Let us in
Last week, a vague blog post by the provost ignited a brief bout of hysteria at the university, especially concerning the future of the theatre department. While it was quickly discovered that the theatre department was in fact not dying but merely being “creatively refocused” as an arts degree instead of a fine arts degree, the fact that the incident occurred at all speaks to a huge problem at this university.
The academic review to determine the “sustainability” and “relevancy” of current programs is being conducted in an incredibly paternalistic manner, which should be insulting to students. The fact that the changes to the theatre and political science programs were announced in an out-of-the-way blog on the university website suggests only the most passing dedication to keeping students informed about the changes that are occurring to programs as the academic review proceeds.
A serious “administration knows best” mentality is permeating the entire discussion about the future of this university and leaving students left out of the loop. It is unclear to what degree the university is consulting with “student groups”, but if URSU or the CFS has been in discussion with the university, they are not publicizing it very well. Considering the academic review is presented as such a huge change in university policy towards its programming, it would be nice as a student to be able to see everything that is being discussed behind closed board room doors.
The problem is not so much that the university has determined to change the theatre program into an arts degree or that there are changes to the political science honours degree, but the way in which it has determined to go about informing students of the changes that are being proposed. For all I know, these changes were absolutely necessary and will benefit the departments and the university as a whole. But there was absolutely no rationale provided for the decision beyond the pre-approved, positive buzzwords from the master plan like “sustainability”, “flexibility”, and “streamline”.
With the university acting like students don’t need to know about what is happening in any detail, is it any wonder that there is wild speculation about what the implications are of these decisions? Am I supposed to blindly place all my trust in my faculty and the administration to do what’s best for me or for the university? I thought I was paying to get a degree which would help me think critically, but apparently the idea of critical thought is antithetical to what this university stands for now. We’re all about inane positive messaging, united fronts, and successful marketing.
What is sadly revealed by student reaction to the provost’s announcement is that the university administration, through their refusal to conduct the academic review in a satisfactorily open manner, has created an atmosphere in which the rumour of the end of an entire department on a blog doesn’t result in students raising their eyebrows and questioning the validity of the blog, but results in mass panic and cynical “I told you so” responses. It speaks to the profound distrust of the administration and the general attitude that the university regards certain degrees as meaningless. Whether or not that impression is true, the university is not doing enough to dispel this prevalent attitude among students.
A huge step towards including students in the decisions being made that will affect them and the institution they attend would be to open the board of governors’ meetings to the public. The board posts their minutes online (and now after the theatre misunderstanding have linked to them from the provost’s blog), but a trip to the university website shows that these minutes are sorely lacking in important detail. The only way to truly involve students in this process and calm their fears is to proceed openly and transparently.
I’ve been told for four years by the university’s marketing that it’s “UR University”. I think it’s time that I knew the rationale of the decisions being made affecting its future.