Thursday, April 30, 2009

Geese & Groundhogs

It occurs to me that the only constant in our tiny world at Nipissing University and Canadore College comes down to geese and groundhogs.

No matter the change the campus endures—whether that change is felt in the buildings and residences, in the woods or in the very centre of the campus family—the geese and groundhogs remain active. Though they may burrow deep into holes for the winter, or fly south to destinations unknown in the scope of human understanding, they always return to see a new flock of eager minds, voracious in their appetite for knowledge, and thirsting for that elusive thing called change.

Yet it seems that change so rarely does come. The timeline that has brought us here may allude to mountains, but the evidence points to molehills. Are we fitter as a university and college community? Are we now fully acquainted with our host city? Do we now have the key to sustainability in an environment so fraught with choice? I would argue that now, more than ever, there is divisiveness among us that points to a lack of stewardship, a concern so great that it is no longer easy to envision campus life in twenty years, or fifteen years, or even five years. You see, without a capable lead and a destination, even the great V-formation of Canada’s geese dissolves into the clouds.

A friend of mine recently remarked that he regrets leaving university without making it a better place than it was when he first stepped on campus. I would like to counter this, by offering some advice: the best we can ever do is make small waves. This should not be construed as a defeatist attitude—rather, it is a hopeful one. Years after beginning silent protests in the halls, students’ power is still unfocused and largely untapped. It is still unable to freeze tuition, or to effect academic regulations with precision, and many of the best and brightest lecturers we had are now strung up by faulty wire contracts or worse, let go because of petty politics. Even though we have been able to stand tall and demand our place in making decisions in the face of blatant corruption, all we have really done is make small waves. And that’s not such a bad thing. Our small waves are destined to make a bigger splash than we could imagine had we not spoken at all.

Yet … it’s not really enough, is it? Let’s imagine for a second that a university or college exists in the natural world as animals do. It would seem that those who fuel the resources (and ostensibly own them) would be the victors in any fight. It would seem that whereas students fund the operation and fuel the mission of college and university settings, their power would be enough to wield in the light of bad decision making. It would be enough to wonder why a new, all-male hockey team is necessary when other varsity athletic endeavours are more affordable and much rarer—and more accommodating to a campus where 70% of Nipissing University students are female. It might just be enough to waive off thoughts of hiring practices that ask good faculty members to teach overload and then ask them to go without benefits, even though their impact on students is nothing short of spectacular. It would seem that way, wouldn’t it?

Yet, it’s not really our fault. We have made the mistake of complaining to people and positions incapable of making headway because the definitions of their jobs have been so ineffectual and irresponsible. It is no secret finding information on campus leads one on a labyrinthine quest, and once on the course our Quixotic students are apt to be sidetracked by ill-fitting logic and talk of authority. The problem is that ‘authority,’ like ‘shifting paradigm’ or ‘new direction’ is part of a host of buzz words and catch phrases that sound important but don’t really mean anything. The problem, too, is that much of the authority espoused by those in charge is really just innocuous action; decisions filtered through committee and made to appear different. The key is to give such decision making power to those who can be easily replaced—just in case blame needs to be placed.

There is an endless supply of fruitful exploration left at the Education Centre campus and time enough to turn every handshake into a meaningful partnership. There is even time to accommodate the geese and the groundhogs who call the campus ‘home,’ and time to recognize that the key goal, focus and every action of a good institute of higher learning is to inspire and better the minds of students.

It just takes some time—and a bit of a shift in the food chain.

1 comment:

Jad said...

Geese so frustrate ting birds. They spoil my garden, parking. Geese Problem becomes very serious while we have a little child in our home