March held to save the downtown colleges

“PR and Traill not for sale” was one of the many slogans shouted at a recent walk to save the downtown colleges. The October 20 walk was in response to rumours of the impending closure of the downtown colleges.

Trent University’s Task Force on SuperBuild Growth Fun released its report October 25, which calls for “expansion and growth, together with consolidation at Symons Campus.”

The Task force was set up to “review and evaluate Trent’s space-planning and capital needs within the parameters and criteria” which the provincial government set out under its new SuperBuild Growth Fund for Post Secondary Education.

SuperBuild Growth, a plan to invest $742 million in Ontario’s higher educations sector for capital projects, was announced in May 1999 budget. The Ontario government did not release the criteria that universities’ proposals would have to meet for funds under Superbuild until October 18.

It was in protest of “consolidation” on main campus that more than 100 students and faculty walked from Traill College to Peter Robinson College (PR) and finally up to Symons Campus. Trent University President Bonnie Patterson cancelled a meeting to come to Bata Library Steps and listen to the protesters’ concerns and voice a response. A number of students and faculty gave speeches to a cheering crowd.

Vinita Ramani, an international student completing a special emphasis program at Trent, was the first to address Patterson and the crowd. “Having lived at Traill, having taken courses downtown, having the downtown space as a transition for me to be a part of the university and town has been really important for me to feel comfortable in this community,” said Ramani.

Ramani also emphasized the importance of the artistic spaces in downtown as central to student experience at Trent. Student Dave Wallbridge distributed flyers about the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) Access 2000 campaign. The campaign fights government cuts and “why we have to fight to save our space and the uniqueness of Trent.”

Cultural studies professor Alison Hearn compared the relationship between Trent and Peterborough to a marriage. “It’s a lovely relationship. Let’s not screw it up,” said Hearn. Many walkers felt the downtown colleges serve as the major bridge between Trent and the Peterborough community.

John Wadland, program director for the Frost Centre which houses Trent’s graduate programs in Native Studies and Canadian Studies at PR, put the “marriage” in terms of the history of Trent. “I have always thought of the downtown colleges as the launching pad of this university. They existed before the main campus [Symons]…The people [of Peterborough] actually got together and bought this university with their coffee money,” said Wadland.

Despite attempts by one protester, graduate student David Dunne, to silence Patterson, the crowd encouraged her to speak. Patterson encouraged Trent;s current financial difficulties as the major impetus for the task force and current administrative decision-making. Patterson refused to take the downtown colleges off the chopping block in the search for “firm financial ground.”

Since the report has been released, mobilization against the proposal has become crucial. Falina Norred, a graduate student and walk organizer, was quick to condemn the task force report. “It’s an ideological document, but it’s pretending not to be. The task force, in its main concern for dollars and cents, is in a power position by naming the terms on which the discussion will take place,” says Norred.

What is seen as the biggest opposition to the proposal and an administration that thinks in terms of finances is a voice backed by money and reputation. Tom Symons, Trent’s founding president, fits the bill and has publicly stated his lack of commitment to the proposal to shut them down.

Peter Kulchyski, chair of Native Studies, also has little positive to say about the report. “As far as Native Studies is concerned, we are not at all happy with the proposal. We want to enhance [the downtown colleges] by joining them. It would be a desperate mistake by administration to shut them down.”

Kulchyski wants to go ahead with another proposal called Connexus which would see $7-8 million put into the downtown colleges in the form of a First Nations House of Learning and Humanities centre located at PR.

“The [task force] proposal is a mindless, bureaucratic, technocratic, unimaginative and deeply flawed piece of administrative drivel,” adds Kulchyski as his personal opinion.

Unfortunately, Patterson was unavailable for further comment, but her views will be soon publicly known as all SuperBuild proposals have to be submitted by November 15.

*Editor’s Note: This is a reprint from an article written in Arthur Newspaper in 1999. We felt that the piece would provide context into the dialogue surrounding department and college structures, which much of the paper centers on this week.