MacKinnon refutes critics' claims on Liberal Arts
U of S President Peter MacKinnon has refuted claims from a group of students and faculty that the University is cutting the liberal arts in favour of a new research agenda.
MacKinnon used his regular reporting session at University Council’s Jan. 27 meeting to issue a strongly worded rebuttal of the charges.
At campus forums and in news reports last month, an ad hoc group, Students Opposed to Liberal-arts Decline (SOLD), and half a dozen professors alleged that faculty positions and budgets are being cut in humanities and fine arts departments, particularly in Languages & Linguistics. They added that the administration was running a less-than-open decision-making process which aims to increase research and commercialization at the expense of liberal arts and the humanities.
In a letter to the editor which ran in the StarPhoenix Jan. 21, Provost & Vice-President Academic Michael Atkinson said the charges contained “misinformation and personal agendas”, and were not shared by most U of S faculty, students & staff.
In his Jan. 27 rebuttal, MacKinnon took exception to the tone the critics have used.
“In the language of ritualistic denunciation, one faculty member refers to myself and my colleagues as ‘worms of power’ and another describes us in print as ‘carpetbaggers’,” MacKinnon noted.
He took the three main claims being made by the administration’s critics and refuted each, in order.
First, the president said, “is that the humanities are disadvantaged and experiencing discriminatory budget cuts resulting in the elimination of positions ... The claim is false.”
He said that of the College of Arts & Science’s complement of 303 professors, 106 – or 35 per cent – are in the humanities and fine arts. Also, fully 49 per cent of the college’s contingency budget for sessional lecturers is allocated to the humanities and fine arts. At the same time, MacKinnon noted, this area does 32 per cent of undergraduate teaching, has fewer per-faculty graduate students than the social sciences does, and humanities enrolment hasn’t changed much in five years.
The president added, “My colleagues and I are strongly committed, as I know we all are, to liberal arts education at the University of Saskatchewan and to doing all that we can to strengthen it in the years ahead.”
On the Languages & Linguistics Department, MacKinnon noted its faculty agrees it needs a renewed direction, and two currently vacant faculty positions “will be filled as soon as the College of Arts & Science receives a credible renewal plan”. He said both the college and the administration support the department as it works on this renewal.
MacKinnon said the second charge is that the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron “exists for private corporate benefit and the University is paying for its operation. The claim is false.”
He said a range of government and public-sector agencies have paid for the construction and operation of the CLS. “The Canadian Light Source is a magnificent addition to this University, city and province. There is not a university in Canada or in the world that would not be thrilled to have a facility like this.”
To the third claim, that the University sees students as “revenue streams” rather than as people, he said he shares students’ concern over tuition costs. But he defended the national-norms tuition policy, saying it assures program quality, and he said the U of S is making great strides in improving its student services and student aid.
U of S Students’ Union President Gavin Gardiner told Council students don’t agree with any false claims being made, but feel there are “valid concerns” about the liberal arts situation. He said students have had trouble getting information from parts of the University, including the administration – but when MacKinnon challenged him to say who hasn’t been forthcoming with information, Gardiner said “it’s more that students don’t know where to go” for information.