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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 1998

CAUT Plans Public Awareness Campaign

In an unprecedented move, the Canadian Association of University Teachers is launching a national public awareness campaign to draw attention to the worsening crisis affecting post-secondary education in Canada. At its Nov. 20-22 meeting in Ottawa, CAUT Council voted to undertake a major long-term campaign that highlights the impact of funding cuts, skyrocketing tuition fees, and growing private sector involvement in Canada's universities. The campaign will also push for changes to improve the quality and accessibility of post-secondary education.

"Without public support, our best lobbying efforts will prove fruitless and the problems in universities will worsen," CAUT President Bill Graham told Council. "I don't think Canadians really know the full extent of what is happening to post-secondary education. That's why we need a national campaign to make the public aware of the problems and to offer them real solutions."

Over the past decade, post-secondary education has suffered from significant reductions in government funding. These funding cuts have led to a 90 per cent jump in tuition fees since 1990, diminished access to universities, a worsening student to faculty ratio, fewer educational and research resources, and a 240 per cent increase in student debt loads.

As public funding continues to dry up, universities are increasingly turning to the private sector to make up for the shortfall, with serious consequences for academic freedom and research. The current case of Dr. Nancy Olivieri of the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto demonstrates the dangers. Her research, which showed serious side effects of a new drug treatment, was nearly quashed by the corporate co-sponsor of the project. There is mounting evidence that greater reliance on private funding is narrowing the focus of universities and academic research, and could lead to the emergence of a two-tier post-secondary system.

"With the deteriorating conditions faced by our members and their students, we need to educate and mobilize the public," stated CAUT Executive Director James Turk in his report to Council.

The campaign plan, adopted in principle by Council, is organized around four main activities: research and lobbying; communications; mobilization; and coalition building.

The first phase of the campaign will begin on Jan. 4, 1999, and will focus on expanding CAUT's capacity to critically analyze current issues affecting post-secondary education and to educate and mobilize its members and the public.

Given that many of Canada's leading experts are among CAUT's membership, a volunteer research advisory committee comprised of members with expertise in education issues will be established. It will identify current research needs and assist in developing a longer term research agenda. To help support this research initiative, CAUT is establishing a visiting research fellowship in post-secondary educational studies.

Similarly, a communications advisory committee of journalism and communications faculty will be formed to help craft an effective media and public relations strategy. The committee will be responsible for providing expert advice on how to develop and communicate the key messages of the campaign.

A further objective of the campaign is to raise the level of activism amongst CAUT members and broaden the number of members who are involved. An array of projects and activities, from the modest to the dramatic, have been suggested so that each local faculty association can determine what it feels appropriate to its membership and its community. Possibilities include organizing petition drives, holding public hearings and "teach-ins," and staging public protests or other events to draw public attention to problems and solutions.

Finally, the campaign plan recognizes the importance of building links with coalition partners. CAUT plans to work with like-minded partners among students, in labour and in community organizations to share information and activities. CAUT recently helped found the Public Education Network/Réseau pour l'éducation publique, a pan-Canadian coalition that for the first time brings together all the major faculty, teacher and student associations from Québec and the rest of Canada.

At the CAUT Council meeting, local associations agreed that the launch of the campaign will entail a major long-term commitment. Successful public campaigns, it was observed, do not spring up overnight but require planning, persistence, and creativity.

"The debt and deficit campaign waged by the corporate sector, for instance, did not really resonate with public opinion until the early 1990s, at least ten years after the first warnings were issued about the alleged 'crisis'," Bill Graham noted. "Similarly, many groups have been warning Canadians about the impact of funding cuts to health care since the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney was in office, but it has only been in the past year that health care has come to dominate public concern."

"The universities at which we work, the students we teach and our profession itself are facing serious challenges," Jim Turk said after Council adopted the campaign plan. "This public awareness campaign will help CAUT respond vigorously, creatively, and effectively."