Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cuts to Post-Secondary Education in Alberta

Here is a link to another article on the dismantling of post-secondary education. This piece appeared in the September 2013 issue of the CAUT Bulletin, a publication of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. It provides a good snapshot of some of the consequences of the massive funding cuts in Alberta - elimination of programs of studies, enrolment cuts, layoffs, and loss of academic autonomy. What the article does not fully capture, however, is the human anguish as members of the academic community are forced to participate in decision-making around the destruction of the province's excellent post-secondary system, and watch as colleagues lose their jobs or flee to positions elsewhere. It is hard to stand by as opportunities and access for students shrink. Click on the link below to read the article.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Blaming Universities

Kate Lawson recently has published a thoughtful piece in The Huffington Post on how the tendency to blame universities for North American labour market woes is misplaced. As you know, dear reader, I previously have written here on the topic of how current governmental policies may promote dismantling the post-secondary education system in Canada. Universities and colleges are under threat in a way that is unprecedented in my lifetime. Dr. Lawson takes a longer view, the near millennium since the birth of universities, and argues that over time, universities have adapted in ways that have greatly benefited humankind. The dominant voices trumpeting misinformation about "the skills gap" and demanding that universities be cut down to size to become training sites for industry, present the history, purpose, and value of universities in a distorted way, she suggests.

Severe funding cuts and top-down policies have disrupted  the current functioning of universities, leading to layoffs, closure of programs, and fewer seats and services for students. University administration, faculty, and staff struggle to cope by making hard decisions and working very long hours. Perhaps there is little time to stand back and present alternative perspectives. Or, perhaps members of university communities fear that they might attract the negative attention of policy makers and further funding cuts. In this climate of fear, it is good to read the reasoned, well-written analysis of Kate Lawson.

As Joni Mitchell wrote, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Time is a Trickster

Several days ago, during a few minutes of mindless day dreaming, a plot for a new novel popped into my head. I indulged myself, and thought about it for awhile. The genre is speculative fiction. The time is not too far in the future, and some troubles that we face today have played out in a rather bizarre way to create some whopping big problems for North America. (You realize that I am speaking in broad generalities here. I am not quite ready to share any plot details yet.)

This novel would precede another novel, working title Underground, which I have made a bit of a start on -- the first 25 pages. The trouble is, I thought up the idea for  Underground nearly 25 years ago, when my second child was a newborn. I scratched down a few notes and scenes at the time, then came back to it began writing it one year for NaNoWriMo when I was trying to avoid finishing my second novel, Memories of a White Girl.

I have written a complete first draft of Memories. I have given it to first readers. I have spent countless hours thinking about and writing notes for the revision of Memories. But I have scarcely begun the actual revision. I think the story has lots of potential. But it needs lots of revision before it is ready to go out anywhere.

Ironically, or perhaps typically, given my writing tendencies that I have just described to you, I started writing Memories in a week-long writing workshop ten years ago in order to avoid working on my then current novel, working title Friends. The first draft of that one was about three quarters finished, but I  became stuck trying to pull the the themes together into a dramatic and satisfying conclusion. I still love the characters and structure of Friends but haven't even finished the first draft, never mind the revisions.

So to summarize, over the last 25 years, I have reached different stages on four draft novels:
1989: plot for Underground and a few notes
2001-03: wrote most of first draft for Friends
2003: wrote 4 linked short stories, which I later reworked into novel chapters for Memories
2004-07: thought about Memories a lot but didn't write much
2007: added 50,000 words to Memories during NaNoWriMo
2008: plodded along adding small bits from time to time, then wrote another 30,000 words during NaNoWriMo. Finally finished the first draft, I forget when.
2010: returned to Underground idea and wrote a bit
2011: did a little revision and sent Memories to readers; wrote notes for more revisions
2013: idea for yet another novel

There's always time, right? The novel drafts will still be waiting for me when I finally have time for them, right?

Well maybe not. A dear colleague has developed a degenerative disease similar to Lou Gerig's disease, and his good mind is increasingly locked within his body as he loses the motor control to speak and type. A brother of a friend is struggling with an aggressive form of Parkinson's disease, recently diagnosed. Another colleague, who was a mentor to me and whom I deeply admired as a leader is having serious health problems of some undetermined cause, just when he should be enjoying his first years of retirement.

Sometimes there isn't all the time in the world. Time is a trickster who changes the rules.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ripping up the Rockies

Throughout most of August, I was on vacation. Much of that time, we were camping in places where there was no connectivity to the Internet. Yes, places like that do still exist. When we did stay in cities and towns, we were so busy visiting dear friends and family that we had little time to go online. So, Dr Sock has been unplugged for a month, and hasn't posted here.

During our travels, we spent time in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, both on the eastern slopes and on the western side. The continental divide runs along the peaks of the Rockies near their eastern edge, close to where the mountains end and the prairies begin. The divide serves as the provincial boundary between British Columbia (BC) in the west, and Alberta in the east. We had never travelled through some of these areas before, especially on the eastern slopes, and were keen to explore new territory.

The Rockies on the BC side consist of extensive ranges of massive peaks, and wild rivers. The vegetation is lush and the mountains are heavily treed. Moisture moving inland from the Pacific Ocean tends to fall as rain or snow on the western slopes. There is little human habitation. By contrast, the eastern slopes are mostly in a rain shadow, and tend to be much drier. Also, the mountains, high and dramatic, suddenly fall away to prairie land, with few foothills, especially along the southern portions. As the Rocky Mountains are are a national treasure, there are many parks along the divide on both the BC side and the Alberta side, such as Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Kootenay National Park, and Waterton Lakes National Park. There also provincial parks and and specially designed recreation areas and management areas.

Outside of the parklands, we found that there were very big differences in recreational land use on the eastern slopes as compared to the western side. In Alberta, it seems that there is little regulation of crown land. People like to go camping in the creek and river valleys of the eastern slopes. This camping consists of setting up large fifth wheel trailers, often in groups of five or ten families, wherever they can pull the trailers in close to a stream. They bring with them their All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), and race around up and down hills, through creek beds, through swamps, and in the ditches alongside the roads. They tear up the ground with the ATVs, including fragile alpine vegetation, and destroy fish habitat. They race along hiking trails and cycling trails, ripping up the ground and destroying the trails. Then they come back to their camps and build huge bonfires. All of this seems to be lubricated with a great deal of alcohol.

We were shocked at the sheer number of these trailer enclaves and the ecological damage people inflicted with their ATVs. The roaring of the noisy ATVs was nonstop. Although the eastern slopes of the Rockies are beautiful, we did not find the area to be a pleasant place to be. There was nowhere accessible by road or trail that was not infested with ATVs. I was sad to see that this is the way that people are spending their time in the wilderness -- not with respect and awe, but destructively. These humans and their irresponsible actions seem almost like a cancerous growth spreading north and south along the eastern slopes. I was grateful for the parks, where ATV use is not allowed and the wilderness is being preserved.

While there is increasing use of ATVs in BC as well, it is minimal compared to what we witnessed on the Alberta side of the border. Same country, same Rocky Mountains, but different attitudes and provincial policies. Be careful BC, and take a long hard look at what is happening in Alberta before opening up more wilderness areas to ATVers. We are responsible for preserving our wilderness heritage for future generations, and to do so, we must avoid the mindless and wanton destruction of the type now taking place in Alberta.