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This article was published 21/3/2016 (1604 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A scathing report penned by the chair of Brandon University’s Department of Business Administration reveals detailed concerns over the viability of an "extremely risky" proposed joint business school with Assiniboine Community College, according to documents leaked to The Brandon Sun.
In a memo addressed to BU president Gervan Fearon on Feb. 12, Heather Gillander, the business administration chair, advises the proposal is "significantly different" than the one originally presented to her department in September 2015 and the concept currently being discussed will "reduce pathways for students, and in the department’s opinion, will reduce the number of students taking a business program in Brandon."
That rupture in support triggered a series of BU Arts Faculty Council meetings, which resulted in a motion reaffirming the council’s support for the proposal but recommending "external assistance" in planning the proposed collaboration last week.
BU economics professor Joe Dolecki, a longtime opponent of the proposal who last December said the university is "prostituting itself" for money and putting the institution’s reputation at risk, sent copies of the chair’s memo and report to The Sun. Neither were intended to be public, Gillander said.
In November 2015, Fearon and ACC president Mark Frison announced at a Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon that they were looking to create a formal hybrid business program. The program received endorsement from BU’s board of governors in late January and was advanced to Manitoba Education and Advanced Learning.
At a BU Board of Governors meeting Saturday, Fearon noted he and Frison had presented how colleges across Canada and North America have supported downtown revitalization at last week’s Downtown Development Forum. Last year, BU said it initiated talks with ACC, the city, the province, and potential private sector partners and donors regarding the establishment of a downtown Brandon campus.
In her report, Gillander wrote that "ACC insists that all students should start with a college experience and transition to a university experience in year three of the program," and quoted Frison as saying having the joint business school students’ first two years at ACC was non-negotiable.
Frison refutes the claim.
"It isn’t our position that (the joint school) should be a 2+2, it’s our position that it should be a hybrid - which I think is also BU’s position and that reflects where the discussion is at. Whoever prepared the report a month ago, they have misconstrued what the dialogue’s been," Frison said.
"Folks from both institutions are still working on what the program design will look like, but in fact, my understanding is the model they are looking will include taking a mix of courses from BU and ACC throughout the program."
Gillander said students coming to university from college in year three face a ‘significant transition" to university expectations and that "the faculty at ACC cannot teach the content and approach to the level required by students continuing on to the degree."
An "unrealistic" amount of time, she continues, has been allowed to properly address how a common curriculum will meet the various outcomes needed for a certificate, diploma or degree students via a common curriculum. Gillander said she was made aware of the proposal months after discussions with ACC had started and after the plan had been forwarded to and supported by the provincial government.
The department chair pointed out that ACC’s first-year business program is about 60 students short of its 160-seat capacity.
Her report includes analysis that suggests the university will sustain a net loss from both the transfer of students with ACC and from the MBA program.
"If student enrolment is 80 per cent of projected, which is 24 students and still considered a very optimistic projection by the department, the operating budget for BU would have to absurd a loss of approximately $100,000 in 2021-22," the report says.
"There is no financial benefit to the university from the joint program," Gillander writes.
Gillander said the MBA program will actually grant a Masters in Accounting. Unlike a traditional MBA program, the accounting proposal has not received support locally or from international students, according to Gillander.
The proposal has already received affirmation at the department level, BU’s Arts Faculty Council, senate and board of governors.
Gillander’s memorandum was presented at a March 2 meeting of BU’s AFC meeting but Gillander was unable to attend.
According to Dolecki, a motion moved by business administration professor Darek Klonowski to have the AFC withdraw its support of the joint business school failed by a 6-11 tally at a March 15 AFC meeting.
A subsequent motion, moved by business administration professor Michael Malazdrewicz proposed that "consistent with the current (AFC) motion to support in principle a proposed joint BU-ACC program" the AFC "reaffirm its support but also recommend that external assistance, as agreeable to the Department, is offered to the department in planning its collaboration with ACC."
That motion passed.
Dolecki, who voted against, said it’s "absolutely ridiculous" that BU turn to a third party to hammer out details of the business school.
"What it says to the public is that the faculty at Brandon University, the senior administration at Brandon University, are incapable of bringing a bona-fide type program," Dolecki said.
"Any kind of a merger of two entities, everybody comes to those kinds of meetings with ... their issues they’re trying to deal with and you’re trying to work out whether there's a way you can work together," he said.
While updating the progress of the proposal at a BU Board of Governor’s meeting on Saturday, Fearon noted that the university and ACC have had a memorandum of understanding dating back to 2009 (and renewed in 2014) that calls for collaboration across "a wide ranging set of activities." Current collaboration includes student residences, the existing 2+2 business program and shared instructors, he said after the meeting.
After the meeting Fearon said it’s the role of administration to support the initiatives of faculty and that are approved by senate, even if individuals don’t agree with the school’s direction.
"But similarly, they do have an obligation to respect the decisions of senate, to respect the decisions of faculty council and then to recognize that after the debate, we as a university have to be able to move forward," he added.
Brandon University Student’s Union president Aaron Thompson echoed support for the proposal at the meeting.
Steve Robinson,BU’s acting vice-president academic and provost, said the proposal Gillander’s report addressed is "essentially a proposal in principle to get the parties together to work out the details."
"It’s expected that you’ll have one step forward, one step back - maybe two steps forward, two steps back but that’s not an indication it can’t be done," he said.
Robinson said there are several examples of similar collaboration across Canada, including a program that includes business administration at the University of Guelph and Humber College in Ontario.
The creation of the proposal in Brandon hasn’t been accelerated at the request of external stakeholders and the April provincial election doesn’t affect the plan "at all," Robinson said.
"It seems to me stars are coming into place. There’s a confluence of opportunity that is upon us. Just as it were with the province’s post-secondary education strategy the general trend across the country towards greater collaboration between colleges and universities. The interest in community in this sort of proposal, which is phenomenal, and the interest of ACC. All of these things suggest to us that this is a great time to be working on a project like this so we’ve sort of jumped in at the opportunity that presents itself."
But, he said, opposition doesn’t mean the project is in jeopardy.
"I think most people in Brandon and certainly in government and in the region and in business, they all understand universities," Robinson said.
"Universities are places where debate is open and encouraged ... that’s academic life, that’s the lifeblood of debate and engagement that we live on here and that we try to convey to our students."
» email@example.com, with files from Jillian Austin
» Twitter: @tombatemann
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