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What’s really behind UNB’s entrepreneurial claims?

At the 2014 Startup Canada Awards ceremony atop the CN Tower in Toronto, UNB was named the most entrepreneurial post-secondary institution. Of the award, Eddy said that “UNB has earned its spot as the most entrepreneurial university in Canada because we’ve established infrastructure on our campuses that empowers our faculty, staff and students to transform ideas into industry-leading technologies and business solutions.”

I’ve no doubt many of you have heard about this award. Eddy has been bragging about it worse than an 18-year-old with their first piercing. Eddy’s response to the award asserts that a top-down strategy was made to cultivate entrepreneurship at UNB. The “we” refers to himself and other administrators. Yet, Eddy, his administrators, and their budgets had very little to do with the award and UNB’s sense of entrepreneurial spirit. Eddy’s support of entrepreneurship on campus is equivalent to my dog’s contribution to my grocery budget.

At the centre of entrepreneurship at UNB is the Dr. J. Herbert Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship. While there are four centres on campus which aim to cultivate an entrepreneurial culture on campus, the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship (TME) program is the most student-centred. With 450 students, the centre increased its enrolment by 32 per cent just this year.

The centre, alongside offering courses, works with other faculty at the university, industry leaders, and students to establish over 30 lunch and learn events in the community. It has been a part of creating 32 companies since 2010. But when we talk entrepreneurship, what do we mean?

Entrepreneurship is the lateral relationship between the applied sciences, business, and the arts. It is a relationship which produces solutions to problems. An entrepreneur is not a money-obsessed businessperson so much as an activist. An entrepreneur sees a problem and searches to solve it. There are misconceptions about what it means to be an entrepreneur. And no doubt there are the warped and selfish out there. However, at its best, entrepreneurship is interdisciplinary. It searches to utilize a plethora of talents for focused and meaningful goals.

But, I’ve gotten as off track as my dog in proximity to a pigeon.

Does UNB, as in Eddy and his administration, support entrepreneurship, that relationship? The painless answer: nope. Who pays for TME and the three other centres at the university? Well, basically, not the university. TME is funded through an endowment from the now deceased Dr. J. Herbert Smith. This pays salaries, resources, and seed money for projects. Alongside endowments for the four centres, there is private financial support.

I hope you’re hearing me. Institutions which foster entrepreneurship at UNB are not paid for by UNB. However, there are plenty of UNB personnel taking credit for it. And there are plenty of people at UNB who should take credit for it. Whether it’s professors in whatever faculty or students in whatever discipline, we are an imaginative and ambitious campus. There are student journals, projects, societies and political bodies that are innovating and problem solving every day.

The top end of the university is not entrepreneurial despite the administration’s best efforts to push such a spirit on campus. Rather, they stifle it. They long to give off the impression of imagination and success. Instead, they just brag about what other people have accomplished. They take credit for what they had little to no hand in.

One of those who should not be taking credit is Eddy and the administration. While TME is at the heart of a large piece of the entrepreneurial work at UNB — from organizing pitch competitions to supporting students in all faculties through their diploma program — they sit with one full-time professor who overlooks 450 students. While the program’s enrolment goes up, and the university pulls a surplus, they don’t get tossed a bone. Instead, the thanks is taking undue credit for an award that was never earned.

We’re heading into the Christmas break and I want to end on the one point I continuously come back to — that is, the difference between Eddy’s UNB and our UNB. Eddy’s UNB is an institution he can manipulate, cut and poison in the name of surpluses and the unheeded worship of neo-liberalism. Our university is a community of people who, in the name of knowledge, innovate, create, inspire and help to solve the many predicaments of society. We are social, scientific and artistic problem solvers.

Eddy sees a community that supports his image and goals. He doesn’t see that we are a community that contributes uncountable skills and values. He sees dollar signs. Eddy brags about being an entrepreneurial school. Yet he doesn’t put the resources into assisting in the attainment of that goal. It’s because Eddy doesn’t realize that to invest in faculty and students is to invest in this university. Instead, Eddy searches for surpluses and tuition increases, strikes and bloated administrations.

It’s been a fun three months. I hope this is as much of a break for our president and the administration as it will be for me.

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