SASKATOON -- Students, faculty and members of the public packed the University of Saskatchewan’s Convocation Hall on Tuesday, many of whom spoke out against the closure of Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus.
The university held the town hall meeting to address its financial issues, projecting to carry a $44.5-million deficit by 2016.
“That’s about 8.5 per cent of our budget,” said Greg Fowler, the university’s acting vice president of finances and resources.
It was announced last week that the campus at Emma Lake would be suspending operations until 2016 as one of the methods to remedy the university’s current financial trouble. The savings from the closure is expected to be $500,000.
The Emma Lake campus offered experiential learning opportunities in courses such as biology, soil sciences, drama, art and art history and land use and environmental studies.
At least a couple of those who questioned U of S provost and vice president academic Brett Fairbairn, as well as Fowler, went home unsatisfied with the answers provided.
Joanne Bolen, a resident of Melfort, was in attendance to voice her concerns about the closure, stating she does not believe the campus is in need of the millions of dollars in repairs that the university is proposing.
Bolen started a petition the day the closure was announced and has received about 1,400 signatures thus far.
“I didn’t receive a fulfilling answer, of course, and I wasn’t expecting one,” Bolen said. “I was hoping to get them uncomfortable and to get them to draw out some information in front of the media.”
In a previous interview with the Herald, Fairbairn noted that renovations would have to be made to a number of buildings on the campus, with the biggest issue being the central building’s dining hall.
“Three million dollars for a brand-new dining hall is a little too high,” Bolen said, noting that she had her own estimates prepared.
Fairbairn said he relies on advice of engineers and architects, noting the $3-million estimate was the lowest received.
“And I heard many years ago about serious defects in the main building at Kenderdine Campus,” he said. “I know we fixed them temporarily, but I also know it was only a temporary fix.”
Kasia Majewski, president of the U of S Biology Club, questioned the university’s methods of consulting with students.
“We weren’t consulted at all,” she said. “ We heard (about the closure through a mishmashed press release online in class, which frankly, was quite offensive to us.”
Majewski also asked what the alternative would be to a popular experiential learning course that was offered as part of the biology program.
“It’s an integral part,” she said. “If you think about it even just a little bit rationally, biology is the study of life. This field course gives students the opportunity to go into the world and study life, and it’s one of the only opportunities that students have to have hands-on experience.
“Right now, we’re the only campus in Canada that is studying the boreal region, so it isn’t like we could just move it anywhere else,” she added, noting that she fears the biology department will lose some of its competitiveness without the campus. “This is the only opportunity that students have to really create their own research project and follow through with it.”
The closure will also result in a loss of employment, which was also brought to Fairbairn’s attention. He said when it comes to matters where jobs are affected, the university first considers the employees concerned.
“We will deal with the employees first, and we’ll be talking to the public about it afterwards, and that’s the right way to do it,” Fairbairn said. “We can consult with students in general terms, and I appreciate the students who turned out today.”
Deliberations regarding the future of Kenderdine Campus are ongoing. Fowler said the site would be checked on regularly on at least a monthly basis.