A world-class university is…

Editor, the Gauntlet,

Re: “Calgary nowhere near world class,” Sept. 4, 2003,

I would like to respond to Kristopher Foster’s Sept. 4 letter regarding the qualities of a world class city by extending some of his criteria to the University of Calgary.

What is a world-class university? A world-class university is one with a broad vision: to acknowledge and celebrate diversity, culture, dissidence, inquiry and knowledge in all forms and disciplines. A university is a conglomerate of the finest wisdom of human society. It is where art and ideas emerge, flourish and are challenged. A world-class university is a holistic learning/researching/teaching environment where diverse fields of knowledge are studied, respected and revered.

The medieval philosopher Cassiodorus realized the interconnected nature of education when he included grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, astronomy, arithmetic and music together in his curriculum of “The Seven Liberal Arts.” World class universities rely on a diversity of expertise to enrich the lives of professors, students and communities.

And world-class universities realize the importance of the arts (visual, fine arts, music and dance) in that equation.

The University of Calgary is not a world-class university.

When world-class universities need to raise funds, they don’t cut $600,000 from the operating budget of the Fine Arts department. They don’t fire 14 Fine Arts staff members without notice, then post seven job openings on the university website the next day. They don’t decrease availability of art courses by cutting back on the number of sections offered or eliminating courses altogether. They don’t act in secret, in summer, when no one is around to see their cowardly behaviour and protest the changes. World-class universities value their professors and rarely do these prominent world-class academics resign in frustration.

Universities are about, or should be about, people. A university attracts world-class professors, students and researchers because of its academic culture, not because it sports a new ICT Building or programs that bring in industry/corporate funding (wealthier faculties like Engineering and Management).

The elusive and secretive “Academic Plan” of our president seems to be moving this institution towards a technical academy existing to meet the needs, and benefit from the profits, of industry. That field is already occupied by the likes of SAIT and DeVry and is not the purpose of a university. A university is more well-rounded and far-sighted than that.

Unfortunately, this university tends to reflect the small-town mentality that is Calgary. As Kristopher Foster mentioned, Calgary is a cultureless whitewashed void, “centered solely around the petroleum-junky.” If a university is a reflection of the society around it, then it’s clear the U of C is anything but “world class.”

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