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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2001

Controversy Heats Up at Trent over College Closures

Student and faculty protestors disrupt a board meeting demanding an opportunity to voice concerns about the closing of two downtown colleges.

At its January meeting, Trent University's board of governors provoked an angry response from student and faculty demonstrators when it refused to allow Professor John Syrett to present a motion from the Faculty Council regarding the board's decision to close the university's two downtown colleges.

Citing fire code regulations, the board told the group that only 20 of them would be allowed into the board meeting. When students and faculty members objected, board chair Gary Wolff declared the meeting closed to the public and moved it to president Bonnie Patterson's office.

Reaction was swift. In a strongly worded editorial on Jan. 23, the Peterborough Examiner argued that the action of the Trent board of governors "shows its commitment (to free speech and open discussion) is no stronger than a house of straw."

The editorial criticized the Trent board for refusing to hear Syrett, for refusing to find space to accommodate the faculty and students, and for then holding a secret meeting in the president's office. "Imagine what would happen if members of a neighbourhood group overflowed the city council chamber and the mayor reacted by declaring the meeting closed and taking council to her office to discuss city business in private."

Behind the events was the board's determination to press ahead with the college closures despite a November 1999 resolution by senate to keep the colleges open and despite a compromise resolution of the faculty council in December to defer the college closures for several years.

The board's disregard of the senate decision prompted three Trent professors last year to apply for a judicial review of the board's action citing the Trent University Act provision that gives senate power over educational policy. Late last year a three-judge panel of the Ontario Divisional Court dismissed their application but the Ontario Court of Appeal recently granted leave to appeal that ruling.

The Court of Appeal will now hear Peter Kulchyski, Ian McLachlan and Andrew Wernick's request to have the Divisional Court judgment set aside and for a court order quashing the resolution of the university's board of governors to authorize the closure, sale or relocation of Peter Robinson College and Catharine Parr Traill College.

"Collegial governance is crucial for universities," said CAUT president Tom Booth. "Upholding the rights of elected academic senates is essential to ensure universities maintain academic excellence."

Because the Trent University Act is one of the strongest in the powers it gives the senate, the CAUT executive voted to provide legal assistance for the application for judicial review and has now pledged its full financial support for the appeal.

"There is national significance to this case," Booth added. "If the Trent board gets away with disregarding the role of the senate, it will be open season on university senates across the country."

The notice of appeal filed in early January will likely be heard this summer.