Bridgette Badowich/the Gauntlet

International college’s “diversity” a diversion

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The University of Calgary has plans to open a college for international students that would be run by a private corporation. This plan has rightfully angered many people on campus, as the potential dangers of the college outweigh its potential benefits.

Administrators claim the college will increase diversity on campus. It’s pretty hard to argue against diversity. It’s like a politician saying they stand for freedom: associating your goals with lofty ideals improves your position without allowing criticism. This type of argument is so general it begs our cynicism. After all, why has diversity for international students suddenly become one of administration’s foremost concerns?

Diversity is a priority because of the U of C’s “Eyes High” goals. “Eyes High” is essentially a marketing campaign designed to bring the campus community onboard with the U of C’s strategy for growth. The final goal of Eyes High is for the U of C to be one of Canada’s top-five research institutions by 2016. Administration plans to accomplish a series of smaller goals to build up the school’s reputation. One of these goals is for international students to make up 10 per cent of the undergraduate and 25 per cent of the graduate student populations. As provost Dru Marshall said, “great universities are international.”

We should keep in mind that these goals are not sacrosanct. There’s no punishment if the U of C does not become a top-five research institution and, ironically, the university risks damaging its reputation if these goals are pursued recklessly.

Having a for-profit corporation do academic work carries many risks. First, licensing the university’s brand to an organization outside its control could diminish the U of C’s status. If plans go ahead, the U of C’s academic reputation will be assessed on the actions of a separate, privately run academy whose number one goal is to make money. The college’s potential failures would reflect on the entire school, even though it would be owned and operated by a business contracted by the U of C. How can the university expect to build the strength of its brand while losing control of it?

Plans for the college have faced strong opposition from the Faculty Association. The college’s workforce would not fall under the U of C’s current collective bargaining agreement, which protects professors’ jobs, pensions and academic freedom. A separate group of academics with different pay scales, benefits and privileges will create a two-tier system among academic staff. This dual system could easily undercut current professor contracts and open up new avenues for hiring non-unionized academics, undermining protections that give professors breathing room to do innovative academic work.

A separate, corporate-run school fundamentally opposes the spirit of public institutions. Universities should be the crown jewel of the commons: a place where the young, curious, intelligent and ambitious can learn to enrich their lives and the lives of the people around them. They should be a place where society places its bets — where pooled resources are invested in those with the greatest potential of making life in Alberta better. Our university should be kept as separate as possible from private business whose priorities lie in personal profit, not the public good.

The most rational argument given by administration for the college is the “diversification of revenue streams,” or creating a source of money that is not the Alberta government. Who can really blame them for wanting this? Recent post-secondary budget cuts once again prove that, in the eyes of government ministers, the value of education goes down with the price of a barrel of oil and campaign promises can always be broken if they involve an increase in social spending.

If government funding is not stable enough to support the U of C’s growth, this is a political problem, not an administrative one. It is every Albertan’s responsibility to make sure that public institutions are sufficiently funded. And if funding is insufficient, it’s the university’s responsibly to adjust its goals to financial realities.
The international college is a gamble we would be smart to avoid.