Dear Premier Redford and Minister Lukaszuk,
I am writing because I feel compelled to share my perspective, as a graduate student at the University of Alberta, on your recent province-wide cuts to postsecondary education.
I moved to Edmonton from Toronto in 2009 to begin my Ph.D. in the Department of English and Film Studies. Truthfully, UAlberta wouldn’t have been on my list of potential schools had it not been for the counsel of one of my former professors, himself a U of A alum. When I began investigating the university, I was very pleasantly surprised: this was an institution that encouraged a broad range of ground-breaking and dynamic interdisciplinary research, boasted award-winning scholars, and offered unparalleled support to graduate students for the cultivation and widespread dissemination of their own research. My limited, stereotype-infused impression of Alberta had been radically altered: this is a province, I told myself, that must truly believe in higher education, free and creative thinking, and most importantly from my perspective, the arts and humanities. My choice was easy.
At the University of Alberta, I have received what I believe to be a world-class education and found the perfect home for my research, which explores the role of literature for young people in an era when our headlines are rife with news about LGBT teens taking their own lives. Owing to support from my department, my outstanding supervisory committee, and the university, I have shared my research on an international scale, published widely, established a rich professional network, and earned recognition from the Killam Foundation and the federal government. Simply, my experience would have been quite different had I pursued my education elsewhere. I firmly believe I made the right choice.
Today, as I enter the final stages of my program, I watch heartbroken as my institution struggles with the $147 million in cuts your government has handed down to postsecondary education. I watch as the award-winning faculty who drew me here take voluntary severance (thirty jobs in Arts alone) because the university can no longer afford to keep them. I watch as the funds that supported my research dwindle and disappear. I watch as plans are laid for additional decimating cuts, and no substantial plans are laid for somehow undoing the near-irreparable damage that has been done to my university. As I watch all this happen, I wonder: had I been choosing an institution in 2013 instead of 2009, would I make the same decision? Again, my choice would be easy, but this time it would not favour Alberta.
Your cuts are sending a clear message: Alberta is no longer a province that believes in postsecondary education. Alberta is no longer a province that is interested in retaining its most innovative scholars and thinkers. Alberta is no longer a province that wants to attract bright young talent from across the country. Alberta has a government that puts its own selfish interests—and those of the private sector—at the forefront of its agenda. I find your decisions to be mind-boggling and backwards.
The solution, however, is easy: reverse your cuts to postsecondary education. In fact, increase funding, so the University of Alberta can retain the world-class talent it’s about to lose. Recognize that the private sector has no place as the university’s compass. Realize that you cannot blindly map the language of business—diversification, venture capital, royalties, etc.—onto the university and across faculties. And please appreciate the invaluable contributions made by the Arts and arts research to Edmonton, our country, and the rest of the world.
I will spend the balance of my time in Edmonton hoping for change. But as it stands, I will leave this province with a heavy heart: beyond grateful for my time at the University of Alberta, and deeply regretting that the life-changing opportunities I had are now destined for rapid and unnecessary extinction.