This is a response to the article entitled “Arthur investigates the controversial restructuring of the college system” by Reba Harrison and Ugyen Wangmo, dated March 25, 2016 on your website.
Over the last couple of years, there have been numerous Arthur articles about the colleges at Trent that have paid insufficient attention to important historical context.
Originally, each college was responsible for its own housing operation, its own registrar services, its own food services, its own physical infrastructure and oversight of all faculties in the college. The decision to centralize these services was made long ago, before any of the current decision-makers were at Trent.
This has dramatically changed the operations of the colleges, but not their primary goal; an intellectually and socially stimulating community. How that goal is achieved may have changed, the people may have changed, but the aspiration has not.
Experts in their fields now oversee each of the centralized functions at Trent. To decentralize these things once again would entail an unbearable increase in costs.
You would go from one housing director to five; two project managers in PRD to five; one registrar to five; and so on.
The current organizational structure of the colleges flows from these historic changes.
A university is supposed to be on the leading edge of new knowledge and understanding. It should hardly be surprising then that over the last 50 years, the level of specialization in these very different functions has grown considerably.
Such expertise was not available and not understood in the early days.
It is also important to note that Trent’s compulsory non-tuition fees are some of the highest in the province, second only to UOIT. Centralizing services has been a strategy to limit costs in the face of painful financial challenges.
Finally, in my experience there is a troubling lack of critical discourse about the Oxford-Cambridge model upon which the colleges at Trent were founded.
The college system of those institutions is fundamentally class oriented and privileges the wealthy elite. Power hierarchies are structural components of that system; one might even argue it is core to those colleges.
Ironically, Trent University was created out of the dreams, aspirations and hard earned money of the local labour movement in Peterborough – the antithesis of that classism.
More than 50 unions helped breathe life into those dreams. The labour movement is one that stands for solidarity and ensuring no one gets left behind. This is part of Trent’s heritage that could also be honoured.
The issues with fewer than half the student body feeling included in their college, or the high dropout rate at Trent goes against that heritage.
On a personal note, I would like to correct some inaccurate information that appeared in a recent Arthur article about the colleges: I worked at Trent University for a year and half and left on good terms.
My return to the University of Guelph was for a position that aligns with my professional aspirations and for family reasons. As a gay man, having children of my own is not in the cards for me.
My niece was born after I started working at Trent and being at a great distance from her and the rest of my family was very difficult.
The fact that I left for family reasons was public knowledge. That I need to get into the details and defend it in the campus newspaper is deeply concerning. There were also several other factual errors in that article that have been addressed elsewhere.
As I look back on my time at Trent, there are many people that come to mind who are kind souls.
I had the good fortune to work with students, staff and faculty who are smart, compassionate and hard working. Nona Robinson in particular is a highly principled person, thoughtful and deeply committed to serving students.
The colleges at Trent have always been a work in progress, as is true of all meaningful communities. Best of luck to all of you in moving forward!