When I arrived at the Student Town Hall in Ottawa last week, I knew I was in the right place. In a room set up for fifty, each of the students already there were sitting as far apart from each other as possible. AU students, it seems, are so accustomed to their solitary studies that being alone becomes their default orientation. That changed over the course of the next 90 minutes.
On Wednesday, September 12, AU held a Student Town Hall at ARC The Hotel in downtown Ottawa. Although hundreds of Ottawa and area AU students received emailed invitations to the event, fewer thantwo dozen took advantage of this rare opportunity to voice their views directly to AU’s president, Dr. Neil Fassina.
Fassina, along with Chris McLeod, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Rick Harland, VP of University Relations, personally welcomed students as they arrived. A light buffet lunch was laid out for students: soup, salad, and sandwiches, along with cookies and coffee. (If you noticed a tray of drinks going by the camera in the Facebook live video, please note that they belonged another room! Students only got non-alcoholic beverage choices.)
The Town Hall got underway with some opening remarks by Dr. Fassina. The main event, though, was the extensive Q & A session. Students in the room, and those watching live online, were invited to ask questions about AU’s strategic plan, and to provide feedback on the student experience at AU.
And students had lots to say! For over an hour, students—both those in Ottawa and others connecting online—asked questions, provided feedback, and shared their AU experience.
The first question related to AU’s strategic plan, which is called “Imagine”, and how AU’s financial situation of recent years fit in with the ambitious new plan. (The Imagine strategic plan is available online here: imagine.athabascau.ca/.) Dr. Fassina replied that, as a result of the recent third-party review, AU took a three-stage approach: stability, sustainability, and opportunity.
Stability in a financial sense has been achieved and AU now runs a zero deficit. This is great news for students who have been worried by seemingly perennial rumours of AU’s lack of long-term stability. The sustainability phase is underway as AU sees its capital investment decreasing by moving to more cloud-based infrastructure, which allows operational expenses to expand to facilitate opportunities. The opportunities stage is the outlined in the Imagine strategic plan.
The strategic plan, Fassina said later in response to another question, is not carved in stone but will be assessed as timelines and targets are reached during the plan’s five-year window. There is a capacity to change direction or tweak the plan where it makes sense to do so.
Most of the feedback from students related directly to the student experience at AU. Several students expressed a desire for more opportunities for student-to-student contact. Others requested more emphasis on accommodating cognitive or physical disabilities that make learning more of a challenge for some students; one student noted that AU could look to other universities to see what had been done successfully elsewhere.
Dr Fassina answered each comment and question fully and thoughtfully, explaining what the current status was and what could be possible in the future. He emphasised that student feedback is critical to AU and he invited students to contact him (firstname.lastname@example.org) with feedback and suggestions.
AU is, said Fassina, “a reflection of your stories.”
For the full story on the discussion at the Student Town Hall, watch the recording at: business.facebook.com/AthabascaU/videos/181187822697714/
For students who were able to attend the Student Town Hall in Ottawa, it was an all-too-rare chance to voice concerns, provide feedback, ask questions, and meet other students—in person. Keep watching AU’s new events page for upcoming opportunities.