By Nicole Kobie
Not many people like being stopped in the halls and food courts, especially to have their work questioned or criticized. However, if you see University of Calgary President Harvey Weingarten in line for a burger, eating his lunch or walking through the plus-15, don’t hesitate to stop him—-he’d love to hear what you think.
Thanks not only to his recognizable face but also to his self-declared penchant for eating lunch in MacEwan Students’ Centre, Weingarten is stopped and questioned by students frequently. Just recently a cashier at the bookstore had a 20-minute conversation with him about differential tuition.
“The university is a very neat place,” Weingarten reflected. “I’ve met very interesting people, and by that I mean across the board–faculty, students, staff, people from the community.”
Last year, when he began his presidential term, Weingarten promised to focus on students, especially undergrads. In light of increased graduate student enrollment, differential tuition and his academic plan, some question whether he’s achieved that goal, or even tried. Whether you agree or disagree with his methods and actions, it’s impossible to ignore the changes he has caused.
This is one area where Weingarten claims his biggest achievement of the past year. This educational philosophy offers students a more active role in their learning by encouraging them to ask questions, discover answers and communicate effectively.
“We have more courses now, especially in earlier years, that are inquiry-based,” explained Weingarten. “I am very pleased to see curriculum like the Bachelors of Arts in Health Sciences not only because it’s an important area with student demand, but because it was founded with multi-disciplinary inquiry.”
Part of this philosophy requires sharing research with undergraduates, an idea Weingarten pushed since his first days as president. Last year, Weingarten was concerned with the overall treatment of undergraduates, noting that they are the reason the university exists.
“Look at the distinction made between graduate students and undergrads,” he said in an interview with the Gauntlet last September. “We always make room for graduate students. That just has to be extended down.”
This year, however, Weingarten believes that in order for undergrads to partake in research, we need more graduate students.
“We were looking for an increase in graduate enrollment [this year]–you can’t disassociate undergraduate and graduate,” he said.”If you want to be involved in research you need a level of research activity at the university, so we’re glad to see that numbers of graduate students have gone up.”
Not only does the university’s administration want an increase in graduate students, it wants to maintain the current level of undergrads. The large number of students packing first year classes, the MacEwan Students’ Centre food court and campus hallways are not going to increase. But while some administrators believe we still have space, many think this university has already hit–or even exceeded–critical mass.
“We already have an enormous base of undergrad students,” explained Weingarten. “The idea was that we should not cut down the number of undergrad students, but it should not grow.”
Because of this, undergraduate registration for this year is about the same as last year, and will likely continue to be for years to come.
Every year, it’s the same story: a tuition increase. Likely, it’s the one topic Weingarten
gets stopped the most for in the halls. If Weingarten has his way, students in arts and sciences programs will pay less than students in higher-cost programs, such as medicine or some engineering programs. All he needs is for the Alberta government to deregulate tuition, however it is unclear when that would happen.
Contrary to what some may think, differential tuition will not be based on post-graduate earning potentials, but tied to how much programs cost
to run. In Weingarten’s opinion, it is simply unfair that the tuition from a humanities student helps cover the cost of an expensive medical
“It’ll be differences of four to nine thousand, not four to thirty thousand,” he explained.
Before arts and sciences students rejoice at the dollars they’re sure to save, keep in mind no one’s tuition is dropping–humanities students will still pay the same tuition as they do now.
“[Arts and sciences] students would see the money spent on an increase of quality, more teachers, smaller class sizes,” he defended.
However, Weingarten did suggest that the overall tuition of lower-cost programs would increase less than higher-cost programs.
Sadly, that increase is inevitable. Whether the Students’ Union is effective this year or students stop Weingarten a thousand times in the hall, we should all expect an increase in tuition.
“It’s a budget crunch all over this year,” lamented Weingarten, adding that the government doesn’t have as much money as it expected to have. “Students should not expect a decrease.”
That lack of government money means students must dig a little deeper into savings and lines of credit. Rather than dwell on the inevitable, Weingarten wants to take advantage of the opportunity and create a discussion on quality rather than cost.
“I’d like to clear stalemates from administration and see a genuine consultation process,” he said. “I would like to see a discussion that goes beyond simply what the number is.”
Raising our Sights
Should you happen to stop Weingarten in the hall to give him your two cents, keep in mind much of his response will be shaped by his crowning achievement of the past year. The academic plan, Raising our Sights, combined and built on previous academic plans starting from 1996.
“It was a very important exercise for the university to go through, to look back over many of the plans it had made over the last six, seven, eight years, to draw out of that the key elements that it really wanted to focus on, to make clear statements about how it wanted to focus on them, and to tie some of those ideas and plans to specific actions and times.
“I’m most proud of that. It was an institutional effort, and that was very neat to see. It was neat to see the university go through an exercise in critical self-appraisal.”
The plan has four core principles that students are likely to hear more about in the next few years. Raising our Sights dictates this school should be a learning-centered university, as well as a research university. Also, it should focus on multi-disciplinary inquiry. Finally, the university should promote the benefits the school offers for the entire community.
This plan not only affects academics, but resource allocation as well. According to the document, the university will allocate human and financial resources according to the principles and priorities of this plan.
“The details aside, it was an important exercise for the university to go through,” he said. “It’s not that there aren’t dissenters and not that there aren’t some things of controversy, not some things of legitimate Jesus-is-it-the-right-thing-to-do, but to come around to that discussion was important.”
Weingarten still has many questions to answer, about the past and the future. If you see him, don’t hesitate to ask about research, differential tuition and his academic plan–as he’s noted time and time again, he’s here because of the students and for them. Extremely friendly and personable–he’s been described as having the ability to “charm a diamond out of a lump of coal”–Weingarten is directly responsible for both the cost and quality of your education. Keep in mind, he thinks he’s doing a good job.
“I think we’ve made progress, but I’m never content with the rate of progress,” he said. “I came here with the sense that the place had done very well and that it had great potential. What I learned over the year was that we’ve done even better than I thought. It has even more potential than I thought.”
With one year down–and who knows how many more to go–Weingarten has shown what kind of a president he is and what his plans are for the future. Whether you agree with him or not largely depends on what you think this university should become. If you don’t like Weingarten’s vision, make sure he knows yours.