Geographer Max Barlow thinks that Concordia is not fulfilling its much-vaunted role as an "urban university" as well as it might.
Barlow's stint as an academic administrator (Associate Vice-Rector Services, 1992-97) gave him a chance to look at the University in a broader context than he might have done as a regular faculty member.
In March 1996, he went to a conference at the University of Amsterdam on the theme of Universities and their Cities, and the paper he presented there is being published as a chapter in a book, The Urban University and its Identity: Roots, Location, Roles.
Barlow's chapter, "Developing and Sustaining an Urban Mission: Concordia University in Montreal," puts us front and centre for an international readership. Much of the paper is taken up with a succinct history and description of both Montreal and Concordia.
In the paper, Barlow quoted the University’s mission statement, and added, “Terms such as 'welcoming,' 'inclusive,' and 'accessible’ are fundamental to Concordia’s educational philosophy, and they carry particular significance in the Montreal milieu.”
Concordia is "urban" not only in its enrolment, with its high proportion of part-time and older students and broad ethnic diversity, but also in its built environment, with its “storefront” downtown ambiance.
"From the Concordia example, it can be suggested that for an urban university, mission, milieu, and environment are closely meshed and intertwined," Barlow wrote. "One useful definition of an urban university is that it is socially involved and is a resource to educate the citizens of the city."
While Barlow gave examples of international outreach at Concordia, he noted the University's vulnerability to Quebec demographics, and sounded a warning.
"There is a tendency to view the [University's] mission solely in terms of a local educational role. [But] there are other ways in which an urban university can and should contribute to the city."
Concordia could be making a stronger contribution to the solving of the city's problems. "Research on Montreal's problems is sporadic, scattered, uncoordinated, and has a relatively low profile. Strengthening and developing this research in a concerted and strategic fashion would help to address the teaching-versus-research issue and enhance the university's contribution to the city."
Barlow said that at the Amsterdam conference, he was wearing his administrator's hat rather than his academic one, but he is an urban geographer. “My sense is that a lot of research is being done on the metropolitan area, but it is compartmentalized. It needs to be structured, and it needs more publicity.
In his paper, he also wrote that "an urban university should be directly involved in improving the city through conscious efforts to be a model institutional citizen. In the case of Concordia, relatively little attention has been given to the matter."
Although Concordia is a signatory of the 1990 Talloires Declaration, "relatively little" has been done regarding one of its fundamental principles, to establish programs of resource conservation, recycling and waste reduction.
Max Barlow is currently on sabbatical in Australia and New Zealand. The Urban University and its Identity was edited by Herman van der Wusten, and published by Kluwer.