Cheap shots

First published in The Globe and Mail (9 June 1992): A16, among the Letters to the Editor.

Anyone who's wondered what goes on at the Royal Ontario Museum's Institute of Contemporary Culture now has at least a partial answer. For the institute's head, Grant McCracken, writes in a manner that suggests at best a slender acquaintance with reasoned, let alone polite, discourse (“Canada's Half-pint Education System”—May 28). It appears that he descended recently from his eyrie among the stuffed egrets and burrowing owls of the ROM to speak at Queen's University. There, after delivering what he himself describes as a “bad-tempered” address, Mr. McCracken was “flattered with compliments” and engaged by “the chairman of the proceedings and several people from the audience” in a convivial discussion at the graduate students' lounge.

He now rewards his hosts by denouncing the “sheer vacuity” of an audience “hooded by political correctness,” and by suggesting that Canadian undergraduate education “is in the hands of pointy-headed scoundrels who have forgotten or never knew the power of an idea.” May I translate? Rightly or wrongly, Mr. McCracken's audience thought his talk was silly; he is now revenging himself, with the help of Canada's national newspaper, on our entire university system.

Let me concede one point: the university where Mr. McCracken learned how to marshall evidence and construct an argument may indeed have something to answer for. But the women and men who are struggling to maintain the quality of higher education in this country deserve something better than his cheap shots. Is it too much to hope that The Globe and Mail may yet publish a lucid analysis of the present crisis of college and university underfunding? Can we get beyond name-calling? Or are the swivel-tailed jackdaws, the 63-cents-to-a-loony fork-benders whose dreary vituperations have echoed through the columns of this newspaper as a poor substitute for commentary on higher education going to continue to have things all their own way?


Michael Keefer
President, Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English
Guelph, Ont.