Arthur investigates the controversial restructuring of the college system

Co-written with Ugyen Wangmo

Duties of AVP Students Information provided by Nona Robinson

Co-written by Reba Harrison

In light of the Catharine Parr Traill college review, Arthur has received an influx of inquiries from Trent University students and Alumni surrounding the college restructuring that occurred in the spring of 2014.

The Trent community has expressed interest in the reporting of success and the metrics used to ensure current hierarchical structures are accurate when stating that the restructuring is working to best address student needs as well as engagement.

Changes in the college system primarily resulted in a revised staffing plan.

Four permanent full time College Head positions were created, replacing the part-time positions, and a new full time position of Director of Colleges and a College Assistant was implemented. As well, College Secretaries were replaced with student intern positions. The system is also composed of academic advisors and two academic skills instructors.

Subsequently, the hierarchy and roles of the Trent administrative system saw modifications.

The function of the Academic Vice-President (AVP) Students was the most pronounced change, according to the organizational chart of AVP-students, 2015.

The office duties were split and separately assigned to AVP Students Nona Robinson and Director of Office of Student Transitions and Careers Lesley Hulcoop, Robinson explained.

A significant and large change being the absorption of the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) which  no longer exists. OSA has been absorbed by the positions of Robinson and Hulcoop.

With the move of Academic Skills instructors to the colleges, the former Careers and Academic Skills department was restructured to Student Transitions and Careers, and the former student affairs orientation, retention and programs staff joined this portfolio under the new director, Waleska Vernon.

“College came under my portfolio,” Robinson said.

According to the chart provided to indicate the changes made to AVP Students’ responsibilities, Student Accessibility Services, Academic Advising, First Peoples House of Learning, the Centre of Academic Testing, Housing and a new Food Services director all report to Robinson.

Academic Skills separated and moved a number of their staff into each of the four Symons Campus colleges. As the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies retired at the same time, Senior Tutors turned to report to Robinson. Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies has since not been replaced, and it is unclear if the position will re- emerge.

This failure to replace or fill the position indicates that academics are not falling under academic leadership, with departments such as Academic Advising now falling under Student Services.

The 2010 description of the AVP Students said the position “provides administrative and programming support to the various departments that coordinate
student services on campus.”

Currently, Robinson describes her position “as the co-ordination point for a range of departments that provide services to students on campus.”

Her original duties of orientation, programming and student transitions have grown widely. When the contract of Provost Gary Boire expired, Robinson also took on some of his responsibilities.

Robinson further explained that she reports to the Provost, Dr. Jacqueline Muldoon. Muldoon, in turn, answers to the president of Trent, Dr. Leo Groarke.

The new Director of Colleges position has been a highly controversial position since Barry Townshend was hired by Robinson at the beginning of the 2015/2016 academic year. He created a checklist of items to keep college staff up to date on their duties, which was unpopular. After a year and a half, Townshend resigned from his position at Trent University.

Townshend did not have a background in colleges, and was an external hire from Guelph University.

In November 2015, Townshend purchased a large volume of furniture for the colleges, using $80,000 from the Pan Colleges fund. He resigned from his position shortly after. Robinson told Arthur that the purchase went through regular procedures.

When this was brought up at the Heritage Meeting, members were shocked at this expensive purchase of furniture that did not correlate with the intended aesthetic of Trent’s architecture. When Townshend was questioned about this purchase, he stated that the furniture had already been bought and ordered, and there wasn’t any point in arguing about it as it was already on its way.

When he was further challenged on the matter, he stated that the conversation had digressed to make him feel unsafe.


Students still pay an annual college fee of $241.24, but a portion of each student’s payment no longer goes to the College Reserve. Instead, it is used for increased service levels, such as student events, Robinson explained.

With student fees being managed in this manner, students were generally unaware of where their fees were being shuffled to during the restructuring process. This brings into question if students had a say in these changes.

According to Townshend’s Facebook profile, he announced his resignation from Trent University on December 9th, and immediately returned to Guelph University to begin his new position as the manager of Student Accessibility Services.

Since then, the Director of Colleges position was posted on Trent University’s website.

At the bottom of the job posting, it reads: Trent University is actively committed to creating a diverse and inclusive campus community and encourages applications from all qualified candidates.

However, internal Trent staff and faculty, were not considered for this position, nor does the job description for the Director of Colleges allow for past College Heads to be applicable for the position.

The job description requires “At least five years’ progressive full-time experience in university student life programming, student support programming, staff supervision and management.”

However, if qualified individuals that have experience with managing and engaging with students, such as past College Heads who do not have “full- time” experience, despite the amount of years they spent mentoring students, does not qualify them, then the nature of the Director of Colleges position automatically excludes the most qualified Trent staff who have experience within the colleges to fill this position.

Stephanie Muehlethaler, a Wilfrid Laurier graduate, has been hired as the new director of colleges and has begun her new position as of Feb. 24.

Associate Vice President Finance, Michelle Willson explained that all student college fees are recorded in a college-specific account to pay related expenses.

The surplus of the college revenue each year is put into a reserve to be made available for potential future deficits, “or to fund special projects or initiatives of the colleges.”

“This practice has not changed with the new college system,” Willson explained. Colleges plan to increase their expenses to better match their revenues.

Former Provost Gary Boire, also a hire from the University of Wilfrid Laurier, established the committee in Spring 2012.

Robinson said the current college system is a result of multiple reviews involving the College Review and Planning Committee (CRPC), which she was immediately placed on when she was hired.

In September 2014, the CRPC distributed a College Needs Assessment Survey in order to establish a baseline of information about students’ needs and hopes for the colleges.

The survey was run again in September 2015, according to Robinson, but no specific dates or copies of the surveys can be found on the Trent’s website.

As a result, over half of the 1,277 participants (of which 970 completed the full survey) are part of Trent student groups or play a larger role within the Trent community.

Robinson explained that the college restructuring took place in response to the issue that only 43 per cent of students felt a valuable connection with their college.

This year, from the end of September into early October 2015, a secondary survey went out to the students.

The document explained that the survey resulted in a five per cent increase of students that feel a valuable connection with their college, now at 48 per cent.

The CRPC decided that a restructuring of the colleges was needed, with emphasis on student community life and activities of both entertaining and academic nature.

The restructuring would remove the academic faculty from the colleges, moving away from an academic-based college system, and replace them with college heads that could organize students to engage in “student life.”

According to Robinson, tenured academic faculty have significant workloads and are no longer available to fill the spot that they once did within the colleges.

This is due to a “problem with recruiting” as there are a low number of full-time faculty and an increased number of contract sessional teaching faculty, who are less likely to feel engaged in non-teaching activities.

The college restructuring introduced full time student affairs positions in place of the part time academic positions. The staff members add a level of administration between students and faculty.

The reports on restructuring of the Colleges were presented to the Board of Governors on April 25, the Senate Executive on May 6 and the Faculty Board on May 7, followed by Senate on May 13, and Alumni Council on May 24.

“The reports were for information only, just to ensure that people were aware of what was going on,” said Robinson.

“The mandate of the committee was to examine Trent’s colleges’ structures and activities in order to make them more sustainable and relevant, and to develop proposals to reinvigorate the college system,” as outlined in the revised report of CPC recommendations as of June 2013.

“The underlying premise was to build on the colleges’ strengths rather than to totally remodel or dismantle them,” stated the revised report.

However, these changes have directly remodeled as well as dismantled the academic nature of the colleges.

The change in the college system saw multiple reviews, recommendations and consultations. “This change was intended, and also, this was not something done just by me, but the provost and president at that time,” Robinson informed Arthur.

Rachel Arseneault, president of the Otonabee College Cabinet, who was involved in the process as one of the student body representatives, said an open forum was held for student consultation on January 29, 2014.

According to Arsenault, the consultation was a success that saw good student turnout. However, Arsenault confided, that regretfully no formal conversation proceeded with the student body at large when the change was proposed.

On May 13, 2014, during the 436th meeting of the Senate of Trent University, Robinson, AVP-Students, presented an update on colleges restructuring.

The comments offered by Senate, based on the report, allowed for more comprehension regarding the outlook the Trent community had towards the change.

“There was no consensus among students regarding the proposed changes,” Senate observed.

It was commented that the proposed model of the new college system differed significantly from past practice and required proper plans in place to evaluate the new model. The proposed changes would be fundamental to the colleges.

According to the minutes of the Senate meeting, members expressed apprehension that the model for change should have been brought forward before the staffing cuts were made.

“There is more concern about the process that has been followed than the actual outcome,” reported the minutes.

It was also opined that the new system represented a student management model of colleges and that it might be unrealistic to think that any model implemented would bring students and faculty together.

Robinson, along with Boire, human resources and the union worked together on how to implement those changes. At that time the contract of the former College Heads was completed, Robinson added.

From the information available, as well as the conversations with Robinson, Arthur discovered that the college restructuring did not go through the traditional channel of senators or Board of Governors’ vote.

No conversation had occurred between Senate and the Board of Governors regarding whether the college restructuring was a student life or academic issue.

“It was not determined that there needed to be a vote in Senate or the Board of Governors,” Robinson explained. “There’s lots that will happen administratively at the university that is done without a formal vote,” she said.

“This change was intended, and also, this was not something done just by me, but the provost and president at that time,” Robinson informed Arthur.

Alumni Council, in a resolution sent to the Board of Governors in April 2014, expressed concern about “potential adverse consequences to the college system if the relationship between the college head and the academy is fractured,” and advised the issue be raised before the university’s two governing bodies.

Alumni had explicitly focused on the “inadequacy of the review process or consultation, and the lack of detailed information to allow the members to either endorse or not endorse the plan as designed,” although they supported the positive change.

It was pointed out at the Four Hundred and Thirty Seventh Meeting of the Senate by the Alumni Council that:

“The direction of the plan to focus on administrative positions threatens the historical relationship between the college and the academy.”

“…Creation of the current realignment plan has not undergone any consultation, despite the need for consultation with the alumni council.”

It is unclear whether a review of the college restructuring will be implemented as recommended by Senate when the restructuring was brought forward “for information only.”

About Reba Harrison 31 Articles
You know that crazy cat lady with red hair, a love for charity, and a passion for social justice? That's me. I view everything in a critical light and am dedicated to bringing readers the alternative side of the truth. After Spring 2016, I will be entering my fifth and final year at Trent University as a Woman Studies and Business student. Where I will go next? Who knows! But I forsee a dozen cats in my future, and a long life in the Arthur newspaper's future.