Appeared in North Shore News – November 8, 2013
Capilano University’s faculty, or some of the more literately effulgent thereof, are enraged by the institution’s cutbacks – classic NIMD, you might say: Not in My Department.
What would you expect? Encana cuts back because the price of natural gas is deeply depressed, BlackBerry struggles to see its goods and lays off staff by the hundreds, and the silence of the fired employees fills the land.
But don’t fool with education at any level, because its practitioners are instantly out front castigating the heartless, purblind government and its minions denying important courses to their students.
Thus our North Shore university’s president, Kris Bulcroft, is getting big heat for cutting lesser, mostly artsy programs – though some are in the commerce area, as MLA Ralph Sultan points out, and do we need more commerce or not in British Columbia? The fact is that the university is currently running in the red. But universities, carrying the torch of learning, civilization and nasty chants tolerating if not advocating rape (that’s at the University of British Columbia), in some quarters are expected to be bulletproof from an economic recovery that is often lipsticked with words like “fragile.”
Bulcroft is where the buck stops on the Capilano campus.
I haven’t met Bulcroft. But on balance – and with what I rate as a fine balance – Sultan has the more convincing take on the situation than several faculty past and present given ample space in this paper’s letters columns. (One letter writer who called for Bulcroft’s resignation, Bill Schermbrucker, author of a recent book, Crossing Second Narrows, which novelizes Capilano’s early days, lives on a small island which I sometimes retreat to, and, with a population of 350, it’s impossible not to bump into one another.) Sultan’s own academic qualifications hardly need reciting here, though, as both a Harvard graduate and professor with many other ribbons, we can conclude he knows something about higher education.
The core of Sultan’s Oct. 20 letter on this page is that the administration properly cut some programs “which serve a ‘feeder’ function to such larger and more established universities such as UBC,” while protecting programs that lead to degrees within Capilano University itself. The bigger picture is that Cap is no longer an educational farm team, and under Bulcroft is making “the tricky transition from being a great community college to being a great university.”
Overnight, renaming Cap and six other such B.C. colleges didn’t turn them into instant competition for Oxford, Stanford, Toronto or Chicago, or even rubbing a distant shoulder with them. Harvard wasn’t Harvard when it opened in 1636 either.
The truculent members of the Capilano faculty may have a fair argument that progress to real university status beyond the name has been too slow.
Notable by their omission: Maclean’s current annual university grading issue ignores Capilano and the other instant universities. Some listed, like Fredericton’s St. Thomas (2,489 full-and part-time students) and Cape Breton (3,200), are small. Capilano in contrast claims an enrolment of more than 10,000. Predictably, the magazine’s ratings make some institutions very angry and unco-operative, but you can be sure they’re read avidly in academe, not to say by parents scouting higher education possibilities for their loved ones.
If there’s a fatal flaw in all this, I think it lies here: Then-premier Gordon Campbell made a big, fat political pitch, not an educational judgment, in elevating the seven colleges in 2008 – yes, just five years ago – to university status.
Promotion by magic wand.
This observer wasn’t the only skeptic. Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer drily noted: “There’s the old joke about what the boss offers when he can’t provide a raise: a new title.”
Thus the evolution Sultan wisely identifies. Inevitably, many, including some faculty above all, think it’s too slow. Others, very likely including the bean-counters who have to make this transition, say: Too fast. As the Goldilocks story affirms, you can’t even get the porridge temperature just right for everyone.
Unbelievably, a paper I’m too kind to name printed extravagant praise written by distant (read: eastern) chain correspondents when Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for literature.
None mentioned that Munro spent years living in Vancouver, North Vancouver and West Vancouver.
Likely the only now and future Nobel laureate to have actually resided here, and not a word about it. If my old colleague Ron Riter spotted this omission – there’d have been no omission.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013