A GTA Prof’s Response to the HEQCO Recommendations

Last post (which was admittedly a while ago, given exam week and all), I reposted some of the recommendations for Ontario’s Colleges and Universities that were made by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, in their recently-published Third Annual Review and Research Plan.  (And, to paraphrase an old commerical, with a name like HEQCO, it has to be good...)

I’ll be posting some random reactions of my own later in the week, but first (targeted) whack at the piñata goes to our most frequent contributor:

Premier McGuinty’s new plan invites comparison with the rhetoric and realities of the distant and recent past.

When the colleges were initially created, they were intended to be “stand-alone” institutions. They were explicitly designed as alternatives to university, and not intended in any way to emulate US junior colleges or other educational facilities that would permit transfer to the senior institutions. That idea has plainly been jettisoned.

As well, in the beginning, the mandate for the Colleges of Applied Arts & Technology included the requirement that each program contain a component of not more than one-half and not less than one-third in “general education” – a commitment to the liberal arts which has been neglected or purposefully degraded, but now seems to be the “wave of the future.” The contemptuous dismissal of the commitment to the liberal arts and the refusal even to entertain concepts of collegiality and academic freedom among the bulk of college “managers” is now (or ought to be) a tad embarrassing, no?

Finally, there is the so-called “Rae Review” of 2005. To much ballyhoo, the social democrat apostate who remains Opposition-Leader-in-Waiting in Ottawa, produced an expensive analysis of postsecondary education in which he devoted only a couple of pages to the colleges. In essence, he said that colleges were notable mainly because they were cheap. He also urged that we focus on English as a Second Language for immigrants and apprenticeship training for the skilled trades. Noble goals, to be sure, but apparently of little practical interest to the current government.

I take no position on any of these matters, but the fact that there seem to be significant differences between authoritative statements and highly touted recommendations about what we are (or should become) invites scrutiny. If nothing else, the contradictions and reformulations highlight the abandonment of any overarching “vision” or “mission” for the college system, and the realization that the “market model” has been implemented in all its Hobbesian chaos.

Colleges are now scrambling for funds, “clients” (formerly known as students) and “market share.” They are furiously “rebranding” themselves and, as Stephen Butler Leacock so eloquently put it, are riding “madly off in all directions.”

Whatever the merits of each college’s desperate attempt to win an “image” or an “identity,” we are in what Sean O’Casey’s iconic character Joxer (in “Juno and the Paycock“) would have called a “terrible state of chassis!”

Let the games continue!

Does HEQCO’s vision for Ontario’s colleges correspond with your own?  Contact me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com to air your own reactions, be they good, bad, or indifferent.

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