Humanities students dangerous

By Harry Vandervlist

In an excellent article two weeks ago Rhia Perkins asked: are there funding disparities between the arts and humanities faculties and the others? She found that yes, fewer government and corporate dollars find their way to the faculties of Social Sciences, Humanities and Communication and Culture. Some hypotheses were offered about why this might be.

Here’s one very stark, simple reason. We are governed by people who do not like the arts and humanities. This is not just my opinion (though I certainly have an opinion about it). It’s a matter of public record.

Lorne Taylor, Alberta’s Minister of Innovation who is responsible for research funding, said this publicly last year in a meeting with the U of C’s Graduate Student Association. He had recently announced the creation of a new Alberta Heritage Foundation, modelled on the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. This new half-billion dollar foundation would support research in science and engineering.

“That’s super,” said the GSA (I’m paraphrasing here). “Now, when will we see the final piece of the puzzle: a similar foundation to support arts, humanities and social science research?”

“Never,” announced the Minister.

“Never–that’s pretty categorical,” said the GSA (or something along those lines). “What makes you say never?”

“Because,” explained the minister responsible for supporting innovation in Alberta, “those are the people that criticize the government.”

Now that’s straight talk. What you have here is an elected official with a mandate to serve present and future citizens by encouraging innovation. Oops, my mistake. Mr. Taylor feels he has a more important function: to use his power over research funding to protect the ears of the PC party from harsh words.

In Mr. Taylor’s view, “innovation” apparently excludes new ideas that disagree with the sitting (however rarely) government. He must feel sure that astronomers or engineers will not advance such ideas. Political scientists, though, or sociologists, or media analysts, or–God forbid–French professors; now those are the people who threaten governments. Those people must not be given any encouragement. Keep the public dollars away from those people.

Thank you, Mr. Taylor, for cheerfully making plain something many university people have suspected or known for many years. Senior officials on this campus have told me “this is a very vindictive government. If you put them in a bad light you can expect to be punished for it.” No kidding.

Problem is, we have these disciplines devoted to something called “critical thinking.” In plain words this means things like calling it as you see it, then keeping your mind open when others criticize your arguments, and even yielding to a better argument when you hear one. It does not mean putting a fence around anything, even Alberta’s glorious PC party, and saying “well I won’t critique that, it might cost me some money.”

Sadly, the result is underfunded faculties of arts and humanities. Well that’s the way it goes in places where public policy grows out of self-serving prejudice. I could lighten up now and conclude with examples of all the wonderful (and wonderfully prosperity-enhancing) innovations born from the dangerous minds of arts and humanities researchers.

But no. I’m out of space, and feel a little sick.

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