University ABCs: Let’s Fix This Mess, Canada

This is a modified version of a post I posted on my blog about two years ago, before I joined Twitter.  It’s something I thought some of my Twitter followers–especially those concerned about post-secondary education–might find interesting.  Also, it provides some clues about the graphics featuring strings of letters that I include with many of my Tweets.   Also, I have another reason for ‘reposting’ this now, that  I’ll get to at the end of the piece.  (The original version of this post was in response to a special Globe and Mail series about post-secondary education that ran in the fall, almost two years ago.  I’ve taken out references to that series for this modified version–although the graphics are unchanged.  If you’re interested in reading the original version, it can be found here.)

 . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The uppermost of the two above pictures is a god-awful mess, wouldn’t you agree?  That’s what happens when you’re tired after a long day at work, trying to produce a graphic for a blog post you want to get up as soon as possible, using graphics tools whose versatility can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help.  I was ready to delete the picture from my iPad; but, when I looked at it beside the original version, essentially the picture below it (the original didn’t have the oval frame around the lettering), and realized that the two pictures together fit in with what I planned to write about in my post, it seemed worth preserving.

A big problem with so much recent commentary about universities is that the issue of underlying philosophical change in recent decades within Western society–including within our universities and towards universities, from an outside perspective–has been overlooked.  In this period of philosophical transition, there are multiple basic philosophical perspectives towards universities, which differentially affect attitudes towards particular issues.  These include attitudes about what should be taught, to whom, by whom, the methods used to teach, and even how university education should be financed.  Beneath the surface, to those who have given some thought to the issue of philosophical change as it relates to our universities, some coherence may be discerned among the diverse views about our universities.  But, on the surface, this commentary, taken as a whole, is likely to appear to many, if not most, to be an incoherent jumble–and not very useful in helping to further constructive change in our universities.

There are now basically three different philosophical perspectives from which our universities, and aspects thereof, may be viewed.  These three perspectives I’ll call here A, B, and C.  A book chapter could be written about each of these perspectives; but, since this is just a blog post, I’ll stick to the basics.

The A perspective is the traditional elitist view that predominated in Western universities until the mid-20th Century.  Until that time, only a small proportion of the population attended universities, and attendees were almost invariably white males, and from relatively prosperous families.  In the second half of the 20th Century, significantly greater diversity among students, and also ultimately among the professoriate, led to a second basic perspective: perspective B.  This perspective may be summed up as being that of the “academic left”.  Although those from the B camp favour a more inclusive approach to university education than those of the A camp, it should be emphasized that members of the B camp do not question the basic activities conducted within universities.  Members of both groups are likely to support traditional university policies and procedures, such as academic freedom (including freedom from interference from those outside universities), academic tenure (or guaranteed jobs for life) for senior professors, the notion of the all-knowing professor as the source of legitimate knowledge for students, and the emphasis on research in the evaluation of professors with little weight given to teaching ability.

By the late 1970s, the basic dualistic and hierarchical framework of Western metaphysics, that had supported Western universities for so long, was crumbling.  Both perspectives A and B were now being challenged–mostly from outside of universities.  Yet it is worth noting here that, by now, there were many more adults studying in universities than there had been in the past, some of whom, especially those studying at the graduate level, already had achieved mid-career status in their professions, who personally brought the ‘outside’ perspective into our universities.  (I was one such student when I was doing graduate work in education.)  This third basic perspective, or perspective C, is the ‘postmodern’ perspective–with ‘postmodern’ defined essentially as it is defined by Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition.  (You can look it up, if you’re interested.)

If, as I believe is the case, the majority of Canadians now possess the basic C perspective (this distinguishes Canada from the United States) a reasonable reevaluation of our universities has to start explicitly from that position.  This doesn’t rule out the possibility of certain institutions and programs catering to those who possess minority A and B perspectives (a Christian-based university, like Trinity Western University,  generally falls into the A category);  but it does suggest that at least the greater part of funding for such institutions and programs will have to come from somewhere other than general tax revenue.

It would seem to be enormously helpful if commentators on our universities would preface their commentary with some reference to philosophical change in our universities. Better yet, it would be fantastic if influential commentators (like the Globe and Mail newspaper) publicly endorsed a postmodern position.  That could be the stimulus Canadians need to really get down to the serious business of reevaluating our universities, and reconstructing them within a non-dualistic, non-hierarchical, framework. But I’m not optimistic.  Generally speaking, our influential commentators seems too beholding to those who support the A perspective–or who at least who pretend to support that perspective–for any such thing to happen.

Which brings me to my final point here.  I’d love to be able to devote more time to this kind of work.  But, for that, I need MONEY.  Is there perhaps someone out there reading this who has more money than they need who might be able to help me with this?  Or perhaps who knows someone else with money who might be sympathetic to my views?  It probably can’t hurt to ask–although I could loose some of my Twitter followers by being so blunt . . . Oh, hell,  I’ll post this anyway.


HMMPH: The Humanities Without the ‘U’, on CBC TV . . . if There is Still Any CBC TV


Originally, this post was going to be simply another in my series of “Hmm . . . ” posts, or the “Humanities Without the ‘U'” posts (get it?), concerning Canadian organizations that could play a greater role in humanities education to make up for the declining enrollment in the humanities programs of Canadian universities and colleges.  This one was going to be about the increased role that could be played by Canadian public television–including the television division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC.  Especially after it was announced in early June that, in response to the recent large loss of revenue for the CBC, CBC-TV’s new general manager of programming, Sally Catto, was going to put more Arts programming in CBC’s television schedule, I was optimistic CBC-TV could play an important role in this area. (This loss of revenue comes from a combination of a reduction in federal government funding and projected TV advertising losses now that a private network will be airing NHL hockey games instead of the CBC, that long held the Canadian TV broadcasting rights.)

That was my original plan. However, a more recent announcement about how the CBC is going to address its shrunken budget has me very worried about CBC television–including its earlier announced greater emphasis on Arts programming.  My “HMM . . .” post turned into a grumpy “HMMPH” post, partly about the increased role Canadian public television could play in humanities education (I’ve already said most of what I’ll be saying in that regard) and a good measure of HMPHing.

Now they’re telling us that much of the money and other resources formerly allocated to television will be allocated to the Internet.  On June 26, CBC president and CEO, Hubert T. Lacroix, announced the CBC is shifting its priorities from television and radio to digital and mobile services.  To quote Lacroix, “We used to lead with television and radio. Web came and then mobility came. We are reversing, we are inverting the priorities that we have. We’re going to lead now with mobility, we’re going to lead with whatever widget you use.”  I can understand now putting more resources into mobility and less into television and radio; but to lead with mobility is taking things too far.

In a 19-page report issued by the CBC that accompanied Lacroix’ announcement, ironically titled “A Space for Us All,” to justify the CBC’s reverse of priorities, statistics are provided indicating changes from 2000 to now in how Canadian consume media.  Some of these statistics seem to me misleading.  For example 77% of Canadians are said to now watch internet video (including Netflix) for 6.5 hours/week.  What percentage of that 77% watch work-related video at work, or education-related video at school, for at least much of that 6.5 hours and, in their personal lives, watch only snippets of video on their smartphones and tablets and, perhaps, an occasional episode they’ve missed of a favourite show, and only when they have access to free Wi-Fi–as do I? Also, what percentage of that 77% has over-reported their internet video viewership to researchers to appear ‘cool’?  Another statistic I question is that 24% of Canadians now watch Netflix for 7.4 hours per week. I’d be very interested in seeing a breakdown of Netflix usage for different  regions of Canada.  For example, I think the figure is probably far higher in Toronto than it is in Vancouver, largely because, in Toronto, you can get many more channels on TV without subscribing to cable than is possible in Vancouver.  Most Vancouverites have cable and, thus, Netflix may be an unnecessary frill, and too expensive in combination with the cost of cable.  24% might be right for populous Toronto, but I suspect it’s much too high for Vancouver, and for other regions in Canada.

I thought the CBC was supposed to be for all Canadians. Until the day we all get internet service for free–which is not going to happen–it seems this newly conceived CBC will be mainly for a relatively wealthy elite, who can afford large internet bills and all the paraphernalia associated with watching ‘television’ on line, and the rest of us will be left with only scraps for our cultural nourishment. I wish they would prove me wrong, but I am worried.

Incidentally,  I’m liking CBC Vancouver’s “Musical Nooners”–a noon-hour outdoor concert series held through the summer on the plaza of the CBC Vancouver building–a lot less now that we know how strapped for funds the CBC is. Is this really a priority for the CBC?  I like the idea of a few free concerts, but this is a six-week, daily series (if you don’t believe me, here’s the schedule), and each of the concerts is attended by a couple of hundred people at most.  (Vancouver’s CBC building is very near where I work, so I can see what goes on there every day.) Even if the concerts are taped to be incorporated in some of the CBC’s radio shows, I can’t see how the cost is justified.  (If taping is a key reason for this concert series, couldn’t these acts be taped when they are playing at other venues, including Canada Day celebrations, where many of these acts also performed?) If the CBC was financially healthy, yes. But it’s not.


And, yet another HMPH . . . What about streaming music for free, that puts the CBC in direct competition with companies that provide the same service? I would think that television, just regular TV, that is accessible to all Canadians, preferable with a good amount of Canadian Arts and other humanities-related programming, is a far higher priority.


HMM . . . : The Humanities Without the ‘U’, Within our Public Libraries


I’d be very curious to see a breakdown of the educational backgrounds of public-library users who currently borrow humanities-related material from our public libraries, and who attend public-library sponsored, humanities-related, events, like author readings and book-club meetings. I suspect it’s mostly people who have at least some post-secondary education in humanities-related areas who engage with the humanities through our public libraries–although I could be wrong. Proving this point would seem to be next to impossible since, as I learned when I enquired at my local branch of the Vancouver Public Library about obtaining a record of books that I, myself, had read during a period of some heavy reading (and before I kept a reading diary), for legal reasons, public libraries, at least in British Columbia, don’t even keep records of which books are read by individuals: apparently, it’s considered an invasion of privacy (although libraries always know the titles of the books that you return late).

Although I don’t have the statistics to back me up, my theory is that a humanities education at the post-secondary level whets people’s appetites for more–and that one of the ways (not the only way) adults with an interest in the humanities satisfy that interest is through use of public libraries. Conversely, my theory goes, those who didn’t study humanities-related subjects at the post-secondary level, even if they did participate in post-secondary education, are less likely to engage with the humanities later in life–including through using the humanities-related resources of public libraries. I would suggest that the educational experience is at least as important in keeping people engaged with the humanities later in life as is an early interest in this area that contributed to them studying the humanities in the first place. (At least back in the good old days, when university humanities degrees alone were still a great asset in obtaining employment, it seems many people enrolled in humanities programs more because they wanted the degree than because they were particularly interested–at least initially–in the subject matter. Also, math may not have been their forte, so the humanities it was.)

Also, getting back now to what I discussed my previous blog post, although there are now some serious problems with university and college humanities programs (including cost; career prospects for those who can afford to obtain only one degree; and, last but not least, philosophical and political turmoil), there also are some good things about a humanities education, for the individuals who received such an education and, dare I say, even for our society as a whole. For example, in Canada, that was culturally dwarfed by Britain and the United States for such a long time, a blossoming of Canadian culture, including Canadian literature and home-grown performing arts, occurred around the same time as the major expansion of Canadian universities, including our university humanities departments, in the 1960s and ’70s. These university humanities departments championed Canadian culture, and made it part of the basic curriculum for their students.

The ongoing decline in enrollment in university and college humanities departments may, therefore, have some serious negative longterm consequences–including not only in Canada, although this relatively young and relatively sparsely populated country of ours may need to be more concerned than most–unless other public institutions, such as our public libraries, can help to pick up the slack.

If you’re ready to engage with the humanities, a good public library–like our wonderful Vancouver Public Library–has everything you are likely to need. Obviously, there are all the books, including both hard copies and digital books, available on loan, all for free (assuming you return your books on time). Most public libraries today also provide free access to computers, as well as free Wi-Fi, enabling anyone with just basic computer literacy to do simple research about subjects of interest–including, perhaps, finding out more about the authors of books one has read and what else they may have written. But there is so much more than that, of which I doubt even most regular users of public libraries today are aware. I wasn’t fully aware myself of what our Vancouver Public Library has to offer in this area until I started to look into it in preparation for writing this piece.

For those of you who are interested, especially those of you in the Vancouver area, I would suggest having a good look at the Vancouver Public Library’s website.  All things considered, one could become just as knowledgeable in the humanities though self-directed ‘study’ at a public library like the VPL, perhaps with some assistance provided by its librarians, and perhaps also with some assistance from members of on-line chat groups, as one could through doing a BA in the humanities at a university. Also, as I noted in my previous post, the CNN correspondent, Fareed Zakaria, had mentioned in a college commencement speech he recently gave that improving his writing and oral communication skills were among the things he most valued from his own humanities education–quite apart from the content of the courses he took.  There are opportunities for these things, as well, at least at the Vancouver Public Library.

Our public libraries traditionally haven’t served as cheerleaders for the humanities, as such–although library literacy programs, encouraging and assisting people to read period, can provide a basis for helping them to explore, and appreciate, the humanities. But, now, and heading into the future, perhaps our public libraries need to increasingly take on that role. One possible programming addition (where it doesn’t already exist), is outreach programs to elementary and secondary schools, explaining to students all of the resources, especially humanities-related resources, available in their public libraries, and how they may access them. Also, larger budgets for advertising, in various media, may now be in order. For these kinds of programs and marketing enhancements to exist, however, adequate funding is required–and, now, more than ever, our libraries seem to require that funding.

Incidentally, the above picture is of the interior ‘Promenade’ of the Central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. This remarkable, award-winning, building was designed by the Israeli-Canadian architect, Moshe Safdie, who also designed the innovative housing complex, Habitat, for Expo 67 in Montreal.

Last Friday, the Promenade was being used for multicultural festivities for our upcoming Canada Day–including Scottish dancing.  (My surname, ‘Third’, is Scottish.)  Happy Canada Day everyone!


HMM . . . : The Humanities Without the ‘U’


I’ve been thinking in the past few weeks about the possible negative consequences for Canadian society in general of diminishing enrollment in our university humanities programs, and about how these negative consequences could be avoided, or at least minimized.

Although I’ve indicated in some of my earlier ‘UABCs’ posts in this blog (i.e., posts about post-secondary education) that I believe Canadian students generally should now avoid university humanities programs, this is not to say that I’m against the study of literature, history, and so on. My main concern is with the political turmoil that now exists within our universities, including not only in the humanities but also in the social sciences and related professional disciplines, and how students may become caught up in it, and hurt by it. (If you want to know more about my opinions in this regard, you may wish to have a look at my very first post in this blog, “UHUM(e): No Cheers for the Liberal Arts,” or something more recent, “ACH-U(2): A Comment on Adam Gopnik’s Blog Post, “Why Teach English?“”  Money obviously also is an issue for many students today: for those with limited financial resources, who participate in post-secondary education primarily to improve their job opportunities and who can afford to do only one degree, if that, a humanities degree is not currently a good investment. (Years ago, when I was an undergraduate, and there was a relative abundance of jobs for young people, and university tuition was relatively low, it was still generally a good investment.)

Over the past several decades, certain Canadians who studied the humanities in university have made very significant contributions to Canadian culture, including in the arts, broadcasting, publishing, education, law, government, and so on. Many others who studied the humanities in university have helped in more modest ways during this period to enhance Canadian culture–if only through sharing their interest and knowledge with their families, co-workers, and friends. Then, too, there are various personal satisfactions that have become available to Canadians who studied the humanities in university, such as the enjoyment of literature and other creative arts.

Besides these more abstract, ‘loftier’, kinds of contributions to Canadian society, the study of the humanities in our universities also has positively contributed to Canadian society in more practical, sometimes overlooked, ways. A blog post by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “Why the liberal arts matter,” posted on May 24, got me thinking about these other, often overlooked, contributions.

I don’t normally read Zakaria’s blog posts.  One of the 300 or so people and organizations I follow on Twitter (I have no idea which one) had retweeted the link, that appeared in my Twitter feed. The post basically consists of a restatement of a commencement speech Zakaria recently had given at Sarah Lawrence, a liberal arts college in New York City, that offers undergraduate degrees in the humanities that, here in Canada, would normally be earned at a university. (We don’t have the exact equivalent of American liberal arts colleges in this country.) I started reading Zakaria’s post expecting to disagree with him, but I ended up actually agreeing with his main points.

Zakaria asserts that there are three things he most values from his humanities studies in the United States. (He previously had  studied the sciences in India, which I take to be his homeland.) The first two are closely related: having learned to write well and having learned to speak well. (This is quite apart from learning basic English. Zakaria seems to have had a good command of basic English before studying in the U.S.) Indeed, Zakaria learned to write and to speak sufficiently well that he was able to become a professional journalist, including a television journalist for a major network. The third is having learned how to learn, regardless of the content. Here, Zakaria is a little vague, but he seems to be referring basically to independent learning–of the variety in which one might engage to write, for example, a history essay–as opposed to rote learning, more commonly associated with scientific and technical education. (Zakaria interestingly maintains that learning to think, which is often said to be a key value of a humanities education, cannot be separated from learning to write.)

I did find it disturbing that Zakaria completely omitted any reference to the current political unrest in university humanities programs. Zakaria also neglects to mention that humanities degrees have become financially out of reach for many people because of high tuition fees coupled with a decreased probability that humanities degrees will lead directly, or even indirectly, to satisfying, well-paying, jobs. But I found myself willing to forgive Zakaria for these lapses in this otherwise sensitive piece because he seems to have studied the humanities quite some time ago (probably in the late ’70s or ’80s) and appears to have had little or no recent direct contact with university humanities programs–other than giving commencement speeches.

After reading Zakaria’s post, I thought back to some of my early university humanities courses, and these early humanities courses, especially the literature courses, were indeed helpful to me in learning to express myself with words, whether in writing or orally. This was through a combination of the examples of the material I was then reading for my courses; the various challenges related to writing and speaking that were presented to me as coursework; and the helpful suggestions of teachers who evaluated my work. The learning process continues to this day, but at least a good foundation seems to have been laid in those courses.

(Having claimed that I now know how to write with some degree of proficiency, due in large measure to my university training, I’ve opened up my writing–including the writing in this blog–to criticism. I fully admit that the writing in some of the original published versions of some my blog posts has been flawed, but I always go back to edit, and re-edit–unfortunately, I fear, too late for some readers. Even after over two years of blogging, I’m still getting used to the independent blog format, in which I’m able to publish material whenever I wish, without anyone else looking at. Sometimes, I get too excited about sharing my thoughts.)

Just as the cultural knowledge that many Canadians acquired in university humanities programs in recent decades seems to have infused Canadian society as a whole, it seems the more modest, practical, kinds of knowledge that may be acquired in such programs, particularly in the areas of written and oral communication, can be valuable not only to those who studied the humanities in university but also to our society as a whole. I would suggest that there has been an overall decline in clear, engaging, written and oral communication in this country in recent years, paralleling the declining enrollment in university humanities programs during this period. With the increasing decline in Canadian university humanities enrollment, the situation may deteriorate even further. (If you don’t believe me about the current state of communication in this country, I would suggest you pay close attention the next time you’re reading the newspaper or watching television.)

In the next few posts in this blog, I plan to put forward some of my ideas about how various Canadian organizations and groups could pick up the slack, helping our citizens to acquire some of the valuable knowledge and skills that may be acquired in university humanities programs, or indirectly through family members and friends who have acquired such knowledge and skills in university humanities programs.  I’ll also address how individuals could, to some extent, independently acquire such knowledge and skills.

This is assuming, of course,  further developments on the Trinity Western University law school front do not intervene.  As at least most readers of this blog probably are aware, last week, members of the BC Law Society revoted on whether graduates of the proposed TWU law school should be accepted as members of the BC Bar and, this time, the result was ‘no’. It now looks like the issue is heading to Canada’s Supreme Court. (I believe it could be extremely helpful to look at this case within the context of the political turmoil that now exists within our universities in general.)


Pls Retwt if Ur Intrsd in #TWULaw (#TrinityWesternUniversity Law) &/or Philosophicl Change in #CanadianUniversities in Genrl

20140511-132943.jpgIn the past week, I sent out several Tweets exploring if there were other Twitter users who believed, like I do, that the training of Canadian lawyers not only doesn’t belong at Trinity Western University but also no longer belongs at ANY Canadian universities. I was hoping for a massive positive response, but I didn’t get it: all those Tweets received a couple of ‘Favorites’, in total, and that was it. (Thank you to those who provided me with that bit of encouragement.)

The poor response may have been simply because not enough people, especially the kinds of people who might be interested in this kind of thing, received and read the Tweets. (I have roughly 70 followers now, a figure of which I was quite proud until I received that paltry response. I also sent out some targeted Tweets to organizations that don’t follow me but whose members were likely to be interested, but those Tweets weren’t passed on to members–or to anyone else.) Or it may have been because a fair number of people did receive and read the Tweets, but most disagreed with me. (I lost a couple of followers in the past week, which may have been due to the nature of my Tweets–and/or their sheer volume.) A third possibility is that a fair number of people did receive and read the Tweets, but just didn’t understand what I was getting at in those necessarily very short messages. The whimsical identifying information about myself I provide on Twitter probably didn’t help in that regard. (I’m thinking of changing it.)

Going with the least disheartening possibility, I will assume that some elaboration could be helpful–about both what I meant in those Tweets and who I am. I will be providing this in the remainder of this blog post. (To those who follow me on Twitter, no more Tweets on this subject, I promise–except a Tweet, or two, or three, tops, to publicize this post.)

To those of you who know me only as someone used to run a colouring contest racket, and who now lives in Vancouver, and who likes kites–or who don’t know me at all–I’ll first provide some relevant background information about myself. I have a PhD in Higher Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (or OISE), and the focus of my work at the graduate level was identifying, and trying to help sort out, philosophical confusion associated with the ongoing philosophical change in Canadian postsecondary education. My undergraduate degree is in Communications, from McGill. I also have had a longstanding interest in Trinity Western University, (or as it used to be known, Trinity Western College)–in part because I attended elementary school with the children of the founder of Trinity Western in White Rock (a small town near the main Trinity Western campus). In this blog, that has been up for only about two years, I’ve already written three pieces about Trinity Western’s efforts to establish its own law school, the most recent about five months ago when the BC government awarded Trinity basic approval for the project. Also somewhat relevant here, at one point I did consider becoming a lawyer, and applied to, and was accepted into, law school–but graduate work in Education won out. I did get some exposure to legal education, however, through a course I took at OISE called “Law & Education” taught by a practicing judge–and found that course one of the most interesting and satisfying courses I took through all my years of formal education. As a final point here, I don’t currently work in the field of education, other than sometimes addressing educational issues in this blog–as well as on Twitter. (If, after, reading this post, someone who is associated with an educational organization would like me aboard, I’d be pleased to consider your offer. Better yet, if anyone reading this sees a need now for a Canadian non-profit organization that addresses the kinds of educational issues in which I’m interested, and knows where I can get some start-up money, contact me.)

Now, let’s move on to what I meant by those Tweets.

If you are a Canadian who has attended one of our public, supposedly secular, universities within the past twenty years or so, you are likely to have observed that the overall value system seems oddly outdated, never having managed to move beyond the late-1970s, as well as foreign, in a very literal sense. (In several of the courses I took as a graduate student, supposedly about Canadian education, most of the reading material was written by American scholars. In others, it was virtually all British.) This is especially likely if you are a mid-career, or just mature, student who already has acquired substantial experience of Canadian society outside of our universities–which was my situation when I returned to university in my thirties to do graduate work in Education. There is a discontinuity now between our universities and Canadian society in general–including, I would venture to say, Canadian law–that suggests that Canadian law schools should no longer be part of any Canadian universities, in the conventional sense. (To avoid moving expenses, and for other practical reasons, law schools could still be situated on the grounds of our universities, but operate as independent entities.)

These ‘problems’ with our universities at present (that don’t exist if you are still philosophically situated such that you can’t see them) all stem from the Christian origins of Western universities in general–which I won’t be discussing in detail here. The key point to keep in mind is that secular universities have much more in common with an outwardly Christian university like Trinity Western University than many of its opponents would like to think.

Thirteen years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada decided in a very similar case also involving Trinity Western University, concerning Trinity’s application for its own Faculty of Education, that religious rights trumped the civil right to practice homosexuality without discrimination, and Trinity got its Faculty of Education. This time, it seems to me our lawmakers need to be thinking in broader terms, in acknowledgement of the fact that Canada in general by now has moved significantly beyond the rigid ‘left’ versus ‘right’, dualistic and absolutist, thinking associated with both our secular universities and Trinity Western. In the present Canadian context, this case isn’t so much about religion versus civil rights as it is about religion versus ‘religion’, and the place of religion in Canadian legal education.


UART (in Canada, 2014): Advice for Canadians Thinking of Going to Art School


My general advice to Canadians thinking of pursuing studies in the fine and applied arts at the postsecondary level is that they should attend a reputable, practical oriented, art college. If they want to obtain a university degree, they should do this separately, at a university that offers a full range of university programs, before or after their art studies. At such institutions, they will have the option of taking courses in a variety of subject areas and, if they are so inclined, of majoring in something other than art.

Apart from possibly taking some individual, practical, courses taught by part-time instructors who work primarily outside of these institutions, I would suggest steering clear of those art schools that offer university degrees. This includes even those venerable old Canadian art schools that, in the past decade, have become accredited niche universities–including, in Vancouver, the Emily Carr University of Art and Design (formerly the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and, before that, the Vancouver School of Art) and, in Toronto, where I lived for many years, OCAD University (formerly the Ontario College of Art and Design).

I strongly disagree with those institutions having been turned into universities, and I regret not having spoken out about the transition when it was occurring. I hesitated mainly because I then still considered Emily Carr, at least, as a potential employer, and didn’t want to alienate anyone associated with the institution. Also, I then didn’t have a blog in which I could readily express my views. I’m speaking out now in part because I recently applied for an administrative job at a relatively new, very interesting, private art college here in Vancouver, that DOESN’T aspire to be a university, so speaking my mind may now help me more than hurt me professionally. Also, I now have this blog.

Lest anyone reading this blog post suspects that the views I’m expressing here about Canadian art schools being turned into universities are not my legitimate views, and are merely what I think a particular potential, non-university, employer might want to hear, these views are fundamentally consistent with the views I have earlier expressed in this blog about the humanities in Canadian universities today and about the ongoing bid by the local private Christian university, Trinity Western University, to have its own law school. Also, even if I don’t get that job I’m after (I should know within a couple of weeks), I’ll leave this post up. It’s high time I came clean.

I’m not rehashing here everything I’ve said earlier in this blog about the ongoing philosophical transition in Canadian post-secondary education in recent decades, and about the problems experienced by many Canadian university students in recent decades related to philosophical intransigence and inconsistencies in our universities. (If you are interested in learning more about my views in this regard, you may wish to check out some of my earlier posts in the UABCs category of posts.) But I will point out that artists, and those with a good knowledge of the fine arts, seem to be among those who are most sensitive to these issues, and most negatively impacted.

For example, as part of my graduate work in Education, I took a course called “Aesthetics and Education,” in which most of the students were artists and art educators. (In the latter group, several had been employed as primary or secondary school teachers for many years.) Virtually all of the students in that class were very familiar with postmodernism in the Arts, and themselves possessed postmodern perspectives. Unfortunately, the professor for the class (a failed classical pianist, nearing retirement age) was far less familiar, and most of the students balked at what she taught and her requirements for student projects. The one student in the class who, in one candid moment, out of earshot of the professor, admitted he knew nothing about art was, in that class, the “star pupil.”

It’s bizarre that some of our most prominent art schools have made the move to become universities at this critical juncture, when they should have stayed basically the way they were, and set an example for our universities. This move wasn’t made in the interests of Canadian art students–or of industries that hire art school graduates. It seems to have been made mainly because a university degree is likely to lure in certain naive foreign students with little knowledge of Canada and Canadian education, but with ample money that can help sustain these institutions. But sustain what?

What in my view was a very serious mistake does, however, seem to bode  well for other Canadian art schools (like the private art college to which I recently offered my professional services) that stick to a more practical approach, consistent with a contemporary Canadian outlook.

Bluebells Blossoming in 5 Pics: What CAN’T be Done With Twitter’s New Picture Posting Feature

I earlier tried posting the following 4 pictures of bluebells squeezing up along the side of our house using the new Twitter picture posting feature that allows Twitter users to post up to 4 pictures in one Tweet.  Unfortunately, I ran into a problem with, basically speaking, aspect ratio.

Before my experiment, I’d seen some good examples of 4 rectangular pictures displayed in a 2 x 2 grid in my Twitter feed and thought my four matching pictures, taken at intervals over the past two months, would suit that format.  (I took the pictures thinking they could be the basis of some animation. Originally, I wasn’t planning to publicly display just these pictures.) The basic problem was I didn’t realize all rectangular pictures that preview in Twitter feed, whether single pictures or part of multi-picture groups, are displayed in a 2 to 1 aspect ratio.  Only when you click on the pictures do you see pictures that don’t actually have a 2 to 1 aspect ratio in full.  (Squares seem to be an exception. I’ve seen some 4-picture groups in preview mode consisting of square pictures.)  In preview mode, not only were the tops and bottoms of my pictures lopped off, but also they were lopped off unequally.  Pictures on Twitter, whether single pictures or part of multi-picture groups, are shifted upward when they are fit into the new frame(s).

I could have dealt with the distortion of the pictures in preview mode if, when the 4 pictures were opened up, they all appeared together.  But this doesn’t happen with the new feature.  The pictures appear only individually–so my intended effect of plants maturing over time was essentially lost.

I’m posting those pictures again here–and have added one final closeup picture at the end.  This still isn’t exactly what I wanted.  (I’m still trying to figure out side-by-side pictures in WordPress, to achieve my 2 x 2 grid. It’s not as easy as one would think. But many things aren’t . . . )  However, it is, I think, an improvement over the Twitter version–even without the closeup, that turned out well, if I do say so myself.

As I’ve learned from my experiment, if you want complete pictures to appear in the preview mode in Twitter feed, whether you are posting a single picture or multiple pictures, use a 2 to 1 aspect ratio for the original pictures (or maybe stick with squares). However, the distortion that occurs when pictures that don’t have that aspect ratio are fit into those rectangles in preview mode can sometimes work to good effect, to achieve surprise when you click on the pictures and open them up, or intrigue that compels people to click–if you know what you’re doing.



January 19


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March 4

March 29

March 29