The almighty Plan

University of Calgary President Dr. Harvey Weingarten all but be-moaned the sorry state of the university as family and friends of this year’s graduates gathered to celebrate their accomplishments at convocation last week.

In his convocation remarks–all too familiar to anyone who has attended more than one of his convocations–Weingarten mentioned graduates and their importance to the community, emphasizing improving the university through the academic plan. While graduates should not be shielded from the harsh economic realities the university must now overcome, focusing on a plan that has become associated with financial adversity because of “restructuring” does a great disservice to graduates at the end of their university careers.

The current academic plan is approximately one year old. Its effects have not reached most graduating students, and will not affect them if their degrees grant work as intended. Graduates fortunate enough to leave this university have no reason to care about the academic plan, except to question the quality and value of a U of C education delivered prior to the plan if so much improvement is necessary as the plan claims.

So to whom was Dr. Weingarten pleading when his university turned the captive audience at convocation into a marketing opportunity for its own improvement?

Audience members faced university staff hawking a free glossy publication about the greatness of U of C researchers. Audience members were reminded of the university’s past achievements. And audience members received a convocation programme that gave the academic plan great priority on page two, before members of the academic procession, before our national anthem, before distinguished recipients, and–most disturbingly–before graduating students.

To the world outside the university, this placed a one-year-old document ahead of a 37-year tradition of fine students and faculty. Not surprisingly, the first point of the plan, “Advancing Health and Wellness,” appeared more important at convocation than the graduating class of doctors who will be at the forefront of that task, and not only at this university. At least the university has been consistent with its message in that respect.

Weingarten’s final appeal to graduates for alumni support was honourable, but perhaps misguided. Having sold the idea that the university needs improvement to keep up, how could he justify seeking support from customers who have already been sold an inferior product?

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