A group of professors sat around a table in a glass-clad building and wondered why they are not involved in oil sands mining. They talked of getting funding for a new professorial chair—why does the oil sands industry not sponsor a chair at our university? They bemoaned the fact that none of their students wants to go and work at the oil sands mines.
“They know more of South America and want to go there, more than they know of Alberta, or want to go there,” one professor exclaimed.
“That’s because it is a lot more fun to go to Peru than to go to Fort McMurray,” was the tart reply.
“But I take my geology students to the oil sands every summer,” one distraught professor declared. “It’s just that the parents tell them not to work in a dirty industry.”
“I dunno,” said a gray-haired old pedagogue, “One of my student persuaded her parents to fly over the oil sands mines when she wanted a job there and her mother objected. Her mother saw the place and blessed it as a fit place for her daughter to work.”
“Why doesn’t the oil sands industry put out requests for research proposals?” groused another whose hair is also gray.
“Because they need ideas from academics,” was the reply. “You cannot expect academics to be treated like consultants; and sit and wait for the request for proposals. Surely academics are paid enough to think up new ideas?”
Fact is there was a great deal of confused thinking around that table. I realized for the first time that professors are more interested in getting students and getting jobs for their students than they are interested in getting new ideas and doing fundamental research stemming from their own original thinking.
The point is that there is no shortage of money for oil sands research. There is no shortage of jobs in the oil sands industry. There is a great shortage of new ideas and an even greater shortage of Canadian graduates who want to go to Fort McMurray to work. And a shortage of academics willing and wanting to get on a plane to fly to Fort McMurrayto see what they could contribute to the industry.
I have spent the past four years happily going to Fort McMurray in all seasons. In summer it is green & warm, soft & gentle. In winter it is white & cold, but the brilliant sun on the trees is sparkling & invigorating. I love the place and think of it as a third home (YVR first; John Wayne Airport second; YMM third.)
But why won’t BC students and professors go there? My theory is that they are incredibly spoilt. They live in the lap of luxury & beauty in YVR. They are well-funded by a generous government. Damn it! The professors have tenure; the graduates have jobs in a vital city by the sea.
Is there any way out? I think not. As long as the British Columbia economy is good; as long as there are direct flights from Vancouver to Fort McMurray; as long as there are taxpayer-funded sine-cures; why move?
They are lucky. In 1983, twenty-percent of the professional engineer in British Columbia were out of work. I happily move to Leavenworth, Washington to work and get a salary. What spoilt kid would do that today?
Times have changed and, in mining, things are improved. I hope it stays that way so that the young and professors can stay as they are: myopic, spoilt, unwilling to move, demanding of society, jealous of their privileges, and able to spend a whole Friday pm blathering about entitlement.