Divide and Conquer – The Unmaking of a University

Look at almost every piece of promotional material for our university and you’ll see
the same word used over and over again–community. It’s in our Statement of
“Values, Vision, Mission and Guiding Principles.” It’s on the promotional
“Why Choose Laurier” page of our website. It’s in youtube videos that promote the university
to prospective students. The President even used the idea of WLU’s spirit of com-
munity to defend our reputation as a “party school.” The idea of an intimate Laurier
“community”–the meme of it–is so pervasive in our university history that
most of us have tended to believe in its truth, and have worked towards fostering
and promoting it.
And it’s the strength of this idea that likely explains the repeated use of words like
“betrayal” and “broken trust” at last week’s meeting of the University Faculty Council
(UFC). The evidence of our crumbling community has been made visible and tangible
to us, through the newly-emptied spaces in our departments and buildings. How very
far away from “close-knit” we’ve become.
Yet, while the Administration eagerly embraces the “community” brand, its management
-by-stress approach has mostly sown seeds of division.
From the first moments of Dr. Blouw’s presidency, Faculty have been pushed to
innovate in a bid for more students–to scurry willy-nilly to keep up with what
seem to be ever-changing expectations, a revolving door of programs to meet
“current demands” and “now you see it, now you don’t” funding. Many depart-
ments have been encouraged to expand their graduate programs even though the
resources to ensure their health are simply not available. Meanwhile, untold dollars
have been poured into ventures that have yet to yield WLU any return: the possibility
of a medical school and a giant stretch of dirt called “the Milton Campus,” to name
just a couple.
All this came to a head in the IPRM process. Among other things, IPRM managed
to officially place the “problem” of a small university stretched to its limits at the feet
of the departments and programs that have only ever tried to just keep up with
the changes this Administration has demanded. And when Faculty pointed to the
non-collegial (and faulty) mechanisms directing the IPRM, and raised cautionary
notes about how divisive the budget model that IPRM has instituted is, they
were first ignored, and then admonished for being–you guessed it–divisive.
The divide and conquer strategy must be working, however. For now the divisions
are real enough that Dr. Blouw feels confident to use them to his advantage. As
Faculty at the UFC pointed out, the President’s Open Letter to the Laurier
Community identifies Arts as the problem child, suggesting that the shortfall
in students at Laurier stems (at least in part) from a failure of Arts to innovate
(like Brantford). This is hardly community-building rhetoric.
Dr. Blouw’s Administration set out to “Envision Laurier.” If its “vision” was to
chip away at the spirit of collegiality smaller universities can foster, it has
succeeded. It’s sett faculties and programs against each other in a war over
financial table-scraps. But, as Faculty and staff here at Laurier, we know
administrations come and go. We are, and will continue to be, Laurier. In the
coming months, we hope to remind a few people about that.
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