Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Zachary Patterson: Canada must reclaim its wayward universities. Here’s how

Commentary

Pro-Palestinian supporters take part in a sit-in at the University of Ottawa, in Ottawa on Monday, April 29, 2024. Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press.

The state of Canada’s universities is exasperating to many Canadians. From ongoing encampments promoting distasteful—and even hateful—messages to ever-present EDI mandates to endless examples of extreme leftist ideology supplanting core curricula and infusing every aspect of academia, it seems incontrovertible to many that our post-secondary institutions have lost their way. But all is not lost. There are many avenues by which universities can be reformed to respect academic freedom and honour the foundational truth, knowledge, and merit principles once again. This column is the culmination of three previous columns on professors, universities, and the funding and regulatory landscape surrounding universities.

The different avenues of reform, inspired from many sources, can be aggregated into those acting at the university, provincial, or federal levels. Remedies can also be categorized as prescriptive- or incentive-based, or simple defunding. Given provincial jurisdiction, most avenues are through provincial governments.

Since it is provinces that create universities, they have wide-ranging powers to decide how they are governed, even if traditionally universities have been granted a great deal of autonomy in operation. This has been acknowledged legally when provinces were perceived to have overstepped their authority in legislating fine points of university administration.

That said, provinces create universities and decide at least on university governance structures. As a result, they can set mandates (that enshrine academic freedom and the foundational principles of the university), structure boards of governors, nominate members to them, and ensure that boards of governors can appoint senior management.

That is not to say we should ignore the institutions themselves. University-level, prescriptive actions can be used to a number of effects. The most important is to ensure independence of boards from university operations. Moreover, nominations to boards of governors should include stiff-spined reform-minded members supported by their provincial governments and unafraid of criticism from the university, its faculty, or students.

Courageous and reform-minded boards are necessary for two reasons. The first is to nominate reform-minded senior management. The second is to support senior management in the face of reform-resistant faculty and students, and potentially staff.

Similarly, experiments and proposals are underway to create new institutions within current university structures to reinvigorate them.

Naturally, university-level interventions are limited to the scope of a given university. Multi-university avenues for reform are also available. Some are restricted to provinces, others to provincial or the federal government.

Provincial avenues include prescriptive legislation compelling universities to adhere to academic freedom and the foundational university principles. Similar legislation has been tried in Canada (Ontario, Alberta, and Quebec) to uncertain effect. The main weakness of this type of legislation so far is that it leaves the adoption of principles for the universities themselves to define and/or enforce.

Similarly, legislation could exclude expenditures contrary to the foundational principles of the university such as the merit principle. This would include expenditures on EDI programs or race-based hiring. Much legislation in the U.S. has had this type of focus.

Statutory rules prohibiting the censure of free speech on campus as well as requiring universities to enforce “time, place, and manner rules” while preventing them from imposing security fees on speakers could be passed.

Legislation breaking the monopoly of degree-granting education departments for teachers could go a long way in decreasing their ability to politicize K-12 education. Master’s and PhD-holders could, for example, be considered qualified to teach in primary and secondary school.

If such prescriptive legislation were found to overstep authority, approaches side-stepping these issues could be considered. Funding agencies (federal and provincial) could be reorganized to respect and uphold academic freedom and the foundational principles instead of encouraging and adopting the politicization of universities and research.

Incentive-based funding approaches could also be adopted. That is, funding could be made contingent upon adhering to and respecting academic freedom and the foundational principles.

Provincial and even federal research funding could be distributed contingent upon universities adhering to the freedom and foundational principles. Similarly, student loans (both federal and provincial) could be contingent upon attending universities adhering to them.

Another important avenue is related to tax benefits. Tax benefits to universities (not having to pay taxes) due to their status as public institutions could be contingent.

Such incentive-based approaches would be dependent upon a mechanism for ensuring adherence to the freedom and foundational principles, whether it be at the provincial or federal level.

This could be accomplished with legislation like the U.K. Higher Education Act that created their academic freedom “tsar” to monitor university policies and who can receive complaints about universities. This avoids the problem of legislation where universities police themselves.

Given that the public may have lost patience with handing over enormous amounts of taxpayer money for sinecures of left-wing professors who’ve betrayed their role, there may be an appetite simply for reducing or even defunding universities. This could involve straightforward reductions in provincial operational or research funding.

An additional avenue to consider is student loans. Provincial and federal governments could get out of the business of providing student loans altogether. Instead, they could encourage (allow, if legally necessary) universities to provide student loans themselves.

This would better align university and student interests than the current system which increases the amount of money available to universities but allocates all risk for the investment in tuition to students and the taxpayer. Why not let universities take on the risk?

While the state of universities can be despairing, the situation is not hopeless. There are many avenues through which they can be induced to once again recapture their core mission, respect academic freedom, and recommit to their foundational principles. That so much money is devoted to them and that they have drifted so far from their role not only suggests but obliges our governments to act.

Andrew Perez: It’s time. Justin Trudeau must go

Commentary

Water drips from the hair of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as rain falls while he speaks in Nemaiah Valley, B.C., June 26, 2024. Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press.

The stunning Conservative by-election win in Toronto-St. Paul’s last month has plunged Trudeau’s Liberal Party into a nadir and resulting leadership vacuum. The perilous state of the party is only exacerbated by several high-profile Liberals calling on Trudeau to resign and make way for a new leader and prime minister.

The Conservatives’ upset win in the tiny mid-Toronto riding represented a perfect storm scenario for Poilievre’s party. A mixture of national and local dynamics coalesced in Conservatives’ favour in one of the most bedrock Grit seats in the country: a constituency not won by a centre-right party since Mulroney-era cabinet minister Barbara McDougall claimed it for a second time in the free trade election of 1988.

While a Liberal victory still appeared like the most likely outcome heading into election day, the deep unpopularity of Trudeau’s government loomed large over the entire Liberal operation in Toronto-St. Paul’s.

The government’s handling of the Israel-Hamas War and the recent increase in the capital gains inclusion rate rubbed many residents the wrong way in what is largely an affluent riding home to a sizable Jewish community.

The result: many traditional Liberal voters stayed home or bolted to Poilievre’s Conservatives with the aim of sending Trudeau a stern warning. And they succeeded.

Losing a historically Liberal riding at a time when the government’s fortunes continue to plummet represents a full-blown crisis for a party built around Trudeau’s image.