Insight into the functions of Trent’s latest college system


LEC and OC by Keila MacPherson. CC and GC by Pat Reddick.

The four undergraduate colleges of Trent see a new leadership foisted upon them, considering the most recent restructuring of the college system.

The functioning of colleges has changed, and with that pursued a change in the roles and responsibilities of the college head positions.

Apart from the Principal of Traill College, they are now a member of staff as a full-time student affairs positions, rather than being academic posts, which was also only a part time appointment.

Further, the four undergraduate college heads are under the directives of, yet another entirely new position, Director of Colleges.

Even though the change may go on unnoticed by the greater part of the Trent community, there ares still those who need insight into the new system.

“The hope with the restructuring and refocus on the colleges is to reinvigorate the college communities in the current demographic reality,” justified the Associate Vice President Students, Nona Robinson.

She explained that the college system at Trent is focused on strengthening the role of the colleges for all students.

Historically, the colleges were fashioned on a residential model that was intended to bring faculty and students together by having residences, faculty offices, classrooms and common spaces all together.

As Trent grew larger, though, a much smaller proportion of students lived in residence, and also faculty have gradually become less involved in college life. Nevertheless, all full-time undergraduates pay about 235 dollars per year in college fees, so it is important that colleges provide activities, support and services for all of them, says Robinson.

The possibilities for the colleges are extensive. It can be hubs for all aspects of university life, starting from academic, student support, and building skills, to community building.

“It is my deep hope that with new energy infused into the colleges, they will return to being the forefront of the student experience, for all students,” said Robinson.

When asked about the authority and autonomy of the heads within the university, she explained that the College heads will be working with their college advisory councils, which will include students, faculty, staff and alumni, to set individual college priorities.

Budgets and spending priorities will also be determined in consultation with the advisory councils. Yet, they still have enough scope to plan activities and set priorities, besides colleges needing to be accountable for how student fees are allocated and spent.

“Students need to know how the colleges have changed and why,” was the opinion of one of the students in the first issue of Arthur.

To that end Robinson explained that, there has been over decades of discussion about the role of the colleges.

The two main ways that the colleges are evolving, is the staffing structure, and in the broadening of the colleges’ mandate.

The reasons for the change, she restated, is to achieve colleges that are increasingly relevant in today’s university, and that maximum students feel a strong sense of connection to their college.

Further, to ensure that their college fees are well invested, and to reinvigorate the colleges’ role as central to the Trent student experience.

Colleges can also be integral to addressing some of the challenges faced at Trent, in particular student retention.

This, according to Robinson, can be achieved by colleges which can make students feel that they matter, connected to their academic and student life, and offer the support students need-both when they’re experiencing difficulties or in reaching their goals.

Above all, colleges can help everyone feel valued and proud of being a member of the university.

Like it’s natural for any change, the college restructuring also raised questions about transparency.

In terms of college restructuring, it was a complex process, which, among other things, involved individual people being affected by restructuring decisions, says Robinson.

Transparency and consultation are both very important, as is an understanding those boundaries. Change is always difficult, and is often controversial.

Robinson, however, is very encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm of the new college staff and is optimistic that with the help of cabinets and involved students, and members of the Trent community, Trent will be seeing many great things happening in the colleges in the months to come.

She strongly believes that Trent needs to reinforce and reassert the importance of colleges. “I never want people to ask ‘what’s the point of colleges’ because I want that to be completely evident,” she affirmed.

Despite the change, the college heads continue to be responsible for engaging students in learning outside of the classroom, faculty-student engagement, promoting academic success, fostering a strong sense of community, and creating an environment that supports the needs of a wide range of students, pointed out the Director of Colleges, Barry Townsend.

Students are heavily involved in the colleges this year—from helping to shape overarching goals to frontline delivery of programs and services, assured Barry. They have created eight new student staff positions in each college, and are in the process of recruiting volunteers in each college too.

Students will also be involved in Advisory Committees for each of the colleges, besides working closely with the Cabinets. He said that per se they would hear from a broad range of students (not just those who are already involved)​ about what they are looking for in their college communities.

The change is to triumph increased participation—particularly among those who have traditionally not felt a strong connection with their college, said Townsend.

And also to ensure that everyone graduates with a feeling that their college has been a social and intellectual home during their time at Trent—a place where they have been supported and inspired, he added.

Principal of Catharine Parr Traill College, Michael Eamon, the only remaining head from the old college system, said that, over the years, there had been issues where faculties were not volunteering for these positions, and the nature of the college heads had been changing as a result.

So when the college committee came through and asked what everyone wanted, students said that they wanted a full time head position.

The change was for people to understand what the colleges were all about. Over the past few years it had become hard to maintain that as the nature of space changed even including the roles of the principal or head.

It is an old issue that has been around for decades but ‘This’ is the most recent attempt to cross correct the colleges and make sure they are addressing the modern student population, says Eamon.

In response to the question of college heads not being a member of faculty, he said, “I am a scholar who does the position and I think that is important to have that, especially at Traill College.”

For the other position it depends on the new directions the directors of each college has.

“For many of the jobs I did last year as the head of the lady Eaton College I didn’t need to be an academic, but it is not to say that it didn’t help sometimes to be able to communicate to academics,” said Eamon.

And over the past few years this whole question has been asked over and over again, as if a college head should be an academician.

This now remains to be seen and how it will actually all play out.

Principal Eamon, described the new system as being more centralized, which can be either good or bad. Centralization can save resources and have oversight but it can also hamper creativity, or how the things move.

The challenge of centralization is to make sure that it is as innovative and as creative as possible. The goal here is, now that they are trying make the colleges work more together, more cost effectively, he hopes they will manage to run things centrally but still respect the diversity of each college.

The other underlying issue was that some colleges were perhaps providing more than the others in some ways under the old system, and consequently college experiences were not similar for every student. The new system is to provide a more uniform experience to the student. But the danger, which Principal Eamon sees, is that the experience doesn’t take away from the individual identities.

According to Principal Eamon, in brief, “Associate Vice President Students, Nona Robinson is the Architect of the new college system and Director of Colleges, Barry Townsend is the person who was hired to implement and refine the change.

“It means more standardization of the services, more student employees in the colleges than have ever been before, more programming, much younger demographic- the average age of college head is closer to that of the student than it has ever been before.

“So what does this mean to the colleges and what do the students want out of the college heads?”

About Ugyen Wangmo 87 Articles
Ugyen Wangmo is a self trained media personal, steadfast to 'right to information'. She has about six years of media experience through a variety of roles as Reporter, Editor, Stringer, and Freelance writer. She graduated from Trent with a degree in Chemistry and Biology. When not nosing around for leads to write a thing or two about, she indulges in books, fashion, and dance.