Calling Dr. Weingarten

By Lawrence Bailey

Dear Dr. Harvey Weingarten, President of the University of Calgary,

You may not know me, despite having met me once or twice, but I know we will shake hands at least once more, as I convocate this June. I just wanted to drop you a line because I have spent the last six years at the U of C–three under your reign, three under that of your predecessor, Dr. Terry White–and, well, I’ve grown attached to the place. As such, I wanted to give you some feedback as a soon-to-be alumnus, letting you know what I think of the state of things right now.

No, no, don’t stop reading, I’m not going to rant and rail. Actually, I must admit that, for the most part, I agree with your vision of what this university could be, what it should be.

The focus on research is both wise and noble in my opinion, as it garners top minds and both national and international recognition. When coupled with the fact we live in a wealthy city, not to mention a wealthy province, it makes even more sense to me as there is a veritable plethora of corporate funding out there.

Something troubles me though. Does the focus on research need to be so single-minded? Isn’t there room for individuals who have a passion for both their work and their students in your grand plan? It seems as though actual teachers have no place in your utopian institution.

The list of professors who have left or been squeezed out in you tenure is teeming with charisma and inspiration. People like Dr. David Bright and Dr. Linda Henderson, surely these popular and engaging professors could have played some kind of role on this campus. I realize there is a new focus, a new emphasis, but the exodus of brilliant instructors, of excellent undergraduate professors, is doing serious damage to the morale on campus, not to mention the word-of-mouth reputation. The reviews are not favorable.

The undergraduate experience must be factored into the equation with a school as young as the U of C, especially when you consider the importance of alumni contributions. If U of C graduates feel marginalized, looked over in favour of heavily subsidized research, if they feel the quality of in-class instruction was less than stellar, how likely are they to give back? Not very.

So, while you are trying to play with the big boys, with the older, wealthier schools, be sure to think long term. No one will help sustain any kind of institutional wealth through alumni donations if they don’t feel as though their time here was well spent.

Another area where I need to tip my hat to you and your administration is the acknowledgement of underfunding. Comments made over the past year or two show you aren’t the big, bad wolf many see you as. On the contrary, you’re on our side. You’re there, pleading for more funding, for government to acknowledge the value of post-secondary funding. Thank you for that.

However, you still need to do more.

I can only assume you’re pumping a lot of hands and making a lot of calls, trying to change some minds and loosen purse strings up in Edmonton. My question is this: why don’t you and your natural allies band together to form a truly formidable lobbying front?

You want more post-secondary funding. The Albertan Union of Public Employees wants more post-secondary funding. The Students’ Union wants more post-secondary funding. The University of Calgary Faculty Association wants more post-secondary funding. Any reason there’s not a concerted, coordinated effort?

Students on this campus deserve action beyond budget cuts and tuition increases. They deserve representation from their representatives. While that’s not you and your team exclusively, it definitely includes you, and repackaged rhetoric about quality education and underfunding issues can only get you so far. You have, thus far, failed abysmally in pursuit of the former.

The final class of my degree was a 45-person 500-level seminar which is supposed to encourage research, your favorite thing. However, with an inexperienced and overworked professor and a class far too large for any legitimate face-to-face instruction, I am walking away horribly disappointed with the experience and I am not likely to give much money back over time–if any.

And I’m not alone.

Your goals are certainly admirable and attainable, I simply fear you are sacrificing a generation of U of C undergraduates and endangering the reputation of this school to achieve them.

Respectfully yours,
Lawrence Bailey

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