University specialization belittles future worth of thousands of degrees

Photo by Adam Feibel

Our university may soon support government policy that diminishes the worth of thousands of University of Ottawa students and alumni’s degrees.

In an article that appeared in the Fulcrum on Nov.14, U of O president Allan Rock stated that the University of Ottawa may specialize in health, science, and public policy as soon as next year.

This specialization, a result of the provincial government’s new framework proposal urging universities to specialize or face funding cuts, ignores the range of reasons students choose to study at our university. It belittles the worth of particular degrees and demeans my role as a journalist at the U of O.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, argued “there are times when we may not need two institutions, in particular in the same region, offering the same course when one could accommodate the need.”

This logic completely ignores the wide range of reasons students choose to study at a particular university. I chose the U of O because my family has a history with the school, but others might have chosen it for its bilingual community, athletic programs, scholarships, or location.

Specializing the programs offered at particular universities not only limits the options for prospective students, but also gives them less flexibility to change programs. Hundreds of students change programs after they begin school, but this won’t be quite as simple when a change from science to arts requires a transfer to another school and a potential move to another city.

Rock said some programs might have to “fall away while we focus on the things we do best.” While this might seem like a positive spin on specialization, it ignores the impact it will have on those with degrees in programs that had to “fall away.”

Good luck to a U of O geography graduate who applies for a job in their field when it’s already been acknowledged by the government and their university that the program wasn’t the best. I understand some schools are stronger at particular programs than others, but right now these differences are not as formally recognized—a fact that has large implications for anyone with a U of O bachelor of arts degree.

Rock made a huge statement to the undergraduate and graduate students, professors, and employees who are a part of faculties outside of health, science, and public policy: You are part of a sinking ship.

In regards to the recently suspended U of O journalism program, Rock said, “If somebody else does journalism best, maybe they should be left to do journalism.” But this demeans the work that journalists, such as myself, are currently doing at our school. The Fulcrum has been an integral part of the U of O since 1942 and hundreds of its alumni have gone onto careers in journalism. How can we encourage future  editors and contributors to work for us when the university’s president has already acknowledged this isn’t the right school for them?

Rock’s statement that it’s time for the U of O to decide “what it is we’re going to be known for” at first seemed like a great idea. But peel away the superhero rhetoric, and all you are left with is a deeply troubling decision with life-changing consequences for thousands of students. It’s time to decide if we really belong in Allan Rock’s vision of the U of O—because apparently, I don’t.