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Common Ground, Common Good: New Ways to Fight for Advanced Education


November 21, 2015 at 1pm - 2:15pm


Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, University of Alberta
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with Claire Polster and John Nicholls

The quality and accessibility of post-secondary education in Alberta has been eroded by years of austerity budgets, and its purpose been co-opted by corporate agendas. Can we reverse these trends and effectively fight for the public goals of a university and reclaim the aims?

How and why to change the ways we try to change Canada's universities

New strategies are needed to combat the corporatization of Canada’s universities. When it comes to making change people almost invariably revert to strategies based in causal thinking. But this dominant strategy has failed and has left activists disappointed and demobilized. This presentation describes and critiques the cause-and-effect approach to change and advocates an alternative, namely a "social relations" approach. Three current examples will demonstrate how a social relations approach can allow us to make better use of our energies and opportunities. And new strategies will be discussed to help those committed to public serving universities stay grounded in this alternative approach to making change.

Claire Polster is a professor of sociology and social studies at the University of Regina. She is also a co-founder of the University of Regina Faculty of Arts' Community Research Unit. Her research focuses on the transformation of Canadian higher education and its implications for the public interest. In addition to scholarly and popular articles, she has published two books in collaboration with Janice Newson: Academic Callings, and A Penny For Your Thoughts: How Corporatization Devalues Teaching, Research, and Public Service In Canada's Universities.

Alberta universities and the wider community

The neoliberal austerity agenda has put our universities on the defensive. Teaching and research have been increasingly constrained by the demands of government and industry. While the universities tool up to turn out more "job-ready" graduates and help "build the economy," the "relevance" of the humanities and social sciences, in particular, is being questioned. Yet the need for fresh thinking and new approaches to the many challenges facing our society is obvious, and with the support of a progressive government, there is an opportunity now for Alberta universities to refocus their priorities and re-imagine their role in the wider community.

John Nicholls is the Executive Director of the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA), the federation of the academic staff associations at Alberta's four research-intensive universities. John taught history before embarking on a long career as a research consultant to government.  He is a founding member of Public Interest Alberta (PIA), and was appointed executive director of CAFA in 2005. While John has personal experience of no fewer than eight ministers of advanced education, dating back as far as Lyle Oberg, he would be hard-pressed to name a favourite.