Free Speech as a Bastion of Universities

May 27, 2014 - 9:32am Updated: May 27, 2014 - 11:39am

The recent debacle at the University of Saskatchewan with regard to TransformUS, designed to counteract the anticipated 44.5 million dollar deficit projected for 2016, raises a question as to the level of student involvement in this process.

What is the knowledge-base of the student body as a whole about the administration’s vision of reorganization, cut-backs and amalgamation? Is this vision adequately shared and open, exposed and clear enough to students generally not involved in ‘politics’ of university economics? What about their freedom of thought, belief and expression? Are they able to express themselves without suffering a similar fate as Professor Robert Buckingham who was fired from his administrative position and removed from the university property for expressing his disapproval with cuts and ‘downsizing’?

Free speech and academic freedom are supposed to be bastions of universities, to discuss and debate ideas. It’s about creating new ideas and ways of doing things better. And it’s all geared towards progress in a free and democratic society. Students are an important pillar on which decisions should stand.

The mere status of being university students means that they are immersed in an environment that is supposed to value freedom of thought, belief, and expression. What better people to look to for partnering solutions, especially decisions impacting their lives?

University students are an economically marginalized group. Several cuts, which will further affect them, have been proposed. They include eliminating the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education and programs that support degree-credit programs; removing the college of grad studies and research; combining human resources, financial services, student services, communications, development, alumni relations, and research and facilities management services into a ‘shared service’.

And all this, to make the University of Saskatchewan ‘become one of the most distinguished universities in Canada and the world’.

U of S Student Union President Max Fineday stated that the TransformUS report lacked detail. It was vague, not transparent enough and lacked specifics. Apart from this plan affecting almost every employee at the university, standards will be compromised and it will be the smallest administration amongst medical and doctoral universities in Canada.

As the U of S historian Jim Miller said, ‘TransformUS is the biggest disaster that’s happened to the U of S apart from the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Who better to say this than the recipient of the $100,000 Killam Prize in the field of Humanities? Ironically, the Humanities are threatened with compressing and eroding their programs.

The best investment is in people.

It starts with dialogue and freedom of expression. Transparency would have prevented the unfortunate happenings at the U of S.

Students also need a voice. They need to be heard loudly and clearly. And they need to be listened to as equals at the drawing board. There needs to be ways and means to reach out to all students so that they can engage in a process of transparency, openness and free input. These are decisions they need to be a major part of, as it involves not just students and faculty but the community as a whole.

We need to strive to keep our society democratic and progressive.

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