Volume 12, Number 10 January 21, 2005

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Critics and admin. exchange barbs on liberal arts

English Prof. Ron Marken speaks to the SOLD forum in Place Riel on Jan. 18 – telling about 150 students in the audience that the liberal arts are being threatened by changes underway at the University

English Prof. Ron Marken speaks to the SOLD forum in Place Riel on Jan. 18 – telling about 150 students in the audience that the liberal arts are being threatened by changes underway at the University

Photo by Lawrence McMahen

An ad hoc group of Arts & Science students, supported by a number of faculty, have held rallies, media interviews and meetings with college administrators over the past two weeks in protest against alleged cuts to liberal arts programs.

At the same time, vocal exchanges between some critical faculty and the administration have escalated, with professors at Jan. 11 and Jan. 18 forums in Place Riel charging the administration with cutting budgets and faculty in a number of liberal arts areas.

Following the forums, organized by the Students Opposed to Liberal-arts Decline (SOLD), and media coverage of the faculty remarks, two senior administrators sent letters to the editor of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix charging the critical professors, students and news media with making unfounded claims of U of S budget and faculty cuts.

Provost & Vice-President Academic Michael Atkinson and Council Chair Joe Angel are also issuing a joint communique to the campus community detailing how faculty and staff can be involved in the Integrated Planning process.

In recent weeks, critical students and faculty have made a number of related charges including: that the University’s Integrated Plan will boost research and take resources from the liberal arts; that University Council doesn’t get enough information from the administration about academic and budget plans and doesn’t have enough influence any more; that currently deferred hiring of new faculty into vacancies means those positions have actually been cut and won’t be filled; and that the key area of languages education is being targeted.

Following the second SOLD rally Jan. 18, the student group’s leaders, Karen Hepp and Janyce Yuzbasheva, had a meeting with Arts & Science Dean Jo-Anne Dillon. They presented a list of 12 “recommendations” which included:

  • An end to the alleged faculty hiring freeze, especially in Languages & Linguistics.
  • Adding a requirement that all liberal-arts students must take six credits of a language other than English.
  • Making deans subject to systematic program review.
  • Transparent electing of college representatives to Council.
  • Ensuring every department has at least five tenured professors.
  • Reducing the University’s reliance on sessional lecturers to teach liberal arts.

At the Jan. 11 and 18 forums, Hepp, Yuzbasheva, U of S Students’ Union President Gavin Gardiner, faculty members and others stated their criticisms.

Gardiner decried the growing reliance on student tuition fees to finance the University, and he called for a tuition freeze. He told the 150 students at the Jan. 18 rally it’s time “to say we’re sick and tired of this and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

English Prof. Ron Marken lamented the passing of former U of S departments of Classics, Spanish and French, and challenged students to “look for any reference at all (in our new University Integrated Plan) to the humanities, social sciences and liberal arts. In that document you’ll find more space devoted to buildings and grounds than to fine arts, liberal arts, social sciences and humanities.”

Marken asked the students, “Imagine a world-class university with wasted liberal-arts programs.”

He said the synchrotron and research hold too much sway on campus, and said students here “are regarded not as an investment, but as a herd of cash cows”.

At the Jan. 11 forum, English Prof. Len Findlay and Economics Prof. Glen Beck spoke out.

Beck said academic planning and budgeting isn’t as open as it used to be at the U of S. He said that while he sits on Council’s planning committee, he still isn’t privy to a lot of information, and there is a closed decision-making system in place.

After the forum he said he believes liberal arts are being cut, while some professional colleges like Law are able to hire new faculty and pay for them with increased tuition fees.

But some faculty and administrators say the charges are unfair and wrong.

History Department Head and Council Planning Committee vice-chair Brett Fairbairn said last week the SOLD group is spreading “significantly misleading information” about the budget. He said of the 18 faculty positions currently not being filled, only about four likely won’t end up being filled, and those four aren’t in liberal arts.

Fairbairn and Arts & Science Associate Dean Judith Rice Henderson say the hirings have been deferred to allow for more department planning before rehiring, and also to help pay for the one-per-cent levy charged to colleges in this year’s University budget.

And Fairbairn said the campus community had a great deal of opportunity for input into the Integrated Plan, and it was agreed to by the community.

In response to the wave of criticism, Henderson and Atkinson each wrote letters for publication in the StarPhoenix at the end of this week.

Henderson defends the quality of many liberal arts programs, noting they received good Systematic Program Review (SPR) grades, although admitting a few received poor grades [see story, Page 9]. She says while some departments have been reconfigured, there are still viable programs in fields like Religious Studies, Anthropology, and Classical Studies.

Atkinson says, “The liberal arts – the humanities, social sciences and fine arts – are not being slashed, damaged or ignored at the University of Saskatchewan.” He said the StarPhoenix has “carried stories featuring faculty members on rhetorical binges entertaining students with misinformation and personal agendas.”

Atkinson adds that “positions are not being removed from the liberal arts and distributed elsewhere on campus, operating funds are not being diverted to the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, (and) the Integrated Plan does not ignore the social sciences and humanities.”

He says the administration actively communicates and consults with Council and the colleges. And Atkinson says the StarPhoenix has reported “divisive” and “corrosive” views that are undeserved and aren’t shared by most faculty, students and staff.

SOLD says it plans to continue with further activities.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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