Dear Dean Cormack, President Samarasekera, and Minister Lukaszuk,
Like many alumni of the University of Alberta’s liberal arts programs, I was shocked to hear that you are proposing to suspend some program options in so many of your most innovative programs in the arts and humanities. An undergraduate student in Honors English and Creative Writing from 1996 to 2000, I was lucky to take courses in classics, comparative literature, drama, linguistics, and film studies, among other subjects. The quality of these courses was universally high and meant that I was well prepared for graduate studies. Further, the students majoring in these programs were some of the best students that I encountered at the University of Alberta. I know many of them have been successful in graduate studies and professional programs in Canada, Europe, and the United States. I myself recently graduated from Stanford University’s doctoral program in French.
As a resident of Silicon Valley for the past seven years, I was particularly surprised to read that government officials in Alberta believe that the cuts to higher education will remake Alberta in the image of Silicon Valley. I do not know enough about Campus Alberta to say what effect the plan will have on Alberta’s public universities. But I can say that cutting liberal arts programs is not the path that Stanford has taken to promote private-public partnerships and encourage economic growth, as the government claims. Indeed, many of the programs being cut in Alberta are strengths that Stanford has been building up over the past five years (including Middle Eastern languages and literatures, classics, performance studies). These are all essential programs for a modern, comprehensive university — and programs that cannot survive without majors.
Growing up in Alberta, I often heard that economic diversification was a long-term goal for the conservative government. It is sad to see that Alberta has turned away from this goal in a time of temporary economic crisis. These cuts represent the closing of one path toward economic prosperity after the oil sands run dry. Strong liberal arts programs (and the skills that they develop) are unlikely to come back without much larger expenditures when the economy recovers.
Melanie Conroy, Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Memphis
(BA, UAlberta, 2000; PhD, Stanford, 2012)