Contrary to students’ popular belief, summertime has always been the ideal season for important decisions to be made, notwithstanding the lack of student participation.
This year was no exception, as Trent welcomed the arrival of a new president and a new leadership for all four undergraduate colleges.
Compared to the relatively smooth process of finding a new president, the recent restructuring of the colleges seems to be much more opaque and raises more questions than answers.
Structural changes to the college system were announced back in April, intentional or not, when students’ top priorities were occupied by final exams and summer jobs.
Although the announcement disclosed few details and went largely unnoticed by most students, it articulated a new model to revitalize the college system.
Under this model, each college has one full-time college head instead of a part-time college head and a full time College Assistant. It also installed a Director of Colleges who will advocate for the system as a whole, and an assistant to support all four colleges.
The strength of this model is in having specialized personnel who can devote all their time to administer and run programing within the colleges.
On the downside, we now lost a respectable tradition in which members of faculties took up the role of college head – symbolizing the dualistic nature of living and learning in University.
This loss means that the new College Heads will face even more challenges in their quest to re-establish the colleges as the nuclei of academic and political engagement.
With the director position designed to play a chief role in political advocacy for the whole college system, even preserving a unique collegial identity could be a difficult task for each head.
Should the new model fail to work, what will happen to the most democratic, student-led and faculty-engaged aspect of Trent’s architecture?
Would it become a bureaucratic machine providing student services? Student leaders, in conversation with the administration, had raised this concern repeatedly and yet it went unheeded.
With hindsight, our inputs were for the sake of legitimacy more than for serious consideration, since a decision had already been made.
Such failure of our collective voice raises some critical questions about Trent’s commitment to have students involved in a democratic exercise of power.
Most returning students wouldn’t notice much different in the appearances of things.
Underneath that façade, however, is a turbulent sea of changes that could fundamentally alter the architecture of Trent.
For all we know, we could be heading in the right direction, and those changes could be exactly what we need. Yet if they come at the cost of transparency and integrity, the ultimate result will be detrimental to all.
To avoid this, the smoke and mirror must be dispelled.
Students need to know how the colleges have changed and why. We must be able to shape the direction in which we want our institution to go.
Last but not least, we must engage in a frank dialogue about how students can reclaim a central role within the decision-making process.
It is not an easy conversation, but if we keep burying our head in the sand, how can we ever aspire to change the world?