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Identity crisis


The Killam Library cannot afford any new acquisitions (photo by Asrar UlHaq)
(Photo by Asrar Haq)

Last week, I wrote a letter to the president expressing my outrage at the major cuts being made to Dalhousie library budgets, which is having an immediate and major effect on acquisitions. This week, the first effects of this freeze are being felt, with the list of journals dropped from Dal libraries posted on their website.

The list is huge—ten pages’ worth of resources have been dropped from our libraries. As the notice on the website states, in some cases only one form of access has been dropped, meaning the print version may have been cut and the online retained. Exactly which form it is has not yet been made clear on the list. Dal medievalists are, I’m sure, waiting with bated breath to find out whether they’ve been blessed with at least one medium of access to Studies in the age of Chaucer. Dal sociology profs and students probably have nothing better to do than wait, with the major resource SocIndex chopped as well. In what can only be described as an act of meta-irony, the Canadian journal of library and information science has been dropped, too. These are but a few of many resources biting the dust.

So: we can build new expansions, but we can’t afford basic academic resources. I don’t know about you, fellow Dalhousians, but I’m experiencing some identity crisis here. Is Dal a money-making machine, or a university?

Lately, Dal seems to privilege growth over learning at every turn. In another great letter to the president, Ben Wedge drew a connection between Dal’s aggressive push to grow the student population to 18, 000 in the short term, and our abominably low retention rates (82 per cent in 2009). To my mind, losing 18 per cent of our students should be a major red flag in regards to our quality of education—but this is beside the point if we only want their money. Similarly, while a fancy new SUB may be a great means of attracting new students, $10 million could be put to better use by funding basic educational resources—like journals.

Dal also privileges expansion in the very fabric of its departmental budgeting. Under the Enrolment Related Budget Adjustment (ERBA) policy, faculties are rewarded with money for registering more students, and punished, also using money, if their enrollment drops. This means that faculty budgets are directly affected by how much they manage to grow their student population. Obviously, cutting a faculty’s budget is going to affect the quality and amount of courses they are able to offer if pushed far enough. If there isn’t enough budget to go around, it seems likely that larger classes (which accommodate more students and bring in more money) will be privileged over smaller, more specialized ones. With less choice and bigger class sizes, it’s not a stretch to imagine that FASS students won’t be as eager to sign up for these classes. This instigates a punishing downward spiral—all in the name of promoting growth.

Of course, like any other institution, Dal needs to remain fiscally viable. Putting millions of dollars into building, while underfunding departments and their resources, is not the way to accomplish that. Without sufficient means to learn about and contribute to academic scholarship, we are not a learning institution. Let’s put the brakes on this growth and refund our libraries—before calling ourselves Dalhousie University constitutes false advertising.

Samantha Elmsley
Samantha Elmsley
Samantha was Opinions Editor of the Gazette for Volumes 145 and 146.

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