The Decimation of Academia

Post-secondary institutions in B.C. are no longer “government funded.”  They are “government supported.”  What does this really mean?  It means revenue generation is more important than education for our province’s leaders.  The economy is more important than democratic principles.  International students paying higher fees are encouraged to attend, while subsidies for those who have limited access, those who face obstacles and personal challenges, are no longer a priority.  The official rhetoric of job creation, eradication of fiscal inefficiencies and redundancies in the system (thus growing the economy, or so the argument goes) hides an underlying assumption.  Learning for its own sake, particularly a liberal education rich in arts and sciences courses, is being systematically dismantled as the budget wars escalate.  I ask you – what is at the root of democracy if not an assertion of ethical principles, an environment that encourages intellectual debate, an educational system that values alternatives, voices that question the status quo?

We are supposed to be working for the good of the students, to be learner-centred.  To me, by the way, this is a not-for-profit enterprise.  The government of B.C.’s elected representatives are not only turning their backs on academic education and the creative arts, they are shooting a hole through their hearts. Even sadder than that, however, and of greater consequence (since governments rise and topple after all), is how faculty across the province are being forced into buying into this model, trying to identify where to cut their operating budgets or which courses to eliminate; cutting off their noses to spite their faces.  It’s like choosing the most suitable way to die a noble death.  Shall we drink the poison and get it over with quickly?  Or do we sharpen our pencils and hone our arguments, ready to put up the fight of our lives?

That administrators bend to the government’s persuasion is unsurprising, being ultimately accountable to these new draconian policies (no union protection makes them very vulnerable). But if instructors – who hold those democratic principles dear and have spent their lives discussing them with students every single day, who have academic freedom to disagree – are willing to get on board the profit train by embracing the corporate new world order, then the future of this species is in big trouble indeed.  History demonstrates (though we probably won’t have history as a subject much longer) that intellectuals are the first to go, as one of the biggest threats to domineering and oppressive regimes.  “Those pesky critical thinkers, all they ever do is disagree with us and make our job more difficult.  Here they come again with their talk of fairness, their ranting against injustice, their defense of art and culture.  Isn’t there a way to argue that they are no longer necessary?  Let’s make them prove that their students get jobs.  Let’s make them account for their spending.  Let’s turn them into us.  That should shut them up.”

Guess what?  Even if you soon might not be able to learn about it in school, power is everywhere, it is insidious, and it takes a very special skill set to critique it, to remain vigilant against its abuses, and to push against its overwhelming force. While you can, it’s best that you learn this.