Yesterday, I attended a meeting at school to inform OAC students about the closing of Kemptville College in 2015. The meeting was put on by the SFOAC and featured the Dean of the OAC, Rob Gordon, presenting a short powerpoint and answering our questions. It seem a bit… Rehearsed. Almost as if PR was putting this on to make us happy. It was strictly for OAC students and presented no new information and no new solutions to the closure. That being said, here’s a few facts from that meeting:
- In a round of budget cuts (the second for the UogG in 6 years), the University has to reduce its $32.4M deficit before 2016. The OAC is responsible for getting rid of $2.7M on that deficit. The severance of Kemptville and Alfred campuses equates roughly $2.6M, meaning the OAC has only ~$100,000 that they need to cut elsewhere
- The regional campus properties and facilities aren’t owned by the University. They are owned by the ARIO (Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario). Additionally, the money that the OAC receives from the provincial government is at a set level – no increases even if student enrolment increases. This money is only directed at associate diploma programs, not the trades (which are a vital part of Kemptville College). The majority of government funding for the OAC is directed at faculty research, not student education.
- Alfred Campus is being taken over by Cité Collégiale and Boréal Collège, who will run an ag diploma and a food diploma, though nothing was mentioned of any other programs. It also was not mentioned whether these programs will remain at Alfred or move to the governing colleges.
- Each professor at Kemptville and Alfred campuses were offered employment opportunities at Guelph or Ridgetown, and remaining faculty were offered severance packages. Students that are currently at these schools are to finish their programs in 2015. No new students are being admitted, though those who applied have been notified to transfer their application to Ridgetown. They have to do this themselves, but are given full consideration if done before April 1st.
In his presentation, Rob Gordon mentioned that there have been talks of consolidating campuses since 2008, when he first became Dean of the OAC and when the first budget cuts were made at the UofG. He also made it clear that the provincial government was not involved whatsoever – in fact, 2 weeks before the announcement, the University approached the government and notified them of their position without presenting an option for intervening. It was solely a University decision.
There are no concrete plans for replacements to the programs lost at Kemptville. Rob Gordon mentioned ideas of providing diploma programs at Guelph, the equine management program at the REACH Huron/Clinton site, and designing online course offerings. However, nothing has a clear timeline. The OAC is expecting enrolment at Ridgetown to significantly increase, which will eliminate the need to design a diploma program at Guelph, where it cannot be properly delivered due to small faculties.
The two quotes from that meeting that startled me the most seemed to contradict each other. The first:
Our biggest challenge is accessibility to ag education in Eastern Ontario.
Which seems to completely go against the next quote from Rob Gordon:
We came up with a number of other options that were sustainable [to reduce the deficit] though we wanted to avoid any damage to Guelph.
It seems as though the OAC is doing everything to protect main campus, which could never be done away with. Even with significant budget cuts in Guelph, it will still be protected – unlike the regional campuses. Upon being asked, Rob Gordon mentioned that there were no plans to prevent something like this happening again in the future, though he is meeting with the OFA (Ontario Federation of Agriculture) to discuss “what went wrong… and maybe there is too much focus on the research piece and the education piece has been ignored.” It seems as though getting rid of two regional campuses isn’t the solution to your education problem.
It seems as though the University is stuck in its decision to cut Kemptville and Alfred loose, and is reluctant to attempt to reverse the decision. It’s up to the community and the provincial government to save the campuses, though local MPP Steve Clark seems to have hit a snag at Queen’s Park. It’s going to be a long fight, but it’s a good fight to fight.
Upon asked if there could have been a better way to deliver the news about the closures, Rob Gordon said this:
There never is an ideal time to do anything this catastrophic.
Keep Calm and Farm On,
Emma — The Suburban Aggie