Presidential Wisdom

By Editorial

In September 1996, University of Calgary President Terry White said Calgary is a city with "dynamic energy," a trait that makes one want to "take control of our own destiny." He also said that "to be successful, universities can’t be ivory towers."

Well, this university definitely eschews its ivory tower persona due to the "dynamic energy" created by petroleum and the high-tech industry. Corporate funding goes into very specific pockets. As well, dealing with a provincial government completely unwilling to accept the "heady" aspects of education and their benefits makes taking "control of our own destiny" an impossibility. Forced to bow under the auspices of Premier Ralph Klein’s key performance indicators, the U of C was left with little room to manoeuvre over the years. In fact, the Gauntlet has often wondered how much influence a university president really has regarding the flow of money. In subsequent interviews, White professed that the government left him no choice but to troll the market for corporate donations to solve the funding crunch.

What White perhaps failed to foresee in that inaugural interview in 1996 is that to take control of one’s destiny in Calgary means one must kowtow to the ideals of a capitalist market. The former member of the Board for the Niagara Chapter of the Canada-United States Business Association definitively hammered the deadly nail into the ivory tower’s head. He knew that a university could not be an ivory tower and succeed, particularly not in Calgary and definitely not within the confines of Alberta.

Of course, this all rests on one’s definition of success: is success the culmination of all that glitters, whistles and beeps? Or is success achieved by critically thinking about issues whose answers are messy at best? We know all too well which definition Alberta covets.

White also once said that "in order to fundraise one must friend raise." So who exactly are the university’s friends? The government is a fair-weather friend with its own agenda. The corporate sector loves money-making professions. Period. A few friends supported the arts and donated generously to the university in the past few years, but overall, the advocation of critical thinking, scholarship and research outside of the high-tech business envelope has been minimal.

With a new president in waiting and White facing the dog days of his presidential career, what will the future bring for a cash-strapped university trapped in a province that loathes everything higher education stands for? Hard to say. To succeed we seemingly must abandon the very principles that make us a university in the first place: that of thinking about the world’s issues from a multitude of viewpoints and not just in terms of how much we can sell to the seething masses.

Perhaps Mr. Harvey Weingarten–with a master’s in philosphy and science, and a PhD in psychology–can bring a focus back to the humanities and social sciences. Meanwhile, as the computer science department members fight over space in the too-small, but brand-spanking new ICT building, the rest of the university holds its breath and hopes that, indeed, we can truly take control of our own destiny some day.

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