What is Meant By "The Interest of the University"?

 

All members of the Boards of Governors of Alberta universities (and colleges and technical institutes) are supposed to serve “the interests of the university”, rather than what might be perceived as the specific interests of the group that nominated them for a BoG position, e.g., contract academics, full-time faculty, support staff, students, etc.  So, for example, if a contract academic raises the issue of job security at a BoG meeting she might be ruled out of order by the chair on the grounds that she is speaking on behalf of the interest of sessionals rather than the “whole” university. All this raises an important question, which is seldom addressed: “So what really are the "interests of the university"? 

 

The basic problem is that, when university BoGs are filled to the brim with “public members” who essentially represent major corporate interests, as has been the case in the past, the interests of the university will tend to be interpreted as the interests of the corporations who run the province, e.g., the energy corporations. It is no accident, for example, that people like Eric Newell, former CEO of Syncrude, have chaired the University of Alberta BoG. Or that University of Calgary president Cannon was recently chastised by CAUT for serving the interests of Enbridge rather than of her university.  Further, corporations help determine programming by donating funds with the proviso they will be used for certain purposes.

 

So the real issue, then, is not that representatives of contract academics, full-time faculty, support staff, students, etc. misrepresent the interests of the university in their capacity as BoG members. The real issue is that they explicitly or implicitly disagree with those in power as to what the interests of the university really are.  What if, instead of serving as the handservants of the corporations, the universities actually served the interests of the people of Alberta and Canada? What might that look like?  For example, could it be that better job security for sessionals is actually in the interests of the entire university and not just the sessionals?

 

So what is to be done?  The provincial government has tried to encourage BoGs to be more diverse in their composition but that is not enough.  What about every university, college and technical institute beginning research among the people of Alberta to find out what interests they think post-secondary education institutions should serve. Also, post-secondary education institutions could begin internal discussions of the question of what are the interests of the university, for example, at their next BoG meeting on that very topic so that a framework could begin to be worked out.  The findings might help inform very key pedagogical questions like, “What kinds of programs should ‘people-serving’ post-secondary institutions actually provide?” 

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