By Ryan Pike
With the spectre of the ongoing economic crisis looming over their shoulders, the University of Calgary’s General Faculties Council will vote on the proposed amalgamation of the fine arts, communication and culture, social sciences and humanities faculties into a single arts faculty this Thursday. Originally proposed last fall, the plan has been a topic of pitched debate amongst students and faculty ever since. Last month, both the Students’ Union and the
U of C’s University Planning Committee pledged their support to the single faculty plan, citing the proposed benefits to the university. As it turns out, faculty amalgamation may actually be the best option out there, for both the student experience and the
university’s bottom line.
Right now there are four faculties, each with a dean, assorted assistant deans, administrators and advisors. Each faculty also has its own budgeting process, which puts them at the mercy of senior administration to get enough money to run their programs. In their primer document released last month, the UPC stated that smaller faculties generally have less budgetary and planning flexibility than larger ones. Given that stance and their tenuous financial situation, it’s only logical that the university would want a faculty structure that would, in theory, reduce bureaucracy and costs while allowing for more flexibility.
While the university’s stance is informed by a desire for financial stability and efficiency, the SU is meant to represent students. In that case, the reasoning for their support of amalgamation has to be vested in the notion that one giant faculty is better for students than four smaller faculties. Trimming down expensive bureaucracy could provide more funding for teaching and research, which would enhance education.
However, some students are concerned about the smaller faculties being absorbed into a huge one. One of the stated goals behind the amalgamation is to provide more students with the opportunity to take a variety of courses, which would be easier to do in a super-faculty. While this seems fine and dandy for big departments moving from one faculty to another- the political science department will be a big fish no matter what- it poses a bit of a problem for smaller voices, such as in the fine arts, who may become lost in a super-faculty. The question is, though, can fine arts be worse off than they already are?
Past budget crises and financial shuffling have resulted in cuts to many programs, especially those in fine arts. While prior budget cycles have seemingly resulted in dollars being doled out to the areas with more potential for profit- maybe it’s hard to get sexy research from interpretative dance nowadays- a prospective arts super-faculty would, according to the UPC, have a budget in the realm of $60 million to be divided up. Smaller departments in the mix would survive by living off the scraps of the bigger departments, which could leave already poor programs making due with what little they already have, but may see their budgets inch up slightly in the long run. Given how badly off many of the arts already are, why not amalgamate?