Volume 13, Number 12 February 24, 2006

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Profs claim University steered onto corporate agenda path

By Brian Cross

Two faculty members at the U of S have issued a challenge to the University’s senior administrators, suggesting they should roll back student tuition fees, reduce dependence on corporate funding and push government for adequate levels of public funding.

Speaking at a public forum Feb. 1 on campus, Professors Howard Woodhouse and Michael Collins, both from the Department of Educational Foundations, said senior administrators at the U of S have lost sight of the institution’s core priorities and are allowing the University to be steered down a path of corporate dependence.  As a result, the University is pursuing a “corporate agenda” that places too much emphasis on private sector interests and too little on maintaining academic autonomy and universal access to education, they added.

The pair also recommended the establishment of a University stakeholders group comprised of faculty members, students, unionized university employees and sessional lecturers.  The group should meet at least once a month to identify common interests and influence the future direction of the university, they said.

“Governments and private corporations are united in their belief that the purpose of university education and research is to increase corporate profit margins,”’ said Woodhouse. “There is a kind of a pincer movement at work in which these two powerful external sources of funding have combined to transform universities into instruments to enhance corporate wealth. And universities have done little to resist this move.”

According to Woodhouse, inadequate public funding over the past two decades has forced Canadian universities to find alternate funding sources, including corporate sector donors that have specific research and training priorities.  The dependence on corporate funding reduces the ability of academics to conduct independent research and contributes to a corporate mentality that views post secondary education only as an engine of economic growth, he said.

At the U of S, the lack of adequate public funding has also resulted in higher tuition fees, larger class sizes, an erosion of extension services, fewer support staff and heavier workloads for faculty members, said Collins.

“We should view (any) proposal to upload the extension and outreach objectives of this university onto an increasingly overburdened and diminishing academic faculty as completely unacceptable,” he said.  “We also sense that (in an era of increasing corporate dependence) the space for intellectual dissent is becoming swamped. We’re buying into a corporate ideology and as we do, academic freedom goes overboard.”

Woodhouse continued, “by making tuition fees so high that large numbers of people can no longer go to university, higher education is no longer equally accessible to all on the basis of merit, it’s accessible to those who have money.”

A few years ago, the pair helped organize a People’s Free University that offered free university level courses taught by volunteers, retired faculty members and business professionals.

Brian Cross is a Saskatoon freelance writer.

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

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