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Dinosaurs and lemmings

June 18, 2009

[as I sat writing this, my clone alter-ego fellow-traveller colleague Lee Chalmers posted her own take on the same issue. She anticipated me in some points but perhaps they bear repeating. And she thought of so much else besides. But what the hell; here goes:]

No-lemmingsSomeone at this university a few years back described his fellow-academics as “dinosaurs,” unwilling to contemplate change. As a quasi-raptor myself, I would add the following caveats: unwilling to contemplate change for its own sake; unwilling to jump into change without a thorough examination of the changes proposed and how they address an existing problem or set of problems; unwilling to be blindly reactive.

Fair enough?

Otherwise, we are lemmings.

Now you might argue that there is little to choose between the two, that dead is dead. I would merely respond that while that may be so — dead is indeed dead — dead after millennia of magisterial global dominance is not quite the same thing as being a screaming rodent falling off a cliff.

In the spirit of the foregoing observation, I would suggest that members of both the university and college communities would be foolish to embrace the changes being pushed by Enterprise Saint John and the Telegraph-Journal without having full campus- and institution-wide discussions, and then open and transparent discussion with each other,  about the following questions. And no doubt I will miss some so please, use the comments section:

  • Who retains ownership of the land? If leased, on what basis? If sold, how are the terms determined?
  • Who owns the buildings? Who pays for them to be built and/or upgraded? Who pays for the upkeep and maintenance?
  • What plans are in place to expand campus infrastructure and services and who is to pay?: student services, parking space, security, custodial services, cafeteria services, health services.
  • Who would co-location benefit? Why? Would it really make a difference to research collaboration not to have to phone across the city but rather across the quad? Would it really facilitate the transfer of students from one institution to the other anymore than a good bus route? Or might it in fact dissuade them, as they would already be familiar with the campus and ready for a new challenge?
  • Will money really be saved? And will the amount of money saved, if any, offset the inconvenience of construction and increased crowding? Of institutional dilution? Because make no mistake, both institutions will be diluted. Fredericton campus is also apparently being co-located with a new NBCC campus but they have the critical mass up there that we, at one fifth the size, do not.
  • Are there hidden costs, monetary and otherwise?
  • Presumably NBCC will want to retain full autonomy for their operation, as they should. How might that autonomy have to be modified, given that they will not, in fact, be on their own turf?
  • Or, will they be on their own turf? Is UNB in fact giving up control on its own campus? Will UNB become one of two roommates? Will we cede that sense of ownership and control that we have hitherto enjoyed? And if so, for what return?
  • What mechanisms will be put into place to facilitate the interaction of the two institutions? If NBCC is merely a tenant, will there be a committee of UNB to oversee relations? If NBCC and UNB are effectively co-tenants, will there be a joint committee of some kind? And how will that committee fit into existing structures? Would it not, in some respects, have to take precedence over administrative and collegial bodies in each institution? If, for example, in five years, NBCC wanted to expand a building but UNB wanted to add their own building in the same space, how would the issue be resolved? And if Senate had approved a new programme and the Board approved the budget, could NBCC override those approvals with its own plans?
  • If, as we have long said, we want to enrich the campus experience and grow beyond our history as a commuter campus, how would doubling our numbers, mainly with commuting students, affect this goal?
  • Universities and colleges are similar in many, many ways, but are they also not different? In general, don’t their students have somewhat different focuses? interests? How will a doubling of the numbers, with no concurrent doubling of those with shared interests, have an impact on our students? What about campus cultures? Will not both groups of students fail to have the focused experience of identification with their institution?
  • If this city wants to retain and develop the identity of UNBSJ as a university campus, as became clear in “the troubles” of the last two years, how would doubling our numbers with faculty and students from a different sort of institution help us with that goal?
  • How will we manage any future growth, assuming that these “synergies” take place? Will we not be even more in the position of being merely reactive than we are now?
  • Would the proposed co-location not in fact be a kick in the teeth to all those who marched to defend this campus two years ago? Would we not, in fact, be throwing that “back door to a polytechnic” open ourselves?
  • The arguments in favour of co-location, when they are stripped of all the jargon and fuzzy thinking, come down to statements like, well, we’ll be big enough to have a second cafeteria. We must ask ourselves, while addition lunch options would be welcome, at what price?
  • Why are we even considering a plan that will change us from the ground up if we ourselves did not even generate it? Why are we even considering a plan that would be virtually irrevocable for the dubious benefit of more choices for lunch, or cheaper wholesale prices on paper towels? Why are we even listening to one word from the people who tried to close us down two years ago?
  • Why are we being rushed into so significant a decision before we have even begun the new strategic planning process promised by our new president? Now should be a time of change and possibility for us, with a new president, new energy. Why would we slam the door on the chance to really “forge our own future” in favour of the same bad deal we fought off two years ago?

We must ask ourselves, and each other.

  1. Lee Chalmers permalink
    June 18, 2009 3:40 pm

    Ha! You do quasi-raptors proud. You’ve raised so many good (and I fear still unanswered) questions about co-location generally, I must conclude that it would be premature for UNBSJ to be entering into any such arrangement. Reflecting on my last post, I’m realizing now that, while diligently focussing my attention on concerns about the Centre of Excellence for Energy and Construction, I neglected to notice that I was lemming it precariously close to the edge of the Applied Health Centre clifff (and yup, I can see now that that could be a nasty fall too)….

  2. June 18, 2009 3:44 pm

    Oooh, I hadn’t thought much about that. Probably because they have already broken the ground. And frankly, it doesn’t worry me as much simply because of the fewer numbers involved. Numbers of students, I mean. But you are absolutely correct that collegial process was not followed there, either.

  3. Linda Hansen permalink
    June 19, 2009 6:46 am

    How about the MedEd program with Dal — or any discussion about constructing buildings to house academic services but not asking those academics who are going to be delivering the services what might be needed or desired — or any number of other high-impact, long-term decisions that get made without the benefit of a collegial process?

    We have placed our trust in others to represent us. In *democratic* societies we usually get the opportunity to punish / sanction those who do an inadequate or arrogant job by voting them out of office. This is considerably more difficulty in an oligarchical institution. Here, when we pose questions, we are often accused, as I was yesterday, of *making waves* and not being *politically* savvy to merit being listened to — which might be part of the reason we wind up commenting on blogs 8-)

  4. Lee Chalmers permalink
    June 19, 2009 8:15 am

    Well, I’m all for being “politically savvy”… as long as I’m not “lemmingly” so. But geez, there’s that talk again, that if a person poses questions or raises objections or is seen to “make waves,” they do not deserve to be listened to. Hmmm. We appear to have some work to do to ensure we live up to the ideal of universities as public spaces that embody and promote democratic principles.

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