Torch Forum

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Funding cuts, changing societal expectations, enrolment growth, and other powerful forces are converging to reshape universities. At the same time, UVic is involved in strategic planning to determine how best to respond to these challenges and to take the initiative in


In early August, the Torch gathered a group representing a variety of perspectives to discuss some of the major issues UVic is facing. Participants were:

Moderator: Stephen Stamp, Public Relations & Information Services

Dr. David F. Strong, President and Vice-Chancellor

Anne McLaughlin, President, UVic Alumni Association

David Clode, Associate Director, Student and Ancillary Services

Dr. Tom Fyles, Chemistry

Dr. Andy Farquharson, Social Work, Director of the Learning and Teaching Centre

Tina Walker, Chairperson, University of Victoria Students Society

Short-term pessimism/long-term optimism

Dr. David Strong: My belief is that if you look at us in ten years time or 20 years time, were not going to be fundamentally different than we were 30 years ago or than universities were 1,000 years ago. Were going to be teaching, and seeking new knowledge, and storing it, and transmitting it, and so on. We will adjust, and the personality will change, but the real core mission of the University wont ever change because thats the nature of what we do.

Our challenges will be at the margins. They will be with governments cutting back our funding. The special challenge for UVic and the younger universities of Canada is that, being young, we havent fully grown yet. Not only do we not have any limbs that we can cut off, we dont even have any fat that we can cut. Even after the serious cuts the universities in places like Alberta have had, they are still better funded per student than the B.C. universities.

Im an optimist in the long term and a pessimist in the short term.

Dr. Tom Fyles: The continuing theme for my career at UVic has been do more with less. Its very difficult to take the long qualitative view in the face of the short quantitative problem. And in particular, I have been discussing cuts to journals and the library. It is reasonably clear that in the next ten years if the budget is not altered and our approach to that particular problem is not altered, then were cutting journals that are essential to accreditation in my particular field.

In the long run, certainly were going to be doing things as well as we have been doing and hopefully we will be growing. But the short term looks reasonably difficult.

David Clode: I think it was Marshall MacLuhan who said something like, The universities derive their existence from the culture theyre placed in, and I think as long as there is a societal value for the concept of education and as long as there is a desire to create new knowledge and disseminate that knowledge, then universities will always exist.

FranklyI know it sounds very pragmatic, it cant help but being that waya large percentage of people come to university to seek an education thats going to lead them to a better place in the work force. I think that is going to place a demand on us. I dont think that means that many of our other sorts of objectives or values are not worthy, but I think we certainly need to recognize our place in culture. Our culture is changing. I think we need to respond to that.

Dr. Andy Farquharson: I guess that I, too, accept the reality that we were going to have some short-term pain in the financial area. From my perspective of being primarily concerned with teaching and teaching improvement, I like to be an optimist about that. I think that, along with financial crunches, there are some other things happening which I think are going to cause us to revisit learning and, secondarily, teaching. But I think there is a shift with new educational technologies to many people on the campus beginning to say we need to really understand what the learning outcomes are. What is the place of technology? What can it do? What can it not do? And I see growing recognition that there is a body of literature about teaching and learning and higher education that more of us need to be more exposed to. And I think another trend which is tending to produce more reflection about learning outcomes is public accountability. I think we have students and others who pay their bills who are more concerned about what the learning outcomes are. The advent of distance education in the last 15 years has really caused us to revisit what is good instructional design, what can be done at a distance, what needs to have more face-to-face interaction, and so on. Another beneficial influence I think has been the Co-op Program. It really reminds us of the importance of experiential learning.

Stong and McLaughlin
photo by UVic Photographic Services

Alumni role/effects of market forces

Tina Walker: The perpetuation of traditional means of producing and reproducing knowledge needs to be critically challenged. The University is consistently being put in a position where its having to defer to market forces, and if the University allows this to happen, then, rather than becoming more autonomous, we will actually lose our autonomy by becoming more private like other social programs in this country.

Strong: UVic now has 42,000 alumni, and if we had 42,000 people speaking in defense of the University, that would be a very powerful voice. In the long run it may be more valuable than financial contributions that alumni give us.

I think that our alumni can be extremely powerful and helpful. Indeed, in Ontario, I believe, in the last year or so, the alumni of the different universities have gotten together and formed what they call the Friends of the Universities and they are beginning to take a role in lobbying and speaking up and so on. This may be something that UVics alumni might want to consider. But I think its a very powerful voice that really hasnt been mobilized in our support up to now.

Anne McLaughlin: Its a pretty young voice and thats part of the situation. Our first graduates in 1963 are in their early 50s now. So I think were reaching a stage where our alumni are beginning to mature as well as grow in numbers.

Walker: No doubt the individual benefits greatly from receiving a post-secondary education, but in addition to that, society also benefits by having an educated population, and the alumni can play a very strong role in bringing that message to the government.

Fyles: A lot of alumni that I know and even more recent people that I met as students, they seem a bit confused as to what were about. The education of the alumni both when they are firmly here and after they have left is the critical thing.

Walker: There is a contemporary confusion about the purpose of universities and, on the one hand, its unfortunate. But on the other hand, its positive because its encouraging people to participate in the discussion of what the roles of universities are. A lot of people do see it as being a place to be prepared for the work force. In the past, it was much more than that, and it provided for a much more holistic experience.

Theres an increasing pressure on the University to reformulate the type of programs that it offers so that it can be responsive to the economic restructuring thats happening and the demand from industries that want a particular skilled labour force. Thats not conducive to creating a community; if you spend five years in university and your primary focus is to obtain what is really technological skills preparing you for the work force, it doesnt provide the opportunity that you need to be able to create a community. If those kinds of principles were upheld as well, then it would be easier to have an alumni that felt committed to the University and felt like they identified with it and they were part of it.

Fyles: I want to take a bit of issue with that where we have some good experience, and thats in Co-op where, yeah, there are strings attached. We have compromised our course structure. For example, we used to teach over a whole eight-month term; now we have to teach in four-month pieces. But that doesnt in any way degrade us as an institution fulfilling our primary mandate of a broad spectrum education.

False dichotomies

Strong: I think we are often our own worst enemies in that we accept a whole series of false dichotomies. People at universities live in a world of false dichotomies. Teaching vs. research, pure vs. applied research, professional degrees vs. non-professional degrees, undergraduate vs. graduate.

I have seen some of the finest fundamental research done as a result of something that started out very pragmatically. I dont want this to be any kind of a discussion of our strategic plan, but one of the things weve kicked around now for a whole year is this very issue of those various false dichotomies. For example, the question of how can you expect students to graduate from UVic or anywhere and become alumni and defend the whole idea of research, of tenure, of sabbaticals, of all those things, when these are issues that they have never encountered as undergraduate students. Many of our students graduate without ever having encountered the research interests of faculty or participated in research.

Breaking down barriers

Strong: I question whether industry demands cookie cutter people. I think industry demands thinking people. You cannot correlate peoples positions with their undergraduate degrees. You have a historian, Roger Wheelock, managing one of the two or three biggest tourist attractions in North America, Butchart Gardensa UVic graduate. You have people in very diverse backgrounds doing very diverse things. The one thing they have in common is that they learned how to think at university.

Harold Coward wrote a paper called, The Wallflower and the Dance of Nations in which he said Canada was being left out of the world because it didnt appreciate the humanities. In my installation speech here I tried to make the same point: that humanists really undervalue their own knowledge. And they, too, are their own worst enemies if they buy into this division. Another false dichotomy: the humanities vs. the sciences. We all have to stand up and say, What Im doing is valuable.

In a survey of high school students, asking them why they wanted to go to university, 48 percent, I think, said to get training for a job, 52 percent said to get an education. I think that people dont understand, frankly, or they dont explain to students that the most valuable thing they can learn is what interests them most. No matter what it is. And the job of the university is to offer it at a very high quality so that they can be successful in their chosen field or profession or whatever compared to anyone else in the world.

Weve got to knock down the boundaries and emphasize clear thinking. I would be really interestedperhaps in letters to the editorto get some responses from our alumni as to what they are doing now compared to what they expected to do based on their undergraduate education.

Walker: I want to agree with Dr. Strong that we do to a large extent undermine ourselves. I want to quote from an author, bell hooks. Shes written, The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy. The classroom is the place where boundaries can be transgressed, and the discussion on false dichotomies can occur. And it can create the space to recognize the interconnectedness that comprises our university communities.

Farquharson: Another false dichotomy is the one between training and education. And I think we could in the next ten years develop some quite different liaisons with business and industry. Because my perception is that the real expertise in achieving carefully specified learning outcomes is being developed and applied in the private sector. I would like to see some new partnerships forged where we try and figure out what we can learn from the private sector training experience that can be incorporated into the university.

Colleges and universities/teaching and research

Strong: There is a whole lot happening in this province which is admirable. One is the attention the province is giving to the colleges as a means to fulfill the demands for undergraduate degrees. Ill always support any new opportunities for education on principle. Some concerns are expressed, though, that this is a cheap way of the government getting off the hook from supporting universities.

Why should they support the universities when theyre so much more expensive in many ways than colleges? What differentiates us from the colleges? I see immediately that two distinguishing features are research and graduate studies. But that might be too simple.

Walker: One possibility I see happening is a move towards creating a three-tiered system of education so that there are the vocational institutes, then you have the colleges offering undergraduate degrees, and then a real emphasis on universities being primarily research institutions. My concern is that research becomes very inaccessible because it would still be very expensive to enter university. My other concern would be the false dichotomy between learning and research. Because learning would be happening at some institutions, and research would be happening at others. Learning that would be happening at the college level would be in isolation from the knowledge thats being generated.

Fyles: Its certain that some of these colleges will turn into universities in something like the time frame were talking about. That dichotomy, that college-university thing, is going away because you cant really do post-secondary teaching and learning without thinking about the same kinds of issues that you think about when youre doing research. In order to have the scholarly life, you need it all, the teaching, the research, the interaction with the community. You cant do it any other way. And that means you have to do it as a university. It really is very, very important to have the researchers in a context where you have everybody with different outlooks participating.

Stephen Stamp: Perhaps the UVic of the future will look more towards streaming faculty members into one area or the other, having some people who are more teaching oriented whereas for others it might just be as though they were in a research facilitystill working with students but not in a direct teaching mode. Is that something we are moving towards?

Strong: I could comment on that in the context of all of the discussion weve had during the past year relating to the future of the University, the strategic planning exercise. I think the best way to sum it up is to try and find ways to increase the flexibility of what people do. In the case of faculty members, it may be a researcher who may have a big project that warrants their full-time attention this year or for two years. There may be some people who just are so committed to teaching that they just want to teach and they dont want to be judged on the basis of their research for a while. We shouldnt try to pre-judge too strongly, we shouldnt try to pigeon-hole people too much. We should try to allow for flexibility.

That applies equally to non-academic staff. I regret barriers of any kind in a university between disciplines and between classifications of people. If you study the history of knowledge, the exciting breakthroughs often happen at the boundaries, the interaction between one discipline and another in research. I think that the most educational experiences for students come about when theyre mixing their different kinds of knowledge in different ways.

I think many people would get most satisfaction out of doing both, always, and others will want to do different things at different times. And I simply think that our own systems shouldnt prevent that.

UVics Culture

Strong: In our strategic planning questionnaire, one of the questions we asked was how do you feel about us using the little research funds the University has as seed money to help people who can generate more. I think that was the single most negative reaction to any question. A very strong one. This whole idea which we havent discussed, of course, which is probably more important than anything, is culture, academic culture. Theres a very strong egalitarian streak at UVic which precludes certain kinds of initiatives in that broader competitive context. So our challenge is to find ways to work in the culture and to do the things we need to do.

UVic in 2005

Stamp: Im going to ask you all to peer into your crystal balls and talk about how you see UVic being ten years from now. If a visitor who has never been to the campus before arrived at UVic in 2005, how would she describe UVic to a friend when she went back home?

Walker: Universities are being forced to make some really critical choices right now. What Id like to see is the University choose to be an institution that truly provides a holistic learning opportunity for all the members of the community, specifically students, but faculty and staff as well, and the external community. The ideal university would be very much student-centred.

I see us using a more progressive style of teaching, a much more interactive approach, an approach that allows students to think more critically as opposed to rote-style learning, being critical of the impact of technological change on the way that we teach and learn, and questioning the impact of technological change. Progressive pedagogy would also involve professors taking more responsibility in learning how to be effective teachers.

Another aspect would be increasing the diversity of the University communitypeople from diverse socio-economic backgrounds having access to the University. A diverse community would generate a multiplicity of approaches to learning. It would allow for the flexibility that we are talking about between research and teaching responsibilities for professors and it would also have a positive impact on course curricula. I believe that increasing diversity allows for expansion. It allows us to go beyond our current limitations. And by doing that, we allow ourselves to truly expand our possibilities and our potentials.

Farquharson: I share some of that same vision. I would like a visitor to be saying that UVic has broken through what I would call premature hardening of the categories.

So that, for instance, undergraduate students at different levels are working much more collaboratively with one another. When you go to the Faculty Club, it is now much more difficult to distinguish the table of law professors from the table of chemistry professors. There are so many interdisciplinary projects that are quite new kinds of working relationships. I think that a new centre that I see on the campus would have a cadre of people who are really up to speed on instructional design. So that when Tom and I want to figure out how we might use some of these new technologies, they can tell us what will work and what wont work. Then we can be really smart consumers of the emerging technologies.

When I look at the portfolios of effective teachers on this campus, what strikes me is that they find chinks and opportunities to let their own personal enthusiasms show about the particular research that theyre doing. So theyre not just teaching a body of knowledge called what students should know in first year physics. Theyre revealing their own thinking as a physicist or as a creative writer, or what have you.

I would hope that would be our hallmark, that weve broken some really new ground in getting beyond our current categories for all kinds of things. And thats what our leading-edge reputation is for. Whether its in research or teaching or service, the hallmark is eliminating premature hardening of the categories.

Clode: Were certainly going into a different era. The initial work of building the University is almost finished. I think we now need to refine the delivery systems and I would like to see that done with an underlying philosophy that basically caused everyone to feel some kind of a commitment to students from the time they enter the place to ensuring they complete. And that we make that experience positive, that we make it healthy, that we make it safe, that we make it challenging, that we cause students to come out of here feeling that they grew intellectually, that they grew through a variety of ways, and the experience has been one that they wouldnt have missed for the world.

I think it would start with almost all of our administrative processes and so many other things that we do, our accessibility to support resources. Did I get the timely help that I needed? Did people take an interest in me when I was there? Did people care as to whether I finished or didnt finish? Did I have that sense that I was a member of that community and was valued and belonged to that community? Did it welcome me in or did I just get to come in? I think we can make a difference in those kinds of areas.

A pretty rosy kind of ambition, but I still think its achievable and I dont think I could look forward to the next 20 years of service here if I didnt see that those things were indeed possible. New ideas, new energies, new visions. Its going to be a good place to be.

Fyles: I started to do the arithmetic: the graduating class of 2005 is currently in grade 5 and 6. This years Science Venture group sat in front of a bunch of terminals someplace in the new engineering building and they were let loose on the Internet and it lasted about 40 minutes. They were all over everywhere and had no difficulty picking up facts. They had the same normal difficulty kids in grade 6 have with processing facts and separating wheat from chaff.

Everything is equally valuable as a fact. So instruction is going to have to change because facts are going to be there. The value of a fact at the present time is reasonably low and its going to be just debased beyond all belief in the decade. The ability to process fact, to understand reliability of information, to understand relationship between this reliable piece of information and that reliable piece of information is still going to be our central stock in trade. Thats what were still going to be doing.

Strong: My catch phrase is that information isnt education. A lot of the technologies are for transmitting information and they are very important for that. Its kind of a Gutenberg effect. I guess what were seeing is another Gutenberg era where books used to proliferate and books still do proliferate and they wont die. They wont disappear, because people value them for their own sake. Technology will be a tool. And the thing about technologyboth encouraging and discouragingis that it gets to be obsolete very quickly. So we dont want to go hanging our future on technology except as a tool. It would be just absurd for us to be sitting here talking about, well, what do you think of the book. You take it for granted; its one of the tools. Thats the way I see technology. Except in ways it can change the process. It wont change the substance of what we do. It will certainly make the transmission of information easier. And so if Tom and all of these other people have time, if they are liberated in some way, then they can give the students the warmth and the experience that really is the substance of developing and growing. If they just want information, they can stay home.

One thing we cant do, though, is we cant say no to the technology. We have to spend money on it. Weve got to have it. We owe it to our students to give them the fibre-optic connections and the accessibility to the Internet and so on.

One of my priorities is a sense of conscience and morality. When you look at the demography of the world and you see 1 1/2 billion kids under the age of 15 in the underdeveloped world and you see the whole advanced educational infrastructure in the other half of the world with 300 million or less kids and few more coming along, that places a tremendous obligation on universities. UVic has about two per cent undergraduates from other countries, mostly from the U.S. Its not good for our own students to be so isolated from the rest of the world and were not fulfilling the obligations that we have.

I am particularly struck by the energy, the excitement, and the investment in knowledge and education that is occurring throughout southeast Asia. I am concerned that, if were not part of it, we will lose out. Our students will be losing out from a cultural point of view and were going to be losing out from the educational point of view. So I guess I see technology as one of the links, one of the ways we can make the connections.

McLaughlin: If I came to campus in the year 2005 and went home, I would tell people that I found a beautiful campus. The gardens are just marvelous and theyre expanded from what they are now. The buildings are aging, yes. And weve finally gotten rid of anything that was reminiscent of the Gordon Head period. Except Sedgewick is still there. And its getting older and older and older. But its still there. So if you came to campus a long time ago, you could go back and find Sedgewick. Same colour. You will be amazed at all the buildings on the campus and there will be some more than there are now. And there will even be an alumni house. So if you come to campus, you can find an alumni house where you are welcomed with open arms and lots of warmth.

We take these first-year undergraduates and, as David says, we support them right through their four-year degree with help as needed from Student Services, with good academic advice, and with lots of opportunity for things other than just class. And thats one of the reasons you go to a university. Not just for classes, but for the athletics, for the different kinds of clubs, for the expanding of your understanding of religion and politics, all of these things that are available at a university that are not necessarily available at colleges. The big library, and this library will have all the journals that Tom wants, every single one, they will come next year, too. They wont just be a one shot thing.

The faculty will be super. They wont have the historical background that people like I happen to have, but they will be very good researchers, they will be superb teachers, way better than many faculty are now, and they will be open and friendly to students and they will provide office hours when students can actually get in and theyll be there to talk to.

There will be a lot of technology in the whole process but it wont be the tail that wags the dog. It will be there as a tool.

All of our students will leave in 2005 with a good educational background, with ability to work in teams, with the ability to do critical thinking, and also they will have the qualities of patience and tolerance and understanding. Those will be important qualities to go out into the work world. We will provide a program through an employment office that prepares them. Whatever is necessary, they will get that help before they leave. It will be a wonderful workplace for everybody who works here, for the staff, for the admin professionals, and for the faculty. It will be a comfortable place to be.

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