Print Edition: November 28, 2012
With the 2012 U.S. election in the history books, Nick and Sean turn their gaze a little closer to home to examine what’s going on in Canadian politics for their final political dialogue before Sean parts ways for SFU’s PDP program. Canadian politics served up fresh for the everyman (and everycat). Don’t shed a tear and don’t touch that dial, CanPol is coming right up.
Sean: Last week NPR reported that, “more than half a dozen politicians in Germany are caught up in an embarrassing cheating scandal.” What is more surprising is that instead of their spouses, these politicians are accused of cheating on academic papers while earning their PhDs. The crime? Plagiarism.
Nick: Schieße! Das ist ganz traurig für Deutschland . . . I mean, pretty disappointing. I hadn’t heard of this story before you brought it up. Plagiarism sucks for everyone involved. And elected officials need to be held to a pretty high standard of integrity.
Sean: Plagiarism is bad. It can get you into a world of trouble if you’re a university student. In fact, if you’ve ever attended a first year class, you’ve probably experienced a very stern warning from the instructor; “If you take someone’s ideas and present them as your own, the university will chew you up, spit you out and make sure that you never do anything more than scrub toilets at McDonalds or work in retail.” It’s a frightening idea, especially because it can be hard to know when to cite, and when to just leave it. The result usually looks like a panicked first year handing in a four-page paper with 76 footnotes.
Nick: Hey, maybe they’re just a really big fan of David Foster Wallace. September’s rumours about a new UFV policy that would allow the university to revoke all credits in some cases of plagiarism carried a lot of weight because, well, it was believeable. It’s a more and more common problem when copy-paste is only a few clicks away and the resources at a student’s fingertips increase exponentially on a daily basis. For students facing a looming deadline, part-time work and other commitments—campus clubs, clowning, basket weaving, varsity basketball—there’s a strong temptation to let the internet write their paper for them.
Sean: I think what caught my attention is that there are so many German politicians with PhDs. Apparently it is almost a prerequisite to running for office, NPR reported. Education is just something that the German people value – although their plagiarism rules are apparently pretty relaxed.
This made me curious; how many Canadian politicians have post-secondary education. Well, Macleans had the answer: some 32 per cent of Canadian MPs have no post-secondary degree. Not even a measly BA! Not even an AA in General Studies!
Nick: Expression of shock and dismay followed by look of grim determination
Sean: What is more surprising (and comical) is the numbers for each party: 41 per cent of the Conservatives have no degree, 37 per cent of the NDP and only 15 per cent of the Liberals.
What’s most crazy, though, is that only four per cent of American politicians do not have a degree.
What do you make of those numbers, Nick?
Nick: This is something I’ve actually thought about a fair amount, but never bothered to actually check the numbers, so kudos there. I know that when I go to the polls, whether a candidate has a college degree isn’t a make-or-break issue, but it’s more of an uphill battle for a candidate to get my vote if they haven’t taken any post-secondary education.
Not to diminish the achievements of German politicians who have completed PhDs, but there are some significant differences between their post-secondary education system and ours here in Canada. For example, a bachelor’s degree in Germany and many other European countries requires the equivalent of 90 credits at UFV, which only requires three years of full-time study. A master’s degree is the equivalent of one additional year of upper-level classes both in number of credits and difficulty. So anyone graduating UFV with a four-year bachelor’s degree has achieved the same level of education as someone with a master’s degree completed in Germany.
Also, state-funded post-secondary education means that there are less economic barriers to a university degree than there are in Canada. Yet Canada’s partially state-funded system is more accessible than that of the United States while more American politicians actually have a degree. How do you explain that?
Sean: Perhaps this isn’t a cut-and-dry issue; I think there could be something to be said about having a parliament that is representative of the people. If, for example, a more rural area that does not have very many residents with post-secondary education wants to elect an individual with no degree who they feel will best represent their needs at a national level, that should be their choice. To take the argument further, perhaps it would be beneficial to have individuals in parliament who have worked in what we would consider blue-collar fields.
Nick: It’s a question of meritocracy versus democracy. On the one hand, we want the best and brightest minds running our country, philosopher kings, if you will. Yet obtaining a slip of paper from a university isn’t, strictly speaking, a guarantee of your intelligence or capacity for good governance. If anything, using such strict criteria to decide on our leaders might further only the interests of the elite.
Sean: I agree completely, Nick. The key is balance. In the United States, the elite run the show and the numbers show it. I think governments would run a great deal smoother if some common sense was combined with some critical thinking, post-secondary education skills.
Nick: Definitely. At the same time, what might be most beneficial would be if not only politicians, but voters of all stripes pursued some post-secondary education. Maybe what we need is a stronger emphasis—as a society—on the value of education to create citizens, not just workers.
Sean: THE PEOPLE! UNITED! WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED!!!
Nick: Abandon your ivory towers, you out-of-touch professor types!
Sean: Or in the case of where I am headed, concrete towers. Sigh.
Nick: It’s okay, Sean. I’ll send you a postcard from the verdant, pastoral paradise that is the Fraser Valley.
Sean: Thank you, Nick. It has been a pleasure. You are a scholar and a gentleman, a warrior and a poet.
Nick: Likewise, Sean. Those punk high school students had best prepare themselves for a high-octane dose of Stand and Deliver-style inspiration.
That’s all folks!