Student leaders wrestle with the toughest questions

November 14 1994


Student leaders wrestle with the toughest questions

November 14 1994


Student leaders wrestle with the toughest questions

Each fall, Maclean’s presents Canadian students with a detailed profile of universities across the country. This year, with Ottawa threatening to slash university funding, tuition promising to skyrocket and campuses confronting issues of free speech, the editors decided to turn the tables. The magazine invited nine campus journalists and student leaders to tell their stories of the changing face of university life. On Oct. 22, during a marathon 10-hour session, the group wrestled with the pivotal questions confronting students of the 1990s. Are government cutbacks spelling the slow Americanization of higher education? Is the ideal of a liberal education on the chopping block? Is free speech dead? Does big business belong in the classroom? Welcome to the Maclean’s Student Forum.

Macléan’s: Traditionally, universities have been considered bastions of free speech. But recently, some groups have been saying that free speech has gone too far. Is the university under fire?

Lalitta: I never felt that universities were the last bastion of free speech. There have always been restrictions on what we could say and what we could take in courses. When I was an undergrad [at the University of Ottawa], 700 of us signed a petition, trying to get certain courses introduced. It was as if we’d asked for heaven to open up.

Sandy: But it should be difficult to get courses introduced. That’s what the administration’s there for—they’re paid to make the decision.

Lalitta: Is the student the product or the client of the education system? In my eyes, we’re the client, and we drive the entire project. Forgive me, but these people are going to be dead and gone in 40 years, and we’re going to have to take up the torch.

Heather: Students should have some

kind of input to change curriculum. The old tools that are being presented aren’t necessarily what we need—that’s proven by the fact that we graduate with the same stuff that everybody else has graduated with and there are no jobs. Our world is changing, and we have to be the driving force for change, through student newspapers, women’s centres and student unions.

Ray: Nobody has mentioned the professor. The fact is, there has been a historical conflict between the notion of a university as the academy—Plato’s Academy—a place where you go to learn, and the notion of the university as college, a meeting among equals. The phrasing of the debate in terms of students and administrators loses the notion of the university as a research institution. The reason we are called undergraduates is because our work is preparatory to graduate education. The people who are in university to get jobs may well be in the wrong place. Maclean’s: Should universities be research institutes?

Ray: Yes. I am very fond of the idea of the university as a liberal arts institution, as a place where we engender a lively discourse. The university is a naturally inefficient thing. It’s inefficient to send a bunch of 18-year-olds to a place to talk about history and politics and the arts for four years. I happen to think it’s a beautifully inefficient thing. And I would be loath to see it disappear because we’ve become too damned concerned with: ‘Is this a tool which I can use when I walk out the door?’


DUANE WYSYNSKI: 22; a fourth-year history and education student at Lakehead University; editor of The Argus, Lakehead’s student paper and a member of the student union budget committee.

HEATHER BISHOP: 24; a fourth-year history/law and justice student at Laurentian University; president of Laurentian’s Students' General Association and treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Students.

PAT FITZPATRICK: 22; once a student of molecular biology, now studying history at the University of

New Brunswick; a vice-president of the student union and member of UNB’s academic senate and board of governors.

SANDY ATWAL: 23; a fourth-year philosophy student at the University of Waterloo; editor of Imprint, Waterloo’s student newspaper.

LALITTA GHANDIKOTA: 23; in her second year of the MBA program at the University of Windsor.

JEFF GRAY: 21 ; a third-year politics student at Oueen’s University; editor of The Queen’s Journal campus paper.

CAREY DU GRAY: 23; in his final year of a Canadian studies degree at the University of Calgary; editor of The Gauntlet, the university’s student paper.

INGRID NIELSEN: 22; in her fourth year of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University; editor of The Cord, Laurier’s student newspaper.

RAY WESTCOTT: 28; in his final year of a degree in mathematics and English literature at the University of Toronto; columnist for The Strand, a campus newspaper.

Maclean’s: There seems to be a perception that universities are like large cruise ships that can’t turn around fast enough to meet the needs of society. Would you agree?

Ray: I am a teaching assistant in a first-year calculus course, and I wish that the students would take it a little more at face value: it’s a wonderful discipline. If you allow the academic debate to motivate you for four years, it serves you well. I think this is why we, as a culture, value liberal arts discourse: it prepares us to be functioning members of our society. I think that we want an informed and intelligent citizenry, people who know what’s going on.

Duane: The only time you learn anything as an education student is when you’re in a classroom and a 14-year-old approaches you— then you learn. You certainly don’t learn by sitting talking to a prof who hasn’t been in a class in 20 years. So what is university for? Is it learning for the sake of learning, or to get tools for our trade?

Pat: Whether you’re in liberal arts or science, they’re teaching you how to think, not how to prepare for being a bank manager or an

ARE the short-term needs of business subverting the value of general liberal arts education?

engineer or even a great philosopher. How to think, how to analyze, how to tackle problems.

Basic research is under attack, too. In molecular biology, I used to study a virus that infects bacteria that helps you digest food. No one gives a damn about it, but the work we used to do is now being applied to AIDS research, and the techniques that we developed are being transferred over.

Ingrid: On our campus, the majority of students are in arts but all the money is being channelled to business and economics. Our library slashed journals to the arts—told us they had to cut back certain journals to keep up with the more important ones. What are they? Business journals. It’s a very utilitarian approach. Meanwhile, we read that business is

actually looking for people with master’s degrees in philosophy—

people who have learned to think and don’t just learn


Sandy: I’m in philosophy, so I understand the liberal arts. But I realize that universities have to be paid for. At Waterloo, the entire arts faculty is subservient to the engineering faculty. Is university for education or for getting a job? Why can’t it be both? Let’s be realistic, the university is part of the community—it has to be useful.

Maclean’s: Are the arts under siege?

Carey: The issue is whether the value of a general liberal arts education is being subverted to the degree of irrelevance by economic and business concerns. The Alberta provincial government has just released a white paper on education. It has created a multimillion-dollar fund that is supposed to increase access to the university. The first program that received funding from the access fund was the bachelor of community rehabilitation program. They petitioned the university to create the course and get it funded. It’s designed specifically for something that is business-related, and it went to the government for funding approval. And that’s access.

Pat: A lot of it comes down to who is deciding needs. Corporate recruiters have been all over campus lately—people in their early 30s through early 40s, and they’re looking for people with nontraditional backgrounds. They’re looking for business students with lots of arts courses, science students with strong engineering backgrounds. But at the same time—God forgive me for being almost PC—white, male 55-year-olds are telling university presidents: The market force needs people who are hard-nosed business sorts.’ These idiots are pressuring the universities and the government into forcing people to be ‘utilitarian’—while those who are shaping the company from the bottom up are looking for nontraditional backgrounds.

Maclean’s: Do you see a generation gap?

Lalitta: It’s more than a generation gap. We’re functioning in a global economy.

Sandy: Exactly. We have the rest of the world to compete with.

Duane: To be fair, could it be any other way than having 55-yearold white conservatives controlling things? The generation gap exists. These people went through school with a different notion of what they were going to get when they finished. We’ll do the dictating soon enough—whether we like it or not.

Heather: I’m not sure that I totally agree that students are pushing for a liberal education. Students are being driven to get in and out in three years or four years, to get out and work and be successful.

'The university is a naturally inefficient thing. It's inefficient to send a bunch of 18-year-olds to a place to talk about history and politics and the arts for four years. I happen to think it's a beautifully inefficient thing/ RAYWESTCOTT

Meanwhile, I’d really like to take a religion course. I’m here for the sake of learning. It’s not until we’ve been in school for a couple of years that we realize that just getting a degree and getting out fast isn’t going to get us what we think we want.

Jeff: I love the fact that I’m getting a liberal arts education. When I was 19 and starting at Queen’s, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Ma and Pa were going to spend quite a bit of money on me and I was worried that it was going to get me nowhere. But I’m glad that I’ve done this. I know some people drop out, switch to commerce, switch to engineering, and that’s fine. I’m at the paper, and that’s my applied education. What I do at the Journal is sort of what Ryerson journalism school does.

Ray: The problem of talking about what the business community needs from university is that it’s driven by short-term needs. Mark Twain, I think it was, said that Harvard is basically a school of manners. The problem is that the consulting companies on the campus of UNB are looking for people who are groomed in a certain way—a math student with a few liberal arts courses, or a liberal arts student with a few math courses.

Let’s take the notion of basic biomedical research.

Right now, governments and organizations only want to fund sexy diseases—ones with a big profile. The problem is that a lot of the really meaningful medical developments come out of basic research. Somebody just looking at a thing that caught their fancy 10 years ago pokes at it until eventually it gives up a little mystery—and this mystery turns out to be applicable to a number of things. This is how the structure of DNA was discovered: just nosing around. I think paying any damn attention to what the f business community wants out of university is useless. They’re completely at odds: what the university needs and what the business community needs.

Carey: We’ve been talking about liberal arts education and practical training in an adversarial way. These two ideas can and should peacefully coexist on university campuses. But right now our resources are finite. Money is being diverted from liberal arts to more practical programs. And that’s the heart of the matter.

Pat It should be perfectly acceptable—and it’s not where I come from—for people not to go to university. We need people with practical skills, and we need people who go to university and get a mix of practical skills and thinking skills. And then we need a brain trust—people who are just thinkers.

Lalitta: Yes. Thinking people are what we need in this country—obviously we haven’t had a history of having very many. The idea-generators define the culture of a nation.

Sandy: A lot of us have gone from one faculty to another or taken courses outside their discipline. I think that answers the question of what universities are for. Universities are for exposing students to different ideas and letting the individual decide what he or she wants to do with their life.

In a recession, the liberal arts are going to be funded last, and I think that we have to be realistic about that—cut back on those things that don’t actually put money into the economy. I’m in philosophy, so it’s ripping my heart out to say this. But it’s just a matter of cutting off a section of the funding.

Maclean’s: Would you argue for cutting an elementary science—biology?

Sandy: I’m not saying get rid of it altogether—that would be insane. But you have a pie: who is going to get the sections? What’s driving the economy? If we lose the engineering faculty at Waterloo, are we going to lose 2,500 jobs in the Waterloo area? Is this town going to be in serious trouble? Yes. If we slowly cut back on the philosophy department, will it have the same impact? No.

Pat: But the problem here is long-term versus short-term. In the short-term, you’re going to lose 2,500 jobs. By cutting back on the philosophers and basic research of today, you’re hurting people 30 and 40 years down the road. So for the practical benefit of keeping a few jobs, you’re hurting the progress of society.

Duane: What is the practicality of an arts degree? At Lakehead, we had 2,700 applicants for the one-year education program last year— and just 250 got accepted. That is a perfect example of people think-

'In a recession, the liberal arts are going to be funded last. We have to be realistic about that—cut back on those things that don't actually put money into the economy.' SANDY ATWAL

ing, ‘I really want to study philosophy—but what can I do with it later?’

When I was in Grade 13,1 wrote my SATs in the States for chemical engineering. Later, after taking calculus, I decided that I didn’t want to take chemical engineering. The question is: at 16 or 17 years old, do we know enough about what we want to do with our lives? You’re not old enough to drink and you’re not old enough to rent a car, but you’d better be old enough to know exactly what you want to do with the next 60 years of your life. Sandy: One thing you did learn that year was that you didn’t want to take calculus. To broaden your horizons and find out that’s not what you want to do is part of the education process. You’re not going to tell me that that year was wasted. University is not an end; it’s a means, it’s a process.

Lalitta: You’re very flip about $10,000. For some people, $10,000 is a heck of a lot of debt. In this culture, people definitely need to know what they want to study.

Jeff: We hear that we’re probably going to have four or five jobs during our careers. Well, if that’s the case, the liberal arts should be getting even more funding because it teaches people to be independent thinkers.

Ingrid: But by directing funding towards business and economics, it implies that those things are better.

Duane: What is success, then? Is success a $100,000-a-year job?

Sandy: It’s a PhD in philosophy.

Lalitta: I don’t think that we have to sit passively while funding is diverted from things that we think are important.

Sandy: Believe it or not, I think actually I agree with you here. We will define our own measures of success. When we are successful, we demonstrate that our learning is valuable to the community.

Ingrid: But every day the country becomes more and more insecure. ‘Oh my God, are we good enough, are we good enough?’ And that trickles down to the graduates as well.

Carey: It seems to me that what we’re looking for is: can we develop a system of postsecondary education that will give us the tools to achieve the kind of success that we want?

Ray: How are you going to develop one institution that serves all masters? It seems fundamentally implausible.

Duane: Are we forcing people to go to university who have no business being there, only because they feel that they can’t fit into society otherwise?

Maclean’s: If federal Human Resources Minister Lloyd Axworthy gets his way, will universal access be a thing of the past?

Pat: Let’s talk access. The reason I’m at UNB is that I got a bigger scholarship than I was offered at other universities. I’m going to graduate with a piece of paper that, to the corporate world, is worth less because it says UNB and not Queen’s or U of T. That’s where I could afford to go because I come from a large family and I can live at home.

Heather: It comes down to regionalism. It’s very much the same in Northern Ontario. If you live in the Sudbury area, chances are you’re going to go to Laurentiam

Pat: I look at my friends who went away—the rich kids—and the kids who stayed at UNB with me. They’re the profs’ kids, they’re the janitors’ kids—not the lawyers’ kids, the doctors’ kids, the rich civil servants’ kids.

Ingrid: It’s an attack on all sides: not only are the grade requirements increasing—you need a minimum of an 80 average to get into just about any program at Laurier. But at the same time, for people like myself who had to work hard just to get in, and have to get a part-time job, there’s the increase in cost. Loans? I’m terrified: I’ve seen my family be in debt, and that comes back to the class issue. And that class division is getting worse every day.

Sandy: I have a major problem with what people are saying here: I can’t go to this university, I can’t afford that, I have to have these marks to get in. Do you think education is a right or a privilege?

Lalitta: I don’t understand how you put a price on knowledge. It’s a general right. You have to pay somebody to pass on information, but the ability to get it is a right.

IS the student the client or the product of the university system?

Sandy: But books cost money, professors cost money, buildings cost money.

Duane: Education is a privilege. If you go to university, you are not paying for the knowledge—you’re paying for the degree. If I want to find out about the feminist movement, I can go to the library and educate myself. I took teaching courses all through university and I don’t think I learned a damn thing. What I learned is that when I graduate they’re going to give me a piece of paper and say I’m qualified. I earned it, but I had to pay for it. So we are paying for certified education.

Pat: If a high-school diploma is your right, why isn’t university education your right at a higher level?

Ingrid: I think there should be a right to access. You have to get high grades and it costs a super amount of money. It should be one or the other—and I prefer grades. Give students all the support you can and make access a right.

'We're told there's no money. You can find $1.7 million however, for new turf at our Seagram Stadium. Well, tell your donors that's not where it's needed.'


Maclean’s: Is the solution income-contingent loan repayment? Universities can charge all they want as long as you pay it back according to your future income?

Sandy: Yes, yes.

Heather: No, not at all.

Maclean’s: Why not?

Heather: Huge debt-load does not make university accessible. If you want to talk about the difference between rights and privileges and tie in the financial factor, then it comes back to who benefits from your education. The government is going to tell you it’s a personal benefit: you're going to make $50,000. But does society not benefit as a whole?

Carey: But don’t we have to be a little more pragmatic? If tuition jumps, what option do we want? Do we want income contingence or do we want the current system where you have to negotiate your loan, with very fixed set rates and time to pay it back, and if you miss a payment, you default. So what’s the alternative? It’s the lesser of two evils.

'They're looking for people with arts degrees just to man the shake machine at McDonald's. Education may be a right and it may be a privilege, but we are certainly imposing the need for education.' DUANE WYSYNSKI

Jeff: You’ve raised a good point. I’ve wrestled with income-contingent loan repayment [ICLR], It sounds great on paper: if you make less than a certain amount, you pay less of a percentage and it’s spread over 15 or 20 years. There are correlations between university degrees and incomes. But hold it a second: for this to work, the loans have to be accessible to everyone. And everyone is going to ask for the maximum amount of money. And the government’s reason for introducing ICLR is not to increase access—it’s to save money on universities. They’re going to spend more on ICLR—and not get any of it back—because no one is getting jobs. And the loans will be cut.

Sandy: Go to a bank and ask to borrow to buy a car, and say, ‘I’ll pay it back depending on how much money I make.’ This is a really sweet deal for students—to borrow for an education, and pay it back depending on how much money you make.

Pat: When you go to a bank to get a loan for a car, you are the one benefiting from that car. We educated Banting and Best and they brought us insulin. Mankind benefited from that. Money was invested in these people and the return benefited society.

Secondly, there is a whole class issue in ICLR because the earning potential of minorities, of women, of the handicapped, are much less than for me, Joe Average, straight, white male. I will likely make more money than the average female. So, over time, a woman of color will spend a whole lot more money paying this back than the

white male who can pay it off earlier with less interest penalty.

Sandy: Patrick mentioned Banting and Best. To be realistic, we probably won’t invent insulin. We’ll benefit a company and they’ll pay us.

Jeff: You become more affluent because you have an education— and there is a spinoff effect. And yes, it does benefit society. But with ICLR, the 20to 32-year-old population—people who affect things like housing starts—are going to have to channel a whole lot of money into paying off their debts. A whole lot of money will be out of circulation.

Sandy: How much disposable income would people have if they hadn’t gone to university in the first place? Education is expensive—I think ignorance is a little more expensive.

Jeff: Exactly. Education is a societal thing.

Sandy: I’m an individualist.

Jeff: That I believe. And in spite of that, I still think you probably can benefit society with a PhD in philosophy.

Ray: The problem, once again, is short-term thinking. I can drop 40,000 bucks and I’ll get a degree and I’ll discover the 1990s equivalent of insulin and I’ve squared accounts.

Carey: In Alberta, they’re going to be bringing down performance indicators that institutions are supposed to use to guide themselves. Let’s say the performance indicator is percentage of students who find a job in the field that they studied in. All of a sudden, you’re starting to direct the focus of that institution in a way it might not have wanted to go. Who sets the performance indicators?

Duane: If the government doesn’t set the standards, who does?

Ingrid: This is where we should put our vote to work.

Ray: Again, there is a tendency to be swayed by shortterm thinking. As a society, we decided some years ago that we were interested in funding postsecondary education because we felt that the contentious debate that is engendered in the academy mirrors our theoretically free and democratic society. And we felt that it was of value.

We are becoming pennywise and pound-foolish. There’s a general small-mindedness:

‘God damned kids, we aren’t going to give them anything for free.’ We’re perfectly happy giving corporations tax breaks.

Duane: The people who are saying ‘God damned kids’ are people who didn’t need to go to university. How many have parents who didn’t even finish high school and got jobs because the criteria were so much different?

Nowadays, they’re looking for people with arts degrees just to man the shake machine in McDonald’s. Education may be a right and it may be a privilege, but we are certainly imposing the need for education on people.

Jeff: That’s educational inflation: a BA is like graduating from high school was

several years ago. And you can’t stop at a master’s—you have to get a PhD in philosophy to get anywhere, right?

Sandy: Stop picking on me.

Ingrid: At Laurier, we’re told there’s no money. You can find $1.7 million, however, for new turf at our Seagram Stadium. They said, ‘Oh, that’s because it was donated.’ Well, tell your donors that’s not where it’s needed. We need it in the courses, we need it in the classrooms.

Carey: The University of Calgary had its 25th anniversary in 1992 and had a successful $46-million fund-raising campaign—private donations, public donations. None of that money went into operating costs.

Ingrid: They should try to convey a better image of where money is needed. That turf is a real sore point at our school. They let you decide what bit of turf you put your money into. Who cares? Grass was fine.

Duane: We have to ask ourselves how much of this is our fault? How many people here go to universities where the students demand a bigger pub and more exercise equipment? Lakehead University, with 6,500 students, has one of the biggest pubs in Canada. What does that tell you? And we still can’t fit them all in. We had this huge debate over how much money should be put into exercise equipment. This is coming from people who won’t use the stairs to go up two flights in the library. If we were really there to learn, would we cry so much because we don’t have ample parking? I’m not against having fun, but if we make these demands, we damned well better expect an increase in tuition.

'We educated Banting and Best and they brought us insulin. Money was invested in these people and the return benefited society/


Carey: Students aren’t clamoring for frivolous things. That time has long since passed. Students are clamoring for smaller classes and books in the library to do their research.

Ray: It’s not unusual in Toronto to take classes with more than a few hundred—they’re horrible.

SHOULD there be free speech on campusno matter what views are aired?

Carey: If you look at exit surveys across Canada and look at what students enjoyed, they say ‘I’ve gotten into contact with professors who turned me on to new ideas.’ Professors have a finite amount of time to spend with students.

The fact is that a lot of institutions are in the process of reputation-building, where things like turf or the stadium are more important than class sizes. Now, I wouldn’t accuse every university administrator of this. But there are certain ones who are looking to enhance their reputations to draw more off-campus funding. It’s a self-defeating prophecy. If you can prove to the government that you can operate with less money, it gets worse.

Pat: I think the concept that students are only interested in a bigger pub or a better football field is fallacious. UNB is a school on the rise.

Ten years ago, we were a provincial make-work project, and the quality of students that we’re attracting nowadays is far better. It’s a good place to be right now. What people are complaining about is: why don’t they have certain journals in the library—

I can’t do my work without them.

People are complaining about the quality of their education. No one cares really that we don’t even have a football team. Give us some books, give us smaller class sizes.

Duane: But if you think every student is there just to learn, that’s equally fallacious. If you look at the student alcoholism rate nationally, are you still going to argue that a lot of kids don’t care a lot about drinking? The figures are obscenely high.

Maclean’s: Given the current climate on campuses, with problems of date rape and sexism and political correctness, do people feel stifled?

Heather: There has to be a distinction made between controversial issues raised in class for the purpose of discussion—as opposed to harmful comments. It comes down to mutual respect.

Lalitta: I was the only woman in the MBA program last year, and it was very difficult for me. I found the atmosphere so hostile. In one of my first classes, a guy said something like, ‘I like my women tempu-

There has to be a distinction made between controversial issues raised in class—as opposed to harmful comments/


'In one of my first classes, a guy said something like, "I like my women tempura." When I asked him what that meant, he said, "lightly battered." '


ra.’ When I asked him what that meant, he said, ‘lightly battered.’ And this was within the course of his presentation. Now, I found that offensive. Because the professor didn’t seem to understand, I stood up and said: ‘Are you going to say something or am I?’ I think it’s the role of the professor to direct the class into productive areas. I said, This is your job and I’m

going to leave the room now because I no longer feel as if we’re getting anywhere.’ This kind of thing goes on on a daily basis for women in business classes, engineering classes.

Ingrid: During Octoberfest in KitchenerWaterloo, there was a house party. A girl was kissing someone in one of the bedrooms— these are facts I got from the police file. She was allegedly beaten and sexually assaulted. We are very fortunate because our president was the head of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and she’s very progressive. But when I try to do a story on sexual assault, some people claim ‘It doesn’t happen here—Lauder is a pretty cozy campus.’

Duane: There’s tons of denial. Lakehead University doesn’t want to say, The one thing you should know is that we’re in the middle of the bush and it’s not very safe. Please come to Lakehead but don’t go walking at night.’

Maclean’s: What about zero tolerance?

Pat: Last fall at UNB, Matin Yaqzan, a tenured assistant professor of mathematics, wrote an article in the student paper. He claimed, among other things, that any woman who goes back to a guy’s room should give him sex because he can’t control his urges. He went on to say that sexual assault is not as harmful to someone who is not a virgin. Clearly repugnant views, in my opinion. This set off a fire storm—and a media circus. But it is my opinion that my university was not correct in getting rid of Yaqzan for what he did. They should have gotten rid of him years ago for bringing anti-Jewish propaganda into his classroom. The university got rid of him because it was bad PR.

Heather: In all fairness, I think he created more than bad PR for the university. I could not effectively learn in his class knowing that he felt this way. I think he deserves what he got.

Duane: If a math prof says, The slave trade was justifiable because of this,’ you have to ask, Wfiiat does this have to do with math?’ If a history teacher says, ‘Food for thought: the slave trade was justified,’ there is a little more context. If I am an Afro-Canadian in [controversial psychologist Philippe] Rushton’s class, I’ll look at my mark and think, ‘Gee, I wonder if he thinks that, because of my color,

I should get a 65?’

Pat: We spent a week studying Philippe Rushton in my genetics class, and it was probably the most intellectually challenging class I ever took in science. Because we all had an emotional gut reaction, we assumed Rushton had to be wrong. But the professor said, ‘Prove that it’s wrong. Look at his research methods—scientifically tear it apart.’ Even though his views bothered the hell out of me, it made me analyze. Maclean’s: Let’s turn to budget cutting. Do you feel it’s unavoidable?

Pat: Let’s question political rhetoric. [New Brunswick] Premier [Frank] McKenna, who most of us out east would consider to be the Antichrist, goes on and on about how young Canadians are the future of this country and we have to invest in education. If we’re the future and education is so important, why are they cutting funds to education?

Lalitta: And taxing books.

Maclean’s: How do you get more control over where the money goes?

Ray: The arts, historically, were always dependent on the intervention of wealthy eccentrics. I’m glad that the government has taken over the task, that it has made the commitment to the notion of arms-length funding of the university. Now, it should keep up its end and stay out, the same way it does with the National Gallery. If you start taking a national referendum on every

COULD there be excellence in the absence of tenure?

painting that goes into the National Gallery, there are going to be a lot of black velvet Elvises and dogs playing poker.

Maclean’s: And what about tenure?

Carey: The mass media have portrayed professors as nothing more than red civil servants, eagerly sucking on the public teat—and that is patently unfair. The notion of tenure protecting academic freedom is really important. When professors stay in an institution for a long time, they become part of that university’s community. A tenured professor can provide a qualitatively different level of education than a bunch of hired guns. Professors are beacons for all kinds of different reasons: for students, for grad students, for research dollars, for universities’ reputations. The tenured professors help build the institution, they establish programs at universities and they enhance the quality of education.

There is also this perception sabbaticals are huge vacations. That’s ridiculous.

Learning takes time. The professors have responsibilities to keep learning, and sabbaticals are critically important.

Duane: High-school teachers managed for 50 years without that break.

Lalitta: Most of us were bored out of our gourds in high school because we weren’t challenged. Teachers are struggling without rejuvenation and appreciation.

Duane: I’m bored to death in a lot of my university classes, too.

Pat: I wouldn’t be in history today if it weren’t for the fact that my current supervisor took an hour of his day to go over what was I doing, why I wasn’t enjoying it, what career paths were open to me.

Ray: When I’m told that we have to cut back because there’s just no more money for Canadian universities—the well has run dry—I always wonder. It seems to me this wasn’t the case in the mid-1980s when [former prime minister Brian] Mulroney’s government was handing out tax concessions to every two-bit corporation across the

'A tenured professor can provide a qualitatively different level of education than a bunch of hired guns/


country. I don’t think that it’s our responsibility at this point to pay the price. There’s some sort of direct action required. Instead of university administrators saying to the government, We can make do with a little less,’ I think it’s time they said, ‘If you keep cutting back, we shut down the university.’

Sandy: I think universities need to be run like businesses. As it is now, money is pumped into them in a way that they see fit, and that’s totally unacceptable. Private industry is one place to get funds—and I know people think only engineering and business will get money. That’s not the case.

Jeff: IBM’s priority won’t be to fund English departments.

Duane: Who are the consumers in this case? Are they the students—or the general public? Or does AT&T control our learning because it pumps X amount of dollars in?

Sandy: That should be their right.

Jeff: I don’t think that providing postsecondary education to a broad cross-section of the population is a profit-making venture. As Ray said, it’s a beautifully inefficient system.

Sandy: You can call it beautifully inefficient. But you’re going to have to get money somewhere. A lot of businesses want people who have that liberal arts background. You tell me that those people won’t invest back into the university? Is the general belief that we have to rely on the government to save philosophy and English? And if they don’t, then absolutely nobody is going to fund philosophy and English?

Jeff: People invest money to get money back.

Heather: Laurentian has joint partnerships with Inco and a number of other businesses in the Sudbury area. But how does

Ross Paul, as Laurentian president, convince Inco that their

money is going to be just as well-spent in the philosophy de partment as opposed to chemical engineering? It doesn’t wash. And you’re saying that those with a liberal arts degree are going to donate money back? Those people won’t make the kind of money it’s going to take to keep that kind of education alive. The bigger programs can be funded by corporate sponsors, but somebody has to fund liberal arts. And I think it has to be the government, which is all of us.

Pat: Sole reliability on corporations is an evil thing. They’re not giving money because they want to see well-rounded graduates. They’re funding applied research, and basic research is going to go by the wayside. But basic research is the foundation on which applied research is built.

Carey: I think we’re headed to a multi-tiered system. McGill and Queen’s are going to be able to charge more money because people are going to be willing to pay more money to go there. That will attract better professors, and other universities are going to suffer. I think Axworthy’s green paper might represent a very fundamental change in the way that education is delivered in the country, because we’re not just looking at transferring massive amounts of money. We’re also looking at a pretty substantial reduction in funding to advanced education. We’re going to lose professors and courses, and classes are going to get larger.

What’s in store is more self-directed learning: we’re going to have less contact with professors, but we’re going to have more access to information and we’re going to be expected to do a lot more with that on our own.

This could mean institutional chaos because the student body is going to travel. If I’m going to be spending $7,000 in tuition, maybe I will go to McGill. Essentially, I think that everyone should have access to an affordable, quality university education in whatever discipline they want to pursue. It seems to me that that’s not something that’s prioritized in this country.

Sandy: Say you did have a two-tiered system: one with universities that everyone could go to and a limited number of universities that basically only rich people could go to. What’s the worst that’s going to come out of that?

Heather: Those schools are obviously going to get more research money and have higher-quality teaching staff, people on the cutting edge, better facilities.

Sandy: You’re telling me that Harvard is the best school in the United States because it’s the most expensive?

Duane: Well, I’ll tell you something: they don’t have books called What They Don’t Teach You at Arizona State Business School.

Jeff: There may be a difference between Queen’s and Lakehead, but it sure isn’t as big as between Harvard and Western Michigan.

Carey: If there’s anything positive that could come out of the multi-tiered system, it’s that you might see a system that would be much more responsive to student input. If our contribution jumped to 60 per cent overnight, you’d better believe that universities would start paying attention.

Duane: But how are they going to respond? Do we really want a free bagel with every 15 litres?

Sandy: Better teachers and better courses. That’s the incentive—not the bagel.

Jeff: We’re getting away from the basic problem: access, access, access. Under a private system, it’s not a question of whether the system will be more responsive.

It’s a question of whether people can afford to go at all.

Ray: When you start to treat university education like it’s a consumer good, then it’s available for the people who have the money to consume consumer goods.

It isn’t a Twinkie.

Heather: A lot of students in Northern Ontario go to hometown universities because they can’t afford the cost of living somewhere else. So I’m not sure it’s even relevant to be talking about which university is going to provide you with more when the tuition is $8,000 or $20,000.

Maclean’s: Governments are saying the cuts have to come. Do you bite the bullet and have a two-tiered university system?

Or is it too early to blow that whistle?

Pat: I’d cut the navy. The things that are so central to human existence—and God forgive me for saying this because foreign policy is my major—are not big planes and guns and tanks.

They’re education and health.

That’s what makes the average person happy. We should force them to cut other things.

Jeff: Maybe we should make the bond markets wait

a little longer to reap their profits.

Pat: Axworthy’s paper didn’t come down on stone tablets from Mount Sinai. This is not the Ten Commandments.

Lalitta: As Ray said, major corporations get away with not paying taxes. Where are our priorities as a society?

Jeff: But why is the bond market setting public policy? We have the legislatures to do that. What did we vote these people in for? Sandy: Maybe the problem is that we are few and the boomers are many. As a smaller generation, we’re going to have to fight harder for something that we want.

Carey: I’m elated by this show of optimism.

Pat: Maybe Jeff can just start singing O Canada in French. But unfortunately, we’re not empowered to hammer out these issues. I am so sick and tired of the concept of Generation X. We’re going to be graduating more prepared to deal with the realities they’re sloughing off of on us than any generation ever. So let’s organize, let’s become active.

'It's not a question of whether a private university system will be more responsive. It's a question of whether people will be able to afford to go at all/


Carey: The only thing that I can see that we could possibly do is have every student in Canada withhold their tuition


Lalitta: They did it in France and it worked.

Pat: If you want to preserve what we have that’s working, do it in incremental steps—don’t come across like Sixties lunatic radicals.

Carey: In Alberta last year, we had a provincial government elected, and the student union ran a campaign called ‘Vote Education.’ They sent questionnaires out to candidates, and the Tories categorically refused to answer, saying there was going to be this big consultative process once the new government was formed. The Tories got elected, and the promise of a consultative process was just a smoke screen.

Lalitta: Why do you presuppose that because you lobby a bunch of politicians, they’re going to do what you need them to do?

Sandy: For the second time today, I agree with you.

Carey: Is there anybody interested in exchanging addresses?

Maclean’s: Ah the Nineties: radical students with their business cards. □