Forum: Share Your Ideas

Share your ideas here for how we can ensure the flourishing of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta.

Let us band together to resolve the budgetary crisis for this year and next without  the loss of any the Faculty’s administrative staff; without the closing of any programs or departments; and without any form of damage to the Faculty. And let us band together to ensure that the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta flourishes as one of the most exciting and dynamic places in Canada for the research, teaching, and study of the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

We also welcome our colleagues in the theoretical or experimental sciences to share their ideas of how we might jointly promote the University of Alberta as a place where we pursue not only “knowledge useful to society,” * but ideas for ideas’ sake. Such ideas are at their most valuable to us now, in a time of global crisis precipitated by the control over what constitutes the “useful” by special interests who would run the world without concern for the common good. Let us rise to the defense, then, not only of the Faculty of Arts but also of the University as a whole as a place where all ideas, not only those deemed immediately “useful,” need to flourish. The University of Alberta is a public university, and its Faculty of Arts belongs to all Albertans, and we welcome ideas from anyone who wishes to support the Faculty of Arts in this time of crisis.

* See President Indira Samarasekera’s remarks to the Edmonton Journal on 1 December 2011.

Please share your ideas here by leaving a reply:

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33 Responses to Forum: Share Your Ideas

  1. Thank you for creating this forum. The attached letters outline the recommended procedural reforms of the Faculty of Arts Staff Solidarity coalition (FASS) to AdPReP. Some of the requested reforms that could help to save staff jobs include, but are of course not limited to: (1) voluntary retirement or severance (the Dean expressed openness to this option), (2) Cutting all administrative positions to 90%, in which case administrative staff would work 9/10 days (faculty and students would have to go without administrative support 1/10 days, but this could save several of the 15 jobs on the line), (3) cutting all non-salary budget, saving a few faculty-wide jobs (but that would leave nothing for supplies). Administrators and Faculty could contribute furlough days to get us through this on a voluntary basis. Administrators and faculty could also write tax-deductible cheques to the faculty for the equivalent of the furlough days income. Many people would be willing to do this, so it need not be done on a mandatory faculty-wide basis. The Dean of Arts and all of the major stakeholders and proponents of AdPReP should set an example by offering to do one of the last two options themselves. No irreversible decisions should be made before the details of the next provincial budget are released. The new government is allegedly more supportive of higher education, so our efforts should be focused on lobbying.

  2. David Kahane says:

    Two suggestions (others with more knowledge of funding and budgets can judge whether these would in fact bring useful savings):

    * Invite faculty members in Arts to take partial unpaid leaves next year, with clarity that X leaves would save Y jobs (I would consider taking a partial leave if it would [a] save staff jobs and [b] give me some time to hang out rather than paying me less for undiminished duties.)

    * Refuse (as a Faculty or a University) to sustain and especially to raise graduate or undergraduate numbers in a context of cutbacks. It seems absurd that we still hear talk of increasing grad numbers, for example, in the context of these swingeing cuts.

  3. Andrew Gow says:

    David Kahane’s idea of unpaid leaves just defers the problem. We’ve had furloughs and they have not yet solved the budget gap. Ultimately, furloughs, whether volunteered or ‘requested’, are just a means of rolling back negotiated salary settlements. If we are going to give up negotiated salary increases, let’s do it deliberately and explicitly at the bargaining table (and get something real in return for such a major concession).

    We could refuse to admit more students–but administrators would have to be willing to resign or risk dismissal for disobeying UHall directives. Maybe they should, but does that seem likely?

    The only clear cost-saving measures I can imagine would include streamlining our administrative processes, our complex degree (and therefore advising) requirements, and our time-consuming, almost-unique-in-the-world FEC process. Those changes are within our power. And they all would have the added benefit of decentralizing functions and power…

  4. Laurie Adkin says:

    @ Andrew Gow: Unpaid leaves are not a salary rollback if work is not performed. But if work is not performed, i.e., classes are not taught, then there must be reductions in student enrolments. It seems to me that David Kahane’s proposals are quite consistent. The choice seems rather clear: Do we continue to pretend that we can do more with less, or do we admit that we must do less with less? A government that underfunds arts education cannot have its cake and eat it, too.

  5. Andrew Gow says:

    Well, we did just as much work last year on furlough as we did this year, or the year before. I did not notice a reduction in my workload, nor any actual days off teaching. David’s proposals are consistent, but they won’t do any good, as we do not have the right to strike and administrators have not yet refused to implement directives of this kind. You are right, Laurie, that we cannot do more with less. But that is what we are being told to do. I do not think that there is any effective way (never mind any legal way) to refuse. Our government seems to have found ways to have its cake and eat it too in ever situation that has involved the university since I got here, starting with the Klein era cuts. What is to be done?

  6. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    If our new collective watchword is efficiency and transparency about “processes”, I’m all for it! Let’s see how that works all across the university, however. Presumably nowhere are things getting cheaper — from utility bills to construction costs to, ahem, central admin positions and salaries. To state the obvious: “things are getting more rather than less expensive” is not to offer an explanation of why “non-academic staff in Arts have to go this year, and we’ll be looking at academic faculty in Arts next” is a good coping strategy.

    I agree with Andrew Gow that “unpaid leaves” are essentially meaningless to academic faculty (do you just not answer the email if a journal writes to tell you your paper is accepted pending minor revisions?). And I actually think David Kahane’s suggestion sort of accepts the admin narrative that faculty and staff salaries are “the” budgetary problem. I don’t feel I have been shown any numbers to suggest that of all the costs the University bears, the work of non-academic and academic staff in Arts are the *least* beneficial and therefore should be first on the chopping block.

  7. David Kahane says:

    Thanks for the replies, Andrew and Laurie and Kathleen.

    Just to be clear — I see the demand by Central Admin that Arts make these cuts to be short-sighted and unfair. There are much better places to cut (e.g. places within the University where cuts that will devastate Arts would be a rounding error). Lobbying and activism are needed, directed at Central Admin and at a Province that does far too little to smooth out booms and busts.

    With that said, however, it seems highly likely, our fulminations notwithstanding, that treasured administrative colleagues are going to get the axe in the coming months as a result of AdPReP’s deliberations.

    Partial unpaid leaves, if helpful at all, wouldn’t fix the structural problems, and wouldn’t take the sting of unfairness out of the demand for cuts. If they could prevent admin staff from being fired in 2012, though, we might nonetheless consider them.

    I put the possibility out there in part because I worry that it’s all too easy for those of us (e.g. senior faculty members) who are secure and privileged relative to those facing the axe to rant against the unfairness of it all. I wondered if there was a way for us to put our money where our mouths are.

    Taking this personal financial hit to help to save less powerful and privileged colleagues in 2012 needn’t keep us from fighting all the while for systemic change, not to mention more intelligent budgeting.

  8. Laurie Adkin says:

    Concretely, if the aim is to protect those 15 support staff jobs . . .

    According to the Arts website, there are 350 professors in the faculty. Taking into account the salary differences among the ranks, who would have to give up how much salary (in the form of work time, to follow David’s proposal, or in tax-refundable donations to Departments, to follow another proposal) in order to make up the $1.5 million? To begin calculating this, we would need the break-down of faculty by rank.

    Or how about, first, a campaign demanding 2-5 % salary cuts for top administrators, as a gesture of solidarity toward their support-staff colleagues? (I guess the amount would have to be divided among the faculties according to some criteria TBD.) We could then look at the above options for making up the difference.

  9. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    David Kahane — to respond to a central admin attack on non-academic staff with a lament about how entitled tenured academic staff are, why don’t they just give up some of THEIR salaries huh? is not “solidarity” but instead reinforcement of central academic rhetoric about how the budget problem is a problem of non-academic and academic staff salaries, and nothing else.

    I must say I also feel this way about Professor Rak’s suggestion that the people who ought to go are faculty old people.

    It’s as if central admin put us in a room and said, “well, there are 10 of you academic and non-academic staff right now. When we come back there had better be only 8” and we immediately set about obediently deciding which among us we’d best cannibalize.

    Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that student:faculty ratios have risen since 1990; the go-to answer of admin for *years* has been to increase student enrollments without faculty numbers keeping pace. It would be interesting to know what student:non-academic staff ratios have looked like across that time. I cannot help but suspect that the one place where the ratios have fallen has been students per central admin position.

    I’d like to talk about that, and I like Laurie Adkin’s suggestion along those lines.

    • Julie Rak says:

      This is a reply to Kathleen. I actually agree with David that at least we should suggest letting go of FEC increments in the case of Professors (I’m a Professor so I’m talking about my own peer group) but only for one year, in return for a complete restoration of these funds with a research top-up. I suggest this because I think it’s good optics in the public eye, especially when the Provincial Government is about to bring in a budget. It also calls the bluff of senior admin. about how this is some kind of special crisis. Realistically, we can’t do it because AASUA will say we can’t (FEC is part of our contract negotiations). Still think it’s good optics.

      Retirement is another issue. Kathleen, you may not realize it but when mandatory retirement was ended, professors across the campus did not retire as predicted (within
      two years). I proposed to reinstate bridging benefits for those about to retire (or who are holding off) because frankly, we can’t hire smart younger people like yourself unless this
      happens. Bridging benefits don’t push “old” people out the door. They provide an option which was not there before. No one has to take it. If you want to teach until you are 75 years old, go ahead. For the record, I won’t, but I can’t speak for others.

  10. Carolyn Sale says:

    Let’s aim to marshal our ideas, and resolve their contradictions where we can. We need a common vision that enables us to act in concert. As David noted, his proposition was not intended to be comprehensive.

    I myself happen to be against any proposal that suggests the sacrifice come in any shape or form from faculty salaries, for reasons that I have stated elsewhere (and will state again below). But I do understand why senior faculty might wish to make such an offer, and think we need to see that it comes from a spirit of generosity. We heard something similar at a town hall for the Furlough proposition, where it was suggested that a rebate could come from full professors that would make it unnecessary for any furlough days to be asked of assistant professors.

    That said, we must hold to the principle that we are the researchers and teachers who do the university’s core work, and it is not fitting that the solution to the kind of crisis before us come from our salaries. It is especially necessary that those of us in the Faculty of Arts hold to this principle when our salaries are differentially so much lower than those of our colleagues in other faculties. That situation has only come about because our work is devalued. Indeed, we are only in this crisis because our work is devalued. For us to take any hit in the form of our salaries is for us to reward the Central Administration for a corporate logic that betrays the core mission of the University by establishing our worth according to ideas (and metrics) that come from outside it. And so I too am against the proposition but ask that we get beyond opposition to it and work towards something that we can all agree to get behind!

    Laurie’s proposition is certainly more radical than David’s, but it does seem to get something very right, in terms of principle: where the members of Central Administration do not succeed at tasks that are central to the portfolios for which they are so handsomely compensated, is it not far more fitting that the sacrifice come from them?

    Unfortunately, an offer of a rebate of the salaries of key figures is not something we can count upon as a solution. And my guess is that there will be general reluctance to rally around this as a demand, despite the fact that it is the single most popular suggestion that people offer in conversation.

    But we must do something! And we must act fast, for the fact remains that a swift resolution to the current crisis is still in the offing, and could thus still be altered. We must also not lose sight of the fact that for the second crisis another important date looms: sometime in early February Alison Redford’s government will unveil its budget, and we need that budget to be something quite different from the budgets of the last years that have been accepted by our Central Administrators.

    And to that end I’d like to see us unite to resist something that President Samarasekera has said in her letter.

    First, I want to say that I am very grateful to President Samarasekera for replying to my letter so quickly. I am also grateful to her for agreeing to have her letter posted on this site. That was an important gesture. And I agree that we should not expect President Samarasekera to do all the work of promoting the University to government. The fact remains, however, that President Samarasekera is the person appointed to make these arguments on our behalf, and when her arguments do not translate into the necessary effect — when they are heard, as she says, but do not secure the funds from the provincial government that the University requires for it to grow and flourish, not just in and of itself, but as a key economic driver for the province — we cannot accept that the resulting financial difficulties be downloaded onto us.

    There is, unfortunately, nothing in President Samarasekera’s letter to indicate that it is not acceptable that the Arts be subjected to the “unpleasant” solution immediately before us, which involves striking at our most vulnerable constituency, administrative staff, and altering the structure of our administrative operations in ways that will have all kinds of negative ramifications for every member of the Faculty, from academic staff to undergraduate students. We must respond to that omission.

    And so I think it is time for us to write to the three senior figures in the Central Administration who ought to be taking responsibility for the current and the looming crisis and ask them what precisely it is they plan to do to extricate us from these crises, which have been created for us while we were busy getting on with the core activities of the university.

    In other words, while I think it is unlikely that faculty will rally around any demand for rebates on the salaries of our Central Administrators, I do think it is entirely fair that we turn to the colleagues who have been charged with special responsibilities (and paid extra to compensate them for these special duties) to ask them for account of what they plan to do in the next month, and into the next year, to keep one of the Faculties that constitutes the traditional core of the University from being put through two rounds of devastation. It seems especially reasonable that we do so that we have already been put through one form of devastation in the form of a 50% cut to departmental operating budgets in 2010-2011, and have already assisted the University with an earlier financial crisis in the form of our gift of furlough days.

    Hopefully the Dean has already been busy consulting with the Provost and the President, and pursuing the recommendations of the Alternative Solutions Committee, to come up with a radically different solution from the official solution in circulation immediately before the Christmas break. We need a solution that will not result in the loss of administrative jobs this year, and one especially that will not result in the loss of APOs.

    But we also need a solution to the second crisis looming, which, according to the Dean, may require the closing of programs and/or the loss of faculty members next year. And to that end we would hope that the precise plan that we ask of the President, the Provost, and the Dean will involve clear steps to avert that crisis too.

    So let me cut to the chase:

    Who would be interested in writing a letter to the President, Provost, and the Dean asking for a clear account of what each of them intends to do both independently and in conjunction with one another to avert these crises?

    How should we go about bringing this letter into being?

    By what means should we seek to secure signatures to it (keeping in mind that this letter needs to be produced very rapidly)?

    And who would be interested in pursuing other action in the form of a petition to the legislature?

    This is a solution that one of my colleagues is particularly keen on. This would see us joining President Samarasekera in her efforts. But, to be clear, I don’t think we should have to do that work. We are already doing the core work of the University, and the Central Administration exists precisely because key individuals have been delegated this responsibility, and are handsomely compensated to discharge that duty. The very fact that we appear to need to take on this work too, in addition to our research, teaching, and administrative service, means that the absolute last thing that we should be offering to do is take any cut to our salaries.

  11. Laurie Adkin says:

    Hi all. I’d sign both a letter and a petition. Just to clarify, these would be from the Arts Faculty only? These would be useful moves in themselves, but it would have a different effect, I think, if faculty members from other faculties would also write something in support of Arts; I know there are some who “get” the importance of the Arts disciplines. I have also wondered if the Dean of Arts has tried talking to her counterparts in the other faculties about a joint strategy vis-a-vis the provincial government.

    • Carolyn Sale says:

      I’d say that, as a practical matter, the first would have to be from Arts faculty, simply because if we’re going to write it, it has to be written and sent lickety-split. But the petition, yes, that’s an entirely different matter, and it would be wonderful if we could get faculty from across campus to sign on. In fact, it would be wonderful if every supporter of the Faculty of Arts at the U of A would sign on, no matter which faculty they hail from, or where they may be on the planet.

      As for your last thought, I don’t believe the Dean has indicated anything to that effect. It would certainly be a great help if we knew what the Dean had done, and what she plans to do, which is why I think we should write the letter. If we are to have a truly collegial effort, there must be a much better flow of information.

  12. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    Carolyn — I would be very glad to contribute to such a letter, though I am not at all certain I could improve on your eloquence.

    I wonder if another sort of letter might also be in order — something like an open letter to the people of Alberta. It is heartening that President Samarasekara responded to your letter, and agreed to have her response published on this site. Nevertheless, my own sense is that the central administration does not conduct itself as if it were answerable to the university faculty — to whom, then, do they feel themselves to be answerable?

    There has been a pattern of rather high-handed decision making by the central administration that isn’t limited to this AdPrep process. Consider, for example, the invitation extended by the central admin to Gwyn Morgan to “address” (harangue) the GFC. Or, moving outside faculty concerns to the community, the way the administration has handled the plan to install a facility to produce medical isotopes in the former Balmoral curling club. The “consultation” with the community was literally limited to inviting them to join a landscape planning committee. The community is now in litigation with the University.

    Something seems to be wrong in central admin. There is a basic disregard for fairness, accountability, and transparency in their conduct observable in multiple contexts. I am dubious as to how effective appealing to their better instincts will be.

    How many public servants in Alberta make salaries of over 300,000 per year? How were these salaries arrived at? If one of their major tasks is to ask the province for more money for the university, it seems to me that it matters that they themselves get so much of that money. That their go-to answer in the context of a budget shortfall is to turn to the front line of university workers — non-academic staff — and throw them out of work indicates that something is really, really out of whack. I am not sure that if we address our concerns about this to them that they will respond adequately. Their conduct to date suggests they are unembarrassable.

  13. Laurie Adkin says:

    This may be of interest to all those wishing to defend the role of the university as a public good:

  14. Laurie Adkin says:

    Has anyone started a petition to the Premier yet? Could we use the same petition site that the SOCCER group used? It’s

  15. Carolyn Sale says:

    The Dean has now held a special meeting with the Department of English & Film Studies.

    Given what the Dean had to say yesterday, those of us who set up Arts Squared feel that the most effective form of action at this time is a petition to the legislature in which we: (1) request extraordinary assistance to get the Faculty of Arts through the two crises before us, and (2) request an increase of at least 4% for post-secondary education in the budget expected in a few weeks’ time.

    We are also thinking that it would be a good idea for us to ask the Dean to invite the Provost to hold a forum for the Faculty. The Dean is focused on an administrative response. That means a political response to the situation must come from us. And it seems from what she had to say that the Provost needs our assistance in making a public campaign on our behalf. A forum in which he meets with us could greatly assist him in this.

    In the meantime, we’re going to draft, rapidly, an embryonic petition to the provincial government. We thought we might then post the draft on this website to see if anyone would like to add a statement. And then, as Laurie suggests, we can use the website to post the petition, which we could also have delivered in hard copy to Alison Redford.

    But there’s no reason why we cannot also write, as Kathleen suggests, an open letter to the people of Alberta. Kathleen, would you like to start a draft of that?

    We also think it would be terrific if people want to be writing individual letters to MLAs. We encourage people to send us those letters for posting here. One of the original intentions of this website was for it to serve as a public repository for any letters written in relation to this campaign.

    It would also be terrific if we could pool our resources for spreading the word about the petition. We need as many people as possible to sign on to it. We have some press coverage pending that will help us spread the word, but it would also be terrific if we could draw together whatever email lists we have for students and alumni. And we would love to hear all suggestions for how to spread the word to get Albertans to sign on to the petition. Ideas?

  16. Laurie Adkin says:

    The Ministry of Advanced Education recently approved an interdisciplinary BA in Environmental Studies. Among its core requirements are Arts, Science, and ALES courses. Why? Because all are needed to make sense of environmental problems and find solutions. There is no important public policy question for which this is not the case. How can the government accept this argument in the context of environmental studies, but not see that it applies across-the-board? And do we really have to make an argument (again) for funding the fine arts? What would life be without music, art, drama, film, design . . .?

  17. Laurie Adkin says:

    Arts “Exceptionalism” in the Funding Crisis of Higher Education

    Laurie Adkin

    No one wants to hear an argument for the “exceptional difficulties” or “special needs” of the Arts Faculty in the current budget crisis at the University of Alberta. Certainly not me. There is nothing “exceptional” about the role of the Arts disciplines in the university, or their needs for funding. On the contrary, the Arts disciplines, like Education, or natural sciences, are very clearly positioned within the core raison d’etre of the university: to serve the public interest. What is “exceptional” is what has happened to the rest of the university – and possibly to the mindset of its chief administrators – in the last two decades.

    Squeezed by government underfunding, universities – like other public services – have tried to raise revenue in two ways. The first is by increasing students’ fees. The negative consequences of this strategy (student indebtedness, inaccessibility of higher education for many) are well known. For some reason, the public seems to be more accepting of the privatization of education at the post-secondary level than it is of privatization of elementary and secondary levels, but they are all public goods that should be accessible to all citizens (with academic criteria for university admission).

    A second means of generating revenue is to commodify what universities “produce.” University administrations and governments promote (with incentives and investment) academic partnerships with private business to “bring to market” the products of university research. If the professional schools (like engineering, forestry, pharmacy, or agriculture) are more “successful” than Arts programs in attracting corporate sponsors (and federal and provincial research and endowment funding) for their facilities and research, it is because their products and services are more marketable. Put another way, within the current model of privatization of university funding and of the interests that universities serve, the Arts programs are the most disadvantaged because they produce the least commodifiable goods. Our products are socially useful, but private market actors don’t want to buy them. Within this model, we are “exceptional,” but within the traditional understanding of what a university is for, we are the norm.

    Researchers in the more marketable schools pay a cost for their increasing reliance upon corporate sponsorship and conformity with the market-driven logic of government grant funding, and that is loss of autonomy–lost opportunities to direct research according to knowledge-driven or social criteria. The public loses, too, as publicly-funded research becomes less accessible and less responsive to public interests. No sector of the university should be made beholden to private interests or charity in order to sustain its operating expenses or to fund its research. This undermines what universities are for, which is to serve the public good.

    Particular governments have their own ideas, of course, about what constitutes the public good, and they hold the purse strings. Governments driven by neo-liberal agendas have worked hard, over several decades, to blur the boundary between public and private interests—to convince the public that whatever is good for business is good for society as a whole, and, moreover, that governments should subsidize corporate research while allowing the profits thereby generated to be privately accumulated. Some units of universities function today almost as publicly-subsidized research laboratories for the private sector.

    University budgets have been restructured to prioritize investment in the infrastructure needed to support prestigious NSERC Chairs and other types of endowed positions. Those resources – along with the “market supplements” paid to faculty in the professional schools—are redirected from other areas of research or other sectors of the university. When governments don’t choose to “endow” all faculties equally, an environment of competition for those resources—a situation of winners and losers—is created.

    The sectors of the university that are of little interest to corporations (e.g., because they do not train their professional workforces, develop technologies to advance resource exploitation, produce patentable products, or provide other corporate services) have been spared the ethical burdens that have been imposed upon researchers in the professional schools, and, to some extent, in the sciences. Simply put, large corporations (or even small ones) do not come knocking on our doors with offers to fund our research or to make donations to the construction of new buildings.

    Conservative governments see little reason, really, to fund the Arts, since we don’t appear to advance the growth of the private sector of the economy. Moreover, we are often the critics of government policies, so why pay the salaries of one’s critics? For the most part, the Arts remain positioned squarely on the “public” side of the public/private boundary, and –even more irritatingly for neo-liberals—doggedly insist upon the existence and the importance of such a boundary.

    That Conservative governments do not want to finance public goods–including the work of artists or philosophers or policy critics–should not surprise anyone. But those who believe in the importance of the public university certainly do expect their own representatives to comprehend the exceptional budgetary pressures facing the Arts. We expect them to defend the public university and the role of the Arts within it.

    It is not what the Arts do that is “exceptional,” but the distortion of the functioning of other sectors of the university by market-driven criteria. The only way to defend the value of the social sciences, humanities, and fine arts is to make the case – unflinchingly and indefatigably—that the primary purpose of the research and teaching carried out in the university is to serve the public good. It is not the responsibility of governments to subsidize research that benefits only private interests, including those of large corporations that can fund their own research. And while students, professors, and the communities to which they are connected may argue about what kinds of research or curricula serve the public interest, directly or indirectly, immediately, or in the future, it is probably best that these debates take place free of the coercion and disciplining that are imposed by funding considerations.

    The university’s top administrators seem to be saying (or rather, saying by their silence) that “Arts exceptionalism” is not an argument they can make to the provincial government (to secure more funding for the Arts) because of the government’s ideological orientation. But this should not mean acquiescing to the Arts becoming a ghettoized sector of the university whose existence is politely not mentioned when having cocktails with members of the provincial cabinet. Instead, it is time to say, clearly and publicly: “We are all the Arts.”

    Our chief representatives need to make common cause with other educational institutions across the province. Internally, they need to mobilize other sectors of the university to express their solidarity with the Arts. Administrators and Deans need to do more to promote interdisciplinarity and dialogue among faculties. We all need to say no to government funding strategies that pit one sector of the university against another. We need to get out of our silos and learn about one another’s ways of thinking and working. All levels of governance at the university need to communicate actively, directly, and continually with the public about our raison d’être. The future of the university (and of much else) depends upon the choices we make now.

  18. Laurie Adkin says:

    Has anybody noticed that our Ministry has been renamed the Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology?

  19. Laurie Adkin says:

    I would like to draw your attention to the Scottish government report on university governance. It proposes important measures to curb managerialism at Scottish universities. Link:

  20. Laurie Adkin says:

    In light of the multitude of insights and perspectives that have come forward in recent months from conversations among faculty across the university, and between faculty members and administrators, some outlines of our collective situation are becoming clearer to me.

    First, there are many questions, uncertainties, and some misperceptions “on the ground” about how budgetary decisions are taken at the level of Central Administration, how revenue sources are differentiated, who controls what, and who decides what the palette of possible responses are to what have become annual budget “reallocations”. Given the nature of our institutional structures, the existence of such questions, etc., should not come as a surprise.

    In every faculty there are somewhat different issues, but there are some connecting threads. For example, many faculty members, across the university, feel that the kind of research they want to do has been devalorized, that resources to carry it out have been diminished, and that demands on their time have multiplied. They are busier than ever, but struggle to find the time and resources to do work that feels meaningful. This applies to both research and teaching. Under these pressures it is quite rational for teaching staff to divert their attention from “administrative matters” on the “free rider” principle. They then find themselves poorly equipped to respond to crises that call for administrative knowledge. Such crisis are occurring with increasing frequency, due to changes in the external environment of educational institutions. The distress caused by the laying-off of support staff and the financial pressures on students are part of our daily experience, and we wonder how hard administrators are trying to find alternatives to cutting positions and raising student fees.

    Senior administrators also feel under siege by multiple—and often conflicting–demands from above and below; university resources are determined by agents outside of their control (governments, corporations, philanthropists)–although they try to maximize revenue to the university from these sources. A small and closely-knit group, working with a shared language—financial and administrative–has learned to interact primarily with external funders, the Board of Governors, and senior administrators of the faculties and schools. It becomes the responsibility of the Deans to communicate budget information and issues to “their” people, although they may have limited knowledge of what is going on elsewhere in the university.

    The squeezing of government (operating budget) funding to universities, along with governments’ targeting of research funding to medical and engineering technologies and other “strategic” areas for investment are driving competition among institutions of higher education for scarce resources, a growing divide between central administrations and professoriates, resentments between and within faculties, and growing individual anomie. Administrators may perceive the faculty as uninformed about institutional workings and imperatives, unappreciative, unrealistic, uncooperative, and paranoic in their responses to initiatives or decisions coming from the top. The faculty may perceive the administration as opaque, secretive, unresponsive, unappreciative, disrespectful, undemocratic, and ignorant of their needs and experiences. Well, let’s be frank and take out the “mays”.

    If this is where we are, what should we do about it? What interests does all this division serve? How might we generate a more solidaristic response to the pressures that are eating at the “heart and soul” of the public university today? Overtures must be made. Gestures of understanding and good faith must be offered. Channels of communication must be unblocked. Common interests, values, and goals must be identified. Alternative models of decision-making must be developed, modelled, and sustained.

    At this juncture, and with particular regard to the feelings and perceptions in the Arts Faculty, my best advice to university administrators seeking a partnership rather than an adversarial relationship with the professoriate, is this:

    1) Acknowledge/recognize the low morale in the Faculty due to:

    (a) successive years of department-level budget reductions resulting in lay-offs of support staff, non-replacement of faculty, elimination of positions/budget lines, and the effects of these on programs, workloads; [Telling us that we have not experienced any budget cuts will be heard as semantics and dismissal of our experience.]

    (b) being told that our annual salary increases are the problem when we know that salaries are higher in other faculties (especially where there are market supplements), and when richly paid senior administrators and the President have not demonstrated their solidarity with those suffering from the budget “reallocations” by offering to give up portions of their own salaries;
    [This is not to say that salary sacrifices by faculty are off the table for discussion, only that leadership at the top of the salary pyramid would be a welcome gesture of solidarity.]

    (c) the corporatization trends (emanating from provincial and federal government policies) which clearly valorize and reward “technological innovation” over the kinds of research carried out in the Arts, natural sciences, Education, Native Studies, and other sectors of the university.

    (d) the seeming alignment of university leadership (President, BoG) with these corporatization trends which has left us feeling that our vision of the university is being subordinated to externally-determined, often conflicting, priorities;

    (e) decisions about the priorities and future direction of the university that are taken without any meaningful consultation with the professoriate;

    (f) consultation processes, task forces, etc., which consume great amounts of faculty time and energy but yield little in terms of the desired changes (follow through on recommendations).

    2) Educate faculty, staff, and students about the university’s finances and financial decisions are taken. Before you begin, take a deep breath and remind yourselves that your interlocateurs are intelligent, well-meaning people who can understand budget complexities if these are properly and patiently explained, without paternalism. You are, in the end, as much accountable to these people as you are to the Board of Governors. Appreciate that they are taking the time to learn the things that you think they should already know; they, too, have many demands on their time and energies. Perhaps think of other, ongoing ways to communicate with these groups about governance structures and budget developments.


    (a) Explain what sources of revenue come to Central Administration and how these are then distributed to the 16 Faculties (e.g., on the basis of undergraduate enrolments, salary commitments, exceptional needs, or other criteria).

    (b) Explain what other kinds of revenue come to the Faculties or researchers (those over which Central has no control). (Explain what third party funding is, targeted funding, etc.)

    (c) Explain why it appears, when looking at the U of A’s Data Books going back to 2003-2004, that the Arts Faculty’s share of the university’s budget has been declining. And, have other faculties’ shares also been declining, for similar reasons?

    3) Reaffirm the Central Administration’s commitment to the “balanced academy” (as stated in the Institutional Access Plan, Dec. 2009).

    4) Explain where the idea for the Umbrella Committee came from and what its objectives are. Why is it structured the way it is? Acknowledge that this is not an adequate or satisfactory process for campus-wide deliberation about the future of the public university, solutions to workload and other stresses, and so on. (Apparently it is not intended to perform this function.)

    As for the professoriate, it is also time for us to put our heads together and come up with more constructive and effective responses to the pressures we are experiencing, building upon and strengthening shared values and interests across the university.

    offered in the spirit of solidarity,

    Laurie Adkin

  21. Laurie Adkin says:

    Well, just look at all these great young people, many of whom plan to take Arts degrees and change the world!

  22. Laurie Adkin says:

    Claire Edwards of McNally High School, Edmonton, winner of a $70,000 scholarship from TD Trust, was commended for springing to action on issues like clean drinking water and disposable water bottle waste. By helping to organize a student drive to encourage the use of refillable bottles, Claire raised awareness in her community about the environmental damage caused by plastic. Inspired by Amnesty International’s vision of water as a human right, Claire established an Amnesty International club and organized a letter-writing campaign to promote the provision of clean drinking water on First Nations reservations.“ In a CBC radio interview April 18th, she said she wanted to take political science and study social activism. Let`s hope she`ll choose the U of A, despite the recent Nestle controversy.

  23. Laurie Adkin says:

    “Students and community members are angry at Keyano College after Fort McMurray’s only post-secondary institution laid off a number of staff and instructors from the college on Friday. Although the college did not reveal the names of those affected, students and faculty told the Today that approximately 19 to 20 instructors within the Visual and Performing Arts department were affected, being given only 15 minutes notice.
    According to several faculty members and students, the layoffs included the head of the Drama program, the chair of the Visual and Performing Arts department and the program’s teaching staff.”
    –Vincent McDermott,, Monday, May 7, 2012

    So, this is what “demand-based” educational funding means. It would seem that the current government’s educational funding policy is little different from Wild Rose’s “money follows the student” approach.

    Is this yet another ominous sign of what may be coming for programs in various areas of Arts–starting with fine arts and performing arts in some places (like Keyano), but perhaps in other departments, elsewhere? Poor professor Robin Smith-Peck, trying to explain about part-time enrolments and drop-in students (doesn’t offering these options equally benefit “the community”??) while being steam-rolled right over!

    Look at how the/a trade-off has been structured by the government and by the College’s President: “When resources are scarce the way they are this year, every decision about delivering one program has implications for not delivering another. So if we left the VPA courses as they were, declining low enrolments would eventually continue to all-time low levels, our theatre and arts related assets would continue to be under-utilized while concurrently, we would not be able to deliver the new engineering technology programs or the 4-year business degree program that we are planning to introduce this coming September. We don’t have the resources to do both, so hard choices had to be made” (my italics).

    First, the VPA instructors’ claims (and evidence) that there is student demand for their courses have been ignored (made to disappear by counting full-load equivalent students only). We can’t know what the demand is for new engineering and business programs because they haven’t been offered yet, and still, the assumption that this is where the demand is/will be, has been accepted without question. This is not “money following the student”; this is choices being made for students by governments and industry.

    Second, it is clear that something was going to be eliminated in order for the engineering technology and business degree programs to be offered: “We don’t have the resources to do both.” So, the decision to cut VPA courses (and instructors) may have been taken regardless of demand from the community. And now that there will be less use of the theatre by drama students, the theatre can be rented out to earn revenue for the College! And, if not VPA, then a rationale would have been found to eliminate some other program: “We can’t do both.” Priorities have been established.

    I propose a letter of solidarity from faculty in the Arts at the U of A to members of the VPA program at Keyano College.

  24. Laurie Adkin says:

    The Keyano College conflict (like others before it) points to the important distinction between serving “the economy” and serving the community, or “the whole people,” and to the reality that these two ends have become more and more opposed, given the nature of this economy. “The economy” is a reified category whose workings are simply assumed to benefit all equally; the job of universities and governments, in this view, is merely to see that “its” needs are fuelled, whether this takes the form of natural resources or human labour. As Vaclev Havel understood, it is the Arts that probe and illuminate this “economy”– this “monstrously huge, noisy and stinking machine, whose real meaning [is] not clear to anyone” (New Year’s Address to the Nation, 1990).
    That Arts perform this function, in multiple ways, has certainly not been lost on conservative politicians, if we are to judge by their fiscal policies.

    For the record, here is a longer excerpt from Havel’s 1990 speech:

    For forty years you heard from my predecessors on this day different variations on the same theme: how our country was flourishing, how many million tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us . . . I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you. Our country is not flourishing. The enormous creative and spiritual potential of our nations is not being used sensibly. Entire branches of industry are producing goods that are of no interest to anyone, while we are lacking the things we need. A state which calls itself a workers’ state humiliates and exploits workers. Our obsolete economy is wasting the little energy we have available . . .
    The previous regime — armed with its arrogant and intolerant ideology — reduced man to a force of production, and nature to a tool of production. In this it attacked both their very substance and their mutual relationship. It reduced gifted and autonomous people, skillfully working in their own country, to the nuts and bolts of some monstrously huge, noisy and stinking machine, whose real meaning was not clear to anyone.

    Forty years, eh? Sounds familiar.

  25. Laurie Adkin says:

    FYI: University of Alberta Campus, Tory Building T-107 Monday Sept 16, 6:30 PM
    film screening: “Being Human”

    A new impetus in the debate over publc education.

    Does the right to education for all really exist in a society where public schools lack the means to fulfill their mission? Shouldn’t schooling focus on educating future citizens, rather than churning out parts for the social machine?

    Zoom-out from a too-tight focus on problems like dropout rates, loss of motivation among students, and depression among teachers. Entering the daily lives of “problem cases” at a Montreal secondary school that sits at the bottom of the school performance rankings, Denys Desjardins sweeps away preconceptions about the quality of teaching in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and the alleged delinquency of the kids who live there. A subtle, captivating film that gives new impetus to the debate over public education. A far-reaching examination of student life that stimulates reflection on the role of school in our society and asks how willing we are to support and finance the school system so that it will not be merely a factory churning out parts for the social machine.

    In French with English subtitles.

  26. Richard Cole says:

    Regarding the approval of voluntary severance packages:

    Faculties were given a 7% cut. EFS lost a disproportionate 15% of its faculty to voluntary buyouts. How was the approval process for severance packages carefully managed at all levels to avoid a mass exodus? It appears EFS (which just ranked top 35/1000 worldwide) has taken a permanent hit to avoid the Faculty of Arts making difficult strategic decisions. Certainly the budget resulted in a precarious position. Perhaps this was the best compromise. Or not. We need to press for more information. These are tough questions worth deliberating.

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