You’ve probably heard the news — the University of Calgary is the top-ranked university under 50 years of age in Canada, according to the QS rankings. Those same rankings say we’re No. 2 under 50 in North America and No. 9 in the world. According to Maclean’s annual report, we’re the No. 9 doctoral university overall in Canada, a slip from our position of eighth this time last year. When I applied to the U of C, my mom ranked us in her personal top five though, so that’s something.
For most of us, that’s just a lot of numbers. But university administration loves throwing statistics at us. During the Oct. 14 budget town hall, these numbers were on full display as U of C President Elizabeth Cannon touted statistic after statistic to draw our attention away from the fact that her administration is trying to raise tuition in multiple faculties.
The Eyes High plan could be worse. According to the QS rankings that everyone keeps talking about, the U of C ranks high in categories like employability, facilities and innovation. The one category where we’re noticeably worse than our peers is accessibility, which is how easy it is for students to attend school here. Raising tuition in a high-demand program such as undergraduate engineering is not going to help this problem.
People love concrete numbers to validate worthiness. The day those QS rankings came out, eight of my Facebook friends shared a link to the article within two minutes. But when I brought up tuition hikes with friends who are enrolled in engineering, they had no idea what I was talking about. This is a problem.
University administration relies on our apathy to get what they want. In itself, a program like Eyes High isn’t dangerous or bad. It’s simply a public-relations strategy for a large, public institution. What’s bad is that the university waves arbitrary statistics in front of us so we’ll be distracted from tangible issues that affect our lives.
The average student doesn’t have any influence on the QS rankings. I can’t control what Maclean’s thinks of the U of C. The things we can control are smaller and a lot less fun. When we focus on the local level, our victories are small. It’s comforting to feel a vague sense of pride in a university ranking that we had little to do with in the first place.
Administration takes full advantage of events like the budget town hall to use misleading charts and “Finance 101” to convince us that the only possible option is for students to spend more money on tuition. They refuse to discuss obvious solutions like surpluses and the salaries of upper administration. Instead, administration give condescending presentations in order to convince students that their way is not only the best way, but the only way.
The U of C’s marketing plan serves dual purposes. Administration can accurately talk about how great the U of C is and distract us from important issues at the same time.
Eyes High is a magic trick administration pulls out when they want to talk about their unpopular decisions. Newspaper columnists navel-gaze about student apathy and we go back to the regular routine of labs and midterms. This whole cycle is a self-fulfilling prophecy with a glossy veneer maintained by the university’s full-time public relations staff.
In the grand scheme of things, these rankings are meaningless. When our school turns 50 in 2016, all of those “first in Canada” and “ninth in the world” standings that everyone’s so excited about will be tossed out the window. We’ll be thrown into the general rankings mix with the established heavy hitters like McGill and the University of Toronto.
And as a student what’s going to be more important to you: being eighth as opposed to ninth in Canada, or paying almost $200 more per course due to fee hikes?
It’s important to improve the U of C. We should take pride in our school and celebrate what makes it great. But that celebration can’t distract us from decisions that have a tangible impact on our daily lives. I’d rather walk into a class and have someone say, “did you hear about the proposed tuition increase?” as opposed to, “did you hear we’re No. 2 in North America?”
Let’s start talking about issues that affect us, not just the ones that put us on top.
It’s our job as students to look past the smokescreen of numbers and rankings and realize that current policy decisions will affect us and future students. Administration may respectfully “agree to disagree” with any dissent concerning these issues, but that doesn’t mean we should.
Melanie Bethune, Gauntlet Editorial Board