A conversation between students, Mount Royal and SAMRU
The first of two town halls to engage with students and faculty
By Gregory Balanko-Dickson, Contributor
On Nov. 15 in Wyckham House, students had the hour-long opportunity to ask the president and vice president of both Mount Royal University and the Student’s Association of Mount Royal University some questions.
The panel included Dr. David Docherty, president of Mount Royal; Lesley Brown, provost and vice president academic Shifrah Gadamsetti Representation Executive Council (REC) president and Cordelia Snowdon, REC vice president academic.
The discussion was designed to answer questions on three specific topics: fall reading week, the Riddell Library and Learning Centre and full year registration.
Docherty explained how this is a unique opportunity and encouraged students to utilize it and ask any and all questions. There was an audience of about 30 members to address the panel.
The first question from the audience was about the recent fall reading week and if it could be changed to a later time in the semester. The audience member who asked the question said they had “a whole bunch of statements” from students on campus.
One such statement referred to putting reading week in November instead of October as it felt too early to have a break then.
Brown replied to the question, saying she would look into it and drew comparisons between MRU and the University of Lethbridge and identified how U of L reviewed workload patterns throughout the semester and then decided when would be best to give students a break based on that information.
Brown also identified that it’s possible if students come back from a break in November, they could feel more stressed and that would defeat the purpose of having a reading break.
Docherty then went into an example of a student that sent him an email on this very issue and said administration has “no intention” of reversing the decision made by what he believes was the General Faculties Council (GFC) for the fall reading week.
The next point of discussion was the old library at MRU and what would happen to it now that the new library has taken its place.
Docherty referenced the campus master plan and described how the intended purpose for the hollow shell left behind by the old library is to transform it into a “vibrant student-based centre” that would provide all student services in one central location.
One audience member asked what would then happen to the space that previously housed all the student services elsewhere on campus.
To take care of this issue entirely, Docherty said it would cost “upwards of twenty million dollars” and there would be a phased in approach. The first phase would involve repurposing the old library, the second phase would build some classrooms on the second floor of main street, working towards the T-wing.
The administration at MRU is also looking at how to utilize the space now, with either low, or no cost to the university.
Some examples included using the old library’s space for events or fairs on campus.
When the panel was asked about what resulted from a discussion at city hall in regards to better options for public transit at Mount Royal, Gadamsetti briefly explained the very long meeting they were involved in regarding the southwest Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and the eventual resolution of this discussion.
The BRT has limited stops and runs during the busiest times of day. The intention for these routes is to provide a timely and direct commute to communities in need.
Thanks to the work of Gadamsetti and her team, Mount Royal is identified as one of those communities in need of better public transit access.
Gadamsetti said MRU will have the bus route accessing campus by the year 2020.
Later, an audience member asked about full-year registration and what that would entail.
Brown described how this would help students to better plan for their future and to have more flexibility in taking the courses they need to graduate. As early as March, students would be able to register for their courses for the next academic year for both the fall and the winter semesters.
“The purpose behind this is to give students the courses they need, and want, to graduate,” said Docherty. The administration at MRU hope that this will lead to shorter degree completion time and allow the educational departments to anticipate when certain courses are in higher need than others.
It’s important that students have an educational structure they can rely on “not having to gamble that courses are going to be offered in the winter [semester],” said Gadamsetti.
Near the end of the discussion with the panel, The Reflector asked how MRU is working towards treating contract faculty better, specifically about the contract faculty members that are qualified enough to be considered full-time and what the administration at MRU intends to do with these qualified instructors.
Brown said MRU needs to better understand how the issue is spread across various faculty, programs and courses.
She elaborated saying, “we need to look a little bit deeper to find where our distribution of faculty members are.”
Docherty answered with, “Mount Royal has a higher than average reliance on contract faculty.” However, he did not go into further detail, only adding, “for better or worse, contract faculty are a less expensive way to put on classes than full-time [faculty].”
Gadamsetti on the other hand said, “from the student perspective, we understand this is a priority,” adding it’s not something that only falls on administration. She further elaborated by emphasizing the importance of focusing on each program, rather than the institution as a whole.
After transitioning out of this commentary, Gadamsetti said to the crowd “no more saucy questions,” and asked whether anyone had any fun questions.Following this, the crowd fell silent for some time.
After some prompting by Gadamsetti, the panel was asked by a member of the audience about what was being done for program development among different faculties at MRU.
Brown went into detail outlining plans to meet with the dean of each faculty and assess the needs of each program. However, these plans are guided by a document called the Comprehensive Institutional Plan which outlines potential future programs. But, even if the administration at MRU decides to move forward with said program, this needs to be approved by the provincial government.
Another question was asked by an audience member about what was going to be done about gender neutral washrooms.
Docherty said, “we’re looking at opportunities across campus where we can do that.”
“We owe it to the student’s association for putting this on the radar of our administration,” said Gadamsetti, adding the unfortunate fact that the most affordable options to change some existing washrooms into gender neutral washrooms may not be in the most noticeable locations.
Throughout the town hall, Snowdon had little to say, with much of the dialogue comprised of Docherty, Brown, Gadamsetti and audience members.
The town hall meeting closed with some panel members talking about the strengths of Mount Royal and why they each chose MRU. Brown said, “I chose Mount Royal because it is a great place to grow,” and Gadamsetti closed the town hall with, “I chose Mount Royal because of the personalized learning environment.”