University politics: deja vu all over again.

Author:Atkins, Michael
Position:President's Note

It was with more than passing interest I noted the new Tory government has cancelled three new campus expansions for Ontario universities.

To be specific, a joint venture between York University and Seneca College in Markham was cancelled. A joint venture between Wilfrid Laurier and Conestoga College for a new campus in Milton was cancelled, and a joint venture between Ryerson University and Sheridan College was cancelled in Brampton.

Universities are complex organizations and require a goodly amount of research and patience to negotiate the politics of the I academy, the government that funds, the administration that manages, the board that decides, the community that aspires, the donors who donate, and the students who make choices to find educational experiences they believe will prepare them for the future.

You can only imagine the debates and arguments between all of these stakeholders trying to come to ground on a strategy that satisfies these contending constituencies. Well, actually I can imagine it. I lived it. As a member of the board of Laurentian University for 12 years, the last three as chair, I remember it well.

It was one of the most frustrating adventures of my tenure and ended up with the board deciding to withdraw from teaching and building a satellite campus in Barrie. We had been there successfully for many years.

It turns out to be one of the most prescient (and lucky) decisions we ever made. Just like these other institutions, we would now be in the middle of spending scarce dollars and human capital preparing our business on the understanding of coming funding.

We had a good plan. The potential synergy between the Barrie and Sudbury campuses was exciting, the emerging course outlines were moving us into new and complementary competencies, and the new scale of the university would have stood us in good stead with diminishing demographics in Northern Ontario. It was important to us.

The irony is that some of these current heartbreaks might not have happened without our initiative in Barrie. Once we got going, other universities decided they would like satellite campuses as well. The government assured us we would be successful in the end because the case for Barrie was strong, but they needed to entertain a broader process to listen to...

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