That was the question I was faced with as a member of Gzowski College Cabinet when a $14,000 Gzowski College office expansion proposal was presented for approval at a recent [Gzowski] Cabinet meeting. After being updated on a round of deliberation, which included a presentation and a showcase of the area where the expansions were set to happen, and long conversations with cabinet members, I was left with an overwhelming feeling that the proposal was, for lack of better words, a quick fix that came with a hefty price tag of $14,000 – a huge financial burden that students would have to bare.
With the growing need to remedy the situation, I voted for an alternative option that called for more consultation, and at that point, the decision I had made seemed right. Based on the facts presented, I came to the conclusion that a $14,000 investment in expansions would be a sound one that demanded further consultation with the student body.
Unfortunately, I was left with a lingering feeling of dissatisfaction with the decision I had made and I began to revise the whole proposal. The first step was to look deeper into why did Gzowski College office need an expansion. A quick visit to the Office was just the reminder I needed; the office had four student staff, with three students waiting to see an academic advisor in a cramped hallway amongst a clutter of office supply. The glaring difference of waiting to see an academic advisor at Champlain versus Gzowski was astonishing.
The process of seeing an academic advisor within itself is usually a stressful process for first- and upper-year students alike. The hectic environment present at the Gzowski office only adds to anxieties that students might experience. During my first year, I began seeing an academic advisor in Champlain instead of Gzowski because I experienced the less hectic setting there [in comparison to the Gzowski College Office].
In terms of structure, a lot has changed in the College Office since my first year. Now Gzowski College Office, similar to the rest of the colleges, employs nine student staff and an academic skills instructor in addition to a college head and academic advisor. The addition of student staff and an academic skills instructor presents the amazing opportunity to provide a greater provision of services, ranging from event-planning geared towards raising awareness of various causes to coaching writing and study skills.
However, it ultimately resulted in significantly less space in what was already a small office. Due to the lack of adequate office space, Gzowski College is now at risk of losing an academic instructor, who might have to be transferred to another College with more space.
Although the difficulties currently facing Gzowski College seem isolated, it actually points to a larger structural problem that exists at Trent University, which is that this lack of student space comes about as a result of cost-saving measures and a lack of funds. For example, rooms in Bata library that once served as student spaces have now been converted to office spaces. In the case of Gzowski College, the youngest College at Trent, the initial construction planning consisted of a much larger space; however, due to insufficient funds, the building was scaled back.
Ultimately, students are being forced to constantly make sacrifices; in this case, I believe Gzowski students are being robbed of the “Trent Experience” which students affiliated with other Colleges get to experience. Gzowski students pay the same amount in tuition fees as other College students, thus should be able to acquire the same amount of services.
At the end of the day, knowing that Gzowski College students would be put at a disadvantage made me re-evaluate my stance on the expansion. It is no longer a clear decision. Although the proposed plan was made to meet accessibility standards, increased traffic in the area would be inevitable. The other concern was the allocation of funds. The estimated cost of $14,000 would be allocated from a reserve fund that Colleges have as a result of money that wasn’t used from the allocated annual budget.
The reserve fund is put aside in case of contingency purposes, such as infrastructural problems or maternity leaves, for example. Although the proposed expansion can relieve some of the challenges currently faced by Gzowski students, it does not present an ideal situation. More consultation with students and other proposals should be considered in the future.
The challenges Gzowski College faces beg the question: “How can we prevent such problems in the future?” To go back and assess infrastructural problems might prove to be costly and difficult. The ultimate answer for me rests in the $15 million new Student Centre, of which $10.5 million was funded by a student levy, ensuring that the lack of student space continues to be the central issue to be tackled by the project.