Back on October 11th, AU’s new President, Dr. Alex Clark, officially took the position, with AU proudly announcing that he was bringing a bold new vision for Athabasca University. So, what is that vision, exactly? Being a leader in distance education and career development? Taking the forefront of academic communications and technological research? Finding a unique niche of excellence where AU becomes known as the place where research into that subject is cutting edge?
Looking through the press release, the bold new vision seems to be something called “Grounding for Growth”, which apparently translates to building a strong foundation to aid a town of about 2,800 people that has no vision or ability of their own to make their community desirable and instead relies on having government strong-arm the local major employer; an employer, I’ll point out, that all Albertans pay for, not just those in the Athabasca region.
The other part of the vision seems to be that no person is left behind, where Dr. Clark expounds on the well-known fact that AU is an institution that works well for people, irrespective of background or circumstances that might often preclude going to a standard brick and mortar institution. But is that it? I’m not sure how that can be considered a bold new vision when nearly the same language has been used in multiple iterations of the university’s strategic plan for decades now.
Perhaps the boldness is the line of building partnerships and collaborations in communities both near and far, as being willing to move back to a more place-centered focus, even as the world does the opposite, could be considered bold. And with Hallowe’en on the horizon, I suppose it’s appropriate that we start looking toward a dying model to see if we can raise it back up again.
To be clear, I’m not angry with Dr. Clark. He’s just doing what the hastily appointed government cronies on the Board insist be done. Considering that his appointment may have breached the Board’s own consultation standards, I assume he’s well aware that failure to follow orders will result in him being replaced just as quickly and with as much or less consultation. After all, when a group is willing to show you who they are, believe them. I was just disappointed to see that doing what was being done before (and it should be noted that doing so was during a time when the university was moving into extreme financial difficulty. Whether that difficulty is related to how a premium often needs be paid if you want the best talent to move to a region with few amenities, I don’t claim to know) is now being heralded as something bold or new.
The real horror is how AU lost autonomy because the town of Athabasca spent their money on government lobbyists instead of improving their town. And for their troubles, they’ll be receiving lower growth over the next three years than what they lost in the previous five.