A call for academics to be heard

by Faculty Association | Filed under February 2015, President's Message.

– By Sandra Hoenle, Faculty Association President –

The upcoming provincial budget in the context of falling oil prices looms large on the current Alberta radar. While no one can be sure what options the Premier is considering, further cuts to post-secondary education – while we are still dealing with the fallout of the 7.3% cut in 2013 – could be one of those options. If you have concerns about this possibility, or advice you would like to share concerning revenue, taxes, or other budgetary matters, I would encourage you to write to your MLA and/or directly to Premier Prentice. The quickest way to obtain contact information is through the Legislative Assembly website:  http://www.assembly.ab.ca/net/index.aspx?p=mla_home. The Alberta government is also inviting public input on the upcoming provincial budget through an online survey. The survey, which consists of 16 questions, will be available until February 28 and can be found at http://alberta.ca/Budget.cfm.

Note that over the past five years the only increase from the Alberta government to the base-operating grant for post-secondary institutions was 2% in 2012. The other years saw the base grow by zero (or decline by 7.3% as mentioned) while inflation continued to increase. Universities have been on a starvation diet, even though our institution and those like us are likely our province’s best hope for a diverse and sustainable economy (both through an educated workforce and research).

I was recently invited to make a presentation to the Alberta New Democrats during their provincial budget tour. My presentation, not surprisingly, focused on the lack of predictable and sustainable funding for post-secondary and the pressures the institution, students and academics could face because of this in the years ahead. The Faculty Association routinely voices its opinion to the provincial government directly or through the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA) and welcomes any opportunity to provide its views to MLAs.

In January, together with roughly 50 other participants, I attended a two and a half day Forum for Faculty Association Presidents, hosted by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). A few highlights from the forum include Sylvain Schetagne’s (CAUT, Director of Research and Advocacy) analysis of the austerity policy that seems to dominate current provincial, national, and international politics and its effects on the post-secondary sector. One panel and open discussion was devoted to collegial governance and struggles to maintain an appropriate balance between managerial and academic decision-making. Some interesting food for thought concerning the corporatization of universities can be found in this position paper, “Circulation in the New University,” which is a critique of the (prevalent) U of Michigan model of running university: https://libcom.org/library/circulation-new-university-reclamations-journal. The main argument is that under this corporate model, universities become a point of circulation for other people’s investments and circulating financial capital gradually becomes central to the university’s core mission. Finally, as part of the panel entitled “Universities and Colleges go to Market: Exploring the impact of commercialization and corporatization,” I gave a well-received presentation about our (so far) successful thwarting of our senior leadership team’s attempt to commit to a third-party contract to reach internationalization goals.

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