Corporate campus is a necessary evil

Look around you. Much of MacEwan Student Centre is under renovation to allow for more university-run food kiosks (and less frightening staircases). North of MSC, construction of the Information Communications and Technology building, which will service the educational needs of future generations of engineers and computer scientists, is taking place. Parking lot 11 is undergoing a major expansion. The University of Calgary is trying to find a tenant for their proposed multi-million dollar research transition facility (RTF), and the Faculty of Kinesiology is planning a major upgrade to their facilities.

There sure are a lot of "improvements" taking place on campus these days.
The common factor between all these developments is that they are all being built to bring the U of C more money. In the case of new parking, directly; in the case of the ICT building or KNES upgrades, indirectly from increased enrollment (and presumably, the eventual alumni contributions).

At first glance, all the revenue generation around you might seem crass. Our institution of higher learning is slowly blanketing the campus’ remaining green spaces with asphalt and parking meters. Mac Hall will soon feature another three or four KFCs or Subways or the like. The proposed RTF will likely be leased almost entirely to a private corporation. The "corporate-friendly" faculties, like computer science, get snazzy new buildings while the students in the jazz program practice in crumbling… oh, right. They axed the jazz program already.

What’s next? A university-run casino? Carney-style games in Science Theatres?

You may not like your university’s investment in revenue generation over an investment in improving your education (say, through bringing our library up to snuff or giving professors some sort of job security by not hiring primarily sessionals), but, truthfully, does the university have any choice? Most of the money for these projects comes from outside sources and specific government grants for technology upgrades.

Running a university costs a lot of money–money that isn’t going to come in sufficient amounts from the Klein government. If there isn’t going to be much (or any) increase to post-secondary funding, the university has to make money somehow. Taking money from outside sources is one way; raising tuition is another of their most lucrative options and also one of the most unpopular. Students have successfully lobbied against a maximum hike for the last two years and every indication is they will do so again this year.

So what would you do if you ran the U of C? Shoot for a maximum allowable tuition increase and further anger a cynical student population? Would you spend time and money lobbying a government who puts a frighteningly low priority on education?

As much as one might find the concept of a university reduced to these sorts of cash grabs repulsive, the alternatives are even worse. It seems our U of C is simply picking the best of a bad series of choices. It seems the real blame for the sorry state our campus lies, once again, with Mr. Klein and Mr. Oberg.

Hopefully, students will remember this when tuition protest season rolls around again.

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