To Be or Not To Be Public: That is the Question

Last week I was informed by someone of great authority in the University that I needed to watch the video “Together We Can” in order to understand how the University was going to save itself by securing funds from private donors. No one, I was told, wanted to hear the argument that the University of Alberta needs to reaffirm its character as a public university whose “basic” or “curiosity-driven” research needs public support.

Yes, yes: I’ve watched the video. The premise is that private philanthrophy is what’s necessary to fund the University as a “public good.” The question is, why is it that the importance of public funding for a public university is so hard to grasp? And why is there so little desire to fight for funding on those terms? Christopher Newfield (University of California Santa Barbara) has got it right: “Public research universities are losing the framing wars because they aren’t explaining why their costly knowledge-creation is special, or that this special function always needs public funding support. . . . It’s going to take a huge collaborative effort to tell the truth to the public and to state government about the real costs and real uses of the public research university.”

Could we fight that fight, please?

Newfield’s full blog post on the situation that California, like Alberta, is facing from long-term underfunding of its post-secondary institutions is at

UPDATE: A colleague has written to let me know that the video has won an award. See yesterday’s Folio report on that here.


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