This open letter was ratified by the Occupy Queen’s General Assembly on 9 January 2012.
Whether you are a student, faculty, support staff, or simply a member of the local community whose business and cultural life is enriched by the continuing existence of this institution: this is to you.
Queen’s is in trouble. For the most part it’s not trouble specific to Queen’s, although our university has its share of specific problems, in particular a recent history of gross misallocation of resources leading to a parlous financial state that has been used time and again as a weapon in negotiations between the board of trustees, and everyone else to whom Queen’s means so much more than a business.
The summer passed with contract negotiations that saw professors and support staff substantially worse off. The fall saw the effective cancellation of the Bachelor of Fine Arts program, due to the inability to hire a single new tenured faculty professor to replace the one retiring to emeritus status. Across all departments virtually no new professors are being hired and adjuncts have been laid off. Tuition and class sizes continue to increase as clickers proliferate to make 1000-student survey courses ‘interactive’. Students are paying more for less, while faculty work harder for less, and both parties are told there is no money even while grandiose construction projects are started one after the other. There is money to renovate the commerce building, of relatively recent construction, while the BFA program is housed in a building with a leaky roof.
Little of this is unique to Queen’s, rather, it increasingly characterizes higher education in North America today. Tenure is being phased out in favour of single-course contracts–with devastating results for academic freedom, as well as research, teaching, and learning. Funding for humanities and arts is drying up, while schools of commerce, management and technology flourish. Increasingly, putative market-place advantages and short-term efficiencies are the sole determinants of academic decision-making.
We don’t pretend to have easy answers to the many problems confronting Queen’s. We do want the entire university community to be involved in shaping solutions.
Therefore, first and foremost, we say it is necessary to ask questions about governance structure. As in many North American institutions, at Queen’s, ultimate authority rests with an appointed board of trustees, with elected bodies such as the university senate playing roles that are at best advisory, and frequently purely symbolic. A closed decision making process leaves open the door to the many ills of autocracy: lack of accountability, failures in judgement, and outright corruption. A profit model begs the question of who profits.
Queen’s is not a corporation, but a school. We all know that, it seems obvious, but it also seems like it’s being forgotten. We are inviting everyone to a conversation about the best ways to run educational institutions … and if business is really the best model to follow.
Because this is a conversation we should be having.
For more information:
- General Assemblies: Grey House, Bader Lane, 4:00 p.m. Mondays
- Facebook: “Occupy Queen’s”: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Occupy-Queens-University/218000281609385
- Website: http://www.occupykingston.ca/occupyqueensu/