Let me begin by pledging my unwavering support for higher education. Lower education for that matter. Any education. While I personally believe self-education is probably the single most important skill schools can teach — especially now with much of the world's knowledge only a mouse click away — there is a lot to be said for more traditional forms of learning, universities most notably.
I don't know what else I would have done with the decade I spent bouncing through the pinball game of post-secondary education, but I suspect I wouldn't have had as good a time doing it, especially had it involved squatting in a rice paddy somewhere in Vietnam while people I didn't know tried to kill me. That 10 years of undergraduate and graduate schools was golden. While I wouldn't call it the best years of my life, it was certainly fun and, well, educational.
But I don't think university is for everyone and I particularly don't think the traditional form of university is for everyone. Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard and former secretary of the Treasury in the U.S., has written a number of thoughtful pieces recently about how little the structure of university education has changed since, forever, and how hard it is to change it.
Notwithstanding the intervening decades, any of us or our parents or their parents if they were fortunate enough to attend, would find today's university experience remarkably similar our own. Students take a couple of courses each semester; courses meet for a couple of hours a week; someone stands in the front of a lecture hall and talks; students take tests and write papers and get graded on how well they parrot what they've been taught.
What part of that sounds like the kind of place you'd create if you were starting with a blank page today?
And just as university isn't the answer for everyone, it's not the answer for every place. Which makes the question this town is about to grapple with anything but academic. Is a university the answer for Whistler?
Whistler council is holding a special meeting on June 12 to begin to grapple with that question. Staff is scheduled to report with a process and timelines to engage the community — us — in discussions about post-secondary education opportunities in Whistler.
The nature of that engagement is, itself, interesting. This isn't limited to a discussion about the relative merits of WhistlerU in isolation. It should consider the proposal to build a university on the site north of Function Junction both on its own and in relation to other post-secondary education initiatives.
One of the alternatives was presented in last year's consultant's report. It suggested moving slowly into the enterprise by partnering with existing institutions, Capilano University for example, and being the locus for students' practicums in areas the town might be said to have on-the-ground expertise. The obvious ones might include resort management, ski area operation, culinary arts, hotel management.