Harvey writes to students, they write back

[Ed. Note: The following letter was sent to all University of Calgary students to the e-mail addresses listed at the Registrar’s Office. As some students did not receive the letter, the Gauntlet has reprinted it without revision.]


Many of you have seen or heard media reports this week about the University of Calgary’s placing in the latest Maclean’s ranking of Canadian universities. Please allow me to share my thoughts on this issue.

I’m not happy with the results and I’m sure neither are you, but I want to say first that I have great confidence in this university’s ability to rise to the challenge. I have confidence in our faculty, staff and students, and I have confidence in our leaders.

As you know, we excel in many areas. However, this year, despite improving in a number of individual categories, the U of C placed 14th overall, down two positions from last year. Obviously this is not where we want to be. The rankings largely reflect growth and funding pressures on the University and clearly show that we cannot be all things to all people and still achieve excellence. Although the U of C has gone to extraordinary lengths to take in more students in recent years, that in turn has created all the more pressure to set priorities.

It will take some difficult decisions to lift the quality of the institution and push the university into the top 10, but we are committed to making those decisions.

It won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, but it needs to be done. Significant action has already been taken with the launch of the Academic Plan last spring. To attract and retain more of the best and brightest students, teachers and researchers from across North America, we must have a tighter focus on those areas of excellence that will have the greatest impact on our national and international standing as a university.

In the past couple of weeks, we announced our intention to manage our undergraduate enrolments strategically, limiting our

undergraduate student numbers to current levels of around 23,000. This speaks directly to the space issues we are facing on campus and is an important step in addressing this problem. It’s also a deliberate move to attract the best students.

There are no easy solutions, but our community expects us to take the necessary steps to make the U of C a national leader. The changes we’re making will ultimately result in our ability to provide the highest quality educational experience possible for students–and that’s what counts.

More steps will be taken in the next few months with the introduction of next year’s budget and with further implementation of the Academic Plan. We are currently debating tuition fees, for example. That’s part of the equation but only one part of it.

The bigger challenge is to set the priorities necessary to make the U of C one of Canada’s top universities. It is within our grasp. I know we can reach our goals. -Harvey Weingarten, University of Calgary President and Vice-Chancellor

And, the respones:

It comes as no surprise to me that the only specifics you address in your letter concern raising tuition fees. If the U of C, and other Western Canadian universities, continue to bend over backwards to try and impress media publications in Toronto, then you are no longer serving the students who choose to attend Calgary for reasons unmeasurable by Maclean’s narrow focus–namely, an affordable and intimate university atmosphere in a beautiful city, full of career opportunities. You talk of attracting the best and brightest–how? Through differential tuition? That will not–and cannot–attract the best and brightest, but only the richest.

Our university has excellent professors. Next year’s undergraduate admission cap tells that there is no shortage of students who desire to attend here. The U of C has recently enjoyed the addition of at least two gorgeous new buildings. The libraries (although until recently understocked with out-of-date material), show signs of updating their materials and technology. Good for them, although there is still room for improvement in that area. I have attended larger, higher-ranked universities, and bigger does not mean better.

Instead of focusing your energies on impressing your colleagues in Ontario, please focus instead on those people around you who help you maintain the things we do so well: ground-breaking medical research, a cozy relationship with Calgary’s business community, a healthy and welcoming atmosphere for social activism and change, and home to one of the nation’s greatest campus and community radio stations. You should feel no need to apologize for Maclean’s willingness to serve Eastern Canada’s academic status quo. By apologizing for the

U of C, you offend students like me who choose to come here.

– Mike Angus

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