This summer, long discussed changes to the model of college management were put into effect.
On a grand scale, these changes will alter the functioning of the colleges and involve a throwback (in principal if not practice) to the original intention of the college system at Trent University.
The college system is integral to the mandate of Trent University. Modeled after British universities like Cambridge and Oxford, the founders of Trent sought to bring a sense of community to the student body, alumni, and the faculty by having every student and faculty member affiliated with a college within the larger university.
The goal was to foster conversation and networking between members of the colleges. The result was a very intimate university experience, one which in some ways persists today but in other ways has faded.
Concerned discussion for the diminished role of colleges in student life elicited the recent changes in the model.
According to the vision of Trent’s founders, the majority of students (first-year and upper-year students) would live on campus alongside many faculty members. Living in close quarters througout their academic careers would fulfill the colleges’ primary function of building community.
In Trent’s early years, when the student body numbered less than a thousand, this vision was reality. Students naturally made acquaintances and sparked conversations with each other and their professors.
Today, with the university population at more that seven thousand and the majority of students and faculty members living off-campus, the college system must adapt to a new reality.
Trent’s Associate Vice President Students Nona Robinson stresses the changing function of colleges in students’ lives.
Greater numbers of students live off-campus; therefore, the role of residences as a focal point of community must give way to innovative methods for fostering community, she told Arthur earlier this summer.
The colleges need find new ways of engaging upper-year students, off-campus students, faculty, and alumni as these are demographics that have increasingly disengaged from college life.
“We need to create the spaces, create the opportunities, go out and ask people what they want,” said Robinson.
Leveraging college physical resources and reaching out to make sure they are being utilized are key components of this new college model.
The plan is to create a support structure for students through the colleges that is consistent across the four Symons campus colleges while enhancing college differentiation.
“You need to have a standard for the types of service and care each student is going to get. That’s where you want to have consistency. How you do it, with the college events and traditions, you need more of that—more differentiation,” she explained.
A key component of this renewed vision is the changes to the position of College Head. College heads are responsible for the success of the student body in the college: academically, emotionally, and spiritually as a whole.
This includes frontline programming, college cabinets, ISW, faculty liaising, and representing the college at interdepartmental meetings.
Formerly, the positions were part-time posts held by faculty members of the college who, in addition to their regular classroom duties, picked up the position on a part-time contractual basis.
Beginning this year, the college heads will now be full-time positions, a move which is aimed at providing consistent support for students by enhancing and expanding the role of colleges.
This summer saw four new college heads hired and a new position, director of colleges, created.
Barry Townshend, the new director of colleges, comes to Trent with a background in student life management from University of Guelph.
His passion is to reach out to under-represented elements of the student body and bring them into the fold of college life.
“Community is built into the DNA of Trent, it’s entrenched in the way that Trent exists and was created,” says Townshend.
“When change happens people want to protect that place where students belong,”
The new College Heads for Gzowski, Otonabee, Champlain, and Lady Eaton colleges are as follows in respective order: Lindy Garneau (Gzowski), Ashley Wall (Otonabee), Melanie Sedge (Champlain), and Lindsay Morris (Lady Eaton).
Garneau is a Trent graduate and current Trent Master’s student. Wall is also a former Trent student of OC, and former employee of Trent Accessibility Services.
Sedge has worked for Trent in a number of capacities in Canadian Studies, Athletics and Recreation, and Continuing Education. Morris has worked in the Office of Student Affairs at Trent and at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Finally, former head of Lady Eaton College, Dr. Michael Eaton will be taking over as the principal of Traill College.
Whether the evolution of the college head position will be a force that reunites the college community, or is simply an encroaching expansion of university administration has yet to be seen.
Keep an eye out for new college programs that you can get engaged with to find out the success of this new model firsthand.