University of the People and The Town and Gown Relationship

You’ll have to forgive me for another “local topics” post related to the TransformUS proceedings here at the University of Saskatchewan, but a recent staff meeting here at the Centre for Continuing & Distance Education (CCDE) has led me to question “the business” of post-secondary education and to reflect on the historical path of “Town and Gown” relations here at the U of S. The University of Saskatchewan has played a major role in defining the city of Saskatoon since it was granted a provincial charter in 1907 (Avery, C., Hayes, P., 2011). a-6267-800_600The city of Saskatoon was only 24 years old then, but it would take another 5 years before the University would open the doors of it’s first building. However, before students were setting foot on U of S soil, the Extension division was already two years into it’s service to learners. The U of S was the first University in Western Canada to establish an extension division and did so, in part, to support the notion that the University’s role was one of service to the people.

Whether the work of the University be conducted within the boundaries of the college campus, or throughout the length and breadth of the province, there should be ever present the consciousness that this is the University of the people, established by the people, and devoted by the people to the advancement of learning and the promotion of happiness and virtue. (University of Saskatchewan, 1909, p. 12)

– The founding president of the University of Saskatchewan,
Dr. Walter Murray

Historically, it is common for the relationship between a University and it’s host community to be an adversarial one, but as Glenn Klein points out in a 2008 article for the local Saskatoon newspaper, the Star Pheonix,

The U of S and its host community always have had a close relationship. Saskatoon has benefited by having a much more vibrant and innovative population than most cities its size, and the city rewarded that relationship by becoming Canada’s first municipality to make significant contributions to a research facility on a campus.

I hope I’m not spouting conjecture when I suggest that the efforts and diversity of programs and audiences that many Continuing & Distance Education units, such as the CCDE, offer contribute to maintaining these Town and Gown relationships. Through professional development opportunities, community programming, and supporting credit based distributed options for course delivery, a centralized Continuing & Distance education unit provides the bridge between those invested in a degree program and those who are looking for access to expertise and instruction on a smaller scale. Extension programming at the University of Saskatchewan has consistently evolved to meet the changing social and economic conditions of the city and province as described in Scott McLean’s publication, Reaching Out Into the World: A History of Extension at the University of Saskatchewan, 1910 to 2007.  Today, the ability to evolve and innovate is as strong as ever. CCDE provides a wider range of credit and non-credit programs than any Extension office the U of S has ever seen supporting not only the Colleges and Departments on campus, but the professionals, seniors, youth and citizens of the City of Saskatoon at large.

For over 100 years, the University of Saskatchewan has been dedicated to bringing its resources to rural and urban communities. We carry that tradition and add new traditions of internationalization, children’s programming, and community engagement.

We use a variety of delivery methods to deliver credit and non-credit programs to people unable to attend university full-time or on-campus and international students who need to improve their English to attend university. From art to leadership, educational travel to learning a new language, we offer programs for people of all ages and interests.

– CCDE web site

A widely expressed criticism of the TransformUS reports identifies a theme where community service takes second fiddle to more profitable and research based activities. This inward thinking is what fed the adversarial relationships of Universities in the middle ages and throughout history. It is through community engagement and service to the host community that keeps relationships in check and harmony between town and gown. Though I don’t expect a St. Scholastica Day Riot on the horizon, I would respectfully ask that when PCIP begins’s determining programs and services to receive support or be phase out that the value of community engagement and the relationship between University and City not be valued in dollars and cents alone, but for the historical significance it has played in the University of Saskatchewan’s success in the city of Saskatoon. After all, Dr. Walter Murray said it best,

…there should be ever present the consciousness that this is the University of the people, established by the people, and devoted by the people to the advancement of learning and the promotion of happiness and virtue. (University of Saskatchewan, 1909, p. 12)


Avery, C., Hayes, P. Walter Murray: The Lengthened Shadow Retrieved Jan.15, 2014, from

University of Saskatchewan. (1909). The president’s report, 1908-09. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada: Author.

McLean, Scott. (2007). Reaching Out Into the World: A History of Extension at the University of Saskatchewan, 1910 to 2007. Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan, Extension Press.

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An Open Letter to the University of Saskatchewan re TransformUS Recommendations

An Open Letter to the University of Saskatchewan re: TransformUS Recommendations


For those who don’t know the University of Saskatchewan embarked on a program prioritizing mission named, TransformUS, nearly one year ago. Task forces were assembled, and templates were distributed and filled and filed and just this past Monday the committee recommendations were made public. Much to the shock of many, the Centre for Continuing & Distance Education (CCDE) did not fair well in the recommendations. Instead the committee placed much of our unit in the dreaded 5th Quintile: Candidate  for  phase  out,  subject  to  further  review. My own specific team received only moderately better news under Quintile 4: Reconfigure  for  efficiency/effectiveness, but without a hook to hang our hats, it’s unclear as to what this might look like. Other teaching and learning service units under the portfolio of Patti McDougall, vice-provost teaching and learning, received equally shabby recommendations including her own position, Educational  Media Access and Production (eMAP) and the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness (GMCTE). All this to say, it’s been a bit glum this week around here. Below is an open letter I’ve drafted which outlines a misalignment in strategies, reports and recommendations regarding these learning service units. I welcome and dialogue or discussion around the topic openly.

An Open Letter to the University of Saskatchewan re: TransformUS Recommendations

I’m unclear as to how these results align with other strategic initiatives that have been undertaken in the last year. For example the report from the vice-provost teaching and learning – The Distributed Learning Strategy Development Project – was delivered in January of this year. Dan Pennock who penned the report said,

“We have a lot of activity that’s not guided by strategy and the goal is to expand our distributed learning in a guided, thoughtful way.”

This report has already been moved into action by the new vice-provost teaching and learning, Patti McDougall who said,

“The heart of the distributed learning strategy is to co-ordinate what we do so that we can do more”.

But now, under TransformUS, a less informed committee has made recommendations that are in direct opposition to the recommendations in this in-depth comprehensive strategy report supported by the office of the vice-provost. Although the report suggested that a new budget model would be explored it saw CCDE as a major contributor to the success of a distributed learning strategy at the U of S.

“That (budget) model would see administrative processes for direct-entry colleges flow through the Centre for Continuing & Distance Education, and all distributed learning initiatives would be financially sustainable for both academic and administrative units.” Dan Pennock via James Pepler, 2013 (

So I ask you, having spent the time and energy of the previous vice-provost teaching and learning, the current vice-provost teaching and learning, the director of CCDE, the director of the GMCTE, the director of eMAP and many others who strategized over how to best serve the future distributed needs of colleges and programs across campus and beyond, will PCIP now ignore these insights and instead act on the recommendations of a committee who were given unarguably far less information about the needs and abilities of colleges and units? Which report will trump the other?

Obviously there is a misalignment of recommendations between these two reports. I’m not saying there isn’t room for improved efficiencies at CCDE, eMAP, or GMCTE. In fact, The Distributed Learning Strategy Development Project outlines numerous opportunities for us all to think about how we operate. All we are asking is for the opportunity to see a plan through to the end for the benefit of the University and the students it serves.

Thank you,
Jordan Epp, M.Ed
Instructional Designer
Distance, Off-Campus, and Certificate Programs
Centre for Continuing & Distance Education

Leadership Conference 2013

Once again Professional Development and Community Education (PDCE) at the Centre for Continuing & Distance Education (CCDE) is hosting the Leadership Conference. This year there is a great line-up of Keynote speakers including Ken Blanchard (author of The One Minute Manager), Jeremy Gutsche (founder of and Rick Mercer (CBC host and winner of more than 25 Gemini Awards). ImageI was a member of the Steering Committee during the 2011 Conference and was tasked with developing a Social Media plan for the conference. This year I will once again be heading up the social media and blogging about the conference keynotes here on the EdTech306. Follow the action here or on twitter. We’ll have an update for additional bloggers and hashtags soon. Until then you can check out the conference website and get registered for this great conference.