Editorial – Not Out of the Woods

As distance students, one of the things we don’t get is a sense of any of the politics that go on at the University. I’ve been fortunate enough (or perhaps that’s indecisive enough) to have attended both distance and bricks & mortar institutions, and I found that even if you aren’t involved in the discussions directly, at a bricks and mortar institution, you do tend to gain some awareness of what’s going on. It may be through overheard conversations or spotting the occasional flyer on a notice-board, but when there’s conflict in the institution, nearly everybody has a sense of it.

At AU, however, we tend not to know exactly how well, or poorly, the institution is operating. So long as we get our courses, get our marks in a reasonable time frame, and can contact someone to help us through the tougher parts of our learning, what’s there to be concerned about, right?

Unfortunately, that can leave us unprepared if things really hit the fan. I’m speaking of the recent blog posting that went up on AlbertaPolitics.ca by David Climenhaga. If you haven’t read it already, you might want to take some time to do so now. If only so that the rest of this editorial will make sense. But the short version is, despite the response to the Sustainability Report, Athabasca University isn’t out of the woods yet. (That joke is funnier when you see the picture on the blog.)

Now, I’m not going to comment too much on the contents of the blog post itself, as I haven’t yet contacted anybody at the university for their response, but from my initial reading of the letters and policies involved, Mr. Climenhaga may well have a point.

However, my interest is more in the comment section underneath. As of this reading, some 20 comments are there, and the tone toward the university’s leadership is not a positive one. If you’re a student, this should be a more serious concern to you than the funding issues, because a dysfunctional workplace can lead to sudden staff changes, and when that happens mid-course, it can be extremely disruptive. Another thing to remember is that an article like this can serve to make unhappy staff aware of a way of dealing with the situation they hadn’t thought of before. If a number of staff from Athabasca University start writing Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister, Lori Sigurdson, about how they’re being left out of the presidential search process in spite of her directives to the board, it could prompt her to move forward with the remedies discussed in the article. And while our services would probably continue mostly unaffected, a massive disruption such as that could mean that, when the dust settles, students find a lot of things significantly changed. Maybe for the better, but maybe not. Either way, it’s a risk, and maybe one that we should keep in the back of our mind when we’re planning out our programs. If there was a couple of months’ disruption at the university, how would that affect your plans, and are you prepared for it?

Aside from that, this week, I’m trying out a little something called “Women of Interest”. I know that the majority of AU students are women, so when it was suggested that perhaps some coverage of female role-models would be appropriate for AU students, I thought it might be worth a shot. Most of the successful people covered in the media are male (we have two in this very issue) so seeing some of the other side might be worthwhile. Let me know what you think. Oh, and enjoy the read!