October 7, 2011

A final word on demolition of Windsor Theatre/former University Centre/former Memorial Library

I've said that I'd refrain from posting about the kerfuffle about the University's decision to demolish the former University Centre in order to replace it with a badly needed Fine and Performing Arts Centre. However, with the Board of Regents giving its final approval to the project and a judge this morning rejecting a request by two alumni. (These alumni were representing only themselves and a small group of protesters and not any larger group of student, faculty, staff, or alumni as has been reported).

I certainly objected to many things that were said and done by the small group of protesters in recent months after their argument failed and the decision was made to replace the former University Centre. In a desperate attempt to block the University from doing its job and especially in its attempt to embarass and shame its administrators into doing what they want the group itself actively tried to damage the reputation of the University I love and support.

They've claimed the support of over 1,500 alumni. They've claimed that this decision will somehow tarnish the University's reputation and will lead less students to come to Mount Allison. None of those are true.

There have been many clearly biased media report which do not take into account all of the factors which led the University to make this decision. The University has made the right decision and has been proven correct every step of the way. The only real measure of student opinion done was student Board of Regent representative Sean McGilley's informal consultation with students from Windsor Theatre, the Fine Arts Department, and the Drama department. This consultation of fifty to seventy-five students led him to conclude "There was a significant movement [within this group] to have a new building in place of the Memorial Library." The vast majority of students I've spoken to are in favour of the project as are a number of alumni who wrote their opinions in response to the Globe and Mail and other articles.

In addition, many students in favour of the project did not feel compelled to write letters themselves. The only independent student opinion piece that I know of was written by Gregory McLaughlin. In it, he writes that while the decision wasn't easy, the University's is serving the greater good for future students.

One such writing is by Dave Rose, the President of Mount Allison Federated Alumni. His article is perhaps the most well-reasoned and thoughtful ones on this months long debate that unfortunately had to with a judge reaffirming the Board of Regent's legal right to proceed with the planned Fine and Performing Arts Centre. I will leave you with someone who has thought more about this issue and has a more nuanced approach than those on either extreme. I hope you enjoy reading it. I know I did.

Geoff Campbell
Mount Allison University Class of 2012

A Matter of Balance
There will always be polarizing issues. There will always be different ways of solving problems. There will always be emotion. One thing is constant, however: Mount Allison must be better off by our collective hand.
Article | October 5, 2011 - 10:33pm | By Dave Rose

I listen carefully to Alumni when they make their position known on matters concerning Mount Allison. Likewise, I listen carefully to the Administration’s position on those matters. Through direct consultation with Alumni as well as open discussion at our AGM, our Board of Directors seeks input on which to base their own opinion. We participate in the administration of the university through membership on the Senate, Board of Regents, and several committees. Through these teams, and regular discussions with the University executive, we work together with a common purpose: the advancement of Mount Allison University.

There will always be polarizing issues. There will always be different ways of solving problems. There will always be emotion. One thing is constant, however: Mount Allison must be better off by our collective hand.

It is often easiest to approach an issue when you isolate it for close examination. If money were no object, the decision is an easy one. If space and real estate were limitless, the decision is an easy one. If future enrolment was guaranteed, the decision is an easy one. Once returned to context, however, the scope of analysis broadens. The matter is no longer as facile as some would have you believe. The decisions are no longer easy and we must execute our responsibility to Mount Allison carefully. While we must certainly consider the passionate pleas of those with special interest in an issue, we cannot let our decision be ruled by emotion alone. We must rationally consider all of the information available to us. As stewards, all of us in the Mount Allison community share this responsibility.

On the matter of campus buildings, Mount Allison has a balanced record of preservation, re-purposing and replacement. Trueman House has been lovingly preserved and repurposed into an architecturally interesting new student centre. Palmer Hall, on the other hand, was replaced with a functional, new residence. These were not easy decisions. There were those who believed that a new building should take Trueman’s place. The repurposing of the building was certainly a more expensive option. Likewise, some believe that Palmer Hall should have been repurposed.

The decision on the Memorial Library is no easier. A small but vocal part of the university’s family would like to see this building preserved. Their voice has not gone unheard. It is, however, only one of several factors which go into the decision when taken in context. They would have you believe that their voice has been dismissed, that their opinion has been censured. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have suggested that those that don’t share their opinion are incompetent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A great many minds have been brought to bear on this issue. Numerous solutions have been considered at length. Can we locate the new facility elsewhere? Can we incorporate the building wholly within the new? Can we maintain the building envelope and repurpose within? Can we relocate the building to another site and reassemble it? Can we preserve a façade as a backdrop to an outdoor performance space? Can we ensure the university has functional, capable facilities to offer the students of the future? Can we emphasize the link between war and art through the work of Alex Colville? Can we ensure the memory of those who fought and died for our future is reflected in all that we do?

After lengthy consideration, deliberation, and emotional discourse a decision was made which reflects our common purpose and does most for the advancement of Mount Allison. The Fine and Performing Arts Centre will be a huge stride forward for the Mount Allison community and will help the University be competitive in attracting the next generations of Allisonians from a continually shrinking pool of potential applicants. The memorial plaques have been relocated to a much more prominent location where they can be seen by all on a daily basis. The amphitheatre will give new life to the façade of a beautiful building which has fallen into disuse. It’s a balanced approach to an incredibly complex issue.

Dave Rose
President, Mount Allison Federated Alumni