What universities should do is not serve as experts to those in power who define the problems. We should redefine and question the problems themselves. Is this the right perception of the problem? Is this really the problem? We should ask much more fundamental questions.Unfortunately, this is precisely what isn't happening at most Canadian universities, especially at the University of Alberta. An interview with U of A's president, Indira Samarasekera, in the September issue of the Walrus demonstrates again and again the way in which the Conservative government has based funding on the university's ability to fix the problems of the day and illustrates how the university is becoming more and more like an extension of the market.
U of A is Canada’s leading oil sands research and teaching centre. The method for the first commercially viable extraction process was invented here in the 1920s by Karl Clark, whose basic technology and engineering principles are still in use. The industry’s presence on campus today is most visible at the nine-storey Markin/CNRL Natural Resources Engineering Facility, with its state-of-the-art smart classrooms and specialized instructional and research labs; and at two institutes, the Centre for Oil Sands Innovation and the Oil Sands Tailing Research Facility, which house research chairs dedicated to bitumen and heavy oil development. Even the university’s interdisciplinary School of Energy and the Environment lists oil sands development as a primary field of research, followed by improved recovery, which is also about oil sands (alternative energy and energy and environment are listed as sixth and seventh, respectively). “As a publicly funded institution, we have a responsibility to enhance the public stewardship of important resources,” says Samarasekera. “Whether we like it or not, the world is still dependent on oil and gas, and until we get weaned off them we need them extracted with a much, much higher degree of environmental responsibility. I’m proud of our association with the environmental elements of oil sands work. That for us is a huge reputation booster.”