Earlier today, I took part in a live radio discussion with North Grenville Mayor David Gordon about the closure of the University’s Kemptville and Alfred campuses. This followed yesterday’s announcement that the University is consolidating the academic and research programs delivered at these two campuses to improve efficiency and ensure quality.
I was touched by David’s commitment, passion and dedication to Eastern Ontario and its future.
But during the interview, it became clear to me that many people, including provincial and municipal leaders, do not have all of the facts.
Talking about the decision requires that we all have the same information, based on actual evidence rather than conjecture. So I am taking this opportunity to clarify some points.
First, I must emphasize how difficult this decision has been. The University has been engaged with the Kemptville and Alfred campuses in seeking solutions since the late 1990s. Recent years have seen not only a downturn in enrolment but also a reduction in research output. We simply can no longer sustain the status quo.
The University has supported agriculture and the agri-food system for more than a century. This has often meant making tough decisions, but we can see the results in the incredible agricultural industry we have today across the province.
We appreciate that this decision will affect the lives and livelihoods of the people employed at Kemptville and Alfred. That is why we have focused mostly on working through ways to support them. For some, that means an offer of redeployment. For others, it means help in finding other employment.
I must stress that the decision to make these changes was made by the University, not by the provincial government or by the Minister of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) or that ministry. Both the ministry and the minister were very clear about their concerns over the proposed course of action.
Under the most recent two premiers, the provincial government has shown unique and strong support for agriculture and the agri-food system. To meet increasing demand, the government, including the current minister, has supported major investment in agriculture through the contract between the University of Guelph and OMAF. The Liberal government is the only government to have made such significant investment, and it has done so even under competing priorities posed by the deficit and other ministries.
Other points that I need to clarify are:
- There are now 179 students at Kemptville (128 in two-year diploma programs and 51 in the degree program).
- Over the past several years, not only has the number of applicants fallen, but the number of local students applying to both campuses has also decreased. Over the past two years, three out of four admissions to one of the programs have come from southwestern Ontario.
- All students currently enrolled will complete their education at Kemptville and Alfred. Admissions for fall 2014 will comprise offers to join English or French language programs either at other campuses of the University of Guelph or at College Boreal or La Cite Collegiale, and bursaries and supports will be available to help students with financial need who must travel to remote sites for their education.
- The University will continue to support the essential research that is specific to eastern Ontario through its agronomy research at Kemptville and Alfred campuses and at the research station at Winchester. We will manage the research differently, but we remain committed to maintaining this critical research and ensuring its dissemination to farmers in eastern Ontario.
- The number of farmers and industry members using and demanding online continuing education has increased, and many resources, including initiatives around the local food and organic farming, are now available online.
As I said earlier, stagnant enrolment and declining research outputs at both campuses underpinned this difficult decision. As a result, maintaining current teaching and operations is not sustainable.
However, the University would be a willing participant in any discussions with communities, industry, government and others about possible new directions or future offerings at both Kemptville and Alfred that might provide new opportunities in Eastern Ontario.
Again, I am truly touched by the level of commitment and care for the region that has been demonstrated in the past couple of days.
This has been a very tough decision, but I believe that in the longer term will benefit agriculture and agricultural programming across the province, including eastern Ontario.