Two Admirable Letters
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Two Admirable Letters

An Open Letter to the University of Saskatchewan by several students

 In the project briefs the university expresses an aspiration to improve the quality and quantity of humanities research. It intends to do this by removing some programs, and merging others. Research is a valuable goal, but to suggest that the problem with specific humanities programs within Arts and Science is that they are insufficiently productive is to miss the point. The University of Saskatchewan is not just a research institution. It is a university for the residents of Saskatchewan and for its students, and should take some time to consider their needs. The study of the humanities is a creditable pursuit and central to the idea of the university, it should be clear that the University of Saskatchewan has some obligation to provide a space, perhaps small but at least well defined, for the pursuit of that study. It is our belief that the proposals enumerated in the recent project briefs fulfill only half of this obligation. The space for the humanities presented in the briefs is certainly small, but it is also poorly defined.

Such poor definition entails that the university has failed in whatever duty of clarity it possessed. We know from reading the brief only that some future program shall exist, taking ‘the best parts’ from each of four programs: Religion and Culture, Philosophy, Women and Gender Studies and Modern Languages. Forgive us if we remain sceptical of the virtues of such a combination. The attitude of presumption that must be required for university administrators to suppose that they, and not the cumulative force of tradition, are sufficient to develop a new program from the base materials of these four programs is beyond us, and our understanding. Most plausibly, the four programs shall be made into one ‘interdisciplinary’ program, which offers more upper-level classes than any of the four previous programs individually, but fewer than the four programs collectively. Most students, however, are not interested in a poorly-defined ‘interdisciplinary’ program, but instead are interested in Modern Languages, or Philosophy, or Women’s and Gender Studies, or Religion and Culture. Most universities, considering applicants for postgraduate degrees, are not interested in students who have taken poorly-defined ‘interdisciplinary’ programs, but are instead interested in philosophers, or linguists, with a thorough education in their subject.

The real point, that the university has gutted departments by offering retirement and choosing not to replace faculty, is a little unhappier. The university knew that, perhaps even hoped that, faculty would retire. Those faculty are unlikely to be replaced. The university, then, intends to address a state of affairs of its own making and in what we believe to be a damaging way.

Gloss: While I cannot vouch for the authors’ description, anyone who has been watching Alberta universities recently should find the combination of a shiny acronym and communication strategy, hiring freezes in those departments with the least clout, and pressure on the more vulnerable programs to merge as familiar as the headaches that mark a winter Chinook.  This similarity is remarkable, although charity would suggest that it is best explained by the tendency of Canadian universities to aspire to similar things and borrow ideas from the same sources (see the Higher Education Strategy Associates for a forthright perspective on the later).  The duty of public universities in a thinly-populated country to preserve and spread the core of human knowledge, and not merely a fashionable or profitable subset, is not often acknowledged.  Not everyone can move hundreds of kilometers to the one properly-staffed program in their field, even if they know what that field will be before they have met people working in it.

An Open Letter to the University of Alberta by four professors

Dear Mr. Goss and the Board of Governors,

We are writing to apply for the position of President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Alberta. As you will see from our CVs, we are eminently suited to fill this position. Indeed, we believe that by job-sharing this position, we would be able to do a better job than any one person could do – and the salary is certainly ample enough to meet the needs of all four of us. Indeed, for many of us one-fourth of your proposed minimum salary would double or triple our current wage.

Gloss: The proposed minimum salary is $400k/year, five times the average household income in Alberta before accounting for a generous list of benefits.  Bob Ellard wrote “The University of Calgary is a significant business … a $1.2-billion (a year) business.  The space, specifically for the president, that the board of governors worked out of was embarrassing.”  If a university president were essentially a CEO, then the president would need a CEO’s perks.

Edit 2022-04-11: converted to block editor

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