UkNOw: Canadian Universities THEN

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I apologize to anyone who has arrived at this blog post hoping for information about the Vancouver art scene, or about pizzas, but I haven’t written anything in this blog about universities for the past couple of months, and I feel it’s time I got back to this subject.

Until quite recently, with the exception of programs in the natural and applied sciences, and allied professional programs like Medicine, I’d pretty much given up on our universities. Except in those areas mentioned, Canadian universities had not kept pace with the philosophical and political changes in Canadian society in recent decades, and it seemed very unlikely that things would change, ever. Yes, ever.

Hiring practices within our universities had reduced the probability that innovative thinkers and doers would rise up from within our universities to virtually nil.  On the academic side, although it used to be said that there would be a major hiring boom for academics when the large number of university professors who were hired in the 1960s and ’70s retired, the hiring boom never materialized.  Faced with financial cutbacks, universities reduced full-time faculty members, and those jobs that were available to new academics, mostly part-time and without job security, went to applicants who were unlikely to rock the boat, whose basic views conformed with the views of the professors doing the hiring.  With respect to the non-academic, ancillary, positions within our universities, the unions that I myself had supported when they first sprouted up in many of our universities, beginning in the 1970s, had become a major obstacle to innovation.

Although it’s only logical, until I was looking for ancillary work in unionized universities and colleges myself after completing graduate work in Education (I was looking for academic jobs, too), I had never considered that, in unionized environments in general, during a recessionary period when there are more layoffs than hires, mid-career applicants who are not union members are basically wasting their time.  Virtually all the hiring that is done during such periods is done at the most junior level, at the lowest pay scale, and any job that involves more than basic knowledge and skills goes to existing union members.  In unionized academic environments, there are certain jobs that are an exception to this rule, generally involving specialized technical skills.  However, I’ve yet to come across a description for a job within academe, either ancillary or academic, that identified as a specialized job requirement “an excellent knowledge of philosophical change within Western society in recent decades, and some good ideas about how to bring our universities more in line with this change”.

Yes, certain accommodations were being made to a changed philosophical and political climate, such as an increased prevalence of internships outside of universities as part of university degree programs, and a greater emphasis on practical work in certain university classes. However, I had to wonder if such accommodations ultimately did more harm than good, since they may have misled many students into thinking that most, if not all, of their university programs would be philosophically consistent with internships, and so on.  A philosophical mishmash (like what I described in an earlier post in this blog, dated October 19, 2012) is likely to be harder to deal with than philosophical consistency–even if the consistent philosophical outlook in question isn’t one’s own.

Until quite recently, I wasn’t at all optimistic that serious change was coming.  But things have happened lately that have made me more optimistic–and I’ll be discussing them in my next post.

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