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Letters to the editor

 

The need for engagement

As a criminologist who does research that often involves police, I sometimes feel the need (particularly of late) to remind folks that there are lots of ways to achieve social justice ends (“Carleton U, the police, and the new academic isolationism,” University Affairs online, August 31). Some of these ways involve working outside of formal state-based systems, while others involve direct engagement with the system and system players. No one approach is better than the other – both are necessary and important means of addressing pressing social issues, building the knowledge base, and helping to bolster evidence-based policy and practice. Further, I believe that it is my job to teach my students how to think, not what to think – and limiting placement opportunities smacks of the latter.

Sara K. Thompson
Dr. Thompson is a professor of criminology at Ryerson University.

 

Withdrawal is not the answer

As a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and program coordinator for the policing and public safety undergraduate and graduate programs (and a retired police officer), I completely agree with Dr. Haggerty (“Carleton U, the police, and the new academic isolationism,” University Affairs online, August 31). Withdrawing from the conversation and refusing to engage in creating positive change, yet criticizing from afar, is hypocritical and elitist. As Henry Ford once stated, “Don’t just tell me the problem, tell me the solution.”

Scott Blandford
Dr. Blandford is an assistant professor in the faculty of human and social sciences at Wilfrid Laurier University.

 

Graduate students’ experiences

The author makes a number of valid points. I agree with what he says (“The PhD conversion experience,” by Paul Yachnin, University Affairs online, September 30). What is depressing is that none of this is new. Lack of academic employment for PhD graduates has been a problem for at least two decades. I’m glad I turned down a one-year sessional appointment 21 years ago and, a new doctorate in hand, enrolled in a B.Ed. program (and attended classes with my students from the previous year). It was not an easy decision, and it led to odd looks from colleagues (I was leaving the cult, to borrow the author’s metaphor). However, this decision led to years of steady, enjoyable, full-time employment with a pension, benefits and a good salary. It hasn’t prevented my research and writing (although I admit that working Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., or later, does pose problems).

One issue the author doesn’t address is hiring practices. Universities tend to hire people who are solidly on the academic track and possess little to no varied work experience. Doctoral students, accordingly, only learn how to get jobs in academia because that is the only job market their professors understand. With all the (much needed) talk about hiring diversity, universities should start considering the diversity of their employees’ work experience. Imagine hiring a university professor who worked at a different job (or two) for 10 or 15 years before entering academia. They would bring a wealth of experience to their graduate students, and they could demonstrate how graduate degrees are applicable outside of the university. They could connect students to job opportunities and provide advice on building a CV that appeals to more than departmental hiring committees. One of the goals of hiring diversity is to bring a range of experiences into universities. Imagine the diversity of life experience this type of hiring might bring into a university.

David Calverley
Dr. Calverley is head of Canadian and world studies at Crescent School in Toronto.

 

A stunted view of academic freedom

I was disappointed that in her Dispatches on Academic Freedom column (University Affairs online, September 14), Shannon Dea felt she had to say “goodbye (for now) to full academic freedom” because she was becoming dean of arts at the University of Regina. She explained her rationale: “Deans (and other senior administrators) don’t have full academic freedom because it is important that they serve their institution … Professors have academic freedom because … they should serve truth, not any particular organization.”

This misunderstands collegial governance and reflects a stunted view of academic freedom. Collegial governance is the foundation of university governance. Every member of the collegium has a duty to the good of their institution. Academic freedom is more than just protection for teaching and research. It also makes collegial governance possible by enabling all members of the collegium to speak honestly and critically about any aspect of their institution – unlike employees elsewhere, whose “duty of loyalty” restricts such critical expression.

A dean, as much as an ordinary faculty member, has the right and the duty to speak out in response to something they feel is harmful to their institution – internally for sure and externally if necessary. “Loyalty” to the heads of the institution that restricts critique is anathema to collegial governance, as the collegium is run collectively.

As well, deans are not just, as she describes it “stage managers” who “work in the background managing and supporting the colleagues who are doing that front-line scholarly work.” They also represent their colleagues’ views in discussions with senior administration and are (or should be) active scholars and researchers and many remain public intellectuals.

In all their non-managerial work, academic freedom needs to apply to deans if university governance is to be collegial governance. Arguably, the university’s top administration (presidents, vice-presidents and provosts) are equivalent to a government’s cabinet for which cabinet solidarity applies. When the university’s top officers reach a collective decision on a position they want to put forward, it is fair to say that they have an obligation to uphold cabinet solidarity. But this is a very restricted limitation for a very restricted group, of which deans are not, and should not be, members. Otherwise we drift to hierarchical, corporate-style governance that is anathema to a vibrant university as a place of education and knowledge advancement.

James L. Turk
Dr. Turk is director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University.