Before I begin, I must note that I have recently purchased a brand new wireless keyboard from Staples, so I may make some typing mistakes. Please forgive me, as no one benefits in a world of typos.
On Monday, I was very proud and happy to have been part of such a spirited and peaceful rally in Uptown Saint John in support of our university. For my readers not from the local area, you may not be aware that Saint John’s campus of the University of New Brunswick has become threatened by a report released last week by the Commission of Post-Secondary Destruction (oops, sorry, that’s Post-Secondary Education. Stupid keyboard!). In short, it is their plan to improve post-secondary education by closing Saint John’s only university (as well as two other small ones) and replacing it with a bastardized “polytechnic”. One of the Commissioners is Rick Miner, a former vice-president of UNBSJ turned traitor. His portrait hangs in the UNBSJ library, albeit with a few improvements since the report came out.
Don’t worry, he was already blind enough before to not be able to see what New Brunswick really needs and does not need.
Monday began with classes as usual, until it was time to board a free shuttle bus for uptown to attend the Rally in King’s Square.
My whole argument, which is common among many supporters, is that we have nothing to lose by adding a polytechnic to Saint John. However, this must NOT come at the expense of our university which we have been building for 40 years.
This is not a small issue for Saint Johners. The rally was a huge success with 2,000 people showing up for the march down to Ed Doherty’s office. Everything went entirely peaceful. Ed Doherty gave a speech which did not support protecting UNBSJ at all, which no one in the crowd was enjoying whatsoever. The crowd was chanting “bullshit” a few appropriate times. Ed eventually got a bit frightened by our peaceful protest, and went into hiding in his office.
At this point, one of my professors, Dr. Littlejohn, took the microphone after the crowd began chanting his name.
He’s a real nice guy, very passionate about this issue. He’s also well connected, and knows his stuff about this issue. He is a friend of Ed Doherty’s and the Liberal party and helped them with their speeches in the last election. As difficult as it is, Dr. Littlejohn is going against these people to call them out as the liars they are being and pleading with them to do the right thing.
Later in the day was the presentation by the commissioners at the Delta hotel. Before they arrived a half hour late because of a flight delay (probably as a result of flying too high in their dream world), the mayor spoke, or tried to anyway…
Norm (approaching microphone): Oh, come on, let me speak.
Elsie (rushing up to speak a second time): Oh don’t you worry, I will let you speak. (not exact quotes)
And then they both spoke a bit, and Mayor Norm said the council meeting was starting, and that’s why no councillors will be present.
Not long after, the commissioners (shown below, disturbing image warning!) made their entrance to a crowd chanting “traitor” in a room which the Delta had to expand to accommodate everyone. This set the mood for the night.
Many of their statements were so ridiculous that the crowd broke into laughter. A few lies also slipped through, some unfortunately undetected. Dr. Miner (left) justified the report saying that Arizona State University is one example of a school that used to be a university, but is now a polytechnic. I thought, wow, maybe this idea has actually flown in some places. This would have been a good response on their response, if it wasn’t a lie. A quick visit to the school’s web site shows that they are actually still very much a “university”. Wikipedia reveals that only one of their many campuses is a polytechnic, and was opened in 1996. This is a far cry from an all out conversion of a university to a polytechnic.
For myself and many young people, this is the first local political issue of our lives that we have chosen to become involved with. It’s a great thing to see this involvement, but it’s also disturbing to think about the effects on this province and this city if we destroy our university status and settle for anything else. I will now cement this post as my longest so far on my blog by pasting at the bottom of this post a large part of a letter which I have sent to just about every politician in southern New Brunswick so far.
I would encourage you to do the same, and encourage your family and friends to do the same. There does appear to be a very quick timeline at which this is being pushed through, and it is very possible that we have only days, not weeks or months, to make our voices heard before the process advances too far.
Dear Politicians in New Brunswick: (NO, I didn’t actually this generic greeting, each politician received a customized version of this letter)
I have read the report presented by the Commission on Post-Secondary Education. In addition to this, I have done my own research on the issue, heard from well-connected individuals with the university, and attended the Rally and Delta presentation by the Commissioners on Monday. I do not believe the conversion of our Saint John university to any other type of institution is going to solve our problems. Frankly, I believe the loss of our university would be a tremendous blow to the community that would take us off the map.
After graduating from high school in 2004, I balanced both NBCC and UNBSJ as possible options, before finally deciding on UNBSJ. I appreciated having this choice here in Saint John because it empowered me with the freedom to choose the post-secondary school that worked best for MY needs, not the temporary needs of big business. Going to school here at home has allowed me to remain debt free, an impossibility if I was forced to study in another city. I have also had the option all along to obtain a specialized college education as well in a variety of fields, should I have the desired to do so. I do not need a new polytechnic to gain this ability.
I am now in my 4th year of Computer Science, scheduled to graduate next spring. I have truly benefited by being able to complete my degree here just minutes away from where I’ve grown up, and I am saddened to think that I may be one of the last people to be able to do this in Saint John. This is because on page 27, the Commission’s report states that the three polytechnics proposed would offer first year of some university programs and can offer second year of some university programs where it is possible. Other polytechnics in Canada offer degree programs, but only in conjunction with actual universities located in the same city. I guess it won’t be possible for our polytechnic to do this, since its creation would destroy our university. The report does not even try to hide this since the above statements confirm that 1st and 2nd years are all that would be retained of degree programs if we’re lucky, despite the Commissioner’s statements that few changes if any would be made to the academic programs.
The comparison of the Saint John Polytechnic to institutions such as MIT, Ryerson and Caltech is tempting, until it’s pointed out that these are former polytechnics that have transitioned to become full universities, which is entirely the opposite direction being proposed here. At the Delta presentation on Monday, Rick Miner cited Arizona State University as a university that has transitioned to become a polytechnic named Arizona State Polytechnic, surprising me since I believed that no university would consider this path. This is not a bad response on his part, if only it were true. A quick visit to Arizona State’s web site (http://www.asu.edu/) shows that they still call themselves a university, and that only one of its many campuses is a polytechnic which opened in 1996 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arizona_State_University). Clearly it’s a struggle to find a university anywhere that has transitioned entirely to a polytechnic. Saint John, Edmundston and Shippagan would be the first cities anywhere to destroy a university for any reason.
I am certainly not against a polytechnic in Saint John, nor am I against increased collaboration between UNBSJ and NBCC as separate institutions free to act independently. However, I firmly believe that any new opportunities must not come at the expense of our existing university structure that we have been building for 40 years that is only now becoming a major contender on the national and international level. We deserve both options in this city, and so do the residents of northern New Brunswick who have benefited from their Université de Moncton campuses as well.
This is one major issue in which many young people have chosen to become politically active for the first time in their lives and for good reason. Even though young people tend to ignore most political issues, this is one issue that is very important to all of us, and the entire community.
Please do everything you can to stand up for our rights, and the rights of young people who will be evaluating their own post-secondary options in future years. Donâ??t let our government sell our potential short for anything or anyone!