THE UNIVERSITY AND THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY
—a personal, subjective view from a long-time faculty member.
Alexander M. Ervin, Ph.D.
I have worked at the University of Saskatchewan for four decades and the details of its precise governance still remain mysterious. From my perspective, though, University Council (an academic body that is elected representing faculty) and the Board of Governors are the most important in terms of appearing to generate decisions. Committees and subcommittees supposedly feed policy suggestions into Council. But the reality is that they are mainly just forums for discussion, slight modification, and rubber-stamping of policies generated by what I call the “politburo”--the President , the Provost (Vice President Academic--the second most powerful), Financial Vice President, Vice President Research, Vice President Advancement (in effect advertising marketing and branding of the University). To a lesser extent, feeding into this are the Deans and Vice Deans of all the Colleges. Beyond this, they all have huge and ever-growing support staffs that have power in generating policies. (Human Resources seems to have been a particular problem affecting the lives of non-academic employees—as the CUPE strike of several years ago would suggest.) The percentage of these types of people seems to have risen by about 500% since I arrived on campus and through a time when the faculty was reduced by about 20% and the number of students increased by about 30%. Another dimension is, while, this corporate-like sector is growing on campus and some functions are now being outsourced to private firms--altogether a big waste of taxpayers’ money, and less and less of it actually now goes into the actual education of undergraduate students—more and more into dubious administrative functions.
The “politburo” makes practically all the significant decisions of the University. Years ago when I was head of my department and was on various committees such as Budget and Planning (sounds important but was not) the Dean and Associate Deans would give us detailed proposals for which we might be able to adjust a figure here and there but nothing major. In the end, it would be a rubber stamping of a policy already initiated and shaped. Then the Deans would say that we, the committee, made the decisions which we did not. The University of Saskatchewan is then about the farthest thing you can imagine from being a democracy and is not significantly accountable at all to the people of Saskatchewan. It is not even accountable in its policies directly to the government and the Legislature. My impression is that the University of Saskatchewan Senate is largely a symbolic body to make it appear to be consulting with the public. (The Emperor has no clothes.) The University Act as in most jurisdictions does not permit the government of the day to dictate the internal policies of the university--it just basically involves giving the University a pile of money in operating and capital grants with which it does what it wants. That doesn't prevent, though, the University and the government to work from time to time in common schemes as they are doing now on nuclear issues.
While a public institution, the university is becoming modeled similar to a corporation and getting more so by the day. The term "corporate university" is being used frequently now by critics of these directions. Besides that, the relationship with "real" corporations is also becoming tighter and tighter. A friend of mine in a natural science tells me how he gets explicit instructions to seek out grants from private oil companies and those in turn are meant to support his programs of research and graduate training.
Undergraduate training has been very much de-emphasized. In effect, the University is being taken away from the people of Saskatchewan and the sons and daughters of Saskatchewan are being forced to pay higher fees and get less and less while in effect subsidizing research, administrative overkill and graduate programs. Those who do not seek out these external grants are punished--their programs are put on the chopping block or are starved of funds even though they may have large numbers of undergraduate students. It is virtually impossible to get tenure as a young professor unless you are skilled at grantsmanship. We are forcing bright young professors to become entrepreneur-like fund-raisers rather than putting the emphasis on teaching and service to the community. You also pay the price if you criticize the system. One professor who has been very prominent in previous anti-nuclear campaigns has been quiet this time because he is developing a new graduate and research program for which he will ultimately need the approval of the “politburo.”
I have known of biology and economic professors who take lucrative contracts from Cameco. Cameco pumps money into Commerce, Economics, Geology, and the School of Medicine. Research for Cameco is done at the Synchrotron. Note that the "Cameco" Chair in Geology has supported the notion of a nuclear waste dump in the Williston Basin where he does research. Here's something to show the connection between the "politburo" and the university—it seemed like only weeks after the former President's retirement, that he was appointed to the Board of Cameco. Another professor tells me that one of the major assistants in the Office of University Advancement (marketing and branding of the university doing basically a lot of corporate styled advertising) was hired from Cameco at a higher salary than paid at Cameco. I noted that when Richard Florizone in 2009 gave his presentation on the Uranium Development Partnership at the New School of Public Policy, its director the former Provost was extremely enthusiastic about the role of the potential nuclear research center. He saw it working in synergy with the synchrotron (electrons and neutrons). Ominously for me, he saw his unit, basically as a social and political policy research unit, working with Saskatchewan communities to show and help them understand, how they could particularly benefit and find their niches from participation with the nuclear industry! As a social scientist myself I am appalled by this top-down approach. I think it more important to use bottom-up approaches and hear the hopes, dreams, and fears of the communities. Having a nuclear waste dump nearby your fragile Northern community certainly has its risks, as any fool must realize. We don’t need the university to tell it that it is a good idea.
Another thing to note is that the Department of Physics and Physical Engineering has always, by a long shot, received the largest operating and capital grants from the University. It has a huge infrastructure as well as many outside grants. It now operates the $350,000,000 synchrotron with a $40,000,000 annual operating cost and likely to go up over the years. In 2009 the University applied for a $750,000,000 reactor--all this at taxpayers expense and for the benefit of Bruce Power, Areva and Cameco, and themselves. The “Trojan Horse” excuse for this was the humanitarian notion of producing isotopes for cancer cures. The Physics Department hardly does any teaching except for a few elite graduate students. If physics ever gets their nuclear reactor this situation is going to get even worse thus damaging the state of general undergraduate education all across the campus (there is only so much money to go around regarding operating expenses that always seem to rise more than projected for Big Science Projects). Dr. Florizone in his profession and appointment in the Physics Department cannot be seriously seen as neutral in his touting of nuclear research on this campus.
Two final points to make: A source has told me that the Board of Governors knew nothing of the developments in 2009 toward a Nuclear Center of Excellence (with a supposed isotope producing $750,000,000 reactor) until August of 2009 when they received a brief memorandum of agreement with the provincial and federal government from the administration. At the time I discussed this also with a member of the Council’s executive, the other supposedly significant governance body. They too were not informed. I think the board of Governors and Council are simply bodies to agree with the directions of this corporate-styled and sometimes corporately rewarded administration. So in summary, I think, this has all been put together secretly by the Administration/Politburo, the Nuclear Industry (because of its undue influence on campus) and the Provincial government (I suspect, besides Bill Boyd and Brad Wall, that Rob Norris--Saskatoon Greystone and Minister responsible for the University and Minister of Labor who formerly worked directly for the University of Saskatchewan’s Presidents office played a big role in all of this. I may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist here but it is all an example of a creeping (maybe galloping) corporatism .
The University of Saskatchewan, nonetheless, is no longer the People's University of Saskatchewan that it was intended to be when first chartered near the turn of the century. Governing bodies at the University of Saskatchewan are virtually meaningless in a democratic sense. The “politburo rules”. Members of Council tend to go along with what the Presidents, vice-presidents, deans, vice-deans and administrative advisors come up with, which have been very much influenced by corporate interests and corporate donations of late. Faculty members of Council seem to live in an unconscious and understandable climate of fear—they do not want to oppose administrative plans for fear of keeping their own programs at the departmental level viable and properly funded. They tend to express homilies in support of top-down policies already made. They are constantly intimidated by the cycle of departmental reviews mandated by the former Provost as well as the tedious, time-consuming, ever-present, and incomprehensible Integrated Planning cycles, where the University collectively contemplates its navel rather than getting on with the job of actually serving students and the people of Saskatchewan.
It should be noted that in the 2009 Future of Uranium hearings commissioned by our own Provincial Government—the finding was, after consulting with 13 communities and five days of stakeholder meetings, that the people of Saskatchewan were opposed to the building of a nuclear research centre on campus.
This is my analysis, which is probably not complete, of what we up against.
Originally written as a message to a Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan in the Fall of 2009, Revised slightly in October 2011.