By Greg Ellis
“A university is not a service station. Neither is it a political society, nor a meeting place for political societies. With all its limitations and failures, and they are invariably many, it is the best and most benign side of our society insofar as that society aims to cherish the human mind.”
-Richard Hofstader (1916-1970) Professor at Columbia University
When I received the news about our ranking in Maclean’s magazine I assumed our campus was as shocked as I was at the denigration in a mainstream publication-withering in self-defeat. Fourteenth place was derisive, our campus stood dejected into a sea of shame-left to deny the result.
In the process of grief I was confined within the walls of denial. The study was by an eastern publication whose head office was in Toronto, an internal bias no amount of review and diligence could prevent. The methodology of the study was flawed-the criterion, incorrectly and arbitrarily chosen, magnify the strengths of other schools, deny ours and overlook their shortcomings. Alberta was a colony, a province who our neighbours to the east did not treat seriously. The study was irrelevant.
My self-delusion was a defence mechanism spawned fatefully in light of unfavourable circumstances. As time passed, I found myself at the acceptance stage of the grievance process, predictably obedient to the news, an auspicious moment for educational laceration.
The Maclean’s ranking organized Canadian universities into three categories: primarily undergraduate, comprehensive, and medical doctoral. U of C was placed in the medical doctoral category-arguably the most prestigious one. We stood humbled among Canada’s best. Before too quickly capitulating to acceptance, of interest is the criterion Maclean’s used in its rankings.
The ranking system first considered the grade requirements for admission and the proportion of out of province students at the university. It further considered graduation rates and the number of first year students that return to the school for second year studies. In addition, the study placed emphasis on student body in terms of class sizes, faculty in terms of the percent of professors with PhDs and finances in terms of the amount of money available to cover current expenses per weighted full time equivalent student. The evaluation continued to look at library resources and the final 19 per cent of the evaluation was based solely on reputation. For what the study lacked, if it did at all, it was comprehensive enough to withstand the reflexive attacks it would receive from those schools who were portrayed poorly.
I had to take a raincheck on acceptance-defer it until a future date.
Eagerness to refute the applicability and relevance of these measures was instinctual, nevertheless they must be addressed and fortunately if they are, the criterion of reputation will correspondingly ascend. The most alluring component of our university’s mortifying report card is it is entirely reparable. Grade requirements of admissions can easily be raised and raised they should be, across all faculties. Students should have demonstrated substantial academic competence before being allowed to attend our university. The pervasive notion of post-secondary as a right and not a privilege needs a jab of challenge, will it fight back? It is imperative that class sizes be reduced, this will occur as a effect of tougher admission requirements since presumably less students will be eligible to attend our university. When addressing faculty, funding must be increased to provide more attractive salaries and research funding to the brighest PhDs Canada and the world have to offer. Our library deficiencies involve the same solution, increased funding. A pattern consistently emerges from the panel of solutions above. Inevitably, monetary funding would solve the majority of our institution’s problems. Alberta, as the richest province should support this. Our horrifying rank should become a new mission statement for President Weingarten and Mr. Ralph Klein, raised to the top of their action lists. Unfortunately, in Edmonton, U of A ranked sixth in the same medical/doctoral category. Mr. Klein may not be as concerned as he should, prevaricating, blaming the problem on U of C, the provincial governmenet is velcro for accusations yet hosts a school ranked in the top six, the problem was ours.
Perhaps of greater concern is the disconcerting fact that we ranked last among 46 universities for graduate satisfaction. For all consideration this acts as indisputable proof that our graduates are customers who have been put on hold, shuffled to a call centre, and received a busy signal. The notoriety of one of our province’s university institutions hangs in the balance, anxiety is present as it was still possible to drop to last place, our reputation has been besmirched, it’s our move.
If the government funding well has dried up we cannot be reduced to futile complainers. If funding will not increase, the entire campus must take the lead that numerous of our faculties have already and seek donations and funding from the private sector. This could prove to be a very lucrative strategy. Canada’s richest province’s deep pockets reside beyond our capital building-they are found in the dizzying downtown skyscrapers and with corporate magnates who have reaped the benefits from our profitable land. Profiteering instigates philanthropy, relying on the beneficence of the affluent and the wealth of Alberta’s corporations could prove to be a pocketbook with a penchant for writing large cheques for simple recognition-the naming of a building, a logo in a classroom. A quid pro quo averse to many who fear the threat to academic integrity, the infiltration of our corporations into our curriculum, but it is a trade- off we should consider. The money is there, take it and run. Recruiting the private sector for funding will not be a complete solution.
When I spoke with Mike Bosch, Students
Union Vice-President External, I was informed that our budgetary woes most likely could not be rectified by even extraordinary generosity of Albertans and our corporations. Funding that does not solve the problem can still work towards the solution, each dollar shall count, and we should incessantly seek new dollars from new pools and sources.
A new emphasis must be placed upon our university’s fundraising abilities, we must passionately seek out new investments, sponsorships and alternative sources of revenues. Like a child turning to the other parent for additional allowance the realization must be made that on some level our university must seek the community to bail it out. We cannot afford to wait for capricious funding from Edmonton, coming in and out of our education system, a yo-yo without a cadence worth acknowledging.
I have now moved from the acceptance stage to a stage of anger. We are accountable to our institution directly and our actions must reflect that. If a university is a means to an end and that end is a rewarding career then you nor I should not have to be embarrassed to have U of C under the education section of our resume.