Some faculty members are unhappy with Red Deer College’s leadership and direction.
Administration at RDC is being expanded at a time of falling student enrolment and cuts to staff and programs, said Faculty Association of Red Deer College president Ken Heather.
His association organized a non-confidence vote on the leadership of RDC president Joel Ward and board of governors chair Shelley Ralston. Of the faculty association’s approximately 350 members, 146 voted on the question, and about 70 per cent of ballots indicated a lack of faith in the direction that Ward and Ralston were setting.
The non-confidence vote is only symbolic, said Heather.
“There’s no strength in this gesture,” except to alert Central Albertans that their education spending is not being maximized in the classroom.
Heather maintains that not all course and program reductions are because of falling provincial funding. As the college restructures to try to become a degree-granting polytechnical university, “administrative costs have gone up by $2.7 million in the last five years,” he added.
He arrived at this figure after doing a FOIP search of expenses submitted to Alberta Advanced Education. Heather said these documents also show RDC’s administration costs had leapt by 114 per cent since 2010. Meanwhile, student enrolment at the college has fallen by about 10 per cent and faculty positions reduced by about 15 per cent.
Ward and Ralston dispute these numbers, saying they are not being interpreted “in context.”
Ward said he understands “it’s been a difficult year,” and that changes and some job losses are not easy to accept, but there’s good reason for the restructuring at RDC.
It’s being done to comply with professional standards that outline what it takes to become a degree-granting polytechnic university.
The longer-term goal is better serving the needs of Central Albertans by ensuring they have opportunities to earn their degrees at home instead of having to leave the area to go to a larger centre, he added.
Comparisons between administration levels at RDC today and in the past aren’t easy to determine, as there used to be an overlap between instructional and administrative responsibilities. For instance, Ward said many of the college’s former 23 chairs (who have been replaced with seven associate deans) had to do some administrative work, as well as classroom instruction.
Instructors can focus on their educational roles since their administrative responsibilities now rest with the new associate deans, said Ward.
Heather lists some program and course eliminations over the last five years: hospitality and tourism, computer systems technology, French, Spanish, printmaking, auto service and health-care aide certificates.
He believes Central Alberta’s post-secondary students are getting a raw deal, since the less program choice they have locally, the more they will have to go elsewhere for their education.
But at a time of government funding reductions, Ward said dwindling student enrolment determined the fates of these programs and courses because they were not cost-effective. The decision to cut them was made by a school board made up of students, faculty and administration.
“It wasn’t just up to me,” he said.
During the same period, some new programs were added at RDC: occupational and physical therapy, medical lab assistant, and two streams of mechanical and electrical engineering.
Ward maintains that RDC was in the top third for instructional spending and bottom third for administrative spending in the last provincial report done on 26 educational facilities in 2012-13. While administration costs have grown a little since, he added, “We’re still within normal parameters.”
Ralston, a human resources leader for Zerox Canada, said the board of governors fully supports RDC restructuring to become a degree-granting facility for the future benefit of students — and she believes the community does, too.
Feedback from meetings with the chamber of commerce, employers, and local “social and cultural groups” showed strong support for the changes, she added.
“The public should have no concern about the future direction of the college.”
While Heather questioned whether college administration would sustain any of the reductions so far borne by programs and faculty, Ward said some administrative cuts would be announced in the next month.