Last week we introduced the brand new combined Calgary student centre, an expansion of Bow Valley College and a place for students of Athabasca University, University of Lethbridge, and Olds College to meet, study, take exams, and access a wealth of services?services that AU has never provided in Calgary and some they do not provide anywhere. The new space is truly a wonderful addition for Calgary AU students and everything we could have hoped for. It’s a place I actually want to be, and I can imagine sitting and getting to know some fellow students after exams.
Yet students were conspicuously missing from the May 12 grand opening. It’s odd that although AU knew they would be part of this new space, most students didn’t know the Calgary office was moving until a month before, and no direct communications went out to Calgary students to invite them to the grand opening. BVC, however, welcomed everyone, treating attendees to a free lunch and branded water bottles.
The event itself was most informative, though possibly not in the way intended. Premier Alison Redford and Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education Thomas Lukaszuk were there to help launch the new building, though I doubt it was lost on anyone that a minister who has cut education funding in the province by an effective nine per cent probably would never have funded this kind of innovative space. This didn’t stop the premier, however, from introducing Lukaszuk as the man responsible for the project (if asked, I’m sure she’d quibble that all she meant was that education is his responsibility, because he certainly had nothing to do with the funding, planning, or completion of the project, which concluded before education was even part of his portfolio). This also did not stop Lukaszuk from lauding BVC’s expansion as a shining example of his vision of a Campus Alberta in which university services are efficiently grouped and offered with greater efficiency. Never mind that BVC President Sharon Carry came up with the idea a few years before the minister took office.
If BVC is what Lukaszuk meant when he spoke of Campus Alberta and reduction of duplication in educational services, then I’m all for it. Common spaces for mingling, eating, studying, and researching?that makes sense. In fact, I wish they had gone one step further: I don’t understand why AU still has its own exam rooms with limited hours when it makes so much sense for BVC to have a single invigilation centre with expanded hours and more space.
But so far, the only concrete example of reducing duplication that Lukaszuk has offered is the notion of a single payroll system for all Alberta universities. Business majors everywhere have already scoffed at the naiveté of it. After all, no two universities have the same pay scale or staffing structure, and in the case of AU, there are unique unions to deal with as well. Frankly, BVC opened its doors at a very convenient time for the Redford team because it creates the impression that Alberta is investing in innovation in education. The fallout from recent budget cuts won’t be fully apparent for years (though the local news notes another program closing at MRU this term, and AU has already committed to ?releasing? more than 100 staff, so It’s certainly already begun).
Nonetheless, the day was carried by the enthusiasm, warmth, and joy exuded by Sharon Carry; the project is clearly her baby, and a true testament to the innovative spirit of Carry and her board. She spoke at length about the importance of inclusiveness, community, and healthy, light, airy spaces where students can mingle, communicate, learn, and grow. As she spoke, mentioning that students were heavily consulted before planning began, it became increasingly apparent that students were the one thing missing from the opening. Likely there were plenty in the audience, but I could not help wondering why all of the university presidents were present, but no invitation was extended to the students’ unions of the member schools. A general invitation would have provided an opportunity for us to advertise the opening to our members, but more importantly, it would have been appropriate to hear SU representatives tell what the space means to them. What students want is to be part of the conversation, not just at the beginning, but always, throughout the process, and into the future. As wonderful as the new space is, watching a parade of politicians, administrators, and elected board members tell students that this is for them is a little too ironic.
It goes without saying that students in other cities are wondering why they do not have access to something similar, and the answers largely remain the same: AU wants to open satellite offices in other provinces, but despite long-term lobbying in Ontario, the university has been consistently denied government approval to do so (in other words, Ontario AU students, ask your government why they are denying you this opportunity!).
The new BVC campus is the first of its kind?the only campus to include multiple schools under one roof, with shared student spaces and services. That it exists in the city with the most AU students is appropriate as a first step toward future development in other cities and provinces. The new campus, more than anything, envisions a collaboration in education that is both achievable and affordable, and suggests a future in which distance learning and taking courses a la carte can be as fulfilling as any bricks-and-mortar university experience.