Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Subtle Knife

If you ever want to get me started about something that irks me, just ask me about the use of email services at the school. The university contracts out our email to Google, which is fine.1 What is not fine is that there is a "" email address that does exactly what it implies: sends the email to everyone who works for the university. Obviously, this does serve a useful and important function, since sometimes there is information that everyone needs to know, but it's also led to some very bizarre (and unprofessional) flare ups: in some ways it's neat because it spawns discussion within the university, but in other ways, it can be really frustrating to sort through all of the extra emails to get to the ones that I actually need to answer.

It also irks me because, on some level, I'm actually kind of a Smug Asshole sometimes, and more specifically, I'm a Smug Asshole Who Hates It When Old People Can't Be Bothered To Use Technology Correctly. All of those unnecessary Reply Alls that reveal too much personal information, or petty grievances, etc. make me crazy. (See, I told you, I'm a jerk.)

We're about a month away from this year's Convocation ceremonies, and one of the honorary degree recipients is a very controversial figure: former Ontario Premier Mike Harris. Harris is most (in)famous for bringing the Common Sense Revolution to Ontario, which resulted in substantial cuts to health, education, and social assistance programs, the privatization of former public sector entities, and the formation of the megacity of Toronto. (Granted, he also balanced the budget, got approximately 500 000 people off of welfare, and added some 378 parks and protected areas for Ontario.)

Naturally, this has sparked a fair amount of outrage among certain groups of people.2 One faculty member wrote a very thoughtful letter to the effect that after due consideration, he didn't feel that he could attend the convocation in question because he didn't want to provide a tacit endorsement of Mr. Harris through his presence there.3 He encouraged the rest of the faculty to make their own determinations about what their presence at convocation would mean. There have been a number of response to his email, but the latest one in particular sticks in my mind.4 The writer asks:

At the beginning of teaching and learning is ignorance and curiosity. I come with a surfeit of both. Please forgive a Harrisy and allow me to ask "what did he do to you?" -- you educators, you academics, you people with powerful minds and voices.
What did he to do me? Oh, brother. Where do you want me to start? How about with the two separate times my mother was laid off from her nursing job due to hospital cutbacks? How about when 2/3s of the teachers at my high school were issued pink slips? How about the two separate teacher strikes that happened in my school board? How about the introduction of standardized testing (EQAO) and the farce that is the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test?5 The many, many problems with the New Curriculum? The elimination of the OAC year, and the resulting problems with the double cohort? (Middle Sister was part of that.) The consistent cuts to post-secondary education? Or maybe you've heard of the town where I was born--a little place called Walkerton?

These are the things that resulted from the Harris government that are the most personal to me. It does not even begin to address the things that happened to the province I live in and its culture: Ipperwash, the hospital closures, the privatization of the 407, teacher testing, the changes to labour law, the budget problems that occured after he resigned.

It worries me that the university wants to ally itself so closely with him, particularly given that we have a substantial aboriginal student population, and that we've invested a significant amount of time and effort into both attracting aboriginal students and working to ensure their success.

1 Well, not really fine in the broader sense that there are significant privacy concerns that arise from using Gmail, but I generally like the interface of it, I like the pre-loaded address book, I like the Google apps, and I also really like that we now get 7 gigs of space, unlike the 750 megabites that we had under the old system.
2 It's actually a bit more complicated than this for reasons that I'm not really supposed to talk about because the announcement has yet to be made, and won't be made for about 16 months, but if you really want to know, the Toronto Star has speculated about it here.
3 The convocation is the one for the Faculty of Applied and Professional Schools, which is not one that I would normally attend, so I don't actually need to make this choice.
4 I've since been informed that this was intended as a genuine question; I had initially interpreted it as hostile, but apparently it is not.
5 Sure, the test scores keep going up, but that's because the test keeps getting easier, not because literacy levels are any higher.


Sparky said...

I personally don't agree with either situation, the one mentioned in the Star, OR the one involving Mr. Harris receiving anything short of a public flogging. But, that's just me. Aparently the opinions of Alumni and students doesn't matter to the business that is Nipissing, or they would have asked us. They have not.

That being said, I do very much hope that someone is taking into account the probability of a number of protectors, especially if Mr. Harris decides to make an appearance. Aside from the media spectacle, I'm sure some very unhappy people will be making their voices heard.

fineskylark said...

I genuinely think that the university does not understand how controversial these decisions will be, nor how it will make the general population view the school.

I also think that the best thing that we can do as alumni is refuse to donate any more money to the library/the school, and to be very clear in telling the school that this is what we are doing and why we are doing it.