I must admit I’m surprised that the “big five” controversy continues to generate headlines a full month after it first began. For the few of you who are coming to this cold, the controversy erupted with an article in Maclean’s magazine at the end of July in which Paul Wells interviewed the presidents of Canada’s top five universities (as measured by their share of research dollars): University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, Université de Montréal, McGill University and University of Alberta.
(This was actually the second part of the series; an introductory article promoting the upcoming interview appeared the week before.)
Mr. Wells says the five presidents approached Maclean’s with the idea for the article. The discussion appears to have been fairly wide-ranging and it’s not clear to me exactly what their agenda was or what precisely they were proposing. Here is how Mr. Wells summed it up:
Over the course of a 90-minute video conference, the big five presidents said their institutions must be given the means and mandates to set themselves still further apart from the rest of Canada’s universities-to pursue world-class scientific research and train the most capable graduate students, while other schools concentrate on undergraduate education. The vision they described would be a challenge to the one-size-fits-all mentality that has governed Canada’s higher education system.
In a follow-up piece, the presidents of seven smaller universities were interviewed; several dutifully pointed out that the big five already get a disproportionate share of research funding (roughly 40 percent of the total, according to Maclean’s).
Things were starting to die down until The Globe and Mail decided to stoke the flames with its own take on the story published on Aug. 24 (provocatively title: “Five universities team up to push for the lion’s share of research dollars”).
Roseanne Runte, President of Carleton University, responded two days later in an opinion piece saying no to a “second-tier” university model. Other university presidents had their say, including Daniel Woolf at Queen’s University, Alan Wildman at University of Windsor and Ghislain Bourque at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. Various newspaper editorials and additional media interviews followed.
The latest to wade into the debate, this past Saturday, was Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, who called the big-five proposal “a bad idea, poorly expressed.” (See his column here.)
He also used the occasion to lament the “unsustainable” increase in faculty salaries, which have risen by a third since 2000. That should keep the controversy going for a bit longer.
What’s your say? Do the big five universities have a point, or are they being elitist and arrogant? And those supposedly fat-cat faculty, what about them? We’d love to hear from you.
I received the summer 2009 issue of the University of Western Ontario’s Alumni Gazette recently (I’m not an alumnus – it’s just one of the many magazines that regularly pass my desk).
The magazine notes that, with this issue, it celebrates its 70th anniversary. That’s quite an accomplishment. There aren’t too many Canadian magazines out there with such a long publishing history.
So how is the magazine celebrating? It is cutting the print version from three times a year to just once a year, mailed in the summer. The magazine’s editor, David Scott, in a note to readers, says the Gazette is “taking a new and greener approach to the delivery of our publication” by moving the other two issues each year exclusively online.
“The new, more environmentally friendly approach to distribution has already been requested by many of our alumni, and has become standard practice for many publications,” he says.
This edition of the magazine also includes, helpfully, an article entitled, “Does the print industry have a future?” (Verdict: who knows?)
I won’t try to second-guess the move to cut back on the print edition, as I imagine it was not an easy decision to make. The cost of printing and mailing an alumni magazine can be substantial, and with each graduating class the potential number of subscribers only grows. With the current difficult financial situation faced by most universities, the pressure to cut costs is high.
But permit me at least to lament the move. Magazines, at their best, are a magnificently engaging, beautiful and entirely portable medium. Alumni magazines, in particular, can maintain a potent connection between alumni and their former universities.
The Gazette is not entirely abandoning its print issue, that’s true, but I wonder if a once-a-year publication is sufficient to maintain that connection.
On the other hand, I do suspect that the future of alumni relations, particularly with new grads, resides on the Internet and with online social networking services.
So is this a trend? Let me know if your alumni magazine has cut back or abandoned its print edition and what you think of it. Or expound more generally on the future of print, if you’d like.
As for the print version of University Affairs – which, I’d like to point out, celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall – there is no plan to cut it anytime in the foreseeable future. In fact, we are embarking on a full redesign of the magazine which will be unveiled early next year.
If you don’t currently receive the print edition of University Affairs and are interested in doing so, click here. As long as you’re working at a member institution of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and have a university mailing address, you’re eligible for a free subscription.
Or, of course, you could just stick to reading it online here. We’re OK with that, too.
P.S.: I’m now on holiday until Aug. 17. I’ll resume blogging shortly thereafter. Cheers.