by Scott McRae
The ivory tower has fallen, according to Concordias rector, Frederick
Lowy. In comments opening the March 14-15 Millennium Conference, a student-organized
forum held jointly at McGill and Concordia, Rector Lowy explained that
universities have undergone profound changes. They must find ways to continue
evolving while preserving and cherishing their fundamental values, he
These comments set the stage for the inter-university conference, a venue
designed by the Concordia student organizers to both critically examine
the current model of universities and outline suggestions for alternative
Named after the Concordia administrations Campaign for a
New Millennium, the conferences goal was to create a multidisciplinary
forum in which students, professors and administrators could debate the
future of university. Presentation topics ranged from communicontrol technology
to post-secondary management approaches.
Approximately 60 people attended the opening night, many specifically
to hear Columbia University historian Charles Tilly speak; Saturdays
panel discussions drew fewer participants.
Despite low turnouts, organizers felt that the conference was a success.
Abigail Shorter, conference co-chair, said she was proud to get McGill
and Concordia collaborating and thrilled that the panelists boldly probed
many controversial subjects.
One such provocative presentation was by McGill sociology professor Steven
Rytina. He called into question the worth of much social science research,
a position that had both supporters and opponents in the audience. Many
of us have an increasing difficulty in judging the validity of our co-workers
work, he said, adding that as researchers specialize they tend to
lose sight of the bigger picture.
University of Toronto professor Edward Shorter outlined another trend
which worries many: the growing bonds between the pharmaceutical industry
and the academic disciplines of psychiatry, pharmacology and biochemistry.
How can research remain impartial when big business is footing much of
Csaba Nikolenyi, a Concordia political science professor, said he was
impressed by the quality of presentations and the enthusiasm of the presenters.
It really opened my mind to some things that I never thought about,
he said, explaining that he found the debates on technology particularly
Although dialogue was supposed to be the focus, some participants felt
that the panel question-and-answer periods were too cursory, especially
since an early mishap had demonstrated the potential vitality of discussion.
Charles Tilly, the conferences keynote speaker, arrived hours late
due to flight difficulties; as organizers scrambled to fill the time gap,
a spontaneous debate broke out in the Hall Auditorium and the audience
raised questions of elitism, institutional barriers, the democratization
of knowledge and the universitys relation to society.
That [debate] broke the ice, said co-chair and educational
technology student Rocci Luppicini.
We have a smorgasbord of people here, and we want them to know
its possible to interact.
Although professors and administrators found many trends to criticize,
almost all expressed an underlying pride in the institution they serve.
Said Concordia professor Everett Price: The university is the conscience
of society. We are the summit. We are the elite.
Like any conscience, it has its doubts, and it is with conferences like
this that the university addresses them through dialogue, dissent