Back to the Future

The Voice, AU, and You

Young man in old fashioned costume making research among newspapers, looking through magnifying glass

“AU reacts to cutbacks and the call for a new mandate.”  “President’s stand on AU’s future:  Fight cuts with growth.”  “Advanced Ed.  faces $175M cut.”

Do these headlines worry you?  Relax!  Although these are actual headlines, they headed articles published in The Voice almost 25 years ago.  AU is still here, and so is The Voice.  Both have come a long way since those headlines.

When The Voice began publishing in 1993, it was a maximum 8-page broadsheet newspaper.  That’s right—actual paper.  For the first few years, The Voice was published only four times per year.  Five years later, in mid-1998, the paper boosted its frequency to six times per year.  By 2001, The Voice was beginning the transition to an online magazine.  Moving to an online PDF format that year reduced material costs and enabled The Voice to be published weekly, a frequency it has maintained since that time.  Beginning in 2002, articles were published in both html and PDF formats, allowing articles to be indexed and searchable.

This week, The Voice begins rolling out its new online look.  Because The Voice was one of the first university student magazines to go to a 100% online format—something some student publications are just grappling with now—its online platform was also one of the oldest.  This month, the dated look of The Voice‘s website will take its place in the archive, along with a stack of paper newspapers from almost 25 years ago.

The Voice is funded by AUSU (which in turn is funded by a levy charged to AU undergraduate students.)  When AUSU relocated its Edmonton offices last year, staff found some dusty boxes containing copies of the oldest paper editions of The Voice.  AUSU generously shared copies of The Voice from 1994 to 2000 with me so I could travel back to the past.

The headlines quoted at the beginning of this article are from the Spring and Summer 1994 editions and represent what was of interest to The Voice readers twenty-three years ago.  Below is a closer look at a few of the top stories from that year.

In an article headlined “Survival strategy: AU reacts to cutbacks and the call for a new mandate”, writer Jane Schultchen reports “While all of Alberta’s universities face cutbacks, AU has been singled out for an additional 10% cut over the next three years.”  According to Schultchen’s article, Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education attributed the additional cut to too few students completing degrees at AU, in relation to the cost of the university.  In reaction, one AU prof reportedly wondered “does the government fully understand what AU does?”, referring to the many students who take only a few AU courses to support a degree program elsewhere.

Later that year, the Fall 1994 edition of The Voice contained an article headlined “AU proposes shorter course time limits”.  That article reports a proposal by AU’s Deans/Registrar Group to shorten course contracts from six to five months for three-credit courses.  According to that article, the Deans/Registrar Group was of the view that “such a cut could save the university money, while not negatively affecting the students.”  Opponents to the proposal included AUSU (known then as AUSA), which pointed to increasing demands on student’s time, and the Canadian Union of Educational Workers, who cautioned that shortened contracts would result in fewer students completing their courses and consequently becoming reluctant to continue their studies at AU.

In the Winter 1994 edition of The Voice, the top story carried the headline “AU Action plan focuses on recruitment”.  The Voice‘s then-editor, Karen Brown, reported that AU’s then-head of Marketing and Communication, Maxim Jean-Louis, saw recruiting and retaining students as one of the major strategies to shore up AU’s shrinking resources.  According to the article, Jean-Louis suggested the plan “will refocus the attention of AU staff on recruitment and retention.  Centralized registration and course materials distribution will free up staff time to deal directly with students, to advise, inform, and market AU courses.”  Included in the action plan was a scheme to phone up—at a rate of 1000 to 1500 per month—potential, current, and former students.

Despite the gloomy-sounding headlines of 1994, twenty-three years later AU is still here. It’s true that the university is facing financial and existential challenges again—or still—but it’s also true that AU has come a long way since 1994, with more students, more course, and more programs.

The Voice has come a long way, too, from its humble beginnings as a quarterly newspaper to the online weekly you’re reading today.  Like AU, The Voice has been under threat at times but continues to evolve and strengthen with every challenge.  Examining our past helps inform our future.  We can’t wait to see what the future holds for The Voice, AU, and you.