Many faculty and students at Trent University are expressing their outrage over president Bonnie Patterson's plans to radically restructure the university, including shutting down and selling Peter Robinson College and Traill College, two of Trent's popular downtown colleges.
Critics are particularly incensed that the president's proposed plan, announced late last month, came just three days after the university's senate voted against the move. "It is very, very unusual that a president would overrule senate," said Professor Ian McLachlin, a key opponent of the college closures. "This is seen by a lot of us as a coup against the normal processes at the university."
The plan to close Trent's two downtown colleges is based on the report of an 11-member presidential task force set up earlier this year which critics say was made up almost exclusively of administrators and managers. Under the plan, Trent would use the proceeds from the sale of the downtown colleges to partially fund a $70 million expansion of the main campus with the remainder of the money coming from the province of Ontario's Superbuild Growth Fund and private donations.
The reaction from faculty and students at the two colleges slated for closure has been swift and energetic. A number of demonstrations have been held and a petition against the plan signed by more than 150 downtown businesses was presented to the board of governors late last month.
Meanwhile, the chair of the senate's site development and space utilization committee is urging the administration to allow more time to consider the implications of the proposed changes.
Professor McLachlin and other opponents of the closures are warning that by overruling the senate, the president and the board of governors have opened up a "constitutional contradiction."
"The senate will have to discuss what to do with a president that goes against its wishes," added McLachlin. "I don't think a president's standing at Trent has ever suffered as much."
Despite getting a green light from the board of governors, however, the matter is far from resolved. The university community appears split not only on the merits of the president's report but also on the appropriateness of the way in which she has pushed her agenda.
Critics worry that the president has proceeded by shutting out the Trent community from participation in decisions that will dramatically alter both the physical and integral face of the university.
By ignoring the advice of the senate, critics say, president Patterson has effectively silenced the university's statutorily empowered academic governing body. They ask that if she is prepared to ignore the senate in this instance, will she ever take recommendations of the senate seriously again?
This feature was supplied by Ken Field, Principal of Lady Eaton College at Trent and a member of CAUT's Executive.