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U of A President-elect Turpin hosts Arts faculty in town hall

Though University of Alberta President-elect David Turpin doesn’t take office until July 1, he held a town hall with hopes of making his tenure more “palatable.”

Turpin hosted the U of A’s Faculty of Arts in the Van Vliet Complex on April 1, but instead of answering questions from students, faculty and staff, he sought suggestions from the community. Turpin opened the floor for any concerns they have and how he should tackle them once he succeeds current U of A president Indira Samarasekera.

“I’m asking you for advice,” Turpin told the audience. “Tell me what you think I should do, and more importantly, tell me what I shouldn’t do.

“I want your help in how do we communicate what the arts means to our society.”

With Alberta Budget 2015 cutting a projected four per cent in funding to the post-secondary sector in the next two years, Turpin received concerns about possible workload pressures, resource allocation and the burden the community may face. The government has instructed post-secondary institutions to look for more sustainable sources of revenue to ensure that universities aren’t reliant on future government funding.

Department of Drama associate professor Jane Heather advised Turpin to examine the different capacities different faculties and departments have in generating new revenue streams for the university.

“It’s difficult to figure out how some faculties are going to do this,” Heather said. “We’re very good at cupcake sales … we’re told to think imaginatively about how we’re going to create revenue, and I hit the wall on that.”
Turpin acknowledged Heather’s “angst” on the issue.

“It’s not angst,” Heather said in response. “It’s anger.”

Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies Stephen Slemon brought up the concern about contract academic faculty at the university and the job insecurities they face.

“These people do the majority of teaching in our faculty with the quarter of our salary with no contracts, certainty or benefits with little access to decision making,” Slemon said. “This is a big-ticket item, and we have got to do better.”

Third-year Bachelor of Fine Arts student Stuart McDougall advised the incoming president to put himself in the position of a current or prospective student before making any decisions.

“The university is about the students,” McDougall said. “Largely, we’re the ones who are going to be affected the most.”

Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Arts Tom Spalding fielded the issue of graduate students being “squeezed” after completing their studies. He noted there is a push in recent years for a PhD, but there is no matching outside demand in terms of employment.

“We’re creating an army of underemployed PhD students,” Spalding said. “Graduate students need to be a major focus … it needs to be considered systemically.”

Other common themes included how international students in the Faculty of Arts are seemingly “pushed aside” while often being isolated from the rest of the campus community. Though Turpin told the audience he was seeking advice and not answering questions, he said there should be more support for international students, considering the university is actively pursuing and recruiting them.

In closing, Turpin highlighted his main philosophical themes of intellectual integrity, creative inquiry and freedom of expression and equal rights. He said he hopes to utilize these themes in addressing the points brought up by the audience when he takes office later this summer.

“I am really enjoying the opportunity to get to now the University of Alberta community,” Turpin said after the town hall. “I have a lot to learn, but I am very humbled with the way the community has been open.”

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