Building up a conversation

Student senator speaks to problems in accomodating enrolment growth

Both Watts (top) and Leggett Hall residences were built to accomodate an influx of students entering Queen’s.
Both Watts (top) and Leggett Hall residences were built to accomodate an influx of students entering Queen’s.

Eril Berkok, CompSci ’13

In the early 2000s the Government of Ontario announced the elimination of Grade 13 in Ontarian high schools. The announcement held significant implications for post-secondary institutions in the province — both the Grade 13 and Grade 12 classes were graduating in the same year.

Queen’s was among those expected to increase their admittance for the double cohort, amounting to 3,000 new students over four years.

A recent Board of Trustee’s decision places Queen’s in a similar situation today.

At the late September meeting of the Board of Trustees this year, the Board voted to approve $400,000 to purchase the architectural plans for two new residence buildings, which will host 550 new beds in total.

The residence buildings, if approved for construction by Board in December are to be built in the immediate future. Understandably, Queen’s is in dire need of beds to handle current overflow and ideally to restore upper year beds lost in recent years.

The John Deutsch University Centre graduate student beds were displaced by new first-year students. Watts Hall, which used to be an upper-year residence has been changed to a first-year residence as well.

Approving the plans for new residences was an unintentional infringement on Senate’s mandate by the Board of Trustees. Queen’s Senate is the academic governing body of the University responsible for enrolment planning. At the time of the double cohort, Senate created an Enrolment Planning Task Force.

This body consulted broadly with the Queen’s community and submitted a comprehensive plan for accommodating the double cohort. Senate also approved the plan unanimously. The plan covered areas of university life that would be impacted by increased enrolment like faculty hiring, student services, housing and student life.

Since that double cohort, Queen’s hasn’t stopped growing. While the double cohort alone increased the undergraduate population by approximately 3,000 students, faculties have continued to experience natural growth since the cohort influx. However, the growth experienced since hasn’t been meticulously planned for.

The University hasn’t had a comprehensive enrolment plan since the double cohort graduated.

New residences are in the works and Senate hasn’t yet approved plans for enrolment growth for those numbers. To be clear, this isn’t an example of the Board overstepping Senate, but rather a failure of Senate fulfilling its mandate of being proactive. Admittedly, one also has to wonder why the question of new enrolment growth was put forward by the administration to Board before it was resolved at Senate.

To create 550 new first-year spots at Queen’s one must understand the ramifications of that decision. Those new spots in first year become over 2,000 as those students progress through their undergraduate time at the University.

Combined with the usual enrolment growth experienced by Queen’s each year, over 2,500 new students will be attending the University by about 2018. To put this into context, the double cohort resulted in roughly 3,000 new undergraduate students over four years with rippling effects continuing to affect enrolment well after.

In 2000, a series of guidelines were created to ensure academic quality. Ratified by Senate last year, these guidelines required that investment in enrolment growth must be matched by equal investments in academics. Whether or not these requirements will be followed is yet to be determined. Senate hasn’t discussed them and, to our knowledge, Board hasn’t either. This lack of discussion impacts multiple community members at Queen’s and in Kingston.

Athletics and Recreation (A&R) has seen new facility space in the ARC and continued use of its old facilities with the re-opening of the Physical Education Centre. It’s doubtful that A&R is prepared to meet the needs of 2,500 more students in a fashionable time. Similarly, Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS) has received considerable support for new funding and services over the last few years, yet still lacks the resources to meet current demand. Obviously, enrolment provokes a myriad of questions for Queen’s as a community, but it would be shortsighted to not consider the wider implications a larger Queen’s has on the Kingston community. Relations between the University and the City are already strained and the consequences of a tense relationship go beyond just the return of Homecoming and the growing number of students. With 2,500 more students, we’d have to revisit the drawing board with our current planning processes to accommodate new demand in all forms of our strategy — from academics to mental health to campus planning.

It took decades to meet current athletics space demand, and we have yet to hear of how this new enrolment burden will be factored into current decision-making. Clearly, Queen’s has failed to be proactive in this matter.

There are a lot of questions we need to ask ourselves. Can we fit 2,500 more students inside our auditoriums? Are there enough seats in our cafeterias? How will this affect rent prices? What if most of the growth is in one faculty — would engineering be as tight knit with 1,000 more students?

It falls to members of Senate as the elected representatives of this institution’s constituents to begin this conversation. As the steward of Queen’s academic mission, Senate can afford to drag its feet on the issue no longer.

Plans should precede buildings. It would be naïve to think that Queen’s won’t grow and, indeed, as a leading institution, it must, but smart growth is only earned through thorough planning and careful consideration of the issues. It must be Senate, in consultation with the Queen’s community, which should lead that conversation.

Eril Berkok is the Student Senate Caucus Chair

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