...in which the writer resists the media's depiction of the university as either unduly insulated from the world or, when touched by it, full of "selfish whiners" and instead posits a different picture of what our community is and what we should do to get that picture out.
When writing about universities, the media generally characterize campus life as insulated in - what else? - an ivory tower, then proceed to prescribe for this supposedly self-evident truth draconian measures from without and self-inflicted measures from within.
But when fiscal reality all too plainly intrudes into the University, we're then depicted as "selfish whiners, underworked and overpaid," as Paul Bidwell points out in OCN (February 7 issue).
In fact, our community is both a beneficiary of provincial and other resources and a major source of wealth and cultural enrichment. Yet it remains under severe scrutiny because of demands on the public purse.
True, the University has its open secrets - of exploitation (of underpaid, overworked, and often undervalued sessional lecturers and graduate students); under-representation of women, First Nations, and other equity groups among tenured faculty and senior administration; undervaluing of women's and First Nations' knowledge economies as "mere perspectives"; and uneven development (consider the relative treatment of the College of Arts and Science and the professional colleges in recent decisions by the president).
The resultant levels of stress are palpable, even if one is not convinced that Human Resources speak for us when they tell us, "You Asked for It," to announce new services identified in their questionnaire.
Do these services get to the root of the problems or merely respond to the symptoms? Do we need more workshops and seminars to negotiate change and manage stress? Or do we need more faculty and staff, more office space, up-dated equipment, new labs and buildings?
How can we can find resources for these Human Resources activities but not for faculty in under-resourced but successful Native Studies and Women's and Gender Studies, or for an advisor to the president on the Status of Women?
Why do we continue to identify interdisciplinarity as an institutional good and goal without supplying resources and developing appropriate mechanisms?
We need to consider the values the University affirms in public announcements and actions.
When Bidwell suggests that we take to the streets to "demonstrate that all of us - students, staff, faculty, and administrators - care enough about the University of Saskatchewan," he goes on to note that "We could make a noise. We could make a difference."
If there's an edge of frustration in his remarks, should we be surprised? And he's not advocating a single strategy to deal with the current crisis faced by the University. Rather, he's insisting that we make our concerns known to the larger community of which we are a significant part.
He's well aware that some might think this "unseemly" for an institution of higher learning. But is there a compelling logic to representing a public celebration of the 90 years' history of the "People's University" as a "protest" march that threatens communications between the Universities' Board chairs and presidents and the provincial government?
Are they the only people who have the right, indeed responsibility, to speak out on behalf of the "People's University"?
Is it self-evident that such a march (with "our parents, our children, and our neighbors") would be adversarial in intention or in effect?
I'm reminded of the 19th century Chartists who took to the streets to represent their six points (including universal male suffrage, voting by ballot, salaries for MPs) but were discounted as the dupes of demagogues and an unruly element in need of careful monitoring by an emerging cadre of statisticians and social scientists, while their poverty could be safely left to the tender mercies of laissez-faire.
As Louise Forsyth recently and powerfully reminded us in her University Colloquium address, we all have a responsibility to challenge some of the dominant discourses that presume to represent the University. We need, as she urged us, to "reflect aloud" as "moral agents."
- Isabel Findlay
Sessional lecturer, English Department