Dear Dr. Tindale,
I am a recent alumnus of Trent University, class of 2015. Currently pursuing my Master of Economics at the University of Toronto, I count my admission to this highly competitive program as one among
numerous fruits that I have reaped from the tree of my college, Lady Eaton.
I came to Trent in 2011, long after the reforms of the 1990s had inflicted irrecoverable damage to Trent in which one of its downtown colleges was sold out and the other turned into a listless shadow of its former past.
Nonetheless, the tradition of the college system was still alive when I came, and I was, gratefully, the beneficiary of that tradition. During my first three years at Lady Eaton, the two successive Principals of the college, both of whom I never had a single class with, became my mentors. They guided me through some of the most transformative experiences of my life.
They edited my essays, wrote reference letters on my behalf, witnessed me discovering myself and remain, to this day, the source of inspiration whenever I need.
Through my college, I was acquainted with Fellows from Philosophy, Gender Studies, History, etc., and I formed some lifelong friendships at the dinner table.
All of these wonderful experiences stood in stark contrast to my last year at Trent, when the four undergraduate colleges were turned into more “modern,” management-style residence buildings, with professional heads of college and a corporate-like approach to student services.
Witnessing this myopic quest for efficiency and budget-savings unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder if Trent had destroyed the last thing that made it a place worth studying at.
The point of this lament is to answer the first two questions that you were asked to review: whether Traill College should be a traditional college, and how traditional it should be. I think my position is clear: as the last “traditional” college at Trent, Traill should, and ought to, remain faithful to the ideal of a collegiate institution – one that offers a genuine sense of fellowship among students, fellows, faculty and staff.
It must offer to students a glimpse of an experience that they would never otherwise be exposed to: that of an academic community where buildings are more than just physical spaces for eating and reading, where ideas and values are alive and passed on, where activities are sophisticated and critical, where the collegial bonds make a material transformation on students’ future.
Students might not like it when they are first introduced to it, but that should not matter since one cannot like what one knows nothing about. After all, the point of a university education is to teach students about what is valuable and worth defending, and what is transitory and must be resisted.
This is what Traill and other colleges at Trent were designed and aspired to be. This is what they will never become in this modern style of management.
The most difficult question that you (and all of us) have to face, I think, is how to rebuild and maintain a college of the academic nature given the money constraint. I will not pretend to have any knowledge of the budget situation that Trent is facing this year and in the near future, but I will vouch for the ancillary fee option.
If opponents of this idea protest about wasting students’ money on a facility they don’t utilize, let them remember that the sharing of cost and benefit is at the heart of liberal democracy and contemporary Canadian society.
The solution is to bring students into the space, teach them about the value of the college, and should they still choose to not become a part of Traill, so be it. The most important values in life are measured neither in utility nor money.
I have fond memories of many wonderful times at Traill College in my last year at Trent. Utterly dismayed by the changes in the undergraduate colleges, I found my solace at Traill, which was undergoing a remarkable revival under the dedicated leadership of its principal, Dr. Michael Eamon.
He showed that Traill could still deliver the transformative experience that only a true college can offer. What is needed is a commitment from the highest leadership of the university – its senior administration, its Board of Governors, and its Senate.
This is not only about Traill College – this is about Trent, stumbling and floundering after a half-century of existence, trying to embrace conflicting visions of it future self. Two decades of neoliberal reforms later, we are no better off than we were before, so it is time to go back and do what we do best: being liberal, being critical, being different.
Thank you for listening to my humble opinion. I wish you all the best in conducting this review of Traill College.
Duc Hien Nguyen
B.A. Economics, Trent University (Class of 2015)
2015-2016 Junior Fellow, Massey
MA student, Department of Economics, The University of Toronto