|May 7, 1999||Volume 6, Number 16|
It's -30- from the retiring editor
Thank goodness for retirement. I would not have another year of story-chasing, writing, editing, photography, advertisement concerns, layout, production anxiety, and 12-day/2-day cycles in me.
The paper has doubled in size over these past four years, and I'm pleased to say that I've reached this growth with less annual cost than what preceded me.
I've been as current and comprehensive as I could - not an easy task in an institution Vice-president Michael Atkinson once described as "incredibly complex." And although scooping other local media on University-related stories is not the paper's raison d'être, it's been fun to do so a fair number of times, with little if any insider advantage.
I extend warm thanks to all those who agreed to be profiled - and photographed. I think/hope that you all found the experience positive, despite initial qualms some of you had.
Warm thanks, too, to all those who penned pieces for the Opinion Page. I don't know how many times I thought I'd not have one for the upcoming issue. But, mainly by suggesting themes to individuals, I've batted 1000 since implementing, in 1997, the carrying of an opinion piece by someone different in each issue.
And thanks, finally, to all those who, broadly at least, supported the telling of things in the paper, as opposed to inclining toward not telling them. Would that all campus denizens had harbored such an open outlook.
While helping me to fact-check, some story subjects, and some administrators, have asked me to pull certain words, dollar figures, or information they saw as either too explicit or politically hot.
Sometimes I complied, reminding myself that discretion is the better part of honor and that all journalists face restrictions from one level or another. Sometimes I compromised and went with a modified version of the original wording. Sometimes, I dug in and did not change the wording.
People often get upset at what journalists write. What they often don't appreciate is how much journalists could write but - for reasons that relate to timing, decency, civility, or job tenure - do not write about.
In this context, I must comment on how timid many people are.
I've been amazed at how many people specify that certain innocuous information be "off the record" or pulled, even though they freely spoke about it.
For example, one professor insisted that we pull his mention of the fact that, in the Muslim world, neither men nor women go about with their arms bared.
And amazed at how many want to withdraw the mildest of comments on some practice or situation.
For example, in February of 1998 I began a story by saying:
"In a recent 'Learning Beat' column, Globe and Mail reporter Jennifer Lewington tells how 'Canadian universities, in growing numbers, are putting their own spin on the corporate R words of the 1990s - restructuring, refocusing, and retrenchment.
"To illustrate, she cites various examples of department closures or mergers at a number of Canadian universities. The thinking behind these moves, she reports, 'is to do fewer things better.'"
I then went on to say how it looked as if the U of S "was moving toward this new university paradigm."
To my amazement, a senior administrator - not the president, who has been unrestrictive with words he has uttered - wanted this opening killed because of its mention of the word corporate, even though "the R words" do describe much of what is happening in universities across the country. I am happy to say that the opening ran as written.
But even more amazing to me these past four years has been the dearth of faculty debate on issues affecting the course of the institution or post-secondary education generally.
Following practically every issue of On Campus News, I expected a minor deluge of letters on topics of import or interest touched on in the paper. But rarely did anything of the sort come.
I do know that various stories, letters, and opinion pieces in OCN did fork some lightning around campus. Still, I often wondered how so many issues of such importance drew so little public fire from so many tenured faculty.
A couple of years ago, a faculty member in Political Studies, of all places, told me that, over the past 10 years or so, he had never been engaged with a colleague in a good, hard debate - over politics or anything else. (I asked him to write a piece about it, but he declined.)
More recently, a senior history professor also commented privately on the virtual absence of intellectually interesting conversation in the place.
What's one to make of this?
Have relentless government cutbacks so devastated campus morale that opining on crucial issues is a thing of the past?
Has a fear or timidity borne of a sense of job insecurity struck people dumb?
Has political correctness closed people's mouths?
The latter phenomenon is the likeliest culprit. After all, the odious tyranny that is political correctness - buttressed as it is by mainstream media, the liberal establishment, and state-sponsored reprisal mechanisms - has certainly narrowed national discourse on many issues.* (See the Globe and Mail interview of Professor Alan Charles Kors reprinted in the March 12/99 issue of OCN for an excellent commentary on this matter.)
But surely, you say, tenured university professors don't hesitate to utter contrary views in public. Ah, but the rub, of course, is that political correctness was conceived on university campuses. They've been its very cradle and nourishment.
Critical masses on most university campuses in North America don't despair at the stifling of intellectual debate; they embrace it.
"In the academic world of America," Professor Hugh Lloyd-Jones, formerly Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, recently wrote, "the truth of political correctness is taken for granted almost as much as that of Christianity was before the middle of the 19th century. Not surprisingly, many practical persons have become heartily sick of this, with the result that they despise and ignore the whole academic world."
Political correctness has, alas, insinuated itself into the consciousness of the University community. Its presence here is not as aggressive or malignant as at some campuses in the U.S. But its hold is sufficient enough to check debate and allow various inanities to prevail.
For example, who but the converted can believe that the Super Saturday initiative is an excellent expenditure of money that's helping young Aboriginals reach toward higher education? Or that the (now defunct) position of Advisor to the President's Office on Women's Issues should be reinstated? Or that an academic behavior code won't add its own chill to an already illiberal environment?
As a result of this oppressive puritanism, a number of our faculty members who do not subscribe to the 'correct' tenets of social/political thought are essentially shunned by their colleagues and, with the odd exception only, cowed into silence. (One professor was brave with a dissenting view - to the extent that he agreed to write a piece only late in the year, when newspaper response to it would not be possible.)
The correctness epidemic has even restricted discourse resulting from research. For example, the Darwinian peppered-moth theory, discredited 10 years ago, is still taught as academic gospel, as are the highly stylized reptile, bird, and mammal embryos that supposedly illustrate common ancestry - and professional woe to those who don't sing the Darwinian tune.
I'm told that correctness-related thinking is affecting the hiring of the best people here.
And the chill the correctness epidemic has had on classroom discussion is blighting our universities.
In The New Anti-Liberals (CSP, Feb./99), Alan Borovoy (who is general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association) tells how an Osgoode Hall professor with "pro-feminist male" sensibilities randomly divided his legal writing class into two halves and - with the idea of getting each side to think about both sides of a question - asked one side to prepare briefs defending the constitutionality of a hypothetical anti-pornography law; the other, attacking it.
As a result, he heard from two University "counsellors" who warned him that there would be "the possibility of an investigation to determine whether sexual harassment was taking place," because some of the female students in such a situation might feel "serious distress."
The professor later confessed in a journal that the counsellors' intimidation scared the stuffing out of him.
I include this foregoing analysis of the problem in my second last issue of On Campus News to provide an opportunity for any rebuttal, or confirmation, in the next issue.
Meanwhile, I bid a warm and sincere au revoir to the U of S, with its many areas of true excellence (and some others of true mediocrity) and to its best traditions of adaptability, service, and grit.
How extraordinary an achievement that this greystone complex exists in the middle of a virgin prairie that only three generations ago was an expanse whose stark climate and distant location nevertheless failed to daunt the courageous men and women who settled here.
I think that the University - under the disingenuous banner of egalitarianism - has made a mistake in opting to ease many of its direct-entry admission requirements.
Admiting virtually all warm bodies benefits neither the institution, in the long term, nor those so admitted. The analogy of letting in amateur puck-chasers to an NHL hockey camp comes to mind.
But such a pathetic policy probably would never have had to be adopted in the first place had the government of the day not formed, in 1974, an entirely new University in this province, instead of leaving it as a U of S affiliate.
Or, at least, had these Regina-centric politicians not then proceeded to give the U of R favored funding over the senior institution, the U of S could have been riding a higher and brighter wave over these years.
Instead, we've had to beg and plead for adequate funding, while spending excessive resources justifying what is easily apparent to even a casual observer - that the U of S clearly is the post-secondary flagship of the province and ought to have been the main recipient of taxpayer support.
So: May wisdom and good fortune attend your administration, President-elect MacKinnon. May the U of S choose its faculty, staff, and administrators wisely. May the institution serve its students and constituents well. May a spirit of true academic debate revive here. And may the government and the people of the province realize as never before what has been achieved here and what potential this remarkable institution continues to possess.
For further information, visit the web site or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Next issue of