Traill College under review: a special message from the President of Trent

All photos by Samantha Moss

Trent is famous (and, in some quarters, infamous) for the history of its colleges. One of them – (Catharine Parr) Traill College – will be externally reviewed this winter.

This introduction to that review is an invitation – to Trent students, staff, faculty, alumni, Board Members, retirees, and members of the Peterborough community – to participate.

The Traill review will examine issues that need to be addressed to ensure it is a successful and sustainable part of Trent. Some of the issues are financial, but the heart of the review is a set of questions about the Trent experience and how it should be organized and delivered there. The review will be an opportunity to renew Traill and its importance in transformational ways.

I probably do not need to say that the history of our downtown colleges is especially controversial. I watched from elsewhere when issues were raised in the 1990s. The Board’s decision to close Peter Robinson College for fiscal reasons remains controversial, as does the decision to turn Traill into a college for graduate students.

I have listened with interest as many alumni, faculty, staff, Board members, students, and residents of Peterborough have shared different (sometimes radically different) views of Trent’s colleges. The debate over the changes made downtown will continue in the history books. Inevitably, the current review of Traill will be informed by it, but the review’s aim is conclusions about the future rather than the past.

The external reviewer of Traill will be Professor Christopher Tindale. He will be known to many, having worked at Trent for many years. He was senior tutor at Traill before his subsequent appointment as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Windsor. I have asked Dr. Tindale to do the review because he has an insider’s knowledge of Traill and is sympathetic to its past, but does not have a vested interest in the outcome of the review. Ashley Horne, the Executive Assistant to Trent’s Vice-President of Finance and Administration, will support Dr. Tindale in the review.

The aim of the review will be a set of recommendations on how we can best ensure that Traill becomes a financially and academically successful component of Trent. The recommendations will be taken seriously, but they will be only recommendations. Decisions about the future of Traill will have to be made via the University’s normal decision-making processes.

[Pictured] Scott House of Traill College
The following are four issues I am asking Dr. Tindale to consider:

1. What kind of college should Traill be?

Shortly before I began my term as President, Trent changed the way its colleges operate. The new model, common at many universities, emphasizes the role of professional managers and student services in running colleges and the residences attached to them.

This model has been successful, but it is a step away from the traditional model of a college. The latter envisions a college as a small residential community with a Principal who oversees professors, tutorial leaders, assistants, and (undergraduate and graduate) students. The life of a college is defined by its academic and cultural traditions, and its strong ties to its alumni.

The central question that motivates the Traill Review is whether Traill should be managed and organized in the way that colleges on the Symons campus are, or should retain (or even recover) the college tradition at Trent and elsewhere? This basic question raises many others. What should the primary mandate and goals of Traill be? Should Traill continue to be a graduate college? Should some aspects of the Symons campus colleges be instituted at Traill? Should Traill have a particular mandate (e.g. community outreach, off-campus students, experiential education)?

2. If Traill were to be a more traditional college, how should it operate?

Should the position of Principal at Traill be a position which assumes academic credentials and highlights academic programming and pursuits? Should the mandate of the College be broadened to include programming and services it does not currently include? How could Traill promote college-focused interdisciplinary learning and teaching? How could faculty be integrated into college teaching, both formally and informally?  Should some component of the teaching be done, as it is in many colleges, by individuals whose prime responsibility is the College (rather than academic departments defined by scholarly disciplines)? How could residential life be integrated into the Traill experience?

3. How can Traill’s budget issues be resolved?

A viable Traill must be financially and academically sustainable. A review of Traill needs, therefore, to consider whether its budget is operating the way it should. In Trent’s current situation, this raises two issues that warrant note.

A. College Ancillary Fees. The undergraduate colleges at Trent are well funded, largely because of college fees that support their operations. One consequence of the decision to remove undergraduate students from Traill was the removal of this source of revenue from the College (it was replaced by fees from graduate students, but graduate students pay $15 a year in college fees; undergraduate students pay $241). In order to manage the operations of Traill, the University annually transfers college fees that are paid by students at the undergraduate colleges. This is not a fair or viable funding model. It raises the question how Traill’s budget can be organized so that it has sustainable long-term funding.

B. Deferred Maintenance. Another major budget issue at Traill is deferred maintenance. Some of the older buildings at Traill need significant upgrades if they are to be maintained as viable university buildings (even more so, if they are to embrace the environmental and accessibility standards that Trent embraces). In a time of limited resources, how can this be managed?

4. Is Traill a successful Trent connection to downtown Peterborough?

Trent’s success in Peterborough is founded on its connection to the community. This needs to be established with a vibrant community in the North end, but also with connections to the downtown. Some have told me that Traill and its activities are a key contribution to downtown, but that the community, and especially the downtown community, sees the matter differently. They locate the centre of downtown at the intersection of George and Simcoe, and see Traill’s operations as of marginal relevance. What they want from Trent is a presence that places Trent students and faculty much closer to the heart of the downtown. Are there ways to use Traill to better integrate Trent into downtown Peterborough, making it more plausibly seen as a “downtown” college?

There are many other questions which might usefully be discussed in the course of the Traill review.

If you believe there are some, I invite you to bring them up with Dr. Tindale. Everyone is welcome to make written submissions to the review.

He will also try to accommodate, time willing, individuals and groups who wish to meet with him.

Anyone interested in contacting him can do so through Ashley Horne at <>.