Lies and frustrations

Carolyn Pierce

Carolyn Pierce moved across the campus at high speed in her year as president of the staff association, dealing with waste management, staff training, and the role of the staff relations committee. At year’s end Pierce, who was academic services officer in the recreation and leisure studies department, left UW to get married and move to California.

1990 was a year when the emphasis was money and the university found a common enemy in the government of Ontario, as represented by David Peterson’s Liberals for the first eight months of the year and Bob Rae’s NDP for the rest of it.

“The politicians are lying to us,” Trevor Eyton, chairman of your university’s board of governors, declared at one point. I frankly don’t remember whether it was under the Liberal regime or the NDP newcomers, but it hardly mattered; denouncing Queen’s Park was the common theme. (The federal government came in for some abuse too, especially after the finance minister’s announcement of a freeze on what were then called EPF transfers, standing for Established Programs Financing, the money Ottawa sent to the provinces to help pay for education and health.) Governments just weren’t paying their fair share, said university leaders, including UW’s president, Doug Wright, who said he was “frustrated” that the Council of Ontario Universities couldn’t get its act together and organize a lobby that anyone would listen to.

I was frankly surprised to hear him say such things—Doug Wright, the long-time champion of private sector involvement in universities. And he did say that a major fund-raising campaign for Waterloo was on the horizon. But he pointed out that even in the United States, even in the richest institutions, corporations weren’t providing more than 6 or 7 per cent of the funding for research, never mind for undergraduate teaching. Corporate money wasn’t the major funding solution, he said, government support was, and he spoke ominously of “hundreds” of layoffs if something didn’t improve. Meanwhile, Mike Garvey, head of Waterloo’s National Alumni Council, talked of organizing a lobby by university graduates across the province, who might have more credibility in government circles than the so-called vested interests on the campuses.

Ontario grants to universities actually went up by 8 per cent that year, which sounds like a lot, though most of it was quickly soaked up by inflation (running at close to 5 per cent), enrolment growth, and new taxes. Tuition fees rose by the same amount—more in engineering, where students voted 95 per cent in favour of creating the Waterloo Engineering Endowment Fund and assessing each student $75 a term—and faculty salaries went up 5 per cent. Plans spoke of “slower growth” in the university, in spite of warnings that a national shortage of scientists and engineers was on the horizon. Across the campus, budgets were cut by 1.5 per cent. To help with the trimming, a brief early retirement “window” was opened, and a number of people aged 60 and over left the university sooner than they’d expected to, including Kay Hiebert, who had been secretary to a long series of the university’s vice-presidents since 1957, and who may have been the only person who knew where more of the university’s bodies were buried than I did.

Other things came to an end in 1990 as well. The computing services department retired the last keypunch on campus, an IBM 029 that nobody was using any longer. The Engineering Society dropped the name “Ridgid” from the title of its mascot, introducing a kinder, gentler Tool with bearers who wore coveralls instead of black klan-style robes. And the university’s smallest faculty dropped its traditional mouthful of a name, “human kinetics and leisure studies,” and emerged from its chrysalis as “applied health sciences.” As part of the year’s budget cuts, AHS cancelled the Specialized Information Retrieval and Library Service, a database of information on leisure and recreation. But it gained gerontology, previously an interfaculty program with roots in the department of statistics, where mathematicians studied mortality and morbidity.

Three new deans took office that year: David Burns in engineering, John Thompson in science, and Jack Kalbfleisch in mathematics after a few months’ interlude with Paul Schellenberg as acting dean of math. People like Jon Mark, chairman of electrical engineering, discovered that they were now “chairs” instead, as the senate approved the use of non-sex-specific titles. (I’m glad to say I have never been tempted to identify myself as “trollman.”) Johnny Wong, the associate provost (computing and information systems), found himself in the spotlight when he announced that the computer newsgroups in the “alt” hierarchy, covering subjects that ranged from fractal mathematics to sexual bondage, were being dropped from the UW computer network as a waste of bandwidth. The decision was reversed six months later, and the provost set up an advisory committee to write a Waterloo policy on newsgroups, a new but already important means of communication both on campus and off.

New? Oh, there was lots new at your university in 1990, while the rest of Canada was preoccupied with the Meech Lake Accord, the violence at Oka, the creation of the Bloc Québecois, and the controversy over the proposed Goods and Services Tax. New in 1990, for instance, was the Midnight Sun solar car project; new was a policy guaranteeing a minimum level of financial support to graduate students; new was the PhD program in English (although most people, and some trolls, were surprised to hear it, assuming that a university worthy of the name had been giving doctorates in English literature since, oh, some time in the nineteenth century).

The Walksafe program was introduced on campus that year, as was safety training under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, which must hold some sort of record for the least catchy name around—no wonder everybody just calls it WHMIS. The science teaching option was created (that made three different UW programs by which students could work toward teaching credentials), and Waterloo got half of a “chair in innovation,” shared in some curious fashion with Simon Fraser University three thousand miles away. The staff training and development program was created with a $100,000 lump sum carved out of the annual staff salary settlement. Thereupon there was an immediate rush to enrol in one-day courses in stress management, and no wonder, on a campus constantly buzzing about pay equity (a new $1.5 million fund), the ethics policy (a new text was approved, giving UW a definition of “academic freedom” for the first time) and cheating (a new academic discipline policy took effect).

The campus buzzed even more on the afternoon of October 25, a Thursday, when somebody picked up a pay phone in Westmount Place shopping centre, dialed 911 and announced that “eighteen bombs” would shortly explode at various spots around the UW campus. Within minutes, authorities made the decision to evacuate the campus—although it wasn’t too efficiently communicated, especially in big rabbit-warrens like the Math and Computer building, where some programmers were arriving and settling down in front of their keyboards even as others were hustling coatless into the chilly outdoors. Police and volunteers, willing and not-so-willing, searched the campus (they even peered behind every row of books in the Davis Centre library) and found absolutely nothing; the university reopened in time for evening classes.

I suppose that was the most exciting incident of 1990, and I only wish I’d been on hand to see it, but even a troll has to make the occasional business trip. I was, if you must know, inspecting the north campus in preparation for the arrival of experts from a Toronto consulting firm that was hired to advise on what to do with it. The university’s square mile north of Columbia Street is “essentially waterfront property,” said the provost, Alan George, referring to the natural delights of Laurel Creek—my creek—and I thought I’d best see what could be done to protect it against the incursions of high-tech companies wanting to set up pilot plants.

Perhaps I needn’t have worried, as there was no rush to build. (Even the students weren’t in any haste to spend money on consruction; in November they voted on building a “student life centre,” to include lounges and physical recreation space linked to the PAC and the Campus Centre, and turned the idea down by a wide margin.) Besides, protecting the environment was in fashion, as anyone could tell from the craze for Lug-a-Mugs and the excited announcement of something called WatGreen. The idea was “the greening of the campus” through projects based in many faculties and departments, all of them using the university itself as a laboratory for experiments in waste reduction, natural materials, recycling, healthy ecology, and so on. WatGreen was proposed in a memo to the president from three or four faculty members; he said he shot back his written approval within 24 hours, and claimed that as some kind of a record for fast response from top management. Projects got started here and there immediately, including a course in environmental studies which I believe is still offered.

And the provost appointed a “waste management task force” to tackle the larger issues of how your university could generate less garbage (fewer memos, perhaps?) and improve its handling of everything from corrugated cardboard to dangerous chemicals. It was headed by that year’s staff association president, Carolyn Pierce, a little red-headed person with immense energy and the determination to give the association a new level of credibility and relevance in all the university’s work. The task force recommended, among other things, that the university create the full-time job of “waste management coordinator,” and I for one would have bet that Pierce would get the job herself; but at the end of the year it turned out that she had other plans.

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