April 1st, 2010
Graduate Studies is risen this week, and hallelujah to that. Several blogs ago I wrote about the funding challenges we were facing owing to our rapid enrolment growth and our increasingly competitive funding packages. We were compelled to suspend fellowship funding to incoming students and cut back on department budgets. That’s all putting it mildly. It’s been a rough few months coming to terms with the gap between our current resources and our projected needs. Our applications are now up over 60% over last year at this time. We are feeling the force of our own momentum. We can’t make it swing if we don’t have the bling.
So it was that when the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador brought down the annual budget early in the week we all thought we had died and gone to heaven. It is Holy Week in some quarters, after all. I was sitting high up in the visitors’ gallery when the Finance Minister Tom Marshall read the paragraphs about $2 million coming our way for graduate fellowships and I can tell you I just about bounced up to the ceiling and kissed the plaster angels. Decorum in the Legislature prevails, however, and so instead I threw my arms up in the air and brought them down in obeisance towards the government side of the House, a gesture any dictionary will tell you signifies not only respect but also submission. Okay, not submission, more gratitude than surrender, sure, but deep and abiding gratitude, amen.
Perhaps the media attention of the last few weeks had something to do with it, but then that attention was an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the situation, and of the reach of community interest. Perhaps much to government’s surprise, the issue really clicked with citizens of the province, and of course with the students themselves who were never shy expressing their concerns. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when students complain politicians listen.
Whatever the reasons, everything came into focus relatively quickly; the Premier of this province and his cabinet were obviously listening. Interesting, but the provincial budget probably repeated such keywords as social, justice, education, children, and health more often than any other provincial budget did this year—or last year—with the possible exception of Quebec. In fact, it would be a useful exercise for a short paper in English and/or Political Science to analyze the diction and compare it with other provincial budgets. Where is the emphasis? What matters? What’s the message? What nouns recur and what do they mean in context? What narrative is the government reflecting and shaping for the future? What story, in other words, does the budget say about this historical moment and the people who are being served by it?
Emails and notes of astonishment have been pouring into my inbox from across the country all week. Most of my colleagues are facing much more dire scenarios. The more conservatively fiscal governments become the more enlightened Premier Danny Williams starts to appear.
Some economists, the right-wing, the Opposition, anarchists, and those who just despise government no matter its stripe, colour, or ideology have all found many ways to criticize the budget. That’s democracy. It is incorrect to say too much good about it or about the province’s defense of maintaining a deficit, and if you want to be taken seriously in some circles you can’t be doing gestures of obeisance. But hearing Minister Marshall invoke Keynesian economic theory, with its emphasis on the importance of government and public sector investment in times of economic stress, I feel reassured. I like my government to think that way. I like my Ministers to cite economic theory, not just the platitudes of the global marketplace.
Naturally, I am heralding the moment because the School of Graduate Studies is a significant beneficiary. Sure, call it self-interest. But the benefits that graduate students bring to the university as a whole, by stimulating research, helping with the teaching mission, offering diversity, bringing their own cultures into the mix and shaking things up, and dozens of other reasons that show up in the longer term, are incalculably important.
At least now we can relax the grip we have been keeping on our graduate programs and, after adjusting the budget of the School of Graduate Studies and assessing the potential, we will be letting academic programs know very soon just how much brighter their future looks. More to the point, the future looks that much brighter for the many students who wish to pursue graduate degrees at Memorial in 2010 and flowing.
It’s no April Fool’s joke, thank goodness. We are in much better shape this week than last. Praise the Easter Bunny, pass the dark chocolate, and Happy Spring!