The Virtual Square

In the late Fall of 2011, with the assistance and encouragement of colleagues in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta, I launched this website. We wanted a public space — a virtual square — in which we could come together to raise our concerns about the cuts to the Faculty of Arts that we were experiencing that year, which were devastating, and which were, indeed, irrational, given that the University was vaunting its ambition to be amongst the “Top 20” universities in the world by 2020. No university can be truly great without a vibrant, strong Faculty of Arts.

Then, in 2013, with the historic cuts to the postsecondary sector in Alberta delivered by the Progressive Conservatives, the Square was alive again. You can find the original campaign material for these two years under “Defending the Faculty, 2011-12” and “Once in A Generation: Defending PSE, 2013.” Since then, the Square has served as a space for members of the Faculty to open up to public conversation issues of concern to them relating to the state of the Faculty or postsecondary education. The Square remains open to all contributions from faculty members in Arts, as well as postdocs, graduate students, and even undergraduate students. The Square is here to serve what we in Arts do so well, and what we teach our students to do — engage in the public discourse upon which the public good and a strong democracy depend.

To contribute to the Square please write me at

11 Responses to The Virtual Square

  1. Pingback: Letter to the VP Finance & Administration, Phyllis Clark | Arts Squared

  2. Laurie Adkin says:

    “The University of Alberta is a balanced academy, with strong arts and sciences programs
    conducted within the Faculties of Agricultural Life and Environmental Sciences (ALES), Arts,
    Augustana, Extension, Native Studies (NS), Physical Education and Recreation (PER),
    Science and Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ). These faculties are foundational to and interlinked
    with the University‘s network of strong professional faculties: Business, Education,
    Engineering, Graduate Studies and Research, Law, Medicine and Dentistry, Nursing,
    Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Public Health and Rehabilitation Medicine. All of our
    faculties are involved in professional development and continuing education. Over half of our
    undergraduate students pursue baccalaureate degrees in arts and sciences and contribute to
    the knowledge-based economy through a variety of disciplines. In addition, many of our
    professional programs require pre-professional year(s) in arts and/or sciences, and the others
    require substantial humanities and/or science coursework in the early years of their degree
    programs. As a principle, consistent with other globally leading institutions, the
    University of Alberta is committed to maintaining this balanced academy.”

    The Institutional Access Plan (December 2009), Office of the Provost,

  3. David Kahane says:

    Gutting to watch the 24-year APO in my former department lose her job last week.I had not quite grasped until now the full ugliness of the process: more people lose their jobs than the decrease in the number of eventual ‘positions’; they then get to compete for the reconfigured positions; and (this is the part that I only just grasped) the reconfigured positions may involve significant salary cuts from where people are now. Familiar from other labor contexts, and hard to see it being designed and implemented by peers I value and respect.

  4. Laurie Adkin says:

    Centralization of decision-making and loss of democratic legitimacy is a process blitzkrieging through public institutions, like universities, regardless of what chief administrators call their system of governance. Here are some pertinent observations from Don Lenihan, Vice President, Engagement at the Public Policy Forum in Ottawa, Canada. Now there’s a thought: Why doesn’t the U of A have a VP Engagement along with “Academic, Research, Advancement, etc.”?
    For the full op ed by Lenihan:

    “The lesson here is simple: too much centralization undermines legitimacy. The more scope a government thinks it has to act unilaterally in the name of effectiveness, the less legitimacy those actions will have.

    A final point: this issue is not unique to the federal government. As the protesters in Quebec and the Occupy movement suggest, something similar seems to be happening in provincial governments and elsewhere around the world.

    We appear to be crossing some kind of threshold. Something basic in our politics is broken. Somehow, democracy and effectiveness have come uncoupled and we need to reconnect them.

    The good news is that we don’t need to start from scratch, nor are we alone. Open Government is an emerging international movement based on a very different view of governance, one in which more democracy leads to better—that is, more effective—governance. There is a whole literature on why this is so.”

  5. Laurie Adkin says:

    Here’s food for thought about why Canadian provinces can’t, or won’t, provide free post-secondary education for their citizens: The profits of Canada’s five big banks, announced this month (August 2012), are equivalent to the tuition for 1,397,689 undergrads, based on the average undergraduate tuition in Canada today of $5,366.

  6. Laurie Adkin says:

    For an update on recent developments in Ontario’s higher education system:

  7. Laurie Adkin says:

    “The profit motive is threatening higher education, ”
    Richard Hall University World News, 18 November 2012 Issue No:248

  8. J.G. says:

    The cat is out of the bag. We tried to navigate this through traditional channels but the university is willing touch this holy grail. Now to the press… internal awards are being suspended for this year, and the University did not even have the courage to tell us! Hiding behind the veneer of a website malfunction, we were left with no time to apply to other universities. Spread the word:
    *if Arts Squared could post about this, it would go a long way!

  9. Arts Squared says:

    Any further info on this, J.G.?

  10. J.G. says:

    Two updates from Friday, the first more exegetical, the second a status of investigation.

    1. It is so sad the way they are trying to back-pedal out of this and hide the fact they were ever doing it, accusing the SU of miscommunication. Two different competing narratives are coming out of the UofA right now and they both reveal the lie. NARRATIVE A: scholarships will be handed out in spring to pay for the current year (13/14). Reply: why would you do that? NARRATIVE B: to be more competitive, so that students know they have funding for the next year. Reply: so these scholarships are for the 14/15 academic year. NARRATIVE A: no, they are for the current 13/14 year, you just get them at the end of the academic year. Reply: why would you do that, that’s a bad change that no one wants. NARRATIVE B: to be more competitive with other schools by letting students know that they have scholarships here for the next year. Reply: so these are the 14/15 awards and not the 13/14 awards. TRUTH: we were pretending to move the 13/14 awards to winter when we were actually cancelling them and moving the 14/15 awards to an earlier date and we hoped you wouldn’t notice. Now that you do notice we will pretend you misinterpreted the facts. UNTIL WE SEE APPLICATIONS RE-OPEN FOR THIS YEAR’S ACADEMIC AWARDS, WE ARE STILL BEING HOODWINKED. Unless there is a competition opening August 1st 2014 and winter 2015 (which is not what they are saying), a whole year’s funding was smudged off the page.

    2. UPDATE: President Samarasekara was at a naming ceremony for the late Premier Lougheed only two hours ago on the green beside Tory. I was there with CTV. A fellow from “Advancement” (yet another new dept) was also there. When Samarasekera was asked if the student awards were being suspended for the 2013/2014 academic year, they categorically denied that the awards were off the table and just said that they were under review and possibly being moved to later in the year.

    I was then able to converse with a fellow from the Office of Advancement. I told him that I had it from people in the actual student awards office, off the record, that our awards were very likely to be chopped this year to help cover the deficit (that they are being so sneaky about it is so terribly unbecoming of an institution of higher learning), and that I should not expect to see the all-new application website, which is ostensibly broken, to be back up in time for this year’s awards.

    Since starting to snoop around and ask the hard questions, getting the SU involved, that narrative of the broken website started to slowly shift into a “time-table change” to make us more competitive, but the white elephant was still in the room (and remains unanswered!): if the 2012/13 academic year is being weighed for awards given in the spring of 2014 to fund the 2014/15 academic year, where are the awards for 13/14 going? I had to explain this complexity again (it seems like a rather elementary sleight of hand to me) to this fellow from the higher-up’s: what the University is proposing leaves the 13/14 academic year unfunded. Once he realized how problematic this whole narrative and time shift is (that the fall money of this year is not being moved to the spring, but that the fall money of next year is being moved to the spring, and this fall’s money is being pocketed *sorry to repeat this but people don’t seem to get it), he said he would get to the bottom of it by the end of today or by Monday.

    The problem, I think, is that this institution is so large that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. The higher-ups just assign the people below them an amount they need to cut. Those people assign the people below them, etc. And the people below them, where the rubber actually meets the road, cut what they can. Somewhere along the line someone decided to cut the 13/14 academic awards, and now it is not only the students realizing it, but the higher-ups are too. It is the media pressure that made them deal with it. I was with CTV and we were grilling. We can’t take that pressure off. I am doing interviews with plenty of others and I am making them mostly phenomenological (how these cuts would affect students like me) while explaining to them the nature of what is happening without saying it is for sure happening. I am making it clear that they are going to ‘disappear’ the 13/14 academic and leadership continuing undergraduate awards (~$500k) whether they realize it or not, and they are currently executing this under very misleading auspices. For top-class students who are still waiting for that website to come back up, they are unable to attend another school which would value them with real scholarship money, and they are falling behind the application dates for student loans too, just waiting. I wrote the SU to exhort them not to take down the current statement, despite the president’s forthcoming statement (on the news tonight) nor change its content. By leaving the administration a backdoor to get out of this mistake half-gracefully, we will probably get our awards. If the pressure comes off and the cat is out of the bag, they can possibly do the same thing (cut the awards for this year) but we gamble on the student body and the media just forgetting the issue too quickly and letting this thing go through (with our kicking and screaming, sure, but go through nonetheless), leaving us poor and in debt for no reason. We should leave the statement up as is until the University categorically promises us our 13/14 award money, AND WE ACTUALLY SEE IT—that means a new submission deadline is set (since sept 15 is too close) and the website is reopened for application to academic and leadership awards. They can still hold a second competition in the winter with results coming in for the spring for the 14/15 academic year, but not while defrauding this year of its due awards.

  11. Arts Squared says:

    Thanks, J.G. There appears to be a great deal of confusion around the issue, and the account you offer above deserves to be heard. The statement on the issue is still up on the Students’ Union website.

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