Spring 2012

Your Letters

Call Me

New Trail Winter 2012
The picture of the phone sculpture you showed on page 48 [Winter 2012] is from the 1975 Queen Week Engineering Ice Sculptures (now called Gear Week) that were constructed each year in Quad. The telephone was done by the Electrical Club, and the Alberta Shield appears to have been done by the First Year Club. The latter sculpture had an inscription stating: “Stuck in Oil.”

Bob Baird, ’75 BSc(CivEng)
Calgary, AB

Can Did

The letter to the editor entitled “Can Do” on page 3 of New Trail [Winter 2012] and the Editor’s note below it are an attempt to clarify the statement “The first CANDU reactor begins operation at Gentilly, Quebec,” which appeared in the Autumn 2011 New Trail. While the Editor’s note regarding the history of Gentilly-1 is accurate, it does not address the fact that the original statement should have been “Gentilly-1 CANDU prototype boiling light water reactor begins operation at Gentilly, Quebec.” (Gentilly-1 used boiling light water for cooling, whereas the standard CANDU power reactor uses pressurized heavy water). Excellent histories of CANDU power reactors can be found online.

The Pickering “A” units 1 and 2 at Pickering, ON, began operating in 1971 and were the first commercial CANDU reactors. From 2001 to 2005, I worked on a major refurbishing project that returned Pickering “A” Units 1 and 4 to service. This was the last major project that I worked on during a rewarding 39-year career with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

Jim Saltvold, ’64 BSc(ElecEng)
Red Deer, AB

New Trail Winter 2012 Photo Finish

Healthy Living

As usual, the latest New Trail [Winter 2012] was very well done. However, I was very disappointed by one of your cover stories: “The New Face of Health Care: Edmonton Clinic Health Academy Makes its Debut.” My disappointment was not in the pictures and script that was presented, but in the script that was not presented.

The article conveyed that these new facilities will be a major step forward in the U of A’s teaching capacity of physicians, dentists, nurses and various other “health” workers — the implication being that this will increase population health. However, systematic evidence indicates that increasing the numbers, competence and skills of health workers will have very little effect on the population health of rich nations such as Canada.

Richard W. Nutter, ’69 MSc, ’72 PhD
Edmonton, AB

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Response:

Dr. Nutter raises very important points. As a nurse and researcher, I am keenly aware of the social determinants of health, and have spent a great deal of my research life focused on the challenges we must identify and address if we are to truly commit to a healthier population. The Edmonton Clinic Health Academy (ECHA) was designed and programmed to be an enabler of integrated, patient-centered clinic care, education and research. We need to remind ourselves that this vision was proposed by the partners – the U of A, Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services – eight years ago. It is a very fine example of creating a target for a near or intermediate range. That is, begin by focusing on the patient, not the professions.

A key innovation or tool to achieve the ECHA vision is interdisciplinary scholarship. Integrating health professionals into a team is a primary way to focus on the patient, person, community or population. Indeed, one of the very important population health questions is: How do we create a proactive person-centred care model – a model in which we are at our most effective – before the 'person' becomes the 'patient’? This is a long-term proposition. 

It is just this transition that is only likely to come about through collaboration across the health team and beyond. ECHA seeks to support this collaboration. We do that first by creating a community that includes all manner of scholars, many of whom are focused on population health question. The presence of the School of Public Health within the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy was strategically planned. We do that by offering increasing numbers of students access to team-based education, which prepares them to become leaders of the transformation. We do that by inviting the community to take part in the process at the Interdisciplinary Health Research Academy, where dedicated interdisciplinary research space allows teams to pursue solutions informed by determinants of health across populations. 

It is a long road, and it will not be an easy transition. The first step in this kind of change must be taken by educational institutions that prepare thinkers and innovators, and the U of A has made a long-term commitment to champion the processes required to reach the goal.

Jane Drummond, ’81 BSc, PhD
Vice-Provost Health Science
Health Sciences Council

Clarification

On page 15 of the Winter 2012 issue of New Trail, Donna Goodwin, [’78 BPE, ’80 MA, ’00 PhD], director of the U of A’s Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical Achievement, is shown in a picture “with a student.” This “student” is actually Karen Slater, the Steadward Centre’s associate director.

Lisa Workman, ’02 BPE, ’04 MA
Edmonton, AB

Another Perspective on Another Perspective

I have been writing books for 40 years but I have never responded in print to a critic until now. Readers’ opinions often differ from mine and that has always seemed to me to be fair game. [In the Winter 2012 issue of New Trail, page 3] James Horsman, however, chooses to accuse me of “ignorance” and “malice” (in my book All True Things: A History of the University of Alberta, 1908-2008), and that seems to require a public response.

Mr. Horsman does this (accuse me of “ignorance” and “malice”) under the guise of a quote from Winston Churchill: “THERE IT IS.” (The choice of quotes might be questionable since it comes from 1915 when Churchill was trying desperately to recover from the greatest disaster of his remarkable career, the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign.) But enough about Mr. Horsman’s rhetorical strategies; let’s look at his argument.

In the course of his critique Mr. Horsman throws around a lot of numbers to demonstrate the government’s generosity to the University of Alberta under premiers Peter Lougheed [’51 BA, ’52 LLB, ’86 LLD (Honorary)] and Don Getty. The big ones are: Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research [AHFMR], 1980-89 - $323,000,000 (all Alberta Universities); Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre, 1983-86 - $542,000,000; operating grant, 1977-1982 - $623,087,000; capital funding, 1977-82 - $171,978,000; matching grants, 1977 – 82 - $7,634,000; Advanced Education Endowment Fund (capital), 1980-1993 - $75, 249, 536; Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund, 1980-2011 - $450,000,00 for the province (no figures for U of A). 

It would be ludicrous to try to pretend that this was not a very great deal of money, but the important question is: what do these numbers have to do with how the government supported the University’s ability to carry out its core functions of teaching and research? 

The AHFMR was unquestionably the most successful research program created by the Alberta government and, until it was recently emasculated by the current government, stood as a model for the entire country. It did help raise the research profile of the U of A in the medical sciences. On the other hand, it added nothing to the University’s teaching staff and because researchers who got AHFMR grants were removed from teaching duties while they still had to be supplied with labs, office space and administrative support, it, on balance, decreased the resources available for teaching. 

The inclusion of the Walter C. Mackenzie as a contribution to the University is quite a stretch. I suppose it could be argued that if there were no university hospital, the medical school would have to shut down, but let us try to be honest. The Mackenzie was about providing health care to the citizens of Edmonton and northern Alberta and only marginally about the University.

Capital funding always makes governments look good. There is nothing like opening a shiny new structure to provide photo ops for beaming ministers and MLAs. Buildings and equipment are certainly necessary but, as I point out several times in my book, new buildings always create serious strains on the operating budget. They have to be provided with heat, light and other services and, of course, staff. Otherwise they are just empty shells. Some of the U of A’s best work was done in the 1930s and ’40s in desperately overcrowded temporary buildings.

The same is true of scholarship funds. Providing financial support to allow more students to go to university is admirable, but unless operating grants are increased at the same time, the result is a dilution of the educational experience. With more students coming in — and they did in a big way after 1982 (Mr. Horsman carefully chooses the only five year period in the last half of the 20th century that enrolments levelled off for his numbers) — the only alternative way to maintain standards was to raise tuition and the government routinely refused permission to do that.

This brings us to the most meaningful numbers: the operating grants, 1977-82. Mr. Horsman proudly states, “Despite declining enrolments for the better part of the period, the provincial grant increased by over 50 percent.” Very impressive. What he forgets to add is that this was in the middle of the period of highest inflation in Canadian history. The grant increased by 50 percent, but inflation ran at 63 percent. In real terms the grant went down by a substantial amount. Either Mr. Horsman doesn’t understand how universities function, or he is deliberately trying to obfuscate. 

Anyone who reads All True Things will see that what was going on in these years was a struggle between the Government and the University administration over control of the University’s priorities. Myer Horowitz [’59,’MEd, 90 LLD (Honorary)] — who was president for most of this period — is one of my heroes because he steadfastly refused to be pressured into making U of A into a technical school. On the other hand, I am not an uncritical cheerleader for everything the University did. Mr. Horsman is quite right in contending that the U of A did a lousy job of private fundraising before the 1990s.

One of the most bizarre statements in Mr. Horsman’s letter is the following: “Especially troubling are the allegations that premiers Lougheed and Getty were ‘anti-intellectual.’” I do not use that term anywhere in the book so I can only assume it represents Mr. Horsman’s rather odd interpretation of what I actually have written. I did not use the term because it would be absurd to characterize Mr. Lougheed as “anti-intellectual.” He does, after all, hold two degrees from the University of Alberta and one from Harvard [as well as numerous honorary degrees]. I think Premier Lougheed understood the University very well, but his treatment of it was shaped, quite understandably, by his political priorities. 

Mr. Lougheed had learned from the Social Credit government the technique of bypassing the University to avoid unwanted political opposition by funnelling money into more easily controlled research institutes. Calgary, of course, was his home and his political base, which meant that the University of Calgary (less than a decade old when Lougheed came to power) was certain to receive an increasingly large share of the pie. I personally don’t think that was a bad thing. A province as large and wealthy as Alberta unquestionably needs at least two major universities. 

Mr. Getty is harder to figure out. I don’t think he was actively hostile to the University of Alberta; I believe he didn’t think much about it at all. That was what got his government into serious political trouble over the Paul Davenport, [’94 LLD (Honorary)], fiasco. All told the Alberta government spent billions on post-secondary education in the last quarter of the 20th century. They certainly should have, since even in the post-National Energy Program days they were incomparably the wealthiest province in the country. Did they spend it as well as they might have? In my view it comes down to the old saying, “It’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts.” 

I stand by my view that what the Alberta government wanted in the 1980s and ’90s was “a pretty good university.” The goal of making U of A the best in Canada and one of the best in the world was well within their grasp, but their ambitions did not extend that far. So, should we be humbly grateful for what his government did, as Mr. Horsman would have us be? Or, should we be saddened that the vision Henry Marshall Tory [’28 LLD (Honorary] originally had for the University failed in the 1980s?  I know which side I come down on.

Rod Macleod, ’62 BA
Edmonton, AB