#ABpse · community · defunding

On the impossibility of grief in #ABpse

In the wake of a loss, there has to come a period of healing. That healing allows the griever to adjust to the new situation, one in which the object lost exists no more, or not in the same form. A new normal. A new routine. This step is vital, apparently, in order to survive in the face of adversity. But what if adjustment becomes detrimental to survival? What if the best plan would be not to adjust, but to demand, work, and fight for some kind of restitution?

You might have found out that the Department of English and the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta have been the hardest hit by the significant budget-reduction step of voluntary severance packages, initiated in response to the provincial government’s decision to reduce post-secondary funding by 7.8%. For an institution whose budget is overwhelmingly dedicated to payroll, that means laying off people. Many of them.

And so, the loss. English and Film Studies was one of the most affected by the VSP, in the Faculty of Arts, which suffered the most losses of all at UAlberta so far, because the VSPs don’t “save” enough money to make up for the budget shortfall. For now, between 8 and 10 professors and administrators will leave the department, or around 18%. Almost one fifth of the people. So you can see that grieving is justified. Is grief, however, the best way to deal with these attacks on post-secondary education, and especially on the arts? Do we want to process the pain of the loss, and get used to the new normal, and move on?

Many post-secondary participants have been tirelessly speaking out againstthese cuts, explaining why they do not represent savings, why they are misguided, problematic, and, ultimately, detrimental to the province both in the long and in the short term. Some people have taken the satirical path. There is just no convincing the Alberta government of the long-lasting damage they are inflicting by barring access to post-secondary education, while also diminishing its diversity and range. My friend and colleague Derritt Mason has clearly outlined the reasons the University of Alberta will lose its attractiveness to graduate students.

There is another reason I resist the normalizing process. It acclimatizes us to a culture of paucity that will inevitably lead us to complete the process of adjunctification of academic labour as we have seen it happen in the US. While Canadian academics are still buoyed that “the situation is not as bad here,” these systematic cuts—which have been happening post-Recession, and have been preceded by the Klein-era ones, etc.—inevitably lead to hiring cheaper labour to perform the teaching, so that the programs survive, and the university maintain some semblance of its former self, pace Bill Readings.

What about research funding? The many changes to Tri-Council policies that have been happening over the past few years also operate like slowly boiling water around the proverbial frog. The seemingly seamless integration of technological developments (MOOCs, anyone?) also maintain the growing temperature of the water to imperceptible levels. This past weekend’s Globe and Mail hailed a new development in research: crowdfunding. I may be jumping the gun due to my research on conspicuous giving, but this ‘revolutionary’ research option only looks like yet another pot set on the stove.

Panacea are hard to come by, and I do not believe these cuts will ever be reversed. Yet I still do not want to get used to the new normal, and I will continue to look for alternatives. In the mean time, I’d be ever so grateful for your own stories.

2 thoughts on “On the impossibility of grief in #ABpse

  1. This makes me unbearably sad: I did my PhD at Alberta, and it was an incredibly strong English department at that time. Incredible opportunities, a great place to train. So I mourn kind of personally for that place and those people.

    What is more difficult is extrapolating from the U of A example. The budget cuts, the anti-intellectualism, the adjunctification, the incredible survivor guilt that I am feeling over my stable and relatively cushy job. This strikes at the core of our job prospects, and our personal bottom lines.

    But worse for me (probably because I have tenure and a good contract) is the incredible sadness and rage that comes from thinking of the work that's not getting done. I consider my research and my teaching to be vitally important to making the world a better place, actually. And when I see this kind of work being defunded and denigrated, I really think the world is actively diminished by it: less human commentary on the world, fewer students being pushed to become empathetic human beings through difiicult reading, and fewer writers and thinkers being trained to engage critically with the economy, with culture, with each other.

    It's not just that my grad students won't get jobs, or that I won't get a raise, or another grant ever again: it's that I think the world is actively a worse place when we don't get to do the work we do. And that's the loss I really can't stomach.

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  2. Been there. Done that. We should have made t-shirts. Completely understand what you are saying and the frog boiling analogy works very well. Aimee nails it with her last paragraph.

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