Neglecting the basics: Post-secondary schools are becoming more and more like governments Anthony Furey, The Toronto Sun, February 16, 2013
The University College building at the University of Toronto. (Michael Peake/QMI Agency)
There is no better example of why our post-secondary education system is broken than a recent story out of University of Toronto.
The Varsity, my alma mater’s student publication, has a piece headlined “University heeds call for more prayer space.” And it goes downhill from there.
Emmanuel College — a Christian college within U of T — has just opened a Muslim prayer space and “ablutions facility.” That’s a place for Muslims to wash various parts of the body before prayer. So this is no classroom set aside for quick prayer. This is the real deal.
The university is also, the story notes, transforming a part of the eighth floor of Robarts Library into a multi-faith prayer space. Studying space has always been hard to find at U of T, and Robarts is one of the busiest spots, partially because it’s open 24 hours.
The administration is doing the student body a disservice giving Robarts space to anything other than books and study space.
The Emmanuel project cost $100,000. It’s mostly funded by the school — which means by students, parents and taxpayers.
I thought the point of university was to learn new things, not to transform school into a replica of your home life. After all, there are already ample prayer spaces in Toronto — called churches, temples, mosques, etc.
If you’re a little confused by why a Christian college is transforming itself into a mosque, principal Mark Toulouse, quoted in The Varsity, has the answer: “In February 2010, we started the Muslim studies program, as well as the Canadian Muslim continuing education certificate program. We also have a master’s program — the Muslim Studies track, for students interested in becoming Muslim chaplains.”
Like so many other new programs introduced at universities in recent decades, these clearly have no place in public institutions heavily underwritten by taxpayers.
This brings us to Ontario opposition leader Tim Hudak’s recent paper on reforming education. The PC Party leader’s previous papers have been sensible documents laying out a small-government philosophy from the ground up. But this one is a total mess. It’s “policy wonks gone wild,” with something to say about every pocket of education policy. It stinks of top-down micromanagement.
The solution is far simpler. It’s less about tinkering with policy and more about our backwards priorities.
Schools are now like the rest of government. In government, we fret over where to put heroin injection sites while Torontonians are narrowly dodging chunks of the Gardiner Expressway and people in Ottawa are driving into sinkholes.
In education, we fund programs like diversity studies that give the taxpayer little bang for their buck. We’re neglecting the basics in favour of fluff.
Meanwhile, students are leaving with mounting debt, fewer job prospects and the taxpayer is handed bigger bills.
The Ontario sunshine list shows that in 1996 U of T had 517 employees making more than $100,000. In 2011 that number was 2,786. Granted, some of these people are curing cancer, but many are administrative. Student growth doesn’t justify it either. In 2000, undergraduate enrolment was 34,000. It was 58,000 in 2011.
This parallels how governments everywhere grow despite diminishing returns.
Until they trim administration and cut all programs and activities that don’t belong, I’m going to continue hanging up the phone whenever I get that regular call asking me to donate to my old school.