Tuesday, September 9, 2014

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Turning Mistakes Into Gold

Marsha DeLouchery-Day works in Saskatoon as an artist and visual art reviewer for the StarPhoenix newspaper.


The vacated premises at the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus are a sorry sight of downed power lines, damp boarded-up buildings and abandoned ideals. Empty of people and programming (after 75 years of operation), it sinks under year-number-two of a three-year closure while a ‘review’ of its future takes place. Spurred by an even larger ‘review’ at the U of S (called Transform US), the fate of Kenderdine Campus dropped from ‘perilous’ to a doomed third-place-standing in the priority rating system currently in place.

Needing to forestall a 44-million dollar deficit, in 2012 the U of S administration slashed programs, professors, and support staff before the ‘review’ results were even tallied. And as usual, the arts were the first to go. Kenderdine Campus was closed.

Criticism from within the University seemed oddly mute. Deans, professors, and others invested in arts and science were strangely silent. Some sighted exhaustion, frustration, and defeat from years of trying to resurrect the fortunes of Kenderdine Campus, while a hand-wringing fear of job security gagged even the most dedicated and enlightened. A new regime had arrived, and it is called the ‘corporate model’.

But beyond the limestone walls, a new voice emerged.

Immediately following the announcement of closure, hundreds – make that thousands - of stakeholders, many of them graduates of U of S, united behind an organization called KeepKenderdine (keepkenderdine.com), dedicated to protecting the Kenderdine Campus. With all disciplines represented (arts, science, education) as well as professional artists, musicians, writers, educators – I could go on – they prepared a partnership proposal, and began a series of meetings with administration, largely aimed at finding solutions for funding. But they also want the U of S to regain the proud national and international reputation it has always held in the world of art, much of which originated at the Kenderdine Campus.

Fast forward now to 2014, where, at the administrative level, a kind of ‘live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword’ corporate narrative unfolded, fuelled with the stuff of mini-series melodrama. Administrative heads rolled. The president, provost, HR personnel, and even a Board of Governors member are all gone now, leaving behind gossip, rumours, and me asking “Whaaah?” Likely some very good people took ‘one for the team’, in an effort to diffuse the chaos. But in any case, there is no one left to blame.

So back to my point, and the Kenderdine Campus. A revenue shortfall of under $200,000 per year had been identified, enough to justify the three-year closure. Wait just a sec. Was that $200,000? For sure that’s a lot of money, but it won’t help much with a 44 million dollar problem. In the scheme of things, it’s a pittance. Can any College boast such a meagre deficit? Belt-tightening aside, since when has education ever been a moneymaker? Without donations, endowments, and provincial treasury funds to supplement tuition fees, nary a single bastion of higher learning could ever survive. That’s a well-known fact. And if those same criteria were applied to all the Colleges, there would be none. Zero. Nada. And don’t get me started on how come nobody saw it coming. Ahhhh, but we can’t turn back the hands of time….

So in simple terms, in 2012 a mistake was made – the mistake of shutting down, closing, boarding up, and suspending programming during the three-year Transform Us review. This decision has left the cherished 23-acre site vulnerable to everything from wind, fire, flood and damage by vandalism.

But don’t get me wrong, reviews are valuable, and can provide information needed to allow growth and sustainability – something any university must constantly do. But reviews can be done while operations continue. At the Main Campus it happens all the time.

As I write this, in September 2014, the U of S has turned a page. It’s a whole new ball game with Dr. Gordon Barnhart at the helm, and cooler heads prevail. As custodian of a great University, he knows the value in partnerships, the positive results from a strong Arts and Science Department, and the strength in building on the legacy of Walter Murray and Augustus Kenderdine. And Dr. Barnhart surely knows the currency in engaging thousands of Saskatchewan citizens in the well-being of education.

KeepKenderdine has knocked, hat in hand, wanting to work with University Administration to find even more partners ‘out there’ who want to use, fund, and, well, keep Kenderdine . I believe this is exactly what the University needs – a stakeholder base that reaches beyond the gates, who are willing to shoulder the load, find solutions, re-open Kenderdine Campus, and turn a mistake into gold.

Read Also: Gordon Barnhart, Interim President + Vice-Chancellor, University of Saskatchewan, Comments on the Kenderdine Campus


 

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