At the revelation that the University of Calgary's last president, Dr. Terry White, was leaving, there was a collective sigh of relief and sensation of anticipation across campus. No more would we be subjected to White's uh-uh-ums or his student-unfriendly policies. It was time for a change. With high expectations, we welcomed our current president, the affable and easy-going Dr. Harvey Weingarten.
I first met Weingarten at the start of his term, in Sept. 2001. After an hour-long conversation, I left his office with a spring in my step, excited that the U of C finally found an administrator that understood and appreciated students.
Apparently, I'm not the best judge of character; Weingarten is not the dream administrator I'd hoped for. He claims to value undergraduate students, and I won't argue with his words. His actions however, show he's either insincere or simply naive.
His achievements of the past year are either useless to students or actually hurt them. His academic plan, Raising our Sights, is of no use to students, and according to him, it's his best achievement. While the four principles it expounds sound good, they don't always make sense. The first says that this school should be a learning-centred university... as opposed to what? Isn't that the purpose of every university? This took a year of meetings to figure out? That principle is likely a response to criticism that this school spends too much on research. But wait, the very next principle suggests we should focus more on research. Weingarten believes research and learning are complimentary, however, undergrad students rarely see much research here.
In order to combat that, we now have inquiry-based learning--a Weingarten philosophy that supposedly encourages students to become more involved in their education by allowing them access to research. In reality all I've seen from inquiry-based learning is a field trip and more group work--I haven't had increased access to research, and I'm in my fourth year, not my first.
The one thing students don't want--a tuition increase--is essentially guaranteed. Weingarten has already said tuition will not decrease, which likely means it's going to increase. In addition to the regular methods of getting more dollars, Weingarten is a big fan of differential tuition. With this, students in more expensive programs pay more, so students in lower-cost programs--think arts and sciences--don't have to offset the costs of an engineering or medical student's education. However, arts and sciences students will still see a tuition increase, rather than the decrease I would expect. Where's all that extra money going? To increase quality, Weingarten says, but it also could be going to the 16 per cent increase in graduate students.
Grad students cost more, but they do research. This university believes we have enough undergrads--which is hard to argue in light of crowded classrooms--but not enough grad students. According to Weingarten, the more grad students the better, as they'll share their research with us lowly undergrads. Never in my four years at this school has any grad student/TA ever wanted to share their research with the class. Why does Weingarten think that will happen now?
Students at this school aren't dumb--that, as Weingarten once pointed out to me, is why we're here. When I came to this school, I expected the education Weingarten describes in his academic plan, but I have yet to see it. And we, like Weingarten, also want the best quality we can get. But I know I don't want it at a higher cost, and I know I don't want to destroy accessibility for future engineering, law and medical students.
Sadly, Weingarten doesn't seem to understand this. Maybe our next president will.