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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 1998

Petrified Campus: The Crisis in Canada's Universities

By Bernice Schrank
David Bercuson, Robert Bothwell and J.L. Granatstein, Toronto: Random House of Canada, 1997; 216 pp; hardcover $29.95 ca
his book asserts that government underfunding, technological change, the unpreparedness of students, the defence of tenure by CAUT, the attack on academic freedom by campus feminists, and the incompetence of most professors, who either publish too little, too much or on the wrong topics, have created a mess in Canadian universities.

If this litany sounds stale, it is. You have read it before in The Great Brain Robbery. Petrified Campus is a tired sequel devoid of a story line, a cogent argument, even adequate information. The authors rely almost entirely on scattered anecdotes and quotations from recent Maclean's campus surveys.

Among many omissions are Bill Reading's The University In Ruins with its insightful critique of the rhetoric of excellence and David Noble's brilliant work on the implications and consequences of technological innovation in higher education.

What this book lacks in research, it makes up for in "attitude." This is a mean-spirited work that trivializes what it disagrees with and refuses to acknowledge adequately the work done by others to sustain our academic culture.

In particular, the authors use this work to pursue a vendetta against the policies of CAUT -- especially CAUT's support of academic freedom and tenure in Canadian universities.

The authors believe there is no connection between academic freedom and tenure. Tenure for them is the last refuge of the incompetent, and they see incompetence everywhere.

Tenure, they say, does not protect academic freedom. On non-unionized campuses, they trust the pious sentiments of some administrators and academics to ensure academic freedom. On unionized campuses, they rely on contractual obligations to honour academic freedom. Unfortunately, in my opinion, pious sentiments and collective agreements are insufficient guarantors of academic freedom. Both are subject to change and both are responsive to the political climate. Moreover, university administrators have shown an increasing propensity to abrogate faculty collective agreements. There may be a convincing argument to be made that academic freedom does not depend on tenure, but you won't find it in this book.

Toward the end of their work, the three authors provide yet another nasty putdown of the professoriate. "Academics, as a group," the authors advise us, "do not write very well." (166) One way to demonstrate at least the partial truth of this observation is to read this book.

Bernice Schrank is a member of the English department at Memorial University of Newfoundland.