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). The 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 http://scaa.sk.ca/gallery/murray/broader_community/index.php
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.
An Open Letter to the University of Saskatchewan re TransformUS Recommendations