It looks like the University of Calgary will lift up its eyes for another five years. At the annual Community Report on Sept. 16 to much pomp, circumstance and fancy golden sugar cookies, U of C president Elizabeth Cannon announced the launch of Energizing Eyes High, the next strategic direction for the university.
The U of C launched Eyes High in the fall of 2011. The strategy aimed to make the U of C a top-five research university in Canada and a “global intellectual hub” by its 50th anniversary in 2016.
Now that Eyes High has run its course, it’s time for the U of C to look to the next five years. That’s where Energizing Eyes High will come in. Over the next year, the U of C will formulate its new strategic direction through a planning and consultation process.
Consultation is essential and if you want to be involved in those decisions, attend as many focus groups as you can. But the fundamental flaw with Energizing Eyes High can’t be fixed in a focus group — its name.
Cannon said after the Community Report that positive associations with the phrase “Eyes High” prompted the university to want to continue using it.
“I think that the vast majority of people like [the name]. People in the community understand it, they quote it back to us. It’s become part of our vernacular at the University of Calgary,” she said.
Cannon’s right — Eyes High is part of our vernacular. For five years, the phrase has symbolized the actions of the U of C administration — the good, the bad and the very public accusations of compromised academic integrity.
The strategy had its successes. According to the 2016 Community Report, the U of C has raised over $725 million from donors since 2011. We didn’t make it to the top five, but we are the number six research university in the country. And the concept of looking forward and upwards towards research progress is well-intentioned.
But Eyes High as a concept has also exemplified criticisms of recent administration, with many saying the U of C has set its eyes too high.
In 2013, $4.6-million executive renovations to the administration building drew controversy and accusations that U of C administration cared more about external image than internal student experience. Internal Board of Governors documentation even show they were aware of the “reputational risks” associated with the cost.
In November 2015 Cannon drew widespread criticism for her role on the board of Enbridge, with critics suggesting the U of C had compromised academic integrity in favour of positive relations with the energy industry. This followed a 2013 report by the Canadian Association of University Teachers that found, among other things, incriminating details of a research deal — the Consortium for Heavy Oil Research — with donors like Husky and Nexen that stipulated those companies could pull research funding if their money wasn’t fuelling projects they approved of.
These scandals show U of C administration looking forward and upward to name recognition, funding and innovation. And as administration ignored or pushed controversies out of sight, they continued to tout the Eyes High strategy.
This literally came to fruition at a 2015 budget town hall that featured the phrase prominently. It also featured a hoard of angry students publically calling for Cannon’s resignation following the Enbridge story.
Frankly, we’re tired of Eyes High and its associations. The U of C should want to move past the controversies of the past few years. A new strategic direction means a chance for people to forget about scandals, jokes like “I sigh” and those wretched red and yellow stars that are on every piece of marketing. It’s a chance for us to get excited about what our university is doing again. Clinging to the Eyes High brand won’t accomplish that.
“The feedback that we’re getting is that people resonate with Eyes High,” Cannon said at the Community Report. “Our motto is ‘I will lift up mine eyes.’ So Eyes High speaks to a little bit of our past and tradition but very much to looking forward and looking upwards.”
The U of C does need to look forwards and upwards to the future. But we don’t need to have our eyes set that high to do it. First, we should probably look at what’s right in front of us. Let’s focus on energizing right now.
Gauntlet Editorial Board