Also, can humanists swim?
The UVic Senate met for the final time this academic term on Friday, May 7. And while many of the motions were regarding smaller procedural matters, a few discussions fell more towards the philosophical. For the final time from this reporter, here’s a recap of how those discussions went down.
Strategic plan to get a refresh
In his opening remarks from the chair, UVic president Jamie Cassels reflected on his recent reappointment for a second five-year term, and said one of his first initiatives will be overseeing the development of a new strategic plan for the university.
The current strategic plan, “A Vision for the Future: Building on Excellence,” is five years old, and Cassels said “there’s a real appetite to refresh it.” Cassels explained that the current plan is 44 pages long, with 37 objectives and upwards of 100 strategies, making for a “highly operational and highly detailed” plan. The new plan, he said, should be less exhaustive, as many of those strategies and objectives have been included in subsidiary planning documents, like the strategic research and campus plans.
“As I look back on [the] last four years, I see an institutional change, a cultural change,” Cassels said. “We’ve become larger, and more complex. We should not do our operational planning all at that top strategic plan level . . . We should envisage something ambitious, inspirational, and aspirational.” He concluded that the new plan should be “digestible” and in a “manageable shape.”
A small number of senators voiced their support for the direction Cassels proposed. Following feedback solicited by Cassels in April and May, a detailed proposal on the planning process will be presented to the UVic Board of Governors in June, with broader consultation with the UVic community to follow in the fall.
The importance of Humanities
Also on the docket was the approval of a revised constitution and operating structure for the Faculty of Humanities. Dean of Humanities Dr. Chris Goto-Jones was on hand to speak to the document. He said that the Faculty of Humanities is a “complicated, sometimes fractured faculty,” and that clear communication between departments is key; the revised operating structure is intended to address those issues and would “codify existing practices.”
The motion was carried, and was followed by a report from Goto-Jones on behalf of the faculty, titled “Can humanists swim?” — a reference to the idea that humanists “have no practical skills,” Goto-Jones said, while often the opposite is true.
Sharing a quote by Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, Goto-Jones commented on “the gradual suicide through shrinkage of the soul” in industrial society, brought about by the devaluing of humanities. Goto-Jones said it’s no secret that modern value is usually measured in dollars, or potential dollars, and that the value of a humanities education is often measured in the earnings of its graduates. But, he said, humanities graduates earn rather well, and can fit into the job market in many different ways.
Humanities strives to ask the question of how we should live, Goto-Jones said, and that the discipline exists at the core of the university, provoking and challenging it on ethical questions; the “spirit of humanities should ideally permeate the whole,” he said.
To better express the faculty’s mission in the face of devalued humanities education, and to express “not only what we can do but what we must do,” Goto-Jones said the renewed constitution was based on four pillars, which are:
- provoke critical inquiry,
- engage myriad voices,
- enrich human dignity, and
- inspire innovative expression.
Following the presentation, Cassels said he was reminded of the value of diverse disciplines within the university, and thanked Goto-Jones for the report.