A Tale of Two Papers

Every story in the print media these days seems to leave you wondering what the author left out.

Sometimes, you have to piece through several distinct items over time to get the broader picture.

This past Friday, I read four items from two local papers, each as unremarkable as the next, until you piece them together.

Item #1: “U of S runs on corporate agenda,” Satya Sharma, Associate Professor in Anthropology, University of Saskatchewan. Op-ed, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, March 1, 2013:

When the context is that of a publicly funded educational institution such as the University of Saskatchewan, it is known that the provincial government’s support to the operations of the university is declining. Consequently, the university administration is soliciting funds from corporations and private donors …

The corporations have agendas they slowly but surely attempt to fulfil either by influencing the direction the university is taking or will take, or the administrative programs it curtails, downsizes or encourages, or the increased use of technology at the expense of manpower in the name of “making efficiencies” and having sustain-able programs.

The central administration, with its highly inflated number of highly paid bosses with an army of support staff, creates a sense of fear on the campus by repeating the message, in frequently held town halls and alarming email communications to faculty and staff, that “the worst is yet to come.”

By doing this, the administration is moving further and further away from the university’s mandate and its main stakeholders – the students and faculty.

Item #2: “Massive round of layoffs looms: colleges and units unaffected so far will soon see job cuts.” The Sheaf (U of S Student Newspaper), Feb. 27, 2013:

In recent months there have been a total of 50 jobs lost from 13 colleges and administrative units. By the end of April, the remaining 75 per cent of colleges and units that have so far gone unaffected will see layoffs.

There will be “quite a few more positions [lost] in the next round, but we don’t have an exact number,” Acting Vice-President of Finance and Resources Greg Fowler told reporters following a financial town hall meeting on campus Feb. 26.

As part of the university’s “workforce planning” initiative, central administrators have asked all college deans and unit managers to revamp their current employee structure. The plan is meant to combat a growing budget deficit projected to reach $44.5 million by 2016, if no pre-emptive actions are taken.

Item #3: “Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Centre still a go: project will break ground once spring arrives.” The Sheaf, Feb. 27, 2013:

University of Saskatchewan President Ilene Busch-Vishniac confirmed ground will break on the Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre once spring arrives, despite the first round of construction bids for the $15-million project coming in over budget …

The proposed 1,884-square-metre Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre features curved walls and large windows. The ceiling will display a large medicine wheel — a circle painted in four colours that represent the four directions used in traditional First Nations teachings and healing.

The offices for the Indigenous Students’ Council and the Aboriginal Students Centre will be relocated to the centre, where there will also be space for ceremonies, extra-curricular events, meetings and studying …

Busch-Vishniac has announced that completing the project is at the top of her list of priorities.

“If I were to say, can you identify something symbolic on our campus that our aboriginal students would identify with? You really can’t do it,” she said.

“We haven’t done a great job.”

The U of S is leading the country in the number of self-identified aboriginal students, yet many still feel like outsiders when arriving at the U of S, she said.

“The issue is not preparation for university. The issue is that sense of cultural dissonance when you come on campus and you feel isolated.”

Busch-Vishniac believes the culture shock that is often felt to be a leading factor in the low retention rates among aboriginal students.

The graduation rate among self-identified aboriginal students in the arts and science program, for example, stands at just 42 per cent over a six year period, compared to an overall average of 68 per cent.

About 79 per cent of students in direct-entry programs continue their education past their first year, according to a U of S enrollment report from October 2012. But in comparison, for self-identified aboriginal students, the likelihood they will get past their first year is only 58 per cent.

Item #4: “Trust Educators,” Rhonda West, Teaching Candidate, U of S. Letters, StarPhoenix, March 1, 2013:

On the right, Education Minister Russ Marchuk supports policies that force Saskatchewan back to a traditional path. On the left, the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, backed by academic research, favours continuing on a progressive, student-focused journey.

Marchuk doesn’t provide evidence to show the benefits of increased instruction time and standardized tests. He wants to raise graduation rates, particularly of aboriginal students, but doesn’t provide a concrete plan to outline how to achieve this goal.

He is right to be concerned. Aboriginal graduation rates are much lower than the provincial average.

However, more instruction time and standardized tests aren’t the answer.

The best way to change the outcome is to improve upon the work we have already begun. The new provincial curricula have a strong aboriginal focus. Teacher candidates at our universities are learning best practices for creating inclusive, anti-racist, decolonized classrooms [emphasis mine–ed.]. Community schools are doing excellent work to ensure students receive healthy meals as well as the supports they need to succeed.

We need to increase these services while continuing to strive for more equity in all schools across the province. I urge Minister Marchuk to persevere on our progressive path by increasing investment in schools and teachers, removing the competitive blockades of increased instruction and standardized tests, and trusting that teachers and the STF, backed by academic research, know what is best for our students.

Did you get all that?

Let me sum up:

  1. An associate professor rambles about how corporate donations are somehow forcing the university to downsize.
  2. Layoffs have occurred and will continue to occur until the university somehow manages its deficit.
  3. The university president says a new, multi-million-dollar aboriginal centre meant to address poor graduation rate of aboriginal students is going ahead as planned, even though it is over budget, contains no actual educational spaces, and is essentially a “symbol”.
  4. A “teaching candidate” proclaims that “standardized tests and increased instruction” are not useful in educating students in comparison to “creating inclusive, anti-racist, decolonized classrooms.”

Do you see the story a little better? Is it more clear?

How about this for a story:

  • The university is rife with tenured, professional-activist progressives/socialists/Marxists who continually identify opportunities for class warfare on campus.
  • When administrators discover the institution is living beyond its means, it is not because the educational model is completely outdated and unsustainable, but because the supposed ideological enemies of these “progressives” types are trying to eradicate their fields of study.
  • Meanwhile, the university continues to cater to the “progressive” crowd by endorsing their radical theories that aboriginal students are struggling on campus because a lack of aboriginal culture on campus, even though there is no evidence of this nor are there any targets created to see if academic performance actually improves by the construction of the aboriginal centre.
  • The university president, herself an apparently bright and accomplished scholar, poo-poos the notion that most of these aboriginal students aren’t qualified to be on campus because — I suppose — they graduated from high school.
  • We then hear from a prospective educator who, presumably based on her many years of not teaching, says that their focus is on ensuring her classrooms are bereft of racism, colonialism, etc. rather than, you know, making sure the kids are taught to the standards of those found in the rest of society.
  • Which could explain how aboriginal students might not be as ready for university as the university president suggests.

The common thread here is, of course, the progressive ideology sprung from the anti-capitalist Marxist mindset and propagated by critical-theory social-justice acolytes. There’s more to it than this, I admit, but this line of thinking is so pervasive on our campuses that an education student can so boldly and without irony pontificate what is necessary for kids to learn that she doesn’t realize she’s been indoctrinated by the teachers federation and their allies in the university faculty.

No wonder those aboriginal kids are getting the shaft from their teachers, their leaders and the government — the only thing they’re learning is that they are a victim and that they can’t do anything about it.

It is absolutely sickening to hear this kind of ideological bullshit still being propagated at our universities, especially when the fruits of this talk ends up with the dire situations aboriginals endure.

And no one wants to talk about it. No wonder we need to read four items in two newspapers to get the bigger story.

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