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Working together, we can make this university a place we really want to be

Last week, you may have received a somewhat cryptic email from the university about the results of a forum that you weren’t invited to. Fear not, student, you were invited – you just didn’t know it. Maybe it’s because the university did almost nothing to publicize an event of which they should presumably be proud. Maybe it was because the email invite was sent out the Friday before the event which happened Monday afternoon. Maybe it’s because the email, while inviting the “university community”, was only sent to faculty and not to students. Whatever the reason, though, this oversight does not look very good for an administration already criticized for not being transparent enough  in its strategic planning.

And they must be transparent, especially to students whose futures will be affected by any funding freezes or cuts to faculties. To be fair to the administration, they are working with a government that is vehemently anti-intellectual in its stance on funding post-secondary education. It’s tough to see how the Sask. Party can tout cutting education taxes in their budget and still claim to care about education at any level from primary to post-secondary. But in light of that, transparency does not become a peripheral concern for the administration.

Twenty-five faculty have been laid off – or they’ve experienced “small, discretionary employment impacts,” whichever term you prefer to use – and faculties continue to experience severe attrition while administration budgets have been ballooning for several years. This is not unique to our university, but a trend across most Canadian universities. At the strategic plan forum VP David Button suggested that administration layoffs are not something the executive likes to brag about, but it seems they are also not too eager to brag about the six-figure salaries they themselves are bringing home.

Last year, Vianne Timmons disclosed that she made over $337,000 from the university, and that’s before benefits and bonuses. No one needs to make that kind of money, especially when the average personal income in Canada hovers somewhere around $32,000 a year. The classic argument that the university has to pay Dr. Timmons more because we need to compete with other universities to keep her is ridiculous. We should not be content with our deplorable situation just because other places have it worse. And if Dr. Timmons is only here for the money, then perhaps we should find a new administrator that cares more about education and the university itself rather than lining their pockets. Dr. Timmons is a very friendly person, but if she’s only here for the money I would not want our institution to hold her back from making way more money somewhere else.

But one wonders if the administration is really good with our money. For example, our Provost and Vice President Academic Thomas Chase literally told the university community that when he looks at graphs of enrolment numbers, he sees “hopes and dreams of students” and not simply numbers. While the sentiment is sweet like Splenda, I would hope that when the person in charge of an academic review involving millions of dollars looks at a graph of money coming in from enrolment, he sees numbers – not student dreams, nor rainbows or unicorns for that matter.

Who finds hopes and dreams in the enrolment numbers? Whatever happened to the old-fashioned method of, I don’t know, asking students what their hopes and dreams are? It’s all very lovely to assume that enrolment numbers reflect hopes and dreams, but what about the huge number of students that choose arts? It is the largest faculty on campus, yet when it is reviewed it is chipped away here and there. No wonder enrolment numbers for Arts are down compared to other faculties. If I was a prospective student looking at this university’s current attitude towards liberal arts, I might very well consider enrolling somewhere that actually seemed to care about what I wanted to do.

The situation is not hopeless, though. Engagement by the few students that found out about the forum against all odds managed to get students on the email list for these things in the future. The administration also sent an advertisement for the next forum to be held on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 9:30 a.m. in the Education Auditorium to be put in the Carillon, and URSU is holding another forum on the academic review program on Nov. 19. Our student representatives on the University Senate have told the administration that the level of student involvement in the academic review is not good enough, and the administration is beginning to listen. Imagine what dozens or hundreds of students could do? We can hold our administration responsible for their actions; we’ve already proven we can force change. There is no administration without students to administer. We must remind them of that fact.

I know it is easy to look at the homework we have and the jobs we have to hold down to pay tuition to our university and think that we will have our degrees in a couple years and that this won’t affect us. But it does. If it doesn’t affect us directly, it might affect our children when they decide they want to go to university. If you care about this university and want it to legitimately be a better place to study for the students that come after you, it is important to get involved.

And if you don’t care about this university and once you get your degree you’ll have absolutely zero attachment to this place, then maybe it’s time to ask ourselves why that is. Is it because we don’t feel like we belong here? Does getting shut out of nearly all meetings about our university’s future have something to do with it? Do we not truly feel welcome here?

I love this university. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t care what happens with this program and I would be content to get my degree and leave it behind forever. But I can’t. I care too much about this university to give in to apathy regarding its future. We can’t keep throwing our hands up in defeat and telling the administration “it’s UR university, do what you want with it.” It’s our university. And it’s time we get a say in how it is run.

Edward Dodd
Op-Ed Editor

Photo courtesy Edward Dodd

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