defining itself as collegially governed, and freshly and vigorously contesting the idea that the Arts or the Humanities ought to be subject to any corporate notion, especially any notion of the corporate “bottom-line.” We cannot succeed according to those terms. We must choose others. In accordance with this, we urge you to take all steps possible to permit us to participate to the fullest extent possible in taking the decisions about how to protect and nurture the health and long-term well-being of this Faculty. Perhaps we might begin by having you sit down with us in our department so that we may brainstorm with you as to what we might, together, accomplish. We feel that such meetings ought to be for you the most urgent priority.

 

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Carolyn Sale William Beard Stephen Reimer
Julie Rak Brad Bucknell Christine Stewart
Janice Williamson Elena Del Rio Christine Wiesenthal
Shyamal Bagchee Nora Stovel Keavy Martin
James D. Mulvihill Thomas Wharton Edward Bishop *

 

* Signature added 20 December 2011

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