On Monday, September 22, our recently appointed president, Dr. Leo Groarke, was officially invested with the powers and responsibilities of his new position.
Sadly, there was a low student turn out considering that this was an important and symbolically relevant ceremony.
President Groarke’s speech outlined his vision for the university and touched upon a wide range of topics. He dedicated an important amount of time identifying the main challenges Trent faces today.
Dr. Groarke eloquently linked his kayaking experience with the challenges that Trent University’s President has ahead.
He explained that kayaking involves dealing with threatening waves, which you have to face directly in order to turn danger into an accelerating experience forward.
The university is also facing threatening waves, which also must be addressed directly, he added.
One of the challenges that he identified was fiscal. He argued that the creeping debt crisis and difficulties in rising revenue, affecting not only Trent but also many universities in Canada, must be addressed if Trent is to become a sustainable institution.
Dr. Groarke paid special attention to the fact that it is great to guarantee good retirement pensions, but the university must find a way to pay for them.
Furthermore, he stated that financial problems are exacerbated by demographic trends. In order to make Trent a fiscally sustainable institution, he expressed, it needs to attract more enrollment by means of programming and other strategies.
If Trent is to focus on reforming the way enrollment is undertaken, the president explained, one of the main challenges would be to develop programming that mediates between liberal arts and science oriented careers.
He expressed that there is a need for applied programs that also incorporate good communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills.
In addition, Dr. Groarke dedicated some time to reflect on the fact that the way education is delivered is being increasingly challenged.
He stated that the centuries old medieval system based on lectures and seminars has been increasingly questioned. In this regard, the president expressed concern about mediating the traditions and values that make up Trent’s identity with the new delivery methods based on the virtual world.
He then concluded with the thought that Trent should become an interactive university.
The president ended his speech in a very optimistic manner, and his eloquent and energetic delivery is evidence of his very action-oriented personality, something that Trent desperately needs in its leadership.
It is important to look more closely at his remarks. Trent is indeed navigating turbulent financial waters, and action is much needed if we are to directly face the threatening waves.
However, we need to question the extent to which an increase in enrollment, and the dimension of the programming changes needed to attract more students, is the answer.
Trent has already seen cuts in programs and courses, which follow certain criteria. This criterion is often based on the financial problems the university is facing. Debt and financial challenges are used as buzzwords to explain a plethora of problems at Trent.
At this point it is worth asking if Trent is not undergoing an identity crisis. The traditional idea of Trent as a small, mainly liberal arts, university is increasingly being contested. Whether this is positive or negative rests on your own interpretation. However, success will depend on having a clear vision.
The president advocates for consensus and favours attempting to find a middle ground between applied programs and the liberal arts. The nature of this middle ground, nonetheless, is still up for discussion.
Moreover, it is also relevant to ask if education as a whole is being challenged. The president does have a clear vision and did pinpoint the main challenges ahead for the university and for education as a whole.
Yet, it is imperative that we engage in conversations to debate what that expansion and strategic mix in programming would look like.
If enrollment is expanded, will the university’s infrastructure also change? If the delivery of education is also reformed to include more technologically oriented instruction mechanisms, will the interaction between faculty and small groups of students change, and in what ways?
These are important questions that need to constantly be up for debate.
One of the positive notes about the President’s words is that he does have a predilection for debate and discussion, which are indeed primordial to fruitfully steer the university into a future of academic, financial and educational success.
(See below for this week’s cover. Click for a larger image.)