On January 24 2014, the University of Western Ontario’s senate passed its new strategic plan, “Achieving Excellence on the World Stage,” which includes increasing the funding for faculties within the STEM faculties. However, once again, a significant number of faculties are underrepresented in this plan, in particular, FIMS, Arts & Humanities, Music, etc., many of which are already struggling financially. We of the London Chapter of the Progressive Librarians Guild, are concerned about the repercussions of the senate’s choice for our education, but also for academia more broadly which depends on university-wide funding in order to support the advancement of knowledge.
From the budget meeting on January 24, we fear that the University of Western Ontario is selectively favouring research within the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) disciplines. The decisions from the strategic-planning meeting serve only to create an artificial divide throughout the different aspects where education is entrenched. This divide between STEM and non-STEM places artificial limitations on progress, particularly where interdisciplinary research has been increasing in academia. This is crucial to recognize as interdisciplinary research is necessary for creativity and innovation to take hold and produce results that are so valued as expressed by the reasons for this budget cut. Thus it is a grave mistake to enforce this division that fosters too many boundaries for knowledge to be disseminated and developed upon. Essentially, new perspectives are lost and there are varied consequences to this undertaking.
The threat to the structural foundation of creativity exposes narrowly-envisioned goals and long term consequences, one of which includes the devaluation of non-STEM through the shifting of their positions in the larger university context. This is part of an increasingly intensified trend where the definition of education is limited by narrow characteristics, one of which rigidly sets what specifically constitutes “research” and what by default automatically falls out of the plan. Automatically then there are assumptions created by which disciplines are valued and this is reflective of the goals of an education organization. Professors and students should be encouraged to explore their interests without the pressure of proving the value of them. If targeted research funding is allowed to happen, it will undermine the university’s purpose as an institute of higher education. While the administration believes that this strategic plan will stimulate innovation in the sciences, it will in fact only serve to stagnate the scientific process by drowning out new ideas, which could potentially come from any discipline. A short article by Mexican physicist Guillermo Contreras (2002) provides a well-reasoned argument for the value of basic scientific research.We worry about the repercussions of this progress and its implications on“education” in general and thus the direction of the institution.
However, while the STEM faculties already have healthy finances, many other departments at Western must reallocate their budgets to remain financially solvent. FIMS has put forward two hypothetical scenarios in response to attempts to reduce their budget in the face of future austerity. Both scenarios involve cuts to the much used Graduate Resource Center (GRC), increases in already decently large class size, and large cuts in limited duty hires who provide important services for the students; teaching both specific and general classes which keep class sizes smaller and bringing in diverse talent. At a time when enrollment in the FIMS program is growing and tuition is rising, it is hard to see how such cuts are in the best interest of students at Western. This is a great personal concern for our members; we fear the effect that these cuts would have on our education.
Despite our disappointment in these events, we would also like to discuss the commendable behavior of the FIMSSC who disseminating information regarding issues surrounding Western’s Strategic Plan. The PLG would like to take this opportunity to commend the FIMSSC on their initiative in disseminating information regarding issues surrounding Western’s Strategic Plan. In a short period of time they were able to effectively reach out to the FIMS community on the implications of the proposed Plan and the budget cuts that could ensue, and the future of Western’s research in the social sciences to the student body. In just under a week they were also able to mobilize students for a peaceful demonstration and collectively take a stance on the university senate’s proposed cuts. A silent protest took place outside the room where the meeting was being held. Protestors were mostly FIMS students and grad students. Some of the protestors were allowed into the meeting room and stood along the back wall holding signs expressing their discontent with the strategic plan while the vote was taking place.
Unfortunately the Strategic Plan was approved, leaving us at the PLG and FIMS to ask, what’s next? A common issue at FIMS is that of ensuring longevity in our initiatives. While the immediacy of the Strategic Plan was a catalyst in garnering student involvement, as long as false comparisons and assumptions are made between STEM and non-STEM departments, the safety and funding of our faculty and research will continually be under threat. It is imperative that younger generations of students become involved especially those in undergraduate studies and those just starting their graduate degrees.
We also see the need to combine efforts with other faculties, including those in the STEM departments. The Strategic Plan neglects not only us at FIMS but also the Arts and Humanities, Social Science, and Music departments as well. To fortify our efforts and augment our cause, cross-faculty collaboration must occur. The PLG will be taking time to talk with other students and focus our attention on one-on-one interactions beyond the FIMS community. We feel that this would be most effective in informing others and generating further interest. Non-STEM faculties need support in order to change the current academic discourses that privilege STEM faculties. We fear the implications that this privilege will have on academia and the broader advancement of knowledge. We invite any like-minded individuals to join us as we continue to act against this issue.