Monthly Archives: July 2015

Blog31

That’s a shot of Renews on the southern shore, taken just yesterday. It was bloody cold and the sky failed to reveal even a hope or a glimmer of sunshine, but my friend’s rose bush was happily showing off, cheering up the landscape with deep pink blossoms. Everyone is talking about the bad weather, just can’t stop crying about it. If I were a tourist I’d be demanding my money back from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador—false advertising, just for starters.

I was going to post a photo of the parking lot project underway in front of the Arts and Admin Building of which I have a clear view from my office, but decided that a shot of Renews roses was a more salubrious option. Things are grim enough. It’s kind of disheartening seeing the green space on Elizabeth Avenue levelled and paved, especially since it takes forever to get anything to grow upright in these parts, but I am hoping that as with almost everything else about change my eyes will soon get used to the new development and I won’t even remember a time or place where trees once stood.

Parking is a big issue on this and almost every other campus I know. The legendary former president of the University of California, Clark Kerr, famously said that professors are “a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.” That wry remark has been quoted many many times by people who have never even heard of Kerr. But he knew what he was talking about. Imagine the parking problems he faced in the California system, where driving to work is both a right and a   necessity. Apparently the budget for parking at UCLA is about $32,000 a space. If you do the math you realize just how hideously expensive that would be on the public system.

I have studied and worked at campuses where the monthly costs of a parking space were much higher than they are here. At the University of Alberta, for example, the cost was way too high for my student and then sessional-teaching budget and so I made sure to rent an apartment within walking distance of campus. It’s pretty hard to dislodge employees—and students–from the privilege of low parking fees once they have been budgeting that way from the beginning of time. I should add that parking fees are a matter for collective bargaining between the faculty association and the university and by making some observations here I am in no way foreclosing future bargaining sessions. These are my personal views as a long-time employee of Memorial and only my views, as far as I know.

As much as I hate seeing the green green grass of work disappear into gravel and asphalt I also know that we have an obligation to provide spaces for all the staff and students who commute to campus from distances much further than town every day. The public transportation system isn’t quite up to speed on the needs of campus commuters and, besides, if you live outside the metro area that system isn’t any good to you anyway. Something had to be done. Finding solutions to parking demands is definitely a work in progress.

Someone once noted that in academia you are not so much what you drive as where you park.

Ain’t that the truth? I can track my decades-long journey at MUN as one in which I have achieved parking supremacy—from early junior professor days where my car was banished to the far reaches of campus to the provostial privilege of a space only a few steps from the main doors of the building. This leads me to question why we all agreed long ago to pretty much flat semester rates for parking across campus. Shouldn’t the better spots, those closest to campus, cost more? Shouldn’t there be a scale based on proximity to one’s place of work or study?

Further, we all pay by semester. What about a menu of options for those who only park a day or two a week? What about those who drop in for a few hours? It would take some reliable software and an efficient tracking system, but I am sure other campuses somewhere on the continent have figured out a way to handle parking challenges with a more sophisticated payment scheme than the (more or less) one size fits all model. There are a lot of people freaking out this summer at the disappearance of their parking spaces.

I’m no expert on the subject, just an employee who figures there’s got to be a better way both to recover some of the basic costs of parking spaces—snow clearing, security, etc.—and to encourage ourselves to think more responsibly, rationally, less hysterically about our sense of entitlement and our environment-challenged dependence on our cars (and the parking spaces in which they reside).

Blog30

I had to skip out on blog writing again lately—just too much on the go, too much of a swirl of events to focus on one theme, and too little time. Increasingly, I feel the challenge of writing in this space as a provost. I don’t want to be censoring myself from saying too much on the one hand, but I need to respect the privacy of others and the importance of discretion on the other. For instance, throughout the weeks leading up to the university budget-focused meeting of the Board of Regents, I had to refrain in tongue-clenching fashion from commenting publicly on a number of misleading truthiness-style observations made by some student leaders, the media, and some faculty members. I fully appreciate the need to get the belief-system messages out in circulation, the reliance on provocative rhetoric, and the politicizing of points of view, but that doesn’t mean I have to like some or all of it, especially the ad hominem and weak generalizing bits.

But, again, it’s important to get a grip and let all points of view, however contradictory or ill informed, have an airing. That’s the nature of the world we live in and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Self-censorship is one thing; limiting protest or oppositional points of view is another. Not in my country, thank you very much.

In any case, we are moving on because we have to. Government delivered its budget, we consulted and proposed a reasonable response with which we think we can live, for now, and university life carries on. Enrolment in many of our 100+ graduate programs will go up in the fall, new programs will be proposed, considered, and probably passed, parking will remain a vexed bone of contention, asbestos will be abated, pedways will come down, and summer will not ever have arrived.

These truths notwithstanding, we will definitely take some time, time we really did not have this year, to plan for the uncertain future ahead, not the least of which will involve facing both new provincial and federal governments. Therein lies the promise of newness. I always find the lead-up to elections exciting, a residual effect of having grown up in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, perhaps. Anything seems possible when citizens get to exercise their rights to choose their leaders, or so one hopes.

I am writing this blog from the verdant, blissfully muggy climes of the Laurentians, north of Montreal. See the perfect Canadian vista above. It doesn’t get much more iconic summer than here. Hallelujah and pass the maple syrup. I have been in these parts for a few sweet days for some national board meetings, plotting for now and after the November federal election, in particular, trying to save Canadian public broadcasting from the clutches—or axes–of those who shall remain nameless. Anyone who thinks s/he can predict the fall outcomes is a fool, but that doesn’t mean we can’t think and behave as if a newer day is on the horizon. Public education and public broadcasting share much in common. They are, in my view, the pillars of our democracy, foundational to the kind of society and nation we want to inhabit. Both have endured cuts and diminishment to services over the last two decades. Both are steadily evolving into hybrid versions of the public system—that is, publicly (government, taxation) and privately (individual tuition, corporate donation, beer commercials) funded. I want to live in a Canada that believes in a strong, arm’s length national broadcaster and strong, arm’s length post-secondary education. Sure, broadcasting is a federal matter, education provincial, but with both elections coming our way, the citizens here and there will be chattering like crazy. As sure as summer will fade, the conversation about the future of these democratic pillars will resume with force.

Right now, in the alleged dog days of summer, I’ll settle for a jump in the lake with the loons—of the aquatic diving variety.