Editor’s Note: Attacks on English education are nothing new in Quebec. In this article from The Record archives, published in 1996, then BU principal Janyne Hodder, made compelling arguments in defense of the university, many of which still ring true today.
Bishop’s is part of Quebec’s heritage- Principal Hodder
By Rita Legault (originally published Wednesday, Nov. 6, 1996)
Bishop’s University has found itself thrown into the centre of a growing debate over whether or not English universities in Quebec are over-funded compared to their French counterparts.
The debate surfaced two weeks ago when University of Montreal physics professor Michel Moisan published a study in La Presse which attempted to show that English universities are getting an unfair share of university grant money.
Moisan’s main argument centred around the fact that there are so many students from outside Quebec studying at Bishop’s, McGill and Concordia. He also deplored the fact that French students chose to study in English universities.
Picking up from Moisan’s study, local CEGEP administrator and former Bloc Quebecois candidate Guy Boutin went much further last week, declaring that since more than half the students at Bishop’s are from outside the province, “nothing justifies the continued existence of this university” which signifies “a net loss of more than $12 million” to Quebec.
Contributes to anglicization
Furthermore, Boutin argued that since 26 per cent of students at Bishop’s are francophone Quebecers, the university contributes to the anglicization of Quebec.
Bishop’s Principal Janyne Hodder objects strongly to Moisan’s contentions, arguing that English universities are funded under the same rules and regulations as French universities.
In a reply to Moisan sent to La Presse and published in Saturday’s La Tribune, Hodder and McGill principal Bernard Shapiro argue that English universities contribute significantly to Quebec on an economic, social, and cultural scale.
Later, in an interview with the Record, Hodder pointed out that funding universities is not just a cost issue.
“When you are talking about costs, you have to talk about advantages,” Hodder said, adding that the presence of non-Quebec students brings $9 million into the local economy, and that’s not counting the fact that Bishop’s is the eighth largest employer in the Sherbrooke area with more than 500 full and part time employees.
All governments benefit from substantial tax revenues generated by university activities. For example, 21 per cent of the Town of Lennoxville’s revenue for its annual operating budget is a direct result of Bishop’s presence in the community.
Universities are economic agents
The economic benefit argument was underlined recently by La Tribune editor Jacques Pronovost, who pointed out in a recent editorial that universities are not just centres of knowledge and learning, but also economic development agents and catalysts for the creation of new enterprises and jobs leading to significant long term economic spinoffs. Pointing to Bishop’s and its importance to the community, Pronovost goes on to say that rather than making universities disappear, ways should be found to make them grow and progress. Bishop’s presence in the region leads to other spinoffs, argues Bishop’s director of public relations Bruce Stevenson who came up with a long list of benefits the university brings to the community.
These include continuing education programs; cultural events at Centennial Theatre, Bandeen Hall and the Artists’ Centre; recreational activities at the John H. Price Sports Centre, the W. B. Scott arena and the Old Lennoxville Golf Course; the sports medicine and physiotherapy clinic; sports camps and conferences which attract thousands of people to Bishop’s and Lennoxville; as well as community services such as Big Buddies and Athletes Helping Kids.
Hodder argues the advantages of English universities extend far beyond simple economics.
Hodder adds that in a global market where economic competitivity requires the creation of networks, the presence of students from outside Quebec is an asset allowing students from here to create links within Canada and outside and allows others to better understand Quebec. “We are not a village school,” she said. “Universities are meant to support the greatest possible openness.”
Hodder said she also has problems with Moisan’s assumption that English universities like Bishop’s only have value inasmuch as it allows Quebec to respect. the rights of its English minority.
Bishop’s belongs to Quebec
”This is an absolutely extraordinary premise,” she said, adding that “Bishop’s, McGill and Concordia would be claustrophobic in such a limited space.”
She said universities are institutions which belong to Quebec, not to a specific group.
“The most dangerous assumption in that, is an English institution is not a Quebec institution, that it’s this thing we have to support the rights of the English speaking minority,” she said.
“By virtue of what is an English institution not a normal educational institution in Quebec?”
Hodder argues that English universities are part of the heritage of Quebec, contributing to the past and future of Quebec society.
“Universities are a common good,” she argues. “That’s what justifies public support.”
Hodder said that Moisan’s third premise – that English universities are a bad influence on francophone and allophone students, is also bunk. ”We’re not talking about replacing the French language with another,” she said. “Surely they can learn a new language without losing
Hodder argues that students can learn English without losing their French and that Quebec will benefit from bilingual graduates. “Universities are all about openness, knowledge and wisdom and all of those things that have crossed language barriers for years,” she adds. Hodder said that with fewer local students, it’s normal for the university to recruit students from outside. And, she admits, low tuition fees make studying at Bishop’s and other Quebec universities attractive to out-of-province students.
Lots of support
However, she does not support a two-tier system which would require out-of-province students to pay more. She said Quebec would be the first province to impose a two-tier fee structure and it could lead to retaliatory action with other provinces upping already higher fees for Quebec students.
Foreign students already pay higher fees to compensate for less government support for those students, Hodder said.
Hodder said that the university has received a lot of support since Moisan’s comments, and she brushes off Boutin’s remarks saying he clearly represents a minority opinion.
“I’m arguing that Bishop’s is important to this community, and I want people to say that,” she said. “This university is part of the patrimoine of Quebec and this region. We are part of the fabric of what has happened, and more importantly, we have an ongoing role to play.”