In 1908 Henry Marshall Tory, the University of Alberta’s first president, founded the University of Alberta based on the idea that public universities are a public good: “The modern state university has sprung from a demand on the part of the people themselves . . . . The people demand that knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.” Since 1908, the people of Alberta have generously supported the University of Alberta, and the University has become not only a world-class University, but much more importantly, a vital part of the social, cultural, economic, and intellectual growth of Alberta. The University educates over 38,000 students each year, the vast majority of whom are Albertan undergraduate students taking a degree in Arts, Sciences, or Engineering.
The University finds itself, however, in deep budgetary difficulties. For the last two years, the provincial government has not authorized an increase to the Campus Alberta Grant, the chief source of revenue for the University of Alberta. As a result, the University, which experienced a $60-million crisis in 2009-2010 for which faculty were asked to return part of their salaries and departmental operating budgets were cut, is being put through two more rounds of cuts, one for 2011-2012, and another for 2012-2013.
These budget difficulties are being felt most deeply in the two faculties that are the traditional core of the University, the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science. Over the last nineteen months, the Faculty of Science has lost 55 faculty and support staff members. If the cuts proceed, total loss of faculty and support staff members to the Faculty of Arts for the same period will be in the high 40s. Amongst other negative consequences, the Faculties of Arts and Science will have to offer fewer courses, and more students are likely to be squeezed into the remaining courses. Due to earlier rounds of cuts, the current student: faculty ratio is already worse than it was during the Great Depression.
At this moment of budgetary difficulty, we ask all Albertans to join us in urging the Government of Alberta to show long-term vision by investing in the province’s flagship university, the University of Alberta. The University, as a public good, must be funded by the public purse.
No sector of the university should be made beholden to private interests or charity in order to sustain its operating expenses or to fund its research. But it is especially important that the Faculty of Arts be funded from the public purse.
While certain activities of the University can attract private money (from corporations and foundations) or other public money (the federal government supports many research activities), the core activity of the University—the education of citizens—must be supported by public funds from the provincial government. In our departments of literature, modern languages, philosophy, history, political science, classics, sociology, anthropology, economics, psychology, cultural studies, fine art, music, film, linguistics, religious studies, East Asian studies, and drama, professors in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta teach our students how to engage creatively and critically with the world. With innovative programs such as the newly approved interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies we have the power to help us all think our ways, independently of corporate or private interests, towards a stronger Alberta, diversified in its resources, in which we imagine and implement social forms and social policies that will truly support the well-being of “the whole people.”
We therefore ask all Albertans to join us in signing our Petition to Premier Alison Redford and the Government of Alberta. The Petition is available at the Care2 Petition site: