University - In The World But Not Of The World

FTLComm - Saskatoon - Wednesday, July 4, 2001
The first day of summer session classes and the activity around the University of Saskatchewan was pretty busy, at least three major construction projects in progress with construction crews at work, maintenance crews looking after the sprawling campus and various programmes launching.

About a hundred teenagers marched past on their way to something, while over at the education building children of all ages were involved in soccer, tennis and swimming programmes.

Sidewalks everywhere were populated with intense looking people with backpacks, sunglasses, Walkman and not a single smile.
I met three tourists and a dog checking out the bowl, the huge area surrounded by these quaint limestone castles with their brass door handles, gargoyles and little windows. I tangled with bureaucracy to get a parking permit and arrange for a student's accommodation and it is comforting to find out that bureaucracy remains the same, a simple obstacle to all things, paper pushers, these are the rules people and you will have to talk to the supervisor people.
But what goes on here that makes all these people so intense, why do they not smile, what is it that makes them think what they are doing is important?

We visited the book store, the software store, the computer store and marveled once more at the insular world of campus life. It is summer, fall, winter and spring, a world all of its own, no doubt this is why it referred to so often as a cloistered world, the place of ivory towers, detachment and infinite money pit for tax payers dollars and student fees.

It was in September of 1962 that I entered university, definitely not in Saskatoon, but in Regina, then it was called the University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus and only one step away from its former self "Regina Collage". Father Nash and other professors looked at the freshmen of the silly sixties and lectured us on the concept of the University. How it was a place of open thought, of research and a quest for truth and understanding of all things. The beauty of that time was that every one of us were as idealistic as the professors and even more convinced that the world and all that was in it were our play things. The prosperity of the sixties and the idealism of the Diefenbaker / Kennedy era were upon each one of us and we were at the "dawning of the age of Aquarius"

So what is the university about today? From the nature of the construction projects in Saskatoon it looks like the university is a mere extension of corporate America, Monsanto mania grips this world of post secondary "training". I say training, because there is reason to doubt if this is about "education." I have attended summer school in Regina and Vancouver and we laughed, discussed and debated, in the sun, but we laughed. These intent individuals hustling to their first classes of the summer session were not laughing, or eager for the enlightenment that will come from a new intellectual breakthrough, they are in job training programmes.

Sadly, we have to see that the economic reality of this era no longer celebrates history, anthropology, linguistics and theology. Courses and programmes like those have no place in the corporate world and you will discover that they are fading away like the altruism that moved us in the sixties to "ban the bomb" and sit enraptured as Leonard Cohen told us about "Susanne". Folks are at college today to get a good job and a degree to certify their employability, the quest for truth and knowledge are the furthermost things from their money grubbing minds.

Though I condemn them, I have to understand and feel for their motivation, we in the sixties could afford to be idealists, today running as fast as these young people

can will barely allow them just to maintain the status quo. The sickening slide in the standard of living and the revolting rise in poverty, crime and shabby treatment of everyone who is poor, is the propellant that sends these young people dashing about their campus with gray faces and dull sleep deprived eyes.

Timothy W. Shire