Exciting period of renewal lies ahead for McMaster


McMaster is currently on the verge of one of the most exciting periods in its history, predicts University provost and vice-president academic Harvey Weingarten.

In his fourth annual State of the Academy address on Feb. 29, Weingarten anticipated that the increasing quality of the student population and a coherent academic plan, coupled with facility and faculty renewal, will inspire the institution.

“If we take advantage of the opportunity, I suspect we'll be entering a five- to 10-year period which will be more thrilling than anything we've seen in the last 20 to 30 years,” said Weingarten, in a presentation titled “The Thrills of Institutional Renewal.”

In 1997, McMaster sustained a 15 per cent cut in its grant from the provincial government, the single largest in the school's history. In that same year, both the provincial system and McMaster saw a three per cent decline in the total number of applications. McMaster also saw a four per cent decline in the number of university applicants who chose the University as their first choice, normally a sought-after indication of a school's attractiveness.

With a significant loss of faculty and an eroding infrastructure, grim signs were everywhere. That has changed, according to Weingarten.

University applicants for the 2000-01 academic year have given McMaster a rousing vote of confidence with a nine per cent increase in the number of applicants choosing the University as their first choice. Provincially, there was only a two per cent jump in applications.

“It has come about because we have done a series of things that fulfils their wishes,” said Weingarten. “We're presenting attractive programs and giving them things that make them want to come here, disproportionately more than other institutions.”

The impending arrival of the double cohort and an increasing size of the university-age demographic group of 18- to 24-year-olds will place strain on the provincial university system in coming years. Weingarten pointed out that between 1992 and 1997 jobs requiring a university degree increased by 27 per cent. During that same period, jobs demanding less than post-secondary schooling fell by nine per cent.

“The world today is not the same kind of world it was 40 years ago,” said Weingarten. “The university is not the same either. University is no longer a place for the idle rich or the elite. There's a much higher percentage of high school graduates going to university now. In today's world, university is a necessary credential.”

Weingarten put forth that the attractiveness of a university education, coupled with McMaster's popularity among secondary school students, has given the institution an opportunity to renew itself in three areas: people (including students, non-teaching staff and teaching staff), facilities, and purpose and mission.

For the compete story on Weingarten's address, see The McMaster Courier on Monday, March 6.