It may have been two weeks ago, but announcements at the first meeting of the Faculty of Arts Committee concerning the Teaching and Learning Spaces (TLS) budget remain on my mind. At this meeting, Associate Dean Gillian Lane-Mercier announced the results from the TLS working group. For the 2014-2015 year, the IT budget used to upgrade classrooms under the committee has been frozen due to budget cuts. What remains is a general maintenance fund that will be divvied up among all of McGill’s faculties. The Faculty of Arts was described as the “poor cousin” by those leading the committee session, which left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Sure, renovating classrooms for Science, Engineering and even Management students seems, on the face of things, ‘more beneficial.’ But why is this the case?
As a student representative sitting on the committee, I asked the panel at large why a general maintenance budget wasn’t being used to fix lecture halls like Leacock 132, where the floor tiles in the stairs have been known to slide off and the seat tablets are half broken. Professor Christopher Manfredi responded in saying that lecture halls like Leacock 132 are primarily used by Science students, and that Arts students use large lecture halls in Engineering and Medicine buildings as well. It seemed to me like an evasive response. I walked away with the feeling that, because a room like Leacock 132 is used frequently by Science students, the Faculty of Arts doesn’t want to pay to renovate it. However, because it’s an Arts building, the Faculty of Science won’t ever request much-needed renovations. Thus the room is left in near permanent limbo This sounds a lot like a classic political science dilemma surrounding a public good, no?
Lane-Mercier iterated that the faculty’s priority was in fact Arts West 120 and that priority for other rooms will be addressed in the next meeting, as previous priorities will need to be revisited given the tight maintenance budget.
Why is it that Arts is considered the poor cousin in all of these debates? In the year’s first senate meeting, Campaign McGill, the university’s fundraising drive, failed to highlight the notable accomplishments of the Faculty of Arts in attaining alumni, corporation, and other donations. In 2012, the Faculty raised the highest amount of money out of all those on campus, even Medicine. But, Manfredi himself pointed out that Arts has never had a Lorne Trottier or a Marcel Desautels–individual donors and alumni that committed tens of millions to the Engineering and Management faculties, respectively. One student rep asked whether Arts simply failed to produce anyone of the same calibre. Manfredi replied that that certainly wasn’t the case, but that of course they were always working on the issue.
Perhaps I take issues like this more personally than some. Why is the Faculty of Arts, which is training tomorrow’s politicians, economists, writers, anthropologists, historians—just to name a few—so under-prioritized? Why, even normatively speaking, is it harder for me to sell myself as a student of political science than as a student of pharmacology? Is it because my career prospects appear more uncertain?
Perhaps, but this is still disconcerting overall. Such budget constraints and the politics of allocating committees such as the TLS working group will likely ensure that the Faculty of Arts remains the poor cousin at the table. It seems unlikely that we’ll have a Trottier or Desautels coming to our rescue anytime soon.