Our universities, our future -- that's the slogan of the CAUT's public awareness campaign scheduled to be officially launched later this year.
"Our slogan underlines that a university education is a public good that benefits all of us, not a private commodity to be purchased by a few," said CAUT President Bill Graham.
"It encapsulates the major themes of our campaign -- ensuring that universities are accessible and affordable, that there be adequate public funding to maintain high quality teaching and research, and that academic freedom is protected from private censorship."
Plans for developing the public awareness campaign were approved by CAUT Council last November. Since then, a number of significant steps have been taken toward turning the campaign into a reality.
A small advisory committee of journalism and communications teachers was formed and helped develop a media and public relations strategy. Members include Robert Hackett (Simon Fraser), Lynne van Luven (Victoria), John Miller (Ryerson), Vincent Mosco (Carleton), Vanda Rideout (New Brunswick), and Bob Rupert (Carleton).
"I think we recognize that given the current political climate, there are some real obstacles we have to overcome in crafting our communications strategy," said CAUT Executive Director Jim Turk. "Demands for tax cuts and continued fiscal austerity are the order of the day in some circles, but recent polls suggest most Canadians may in fact be quite receptive to our call for a serious public reinvestment in universities."
Turk cited opinion polls which reveal that:
- 90 per cent of Canadians are concerned that the cost of post-secondary education is moving beyond their reach;
- 94 per cent of Canadians think it is important to have strong national standards in post-secondary education; and
- 80 per cent of Canadians say that the high cost of tuition is a barrier preventing them from attending a university or college.
The success of the campaign will in a large measure hinge on the ability of CAUT and its local associations to develop a proactive relationship with the media. Toward that end, a series of media and communications workshops are scheduled for the Council meeting in April.
"I think most reporters and most of the public have traditionally viewed us as elitist and self-serving when we complain about university underfunding," noted Graham. "But the problems are real, and they hurt students, faculty and the general public."
In the meantime, CAUT has been collecting stories and evidence from local associations about the impact of public funding cuts and the increased presence of private funders. These stories will help personalize the issues of the campaign and will make CAUT's concerns more attractive to journalists.
"We've heard from many associations and members about what's happening on campuses across the country," said Turk. "Library budgets aren't keeping pace with rising serial costs. Class sizes are exploding and fewer courses are being offered. Professors have less teaching support. And students to faculty ratios are rising. These are the kinds of stories our campaign has to publicize."
As part of the communications strategy of the campaign, CAUT will also be launching five new publications in the weeks ahead:
- CAUT Now! - a fax bulletin service that will provide timely information and campaign updates to local associations;
- University Notes - an in-depth research publication to be distributed every other month to education journalists, opinion leaders, coalition partners, and local associations;
- CAUT Commentary - a shorter and more accessible version of University Notes distributed to newspapers as an op-ed submission;
- Facts & Figures - a monthly publication providing local faculty associations and bargaining committees with details of contract settlements and bargaining breakthroughs; and
- CAUT Monograph Series - a book-length publication examining major issues relevant to post-secondary education.
"By developing a more systematic and aggressive communications strategy we'll be able to better inform our members of the issues, let the public know how serious the troubles facing our universities are, and put forward alternatives," noted Graham.