The cover-up

By Chris Beauchamp

The University of Calgary is facing a serious public relations problem. With another round of massive budget cuts scheduled for the next four years, guaranteed maximum tuition increases over the same period and the announcement this week that this institution is sitting next to last on the Maclean’s ranking of universities in the medical/doctoral category, it is fairly safe to say that President Harvey Weingarten is in damage control mode.

Little wonder, then, that Premier Ralph Klein himself joined our own Big Harv for a tour of the construction underway at the U of C Health Research Innovation Center on Tue., Nov. 9. In a grossly blatant attempt to divert attention from the seriously sad state of affairs at the U of C, Ralph and Harv shamelessly proclaimed a new record in research funding for the university.

“This is a tremendous step forward on many fronts,” said Weingarten as he announced the record $247 million in research funding that was already openly on the books. It’s a little obvious that a day following the damning Maclean’s ranking the premier and Harvey would stage a press conference, shaking hands and patting each other on the back in front of the cameras.

It’s also more than a little obvious to those working from inside the U of C that a gesture of this kind is a slap in the face. The members of the Students’ Union, The U of C Faculty Association, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52 (which represents support staff on campus) and the student body are uniting as never before to cry out against unsustainable budget cuts and reallocations. However, rather than listen to the legitimate concerns of those from within the campus community–including a letter endorsed by 35 department heads calling the budget reallocations unrealistic and severely damaging to the core programs of this institution–Ralph and Harv chose instead to go in front of the TV cameras heralding the glory that is the University of Calgary. This is not an act of accountable university administration or good government. This is an attempt at perception management.

Sadly, it will probably be an effective one. Thanks to the presence of King Ralph, Harvey and the administration managed to put a positive spin on the most widely attended U of C press conference within the last couple of years. Reporters focused their questions on the research funding announcement and the state of health care in Alberta rather than the deplorable quality of post-secondary education in Canada’s richest province. Nobody grilled Weingarten about the list of improvements he suggested at a recent General Faculties Council to increase the quality of the undergraduate experience here at the U of C. Nobody asked him to explain how devoting one lecture per term to learning about a professors research would do more to increase quality than leaving departmental budgets alone. Nobody asked him how assigning a few students to each professor in a mentorship program would do more for them than maintaining the number of campus support staff. Nobody asked him to say why a wireless campus is more important than sustainable funding for the core operations of this university.

And nobody asked him how he sleeps at night, blithely holding a press conference celebrating U of C research funding while the average undergraduate experience at the U of C gets flushed down the toilet.

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