Opinions

Remember who the real customers are

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An open letter to incoming University of Calgary president Harvey Weingarten:

Congratulations on your appointment and welcome to what is going to be an extremely difficult and challenging job. We're sure you've received all kinds of unsolicited advice recently, and if you don't mind, we'd like to offer you just a little bit more. As the voice of the students at the U of C, we'd be remiss if we didn't.

For the record, we understand there are many fine lines you'll walk as U of C President, from how to balance the funding needs of the liberal arts with the demands of a technology-obsessed government, to paying faculty competitive wages while trying to put aside money for deferred maintenance.

However, we ask you to remember that, more than the shareholders, more than the business partners, the alumni, the faculty or the administration, students are the reason you even have a job. Whenever tuition season hits the U of C, university administrators like to say, "We feel students' plights and as such, they're definitely one of our biggest priorities." Sorry, students are your biggest priority. If there were no students, there'd be no classes, no professors, no research, no university. Keeping us happy should be your raison d'etre.

We sincerely hope you appreciate this, because recent trends in post-secondary education--such as the accreditation of private, for-profit institutions and a shift from academic research to profit-oriented research--suggest university is becoming too much about profitability and not enough about product.

Supermarkets should post a healthy bottom line. Shareholders in an oil company should expect a tidy profit at the end of the year. Liberal arts universities, on the other hand, should never bend to the whims of "the market." Why? Simply because the goal of any corporation should be to produce mass-marketable goods or services and make their product as accessible and expensive as the market will bear. These should be the opposite aims of a university.

Our education should be the best and most varied students in Calgary can get, not the easiest to "market." If we only produced marketable graduates, we'd have to eliminate every department but engineering, computer-science, medicine and law.

And even with better funding, this university can only handle so much capacity without diluting quality. Universities, at the risk of becoming elitist, should wave willing, smart, hard-working students in the door, not (literally) everyone as any commodity-producing company should.

Most corporations should want to charge as much for their product as the market will bear. However, the inability to afford an education is a bigger problem than the inability to afford a good stereo. As opposed to "normal" businesses, universities should always be looking for ways to lower the price of their product, not raise it.

Dr. Weingarten: As President, we ask you to remember who the most important people at this school are, the people who pay your salary, the customers--the students. We also ask you to think about the philosophy of education and what it is that makes a university unique. We sincerely hope our priorities and wishes are yours as well.

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