Nature abhors monocultures. Forests with only one species of trees are sitting targets for devastating diseases. Institutions also are threatened by a monocultural environment. When monocultures occur, natural forces usually conspire to cause diversity to come about. In the years since the Second World War, Canadian universities have gone from the monoculture of being mostly private institutions to the opposite monoculture of being institutions that are all supported significantly by public money. The current monoculture is under great pres- sure to change.

In the private model, post-secondary education in Canada was a ”œprivilege.” In the partly public model, a university education has been transubstantiated into a ”œright.” More than simply wanting to claim this right, many of today’s university students demand the system also hand them a degree that will open wide the vast vaults of good jobs and high incomes of the 21st century Canadian service economy.

The latter demand may lead to a breakdown of the contemporary, partly public Canadian post-secondary monoculture. The players who will destroy this mono- culture are the federal government (which created it in the first place) and those who promote the current trend toward full-cost recovery of tuition fees at Canadian uni- versities. Both efforts will seriously undermine the cur- rent model of universities in Canada. Are Canadians ready for it?

Starting a few years ago with some MBA schools, fees were raised quickly and inexorably so that, today, most of the best MBA schools in Cana- da charge tuition fees that pay the entire cost of the MBA students’ educations. Some of these schools have assembled scholarship and bursary moneys in a quasi-American fashion so that top-notch recruits to their schools will get the assistance they need, with- out needing to be plunged deeply into student debt. Canada’s law, medical, dental and engineering schools have followed close behind the MBA schools in moving to the ”œnew” full-cost recov- ery model. In the next few years, most appear poised to reach 100 percent cost-recovery through tuition fees paid by their students.

Anyone in the ”œdevelopment” ”” a euphemism for money-harvesting ”” offices of Canadian universities should be worried about this trend. Because relatively more money tends to be raised from the alumni who went to these professional schools (including undergraduate busi- ness schools), the ability of university development officers to attract large alumni-generated gifts is directly related to the question of how warmly these graduates feel toward their alma mater.

If alumni know they’ve paid the full freight for their MBAs, they may question the need for them to help the Billy Buccaneer School of Business at their old university. (Indeed, the ”œnam- ing” of various B-Schools after wealthy business barons will prevent them from having their old, ivy-covered haunts named after them: another rea- son not to give.) If, on top of the fore- going, professional school professors are paid salaries that are competitive with the so-called real world, rather than the derisory pay many get today, future full-freight-paying alumni may not feel much need to give to subsidize poor Professor Schloch who taught them cost accounting or corporate finance. If Professor Schloch is making $300k per annum, why bother?

The true bottom line is that most large-scale university fund raising relies on the ability of these profes- sional schools to share the wealth with the rest of the academy. Because 90 percent of Canada’s one million full- time and part-time university students are undergraduates, not denizens of MBA, medical or law schools, this is a necessary equalization program, one most Canadian universities could not live without. What will happen the day the head of the Buccaneer B- school or the dean of the Grabbit-and- Run Law School wakes up and asks: why am I sharing all this booty with those non-vocational-oriented humanities people, or with social sci- entists who seem to be studying things in which I have little interest? What if his or her alumni come to the same conclusion and either stop giving to the broader insti- tution or target their gifts solely to their old profes- sional school? That could be a monoculture-ending event as significant as the arrival of the Canada Coun- cil in 1957 with its bags of Killam-Dunn money, ready to be directed toward the building of new university structures from coast to coast.

Then, there is the other current major attack on the monocul- ture, the one coming from deep inside the academy, from the so- called ”œsilver seven.” The seven ”” the universities of Toronto, BC, Alberta, McGill, Western Ontario, Montreal and Queen’s ”” claim to be nothing less than hemi-semi-demi-Harvards in the making, right here on the frozen taiga of the Great Mediocre North. Because they claim a special status, these universities have, in the last year, been pleading for more ”œmanure,” i.e. government money, to be concentrated on their very special ”œrose gardens,” i.e. their graduate and research programs. They want this money to be given to them through the publicly unaccountable founda- tions that have become faddish in the last few years in Ottawa. These foun- dations will give them a free hand to break their particular corner of the monoculture.

University of Toronto President Robert Birgeneau has even been quot- ed in a national newspaper ”” obvious- ly in the certain belief the ”œsilver seven” were better than the other 107 Canadian post-secondary institutions ”” sayving that the seven soi-disant superior schools deserved special treat- ment because ”œthey aspire to join the ranks of the very best public universi- ties of the world.” Many of us aspire to lofty goals in our lives but that aspira- tion alone is not sufficient reason to grant special treatment through public funds to anyone or any institution.

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Even before the arrival of full-fee- recovery policies at professional schools, and the self-declared special worthiness of the silver seven, the sad truth is that Canada’s university sys- tem was already on its way to being at least two-tiered, thanks partly to tuition fees that are rising far faster than the anemic inflation rate this country currently boasts. Then there is the three billion dollars in ”œdeferred maintenance” that needs to be spent on university buildings across Canada. Finally, there is the growing discrep- ancy between the financial health of universities in Canada’s four largest provinces and all the rest. Is it coinci- dental that the silver seven just hap- pen to be in those four blessed, and largest, provinces?

Thanks to the way the Fathers of Confederation cut their deal on fed- eral vs. provincial powers in the original 1867 Canadian constitu- tion, the federal government has always been forced to put federal money into university research or bricks and mortar rather than into the desperately needy operating budgets of scores of Canadian post- secondary (but largely undergradu- ate) institutions and their faculties of humanities and social sciences.

Federal transfer dollars ”œearmarked” for education have so often found their ways into provincial highways or health care budgets that Ottawa has grown tired of using that antique technique. It has therefore sought other models. The Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation is one of the most recent attempts to break this monoculture-creating constitutional impasse.

The attack on publicly unaccountable federal foundations has just begun. Dalhousie public administration professor, Peter Aucoin, in an article in the spring, 2003, issue of Canadian Public Administration, says, ”œThe design of these foun- dations constitutes the privatization of public authority to allocate money for public purposes in ways that put them beyond the pale of the Consti- tution’s requirement for Parlia- mentary control.” The government, he says, has removed these foundations ”œfrom the partisan arena of ministerial and parliamentary government and thereby allow private-sector ”˜stakeholders’ to manage public business with public money.” That is precisely the goal of the silver seven, with their claim over management of the $3.15 billion that has so far flowed to the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

Former Tory MP and parliamen- tary secretary J. Patrick Boyer has also joined the anti-foundation fray in his book, Just Trust Us, in which he mir- rors Aucoin’s attack and asks why pub- lic, or democratic, accountability is eroding in Ottawa and why, in recent years, politicians have been so willing to give up their historic, constitution- al prerogatives over control of the public purse, while whining simulta- neously about the need for more power to be given to House of Commons committees or to individ- ual MPs. It is a puzzlement for Boyer and many others.

How will all these trends play out in the next decade in the Canadian versions of one of the last remaining medieval institutions ”” the university? Perhaps the deep Canadian passion for equity and equality (they are not the same) will raise its (some say, mediocre) head once more. If so, it will begin by foil- ing the ambitions of those university presidents who think they should be heading Harvard or Princeton, not UBC or McGill. It could even lead to a re-opening of the hoary constitu- tional debate on education but, this time, the problem might be solved the way Roy Romanow suggested the medicare-funding impasse be broken, namely, by free and open federal- provincial agreements that guarantee federal monies transferred for a par- ticular purpose will actually go to that purpose at the provincial level.

I am not so optimistic about the fate of the professional schools. When the public purse no longer pays any part of one’s education at them, and when one begins to appreciate the extent of the subsidy that is therefore being paid to the ”œmother” institution, why bother to continue this practice? One univer- sity president recently told me the ”œbrand-name” of the university would keep these schools in the fold. That is doubtful, especially at schools that don’t even carry the name of their university any more, but bear the name of some egotistical rich person. (Granted, some universities got their names originally from similar people but that was another wench in another country.)

Whichever way the band marches, the late 20th centu- ry Canadian monoculture in which public money con- tributed anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of university budgets is on its way to the dustbin of history. Which university will be the first to ”œgo all the way” and return to full private status, aÌ€ la most universities of the 1950s? I have my personal predictions but the individual institu- tions that opt for privatiza- tion will not be as important as future potential declara- tions of independence by one or more universities from their reliance on the public purse. Only when one or more of these declarations occurs will the overdue debate on the 21st century shape of the Canadian acad- emy finally begin in earnest. Speed the day.

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