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December 15, 2008

you know by now, the T-J published an editorial today, “Make UNBSJ Stronger.” The kind of editorial on which people can project wildly different opinions and see them reflected. Debra Lindsay has already flagged a number of concerns: the false notion of “duplication”; blaming the University for the deferred maintenance costs that are the result of chronic underfunding; and the limited definition of education as skills. I would only add two things:

First, this piece — in fact much of the recent discussion about UNB Saint John — implies that the campus is some sort of service that should be shaped by the demands of the local community, the latter left conveniently undefined though I doubt the T-J editors are envisioning asking people on the streets. “Any reform proposals for UNB Saint John need to be evaluated against the results they will produce. The campus was established to serve the community.” This type of language completely ignores the fact that universities, even spanking new ones like our campus was in 1964, are part of a greater whole that transcends their local circumstances. Each faculty member came from at least one other institution, and in most cases two or even three. Each faculty member came trained in their own discipline with its own practices, standards, history, and traditions. These practices and experiences are not threats; they are not prejudices that need to be overcome in order to “move forward” “with vision.” They are, rather, the backbone of our teaching and research, and they connect our small campus in a maritime hinterland to an educational enterprise global in scope, centuries rich in tradition. And if this sounds hopelessly idealistic, let’s also be practical: the wider system of which our campus is one small part is the only thing that enables us to grant our students the accreditation they need for the workforce or for further education. Yes we are in, and of, Saint John. Yes, we serve this city. The people of this city, the ones who study here, their families, and the wider community. And we serve them by being a door, or a conduit, to a global learning community.

Second and directly following from that last, I wonder what to make of the preponderance in the editorial of such phrases as “Saint Johners are excited by the prospect [of a new model of governance]”; “Saint Johners expect to have a say in their campus’ future”; “Saint Johners are looking for a mandate that is appropriate”; and “[a]s Saint John and UNB engage in this important discussion.” Who are these “Saint Johnners”? Enquiring minds want to know. The Saint Johnners that I have talked to throughout the last year made it clear that they wanted to keep their university. They also made it clear that they trusted that university to do its job.

One only wishes that the editors of the T-J did.

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