An open letter to Harvey Weingarten

By Nic Porco

Dear Dr. Weingarten,

On behalf of the students at the University of Calgary I welcome you to your position as our President and Vice-Chancellor. The University of Calgary is a growing institution, still not having hit its stride. A young university with plenty of potential and an abundance of good people working very hard to make the university run. The U of C is a medium sized research university with a burgeoning enrolment and ever increasing research funding. However, with all this growth comes problems. This open letter aims to give you a better handle on the student issues of today.

Tuition seems to always come up as one of the major issues affecting the students today. Tuition is a means of generating funds for the university by charging user fees. The inherent problem with tuition is the inevitable increases that don’t seem to have any real link to everyday cost measures. The university uses static enrolment and denies the existence of extra money. Increase proposals seem to come out of thin air. Yet students understand that the costs of running a university aren’t static, they may even increase by more than inflation. What students do want is a rationale for the continual perceived exploitation of our tuition, and a better, more public, accounting of where tuition money goes.

Enrolment management has also been on my mind lately. I am concerned that this change will lead to greater problems, such as the introduction of differential tuition. How did the university get by all these years with no management and now it is imperative that a suspect system must replace the status quo? Why must we have quotas on faculties?

And what about the increases in section sizes? Class sizes are getting bigger and it seems there is no end in sight. The current limits seem to be that we don’t have any lecture theatres big enough to hold bigger classes. Is there a way for students to assist the university in lowering class sizes? We all have something to gain when each class is smaller and more intimate. This is also the root of the quality professor problem. With little or no personal contact students have only lectures to judge the professor’s worth, and professors don’t enjoy preaching to a class of people who could care less about the subject matter. We also can’t pay our professors’ competitive salaries, and with recent advances, or setbacks, in collective bargaining that trend will be on the rise.

Infrastructure and maintenance have never been solved; they are perennial problems. We don’t have enough space to house all our new professors, in fact we have had to cannibalize classrooms in order to build offices and place shiny new trailers on campus to make up for our lack of classroom and office space. The current 125 per cent occupancy rate means we ran out of space for new students five or six years ago.

These are just a small sampling of the many student and university issues that are paramount today. The Students’ Union is willing to work with the university on dealing with these issues but in order to do this an atmosphere of openness needs to be created.

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