Traill, Tradition and Change: what does being a “traditional” college mean in the 21st century?

“Throughout its various iterations, Traill has never lost its capacity for innovative programming. It retains the potential to develop into something quite distinct among Ontario’s post-secondary institutions… if a multi-year plan is put into place, with a series of clear and achievable interim goals to measure success, then something unique and exiting can emerge.”  – Dr. Christopher Tindale, Traill Review.

[Pictured] President of Trent University, Dr. Leo Groarke (left) and Principal of Traill College Dr. Michael Eamon (right)
On June 28th, President Leo Groarke released the Traill Review and his initial response to its recommendations.

Playing upon the college’s already established strengths, author Christopher Tindale recommended that Traill become more academic in focus and deepen its ties with the surrounding downtown community.

The initial changes have been swift. With the release of the Traill Review, the President appointed me to a three-year term as Principal, so that I could, in his words, “lead the transition to a new Traill which will embrace collegiate traditions.”  A massive renovation project, started in July, has just completed, creating new residence spaces in Wallis Hall for 27 undergraduates. The Trend, our beloved dining space, has increased its food services and more changes are on the way.

Traill College Undergraduate class of 2016

Creating a balance between tradition, change and the recommendations of the Traill Review will not be easy.

As in all external reviews, not every recommendation can be, or should be, implemented. To this end, the President has asked Dr. Nona Robinson, AVP Students, to work with me in the evaluation and execution of the Traill Review. For Traill’s supporters (and there are many), the continuation of Trent’s oldest college has been much welcome news. Now with the future of this beloved space more assured, the real work—as the saying goes—is about to begin.

img_7918This year, I would like to re-establish the student cabinet, re-evaluate and refurbish student spaces, and restore student supports. Starting this fall, we will have part-time counselling services, academic skills and academic advising. We will be asking you how we can improve and expand these, and other, services. Traill already boasts several much-loved collegiate spaces such as the JCR and SCR. What new spaces are required? Is there interest in a renewed computer lab with resource centre and library? How about an outdoor theatre space? In your opinion, what strengths can we develop?

Beyond these specific ideas, how does one “embrace collegiate traditions” in the 21st century?


I have previously written in Arthur about the importance of having a “Collegiate Compass:” a set of core values that can help us to determine the relevance of old traditions and to also create new ways of doing things.

Over the next few years, Traill will find direction from many places: our faculty, our students, our alumni; the Peterborough community and around the world.


Currently, I head Collegiate Way International, a body dedicated to sharing global best practices. It is comforting to know that Traill not only has support from Trent’s President, Provost and Board of Governors, but from dozens of collegiate universities from Oxford to Macau. It is also interesting to note that some of the newest universities being built in the world—in Singapore and China, for instance—are collegiate universities. In a world where higher enrolments and student anonymity are increasingly the norm, more and more institutions of higher education are starting to look to the collegiate tradition to create smaller academic communities and dynamic incubators of thought and interaction.

Embracing college traditions, in my mind, can also represent a few other key things.

img_7853img_7910A first tradition, or guiding principle, is that that the college is an academic community, integrated into the larger university, but still independent to some degree and distinctive in spirit.

Secondly, a college should be rooted in a past that offers consistency in an uncertain present, but also should not hesitate to embrace newness and diversity in all of its forms. In this sense, I would agree with Dr. Tindale’s assessment that “given the current makeup of Traill, there is an opportunity to promote the academic vision of the earlier model within the more practical realities of the contemporary university.” (Traill Review, p. 6) A college should be an institution with a past, but one that is not stuck there.


Thirdly, the college should be a community of scholars—of all ages—and it should be led by someone who is directly invested in the scholarly mission of the university and who has devoted their life to the path of higher education.

The core collegiate values of integrity, community-mindedness, humility, acceptance, understanding and scholarship are secular values that can unite us all and fuel learning and inquiry.


Fourthly, the Principal and College Office need to be the central authority for the college spaces to ensure that every aspect from programing to the day-to-day operations respects the academic, interdisciplinary, international and intergenerational mission.

Finally, and most importantly, a college must be fun! The rigours, frustrations and stresses of higher education are too numerous to count. Isolation, depression and loneliness is far too common.  A college has to be a place where friends come together to support each other and enjoy each other’s company.

If you believe in this vision; if you are seeking out a place of acceptance; or, if you just want to have fun, then I ask you to join us. We need your help to build the new Traill!