Setting sights, raising bars

By Roger Hollands

The President of the University of Calgary is on a mission and he’s taking the U of C with him.

On Tue., March 5 U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten and Associate Vice-President Student Affairs Dr. Peggy Patterson met with the Students’ Legislative Council to discuss the new academic plan for the U of C, Raising Our Sights, and its implications for students.

Weingarten and Patterson outlined the necessity for the plan, addressing the U of C’s lack of institutional focus and the effect on its ability to gain financial support.

"A couple of years ago, a provincial government typically committed to equity of resource allocation gave $94 million to Mount Royal College and nothing to the U of C," said Dr. Weingarten. "Governments rarely give such clear signals of their feelings about institutions."

Weingarten asserted that U of C has not received adequate funding in recent history because it lacks a coherent mission statement. He explained this lack of vision has deterred investors from considering the U of C for funding.

"Even traditional supporters of the U of C express reservation about the absence of a coherent message from the university," said Weingarten. "The [academic] plan is a powerful instrument to sustain and enhance external support for the university."

The university’s fundamental role, as outlined in the plan, is to prepare students to participate in the economy and the rest of society.

"The programs and experience we offer must be appropriate to the needs, aspirations and futures of our students," states the first of four core principles of Raising our Sights.

The pragmatism of the plan raised eyebrows at the SLC meeting. The reasoning behind the new approach does not differentiate between the students’ right to a complete education and industries’ desire for a competent workforce. As such, councillors were concerned that the difference between a university education and a technical one may be dangerously eroded.

"I am unsure of the direction that you are taking with Raising Our Sights," said Operations and Finance Commissioner Matt Stambaugh. "I am reading vague directions."

Patterson and Weingarten focused on the direction for a learning-centered university.

"Students may not like some things, but they will never forgive us if we compromise the quality of their educational experience," said Weingarten.

The issue of differential tuition was also prominent in the discussion as the academic plan had previously included a direction for the implementation of differential tuition. SU President Barb Wright encouraged Weingarten to consult with students before pursuing the issue.

"I would like to publicly invite you, Dr. Patterson and Dr. Bond to host a town hall meeting with students to open dialogue with them on differential tuition and other issues of concern," said Wright.

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