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Fears for Piers, and other letters to the editor (Jae C. Hong/AP/Jae C. Hong/AP)
Fears for Piers, and other letters to the editor (Jae C. Hong/AP/Jae C. Hong/AP)

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Dec. 27: Fears for Piers, and other letters to the editor Add to ...

Myopic underfunding

Why is it that in Saskatchewan’s so-called boom times, in our period of greatest non-renewable resource extraction, our universities are being myopically underfunded (Survival Of The Fittest – Dec. 26)? I can’t help but wonder how the provincial government can justify prioritizing shiny new football stadiums over a well-balanced and affordable postsecondary education.

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Canadian universities in all provinces, let alone those in “have” provinces, should not be forced to operate under false austerity. Rather, they should be making strategic investments in our future by maintaining, even enhancing, liberal arts and science programs and reaping the benefits of a well-rounded citizenry – a citizenry that many studies have shown is healthier and more productive, and through whom creativity and innovation flow.

Marc Spooner, associate professor, faculty of education, University of Regina

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There is an irony in the suggestion that universities are working hard to ensure “survival of the fittest.” The University of New Brunswick has recently released, as required, a list of its top salary positions. The president is being paid $325,000, and the next top 10 executives receive $200,000 or $225,000. Add that each of these individuals now have a mushrooming support staff, and it becomes evident why the university does not have the money to pay its lowest paid teachers stipends of less than $5,000 per course. Meanwhile, the rank and file are being snowed under with demands for administrative work, and research funding institutions have bowed to political pressure to show that academics’ research contributes directly to such Procrustean national qualities as “prosperity” and “leadership.”

The creative force that universities have been for close to 1,000 years is a result of their character as communities of scholars, who also do useful work teaching. The only way they can provide something that high schools do not is if faculty are free to pursue the research they have identified as being valuable, and if they have appropriate time and support from their institutions.

Dr. Nicholas Tracy, associate, Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society, University of New Brunswick

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The mark of a brilliant thinker is an ability to spot trends in their infancy. In his 1967 essay The University Curriculum, Canadian scholar George Grant wrote: “Western men live in a society the public realm of which is dominated by a monolithic certainty about excellence – namely that the pursuit of technological efficiency is the chief purpose for which the community exists.” Forty-five years later, universities face “rising costs, flat government funding and capped tuition, combined with a shortage of space to keep boosting enrolment.”

There are two approaches to this challenge. The first: Hire a problem-solver like Robert Dickeson to institute a “prioritization” program funnelling resources to departments that can prove “their graduates are succeeding.” The second: Ask some fundamental questions: Why are costs rising? Why are governments incapable of funding these institutions like before? And why is “success” measured in ever more narrow terms?

Once, Western civilization educated citizens whose main objective was to be skeptical about the highest human purposes. This was the raison d’être of the university. Somehow we’ve found ourselves, in the 21st century, no longer able to afford such luxuries. Grant would implore us to ask: What kind of progress is this?

Jay Conte, Niagara Falls, Ont.

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Fears for Piers

Now that thousands of gun lovers have Piers Morgan in their sights (Morgan Defiant As Petition Presses For His Deportation – Dec. 26), perhaps he should be deported – not for criticism of the right to bear arms, but for his own safety. John Lennon was another “annoying Brit” shut up by an American bearing a firearm.

Edward Zile, Toronto

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Spence and Harper

This week in Ottawa, two determined individuals face each other in a showdown that could lead to the death of one and destruction of the moral legitimacy of the other (Winter Fails To Slow Idle No More’s Momentum – Dec. 24).

Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation has said she is prepared to fast until death. She should be taken at her word. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has delegated a meeting to his Aboriginal Affairs minister, who lacks the weight to deal with the crisis.

In his 2008 statement apologizing for the residential school abuse suffered by native children, Mr. Harper said it was time for a new relationship between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. Were he to meet Chief Spence in her tent, it would be a sign of compassion for her and all suffering native people, especially the children. And if he were to bring an undertaking to provide equal funding for native children’s education across Canada and be open to meeting the chiefs, he would demonstrate that he is a great leader.

If he doesn’t, and Chief Spence dies, he will be forever remembered as someone too proud to do the right thing. Worst, he would never forgive himself.

James Bartleman, Chippewas of Rama First Nation member, former lieutenant-governor of Ontario

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From horror to hempathy

You just ran a series on genetics and now run an editorial pushing the legalization of marijuana (Sea Change In Public Attitudes – Dec. 26) – it’s too bad you didn’t write about the research connecting the two. Schizophrenia, which neurophyscientists call the “young man’s disease,” is often triggered by drug use by someone with that gene. Anyone who has a mentally ill person in the family knows the devastation it causes. And few people know their DNA background. Why encourage that horror story?

Barbara Armstrong, Toronto

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Despite a sometimes dodgy election process, Nicaragua should not be listed as one of the bad apples of the drug war. Thanks to professionals in the military and police, it has performed remarkably well in a tough environment at keeping drugs out and in consequence its homicide rate is a fraction of that of most of its neighbours. You might also have noted that the new President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, whose country has been bleeding for 20 years from the drug war, is looking at some forms of decriminalization for exactly the reasons given in your editorial.

John Graham, Ottawa

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If the marijuana laws in Colorado, Washington and other U.S. states are being loosened, will we also see the immediate release of all those young people who were incarcerated just for possession?

Surely we in Canada can do the same. Let’s have some hempathy here.

Barbara Klunder, Toronto

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