Hopefully by the time you are reading this, the strike at UNBC will be over. The faculty association at the university will have reached a deal and students and their professors will be rushing about to complete their year.
While there is the occasional remark about where pay rates are, those remarks are more occasioned by lack of knowledge and comparing apples to oranges.
There are hundreds of reasons why individuals choose to follow the academic life. Large motivators are a passion and a skill to further our knowledge in a given field. Shortly behind is the desire to teach others by sharing knowledge and expertise.
Most academics pay a price to take up the challenge of the academic life. There is a decade or so of study in a given field to acquire the requisite knowledge. That is followed by a constant and time-consuming job of staying current in their chosen field.
Along with the cost of tuition, books, travel, living expenses expended over those years, there is the income they forgo by not earning income while they are immersed in their studies. The material sacrifice they make to further their knowledge is considerable.
When compared to fields of study which have direct applications, such as medicine, dentistry, law, engineering and others professions, the financial catch-up time is many years.
Not infrequently, some in the academic world will never catch up with the lifetime earnings they would have enjoyed if they applied their knowledge in a private capacity. We have a strange set of values when we are cheap in rewarding people for their hard work but accept the millions of dollars showered upon the lucky combination of DNA, the NHL star.
Universities and their professors do more than impart knowledge which can take the student to graduation and a good job. They also teach the students to think. The skills we will be looking for in the future are the ability to observe, learn and incorporate new knowledge. We only have to take a quick glance at the world around us to appreciate how rapidly things change. We can greet and assimilate change or pull the covers over our head and shiver in the dark.
The future will belong to those who can augment and manipulate their knowledge and skill base to meet new circumstances. A university, with its opportunities to learn, discuss, defend and speculate, provides the most important environment for individuals of the future.
The blame for the strike must rest at the feet of the governance of the university. Successive board members subscribe to the viewpoint that a degree represents a measurable level of training attained by the individual. They derive comfort from that which they can quantify and retreat from those more subjective qualities the institution should espouse. They have it backwards.
The continual effort to run the university as a business has created the current situation. That is not to say that financial prudence should be ignored. We all should strive to get the best value we can for the dollars we spend. The question that terrifies governance bodies is the fact that not all value can be stated in dollars and cents. A well-developed intellectual capacity has more of a future value than a present day specific value.
The tendency to treat the university as a business has led to the faculty to now participate in an industrial-style union. It is a poor vehicle for the academic world, but past management practices have left them few alternatives.
We can but hope that the university return to normal soon. Its uninterrupted provision of knowledge and intellectual flexibility is important to the present and vital to our future.