At issue

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McGill Reporter
March 23, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 13
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At issue

The Ontario government is injecting $1.4 billion into its budget for higher education, but almost all of it is directed towards technology or science. Premier Mike Harris justified his snub of the liberal arts and humanities on economic grounds. "We seem to be graduating more people who are great thinkers, but they know nothing about math or science or engineering or the skill sets that are needed." What do you think of Ontario's move?


Professor Michael Bisson
Department of Anthropology

Prehistory shows that the development of language and the ability to use symbols made the explosion in technology over the past 40,000 years possible. Understanding the physical world is necessary for our technological adaptation, but understanding the cultural world is no less important. Culture determines the uses of technology and gives richness to every aspect of our lives. Because we learn about culture in the arts, humanities and social sciences, it is those disciplines which are crucial to both understanding our past and shaping our future. Harris appears to yearn for the sort of boring, sterile technocracy that characterized Stalinist Russia.

Professor Henri Darmon
Department of Mathematics and Statistics

The mission of higher education is to expand society's horizons by engaging its members in substantial intellectual and scholarly activity. The core areas of culture such as the arts, history, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, physics, etc., should therefore figure prominently in its curriculum. I fear that the line between such lofty pursuits and mere job training will become blurred if society holds the University responsible for providing its graduates with the narrow set of skills employers think they need, at a time when our fast-changing world requires an increasingly adaptable and broadly educated workforce

Professor Thomas Hudson
Departments of Human Genetics and Medicine

A $1.4 billion investment in capital funding for Ontario universities and colleges is extraordinary. Mr. Harris is choosing to shape the growth of Ontario post-secondary education, based on the needs of a 21st-century, technology-based society. Immediate prioritization towards increasing shortages of qualified manpower in sciences and information technologies makes sense. Nevertheless, a healthy society of the 21st century will have other shortfalls which are not technology based. The challenge to define these other shortfalls appears more difficult, but some answers are likely to reside in humanities and the arts.

Professor Jim McGilvray
Department of Philosophy

This justification appeals to limited "strategic" concerns: there are or will be jobs for people with technological "skill sets" (not, in all likelihood, for people in fundamental science), so massive amounts in public funds should be directed towards training people to fill them. Basic questions are not raised, including: Should higher education aim at producing individuals for specific kinds of jobs? Should public funds directly serve corporate (private) interests? The Harris government decision is narrow and short-sighted.

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