On Feb. 2, Dr. Christopher Tindale met with graduate students to discuss the review of Catharine Parr Traill College. Though originally planned to take place in the common room of Scott House, the meeting had to be moved to the Senior Common Room of Scott House due to the high numbers of attendees.
Members of Traill College can breathe a sigh of relief as Tindale explained, “Traill is a college I care a lot about,” and that he will “never suggest closure” of the college.
Regardless of his background at Traill College as a Senior Tutor (a faculty position that helps students with their course selection; not known as an Academic Advisor), Tindale said that he has “no invested interest” in the future of Traill College, and that at the end of the review process “I will hand in this report and walk away.”
Tindale acknowledges the concerns students have regarding his friendship with President Leo Groarke. The president attended a Graduate Student Association (GSA) meeting last year in the winter semester to ask the students to help pay for the upcoming Student Centre.
However, the students were more interested in the future of Traill College and were defiant when Groarke continuously referred to Traill College as a “dead space” and said that it had no connection to downtown Peterborough.
“That was an unwise comment,” said Tindale in response. “I’ve known the president [of Trent University] for a long time; he’s someone that I can contradict.”
Tindale feels confident that his friendship and mutual respect with the president will allow for Groarke to take more seriously the findings during the review that are contradictory to Groarke’s beliefs about Traill.
“When Leo sees a dead space, such as what he saw in downtown Brantford, his eyes light up. He doesn’t see ‘dead spaces’ the way most people do,” Tindale explained.
Here, he is referencing the rebirth of Brantford’s downtown when the University of Wilfrid Laurier Brantford located a campus there. It was at a time where Brantford’s downtown was also seen as a dead space, and Groarke has even written a book on this, titled Reinventing Brantford, A University Comes Downtown.
Tindale told the room that he was there to listen, and the graduate students had a lot to say. Julia is a Canadian and Indigenous Studies student at Traill College.
She feels that graduate studies and Traill College are not seen as important parts of what Trent has to offer, by the opinion of the administration. The administration doesn’t promote the many events at Traill College, and the room of students agreed that they have not seen administrators or the president attend Traill events.
Tindale later addressed the graduate students’ morale of feeling undervalued. When the room nodded in agreement (that they felt undervalued), Tindale suggested that it was due to low self-esteem.
“Well, how can we not feel this way when the President said [that Traill is a dead space] to us at the last [T]GSA meeting?” asked Phil, a doctoral student in Canadian and Indigenous studies.
Community research is a growing trend in post-secondary education, Julia pointed out. “Trent is ahead of the curve!” She suggested that the Trent Community Research Centre could be a great marketing asset to Trent University.
Graduate students at Trent University pay over $10,000 per year in tuition fees (the highest graduate fees in Ontario). Yumna Leghari (another student) extended on Julia’s idea to emphasize the graduate programs offered at Traill College by suggesting for Trent administration to advertise Traill to Trent’s senior undergraduate students.
Undergraduate students are regularly present at Traill. Tindale explained that their traffic is not measured and therefore, appears as though it does not exist.
If students stay longer, they will pay more tuition and Trent will receive more money. Julia herself is in her sixth year as a graduate student; that is over $42,000 that Trent has made from Julia’s enrolment as one student.
However, another student expressed her concern that tuition fees go towards, for example, research labs and buildings that she will never use.
At the same time, graduate students pay a college fee of only $15 per year and the funding of Traill College directly affects the payees. She made the argument that by lowering tuition fees while raising college fees, graduate students would be offered a better experience at Trent.
Sean, a Canadian and Indigenous studies doctoral student, is also in his sixth and final year at Traill. He described the number of events that occur at Traill College to be so frequent and interesting, that he joked about spending too much time at the events in place of his studies.
Sean furthermore addressed the rumour of a new downtown campus in the Peterborough Square Mall as “terrible” and “crappy.” He explained that Bata Library is noisy and impossible to do work in for students such as himself. In a quiet space like Traill, he said, it is more efficient for graduate students to work productively.
Moving onto the topic of the college governance structure, multiple students voiced their concerns about the security and adequacy of Michael Eamon’s position.
As the Traill College Principal, Eamon is only paid as a part-time employee with no job security. Tindale agreed that the position is currently limiting and asked about a restructuring of the college to adapt the Symons campus style.
There was a consensus of concern regarding the possibility of Traill College adapting the new college system of Symons campus. Students were skeptical about the structure of replacing academic heads with trained staff.
The Symons campus restructure is controversial and it is unclear whether the new structure serves to students’ advantage. The concern of losing Eamon as the college principal arose as well. A consensus was reached that he is the best man for the culture of Traill.
Tindale reminded the group that it is important to separate the individual (Eamon) from the position of principal. “[Eamon] could leave tomorrow if Harvard calls,” said Tindale. It is unclear whether Tindale meant to refer to Eamon as an asset to secure before a university like Harvard offers Eamon a job, or if Tindale meant that he believed Eamon wishes to leave Trent. Or perhaps it was simply a joke.
Later that day, Eamon commented: “I am pretty sure that Harvard will not be calling tomorrow. I am also sure that there is no secret agenda on the president’s part to get rid of me. I believe that Dr. Tindale means that a sustainable college needs a structure where future principals could also flourish and be well liked by the students.”
Another issue brought out by the student is that the Continuing Education program is not adequately promoted. The program can allow graduate students to engage in very useful teaching experiences.
However, Julia referred to the payment of just $40 per hour of class (not including approximately three hours of preparation) is “insulting.” Eamon later commented that he wishes that he could provide payment for prep time in addition to class time.
The two-hour discussion began to close. Protesting the closure of Traill College is not a useful contribution, Tindale said. Commenting on services offered at the college, whether student needs are met and factors of engagement throughout the college would be more useful for Tindale’s review process.
During the discussion, president of the Trent GSA Laura Thursby offered to arrange a Board of Directors meeting with Tindale at a time and date he is available.
A group of sustainability graduate students passionate about the future vision of what Traill could be, invited Tindale to join a community discussion meeting in the near future. No plans were immediately made by Tindale.