On March 27, the communities served by the College of New Caledonia were invited to a 3.5 hour public forum in which speakers could sign up to express their concerns regarding the college’s recently proposed cuts to various programs: our dental programs, our clinical counsellors in Student Services, our FASD Advanced Diploma (social work), our daycare. The auditorium was so full, an overflow room had to be provided, with a video feed for the extra attendees. Below is the speech I gave.
Speech to CNC Board of Governors, Mar. 27, 2015
I have taught at CNC since 2001 in a number of departments; I currently teach in CCP (College and Career Prep). The last time I spoke with you was about the issue of raising tuition for the (formerly free) adult basic ed/upgrading courses. Faculty felt the courses should remain tuition-free and accessible, but that is not the choice the board made.
It is probably very difficult for you, sitting there listening to all these speakers today talking about the devastating effects of the cuts. You probably feel pretty bad right now.
You should. You should feel bad.
I know I feel bad. I used to feel bad when I was sitting where you are. I served for four years as faculty rep on the board and we were often faced with these situations. It feels bad to be asked to decide on closing programs. The provincial government keeps asking you, year after year, to cut more from the budget. Like board chair Keith Playfair acknowledged, there is no more left to cut. You are cutting at bone now. I don’t like using the term “terrorist”–but you cannot negotiate with terrorists and say “OK, we will comply, we’ll make more cuts,” because they will keep asking for more. At a certain point, you have to say, ENOUGH. We will not do this any more.
My talk today is going to have two different parts: first I’ll speak specifically about the cuts to counselling and how they will affect students, from an instructor’s point of view, and then I will speak more generally about the problems with the process of decision making around budgets and programs.
CHAIN OF CARE
I am very cynical and jaded, and yet when I heard about the college’s plan to cut the counsellors, I was truly shocked. I thought, wow, even my cynical and jaded heart is still capable of being shocked. I’m shocked because I know that counselling is an essential part of student supports here at the college, and I can’t believe anyone would choose to cut something so essential to students’ well being.
I want to remind you of CNC’s Mission Statement that was mentioned in a previous presentation today: CNC is a learning community that cares, serves and leads. I’m going to focus on that first word, care, and describe what I think of as a chain of care.
1) STRESS: First, stress. School can be very stressful, and students who come to CNC often have other challenges in their lives. They are balancing family, work, and school. Sometimes they are dealing with other challenges like poverty, abuse, mental illness, systemic racism, geographical displacement, culture shock, addiction. I have had students with all of these issues and more in my classes.
2) OBSERVATION: I see my students regularly and interact with them a lot. Students form a connection with us in the classroom because we see them regularly. We have small classes, so we get to know them and they get to know us. I notice when things change for them, or things seem “off.” I can bring it up with them and then refer to the counselors.
3) DISCLOSURE: Sometimes students tell me things about their lives. They get to know us, so they trust us, and then they are willing to disclose to us.
4) COURAGE: It takes a lot of courage for students to even take the first step to tell someone that they need help. We need to acknowledge the courage it takes to disclose to an instructor or staff member and help them immediately.
5) EXPERTISE: I’m not a counsellor and that’s not where my expertise lies. But I can refer them to counsellors here at the college. Better yet, I can offer to walk with the student to the counselling department and I have done so countless times. Almost always, when I say, “Would you like me to walk with you to counselling,” they say “Yes. I would like you to come with me.” And so I do.
6) TRUST: The students trust me, and I trust the counsellors to help them. That’s why this system works.
Those are the links in the chain of care.
DUTY OF CARE
We also have, as an institution, a duty of care.
As a community college, we welcome and encourage a diverse group of people to come through our doors and join our community. We try to remove barriers so that as many people as possible can access learning opportunities at CNC. We invite them in, we tell them they’re welcome, we tell them that this is their place. But if we don’t provide real, tangible support that people need in order to succeed, then these are just words.
The last time I spoke to you, the board, it was about the proposed changes to tuition for my program. Tuition for adult basic ed/upgrading courses was slated to be raised from free (mandated by the provincial government for many years and declared free at CNC for many years before the mandate) to $533 per course. Many faculty, students, staff and administrators voiced our opposition, but it happened anyway.
The message we seem to be sending to the community is that we are willing to charge students more money while offering considerably fewer supports. That is unacceptable.
LACK OF PROCESS and CONSULTATION
I’m greatly concerned about the speed and decisiveness of these announcements about cuts to programs. This is unfortunately not the first time I’ve seen it. When I was faculty rep on the board I was similarly concerned about the speed of decisions and lack of consultation.
I’m concerned about lack of consultation I see today, the failure to ask for help from stakeholders ahead of time. (For example, the many dentists who spoke today mentioned they did not know about the program closures and were not asked for help or ideas.) Previously, Monty Palmantier of the Yinka Dene Council said that today’s forum–as good as it is for showing how much people care about the college and these programs–this form of consultation “sucks.” And I agree, it does suck. This is not real consultation.
This is a community college–look how many people show up from the community when our programs are in jeopardy. So many times I will meet someone, they find out I teach at CNC, and they will say oh, I went to CNC, or their family member did. Or they worked here. They always talk about what positive experiences they have had. We need to include these people in these decisions and ask for help.
Back to the idea of the chain. Every program here is linked to other programs. Students from one program are linked to another. For example, the students who can’t afford to pay $533 per pre-requisite CCP course won’t be able to come to other programs like nursing, where 52% of the students came from our own CCP programs. And every campus we have is linked to all the other campuses. You cannot make changes to one link in the chain without affecting the other links.
All of these people need to be consulted and informed about changes to the programs. And that is why I was distressed to hear so many examples of people saying “I was not consulted, I didn’t know, I wasn’t asked.”
Yes, we were given the opportunity to speak today, but the application to speak had to be in by Tuesday afternoon. That is why I was distressed to receive an e-mail from a colleague who teaches in Accounting asking if I could mention his program. [addition of info from Mark Wendling about the previous day’s announcement that four 2nd year accounting courses would be cut, thus making it impossible in his opinion for students to complete their program at CNC] Mark wasn’t able to get on the speakers’ list for today’s forum because he wasn’t informed about the changes to his program until after the speakers’ signup deadline. That is not acceptable if you truly want consultation.
I said at the beginning of my talk that you probably feel bad sitting up there, listening to all of us speak about how devastating these cuts are. And I said that you should feel bad. We all feel bad in this room. But you need to do something with that bad feeling you have inside. You need to decide what kind of college you want and what kind of community you want to live in. I want to live in a community that cares, and provides the supports necessary for care. I hope that is the community you want to live in too.