Even people with a slight familiarity with Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan are of course aware of his aphorism that life is nasty, brutish and short, accurately describing the life of those who work at Wilfrid Laurier University. And yet there is so much more to his work than just slogan that fits on a bumper sticker.
Recently, I started Anthony Pagden’s Enlightenment and Why it Still Matters (Random House, 2013) and I realized that I needed to start reading Hobbes again. Not since my undergrad days had I read Leviathan in any great depth, and so I started. It was nice to engage with 17th century English political thought again and as I was reading I came across a passage that stood out to me. In Part 1, chapter 11, Hobbes writes: “Men that have a strong opinion of their own wisdome in matters of government, are disposed to Ambition.” This sentence stood out because it speaks to the rationale behind some very poor decisions at Laurier recently.
For years, cuts have been made to universities across Canada. This has led to rise of precarious labour among adjunct and contract faculty who have few courses to teach at poverty level wages and job security. Just this Monday (9 March) Laurier made (in admin speak) redundant 22 staff positions. The cuts were brutal in their execution and in the impact they will have on the university to function as an institution of higher learning.
Our President claims that these cuts are necessary for the financial health of the university which flies in the face of Laurier’s actual healthy fiscal position. Rather our President sees the university as a business as opposed to an institution whose core mission is to educate and therefore should be run like a business despite the lasting damage that is being done because of this administrative philosophy. No, this is a case of a university president with a strong opinion of his own wisdom being disposed to ambition. But it is not the ambition to make the entire school one of the best in the country, it is instead the ambition to bestow largesse on one sector at the expense of the rest of the university. And it is the ambition of a man whose desire of creating a legacy for himself can only be built on the smouldering wreckage of a once great institution.
And so to fuel the ambition of a university president, and as the impact of these latest cuts make themselves felt throughout the university community, Hobbes’ dictum is tragically real. Life at Laurier has become “nasty, brutish, and short” because by time this Senior Administration is done, there will be no arts, letters, or society – just a hollowed out shell as a monument to one man’s ambition.