Peter Scott, President of Athabasca University, speaking to ?

Tait, C. (2022) Alberta walks back on plan to force online university to move employees to Athabasca The Globe and Mail, August 12

This is a story that is likely to run for a while, but there have been two new developments at Athabasca University since my previous post ‘When is a distant teaching university not distant? When you work for it‘.

The first is a publicly distributed video from Athabasca University’s President, laying out not only the case for remote working, but his claim that there has been no proper consultation between either the Minister or the town and the university. I will not attempt to summarise Peter Scott’s message: just click on the image above.

The second is today’s Globe and Mail article. Demetrios Nicolaides, Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister, said to The Globe and Mail that the 65 per cent residency goal is flexible.

“It is a suggestion,” Mr. Nicolaides said Tuesday. If AU believes some of the targets in Alberta’s proposed funding deal, known as an investment management agreement, are “unattainable,” the government would be willing to “chat about that [and] revise them.”

There is also a correction that needs to be made to my first article where I said that the government is the main financial contributor to Athabasca University. It was pointed out to me that the government contributes just roughly a quarter of AU’s operating budget, the rest coming mainly from student fees. However, there are also substantial capital costs which also mainly come from the Alberta government. More importantly, as for all Canadian public universities, the government is the licensing and validating body for the university. Without government support, any university in Canada is at grave risk.

What does this mean?

It all depends if the Minister really meant what he said. Common sense and compromise are desperately needed here. Above all, the Minister, the Board, the university executive, and town leaders, not to mention staff and students, all need to sit down and listen to each other’s concerns and try to find a sensible working solution. Above all they need to talk to each other, not through the media. A working solution cannot be 500 additional staff moving to the town of Athabasca with an existing population of less than 3,000, nor can it be a deserted building in Athabasca. Neither is a sustainable or sensible solution.

I suspect that what’s lacking here is not so much ideas or sensible solutions, but a lack of trust. That’s a much more difficult thing to fix. Nevertheless, this is an interesting diversion in a summer time without much academic news.

In the meantime, here’s another ditty from Ross Paul (at Athabasca U at the time, and performed to music at the ICCE conference in Vancouver in 1982, where he and I first met):

Songs from ICCE Musical Revue

Vancouver, 1982

Stay home and go to university

Three credits at a time.

We’ll help you through all adversity

Even if you’ve passed your prime.

You don’t have to go to lectures and labs

They’re really is no fuss.

No more muggings on the way to class

Nor catching the school bus.

You just…

Stay home and go to university.

You can do it in your bed.

Overcome all perversity

There’s nothing more to dread.

No more hassles from nagging profs

No more dirty looks.

No more checking if your homework’s right

The answers are in the books.

You just…

Stay home and go to university

Get with the distance beat.

Don’t worry ‘bout cultural diversity

There’s no one else to meet.

And if you study eight hours a day

‘til 1993,

You’ll be older and wiser then

(You might even get a degree!).

So just…

Stay home and go to university

It’s the way to educate.

Stay home and go to university

You’ll never have to graduate (3 times).


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