By Nelson Joannette, Department of History
Is WLU following Greece’s example? WLU’s administration has brought in austerity cuts because its leadership has supposedly brought financial ruin to the University. And in the midst of austerity the message is “let’s decorate.” Yes, why not put up 22 statues at the Waterloo campus? It makes sense after all. Greece has lots of statues and it has austerity, so the two must go hand in hand.
There have been two critiques of the Laurier Statues project published in the Kitchener Record. Elliot Worsfold, a PhD student at Western, and Mike Carroll, Professor of Sociology at WLU, have each clearly articulated why Laurier should not erect 22 statues of Canada’s Prime Ministers, statues that Kitchener City Council rejected for placement in Victoria Park. Jonathan Finn, Chair, Department of Communication Studies, has organized an online petition “Stop the Statues.” I would like to join the nay side which objects to the lack of inclusiveness in discussions leading to the decision to erect these statues, and in the choice of subject matter.
1) Why, other than that no one else wants them, would WLU put up statues of all those Prime Ministers? Has our nation’s capital (which does not have statues of all those Prime Ministers) moved its location to the WLU campus? Other than the obvious ties to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, what deep connection does WLU have to all those Prime Ministers? Perhaps the WLU administration, namely its President Max Blouw, would be enlightened through a history lesson, that is a lesson from the liberal arts. WLU’s Brantford campus sits starring at Victoria Park Square where a collaborative effort among private and public figures including First Nations Peoples decided to think outside the box, and unlike all those other Victoria Parks with a statue of Queen Victoria, instead in 1886 erected a statue to honour Joseph Brant and the Six Nations. In 1886 a group of people representing a wide array of interests thought collaboratively to commemorate something that is special to Brantford, that is its founding peoples. This lesson from history, this liberal arts lesson, teaches us that commemoration must be thoughtful and treated with respect, dignity and relevance rather than like Big Mamma from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof where her basement is filled with cast-offs collected while touring Europe.
2) No matter what the costs of installing Kitchener’s rejects, which Blouw has stated would be minimal, what message is being sent out with austerity taking its toll on staff and faculty employment and services to students as real people involved in the teaching of students are replaced by “teaching” statues? Is this Max Blouw’s “let them eat cake” moment in history? Is he that out of touch? Instead of a $2 million statue project, why doesn’t WLU encourage a $2 million project to increase course offerings which have been slashed? Why doesn’t WLU reconnect to its liberal arts foundations by thinking outside the box as the Yale-NUS college of liberal arts and sciences in Singapore has – by not aping others by slashing, but instead engaging in long-term thinking and realizing the necessity of the liberal arts.
This is not a time to be sidelined using any energy or resources on statues. This is instead a time to examine if there really is a fiscal crisis at WLU, and if there is, who at the helm is responsible for letting things get so out of control. Or is the fiscal crisis like the statues project, a big mistake?
Speaking of mistakes, did the private interest group, with two of its members being local businessmen Dave Caputo and Jim Rodger, approach any others after being rejected by Kitchener? Or did they come straight to Max Blouw? If so, why? Did these individuals and their group think that instead of statues they might raise funds for a “Confederation” scholarship? Did this group do any research as to the viability of a statue project, or was this decided on a whim?
3) Humour helps so let’s think about what some of those young, energetic creative WLU students might get up to with those statues. It is St. Patrick’s Day, 2016, and students are sitting in the bronze chairs on either side of Sir John A with drinks in hand and perhaps even throwing up in his memory. Maybe this will go viral and be really good publicity for WLU. On Joe Clark’s statue a budding artist might cleverly write “Joe who?” Trudeau’s statue surrounded by students during examinations saying “fuddle duddle” to exams – again, yet another viral possibility among the endless possibilities out there.
In closing, the real issue is not statues but the stature of WLU’s President being called into question yet again. Let’s add it up. We have a Milton campus fantasy rejected by the government. We have a fiscal crisis or at least the fantasy of one. We have the fantasy that statues will teach students. Is it time that WLU’s Board of Governors stopped fantasizing about the stature of our President and instead take their trusteeship seriously and ask Max Blouw to step down? Is it time that Max Blouw stopped fantasizing that he belongs at the helm? “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”