The Faculty of Arts has certainly done its bit over the last month writing letters to the Journal on the devastating cuts to postsecondary education that the Government of Alberta has delivered in its budget of 7 March 2013. Letter-writers from the Faculty of Arts include Laurie Adkin, Amy Kaler, Eddy Kent, Rob Macleod, Barbara Maywood, Jim Mulvihill, Stephen Reimer and Jo-Ann Wallace. A roundup of the letters is here. If I’ve missed any, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an immensely important week. If there is any hope of getting the Government of Alberta to see sense it is now. Inasmuch as there is going to be any debate of significance to the cuts to postsecondary education in the Legislature, that debate is taking place Wednesday evening from 7 to 10. Everyone to their keyboards!
And here is the full text of Professor Laurie Adkin’s letter of 27 March 2013. (Those editors at the Journal wield a pretty heavy red pen!)
Graham is far too kind; it’s much worse than this. So far the Minister for “Enterprise and Advanced Education” has presented no evidence whatsoever to support any of the claims he has made about problems with the current PSE system. Public policy should be guided by sound research. Where is the research, Mr. Lukaszuk? Instead, what we’ve heard so far is a series of inaccurate and uninformed statements about what PSE institutions are currently doing.
For example, the Minister has made a huge issue out of student mobility among institutions, while there is no evidence that this is, indeed, a problem. Obstacles to the transfer of course credits were removed long ago, for courses that are really equivalent. Library resources are already shared (the NEOS system). And the jobs he and Redford are talking about are trained for in NAIT, SAIT, Grant MacEwan, and other PSEs that don’t do all the same things that a post-graduate degree-granting research university does. What’s more, Redford is wrong about there being a shortage of engineers. There is a demand in the energy sector for petroleum, geological, process and other types of engineers (which the universities are producing). But there are many highly-qualified engineers who cannot find jobs in Alberta because we have a resource-based (not a knowledge-based) economy. That is not the fault of the universities, but the fault of consecutive Conservative governments. And one more thing: you can’t eliminate departments from faculties and consolidate in them in one place or another, because students need to take a broad selection of courses from Arts and Sciences to complete any degree programme. When you major in Political Science, you don’t take 100% of your credits in Political Science; you take a whole lot of other courses, too.
It is extremely worrying that the people making the policy and budget decisions (Mr. Lukaszuk and Ms. Redford) don’t appear to have a basic handle on how the system actually works. It looks very much like what we are getting is somebody’s anecdotally, ideologically-driven, pet peeve in lieu of a policy based on research and consultation with informed stakeholders.
We are not reassured now by forthcoming discussion of non-negotiables with PSE presidents. If the minister had had any serious intention of consulting with PSEs about issues and concerns, he would have done it before issuing mandate letters backed up by threats. The minister has created a mess and should resign. If the government wants to engage the PSE sector in a conversation about medium and long term social priorities in which we might play a part, let us start again with a research-based, consultative process.