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Reflecting on the restructuring of the colleges

Source: Trent University Archives

The restructuring of the Trent University Colleges is a topic that elicits a spectrum of emotions from utter confusion to frustration.

The Colleges are at an interesting crossroads with the resignation of Barry Townshend, director of the Colleges. This period certainly sets a platform to reflect on how the Colleges have functioned under the restructured model.

The college system at Trent is seen as an integral and unique part of Trent. Modelled after British universities like Cambridge and Oxford, the founders of Trent sought to bring a sense of community to the student body, alumni, and faculty by having every student and faculty member affiliated with a college within the larger university.

The outcome was an actively engaged student body that, in some ways, has been sustained, but in other ways hasn’t.

The restructuring of colleges occurred after Radical Recovery: An Academic Plan of Trent University — a plan that outlined five principle objectives:

“to articulate clearly [Trent’s] unique academic identity; to become an efficient and fiscally healthy university; to improve [Trent’s] reputation and visibility; to build a culture of respect and pride in what [Trent does]; and, to improve continuously its overall quality and performance.”

With the principal objectives set for Trent, the restructuring of the colleges was put in place to remedy rising concerns over the diminishing role of Colleges’ ability to actively engage with students.

In essence, the restructuring was put in place to revive the college system and to encapsulate Trent’s founders’ vision of creating a sense of community. With the growing student body population at Trent, in addition to the fact that the majority of Trent students are living off campus, it has become more challenging to achieve this goal.

Summer 2014 marked implementation of the Colleges’ restructuring, with the main goal being to alter the model of college management.  The creation of a new position, director of colleges, and the hiring of four full-time college heads, marked the larger changes made to the model of college management.

The college head positions were previously part-time positions filled by faculty members of colleges that took up this responsibility in addition to their academic commitments such as classroom duties.

The expansion of the college management was intended to increase the amount of support that students received and to extend the role of the colleges.

The current heads of the colleges are as follows: 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 Otonabee College 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. The creation of 11 student position in each college is also a notable change that has been implemented.

Whether these changes have achieved the set goal of engaging students is still a highly contested topic within the student body.

Programming and the provision of student services have seen positive changes, whereby academic advisors have been integrated into the colleges and a more social opportunities for student involvement have been made available.

However, there are also concerns that the colleges’ restructuring may be just another form of the University administration’s expansion, citing overlaps between responsibilities of college cabinets and a decrease in student engagement due to increased bureaucratic barriers placed in allowing students to access the available opportunities as well as a lack of events that actively engage students in critical thinking (with an abundance of events that exist simply to increase portfolios of college events).

Students have also raised concerns to college heads in terms of accessibility. This can be related to the bureaucratic structure currently in place that does not allow for the autonomous decision-making process that had once existed.

In addition, there is a growing concern the college offices no longer foster an environment where students can have meaningful academic conversations.

This perhaps will serve as an opportunity for the four colleges to reflect on what is working and what isn’t.

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