A GTA Prof Parses McGuinty’s words

The following letter arrived in the virtual mail-bag, in response to McGuinty’s ruminations with the Globe & Mail editoral board, reposted here earlier in the week:

I can not help but point out that language has meaning. Premier McGuinty’s use of the term “academic freedom” illustrates that he “doesn’t understand its meaning”, or that his “PR Team” is at work, or an attempt to dilute what professors deserve.

Correct me if I am wrong (as I trust you will), however the concept of academic freedom has to do with the ownership of intellectual property produced (in the case of college professors) for the purpose of the teaching of course- and subject-materials for students’ education.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with management’s reckless spending of taxpayer dollars for new buildings sitting idle, fruitless expenses of “marketing” endeavours, or salaries that are not covered by collective agreements.

I just want to point out how the improper or ignorant use of words by government officials can further mislead and misinform the general public.

Clearly what Mr. McGuinty must have the courage and mandate to demand, is that every publically funded institution prove and present how the billions of our dollars are spent. That all management is accountable for every penny spent, and spent according to its citizen-sanctioned needs and expectations.

Once again the foxes are guarding the chickens !!!

Part of the question concerns whether McGuinty’s comments are primarily directed towards Colleges or Universities.  Obviously, when calling academic freedom into question, he’s talking to and about the Universities, since the colleges have no such freedom to call into question.

Within the context of universities, it should be noted, academic freedom largely concerns the ability of professors to pursue the research of their own interest, not subject to the whims of the electorate or the electoral posturing of politicians.

Given this context, McGuinty’s oddly-worded hypothesizing actually seems to mirror the correspondents’ comment that postsecondary institutions are “accountable for every penny spent, and spent according to its citizen-sanctioned needs and expectations”.  It is rooted in the opinion that postsecondary institutions exist — not simply for the public good — but as public services, and therefore adhering to the province’s priorities, as laid out by the government.

In short, I suspect that McGuinty is presenting the existence of public funding as a rationale for making Ontario’s Universities function much more like Ontario’s Colleges do.  It remains to be seen whether University profs will be as willing as its College profs to let governments and managers dictate what they teach and how they teach it.

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