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TRU senators, open learning department raise concerns over consolidation plan

Concern over TRU plans

Another department at Thompson Rivers University is raising concerns over a proposed space consolidation plan, suggesting the wide-ranging changes could have an impact on open learning services.

At a TRU senate meeting on Monday, TRU vice-president of administration and finance Matt Milovick said $2 million was budgeted for a space plan that would see the consolidation of administrative services and revitalization of "Student Street" in Old Main.

"I think we have sufficient space, we have to do a better job of optimizing it," Milovick said.

"We know that there's no significant capital money coming in the near future to help us resolve this, we have to do it ourself."

TRU provost and vice-president academic Gillian Balfour said the lack of space or under utilization of existing space has "constrained" the university's ability to meet student service needs and build more classrooms.

In a letter sent to TRU senators by the Learning Design and Innovations department past-chair Melissa Jakubec and current co-chair Michelle Harrison, the chairs took issue with the plan to move their department's offices from the BC Centre for Open Learning building into the fourth floor of the Clock Tower.

Space at Clock Tower?

The department's letter claims they require space for 68 people, including 20 offices. They said their new location only has 7 offices and 23 workstations.

Milovick disagreed with the department's claim.

“Our utilization data suggests that at any time they're using about 20 desks on a full time basis and the rest of the space is vacant,” Milovick said.

He said the data was gathered by campus wi-fi and login information. He called the data “solid.”

“There's really no way around that. Presumably if you're at work you're logging in because I don't know how else you do your job,” he said.

At the senate meeting on Monday, Milovick said 10 employees have already been moved into other spaces, 18 employees are in the work from home program and another 18 working a hybrid model.

The department's letter claims faculty have priority for allocation of office space and tenured and tenure-track faculty will typically be allocation an office. Milovick said the department has eight to 10 desks assigned to faculty and the remainder are staff.

Senator Juliana West questioned if the move would allow faculty and staff enough space to be in compliance with WorkSafe BC standards.

“We would never actually make a move that wasn't to code and didn't meet our accessibility requirements. It's just not what we do,” Milovick said in response.

"We've been very cognizant of that. We have offered to the open learning senior team that if there are accommodations that are required, we need to understand them so we can account for them."

Questioning the consultation process

The department claims they had no opportunity to provide input or express concerns in the decision to move the department aside from a single meeting in May after the decision had already been made.

Milovick told Castanet there have been several discussions with the leadership of Open Learning since the beginning of the year.

“How they're conveying their discussions to their team, I couldn't tell you. That's their responsibility,” he said.

“Our interest is making sure that we can complete this move, that we can land them somewhere in the interim while we rationalize their space somewhere else on campus.”

Balfour said there had been a series of meetings with open learning directors since the fall of 2023 to adapt the fourth floor of the BC Centre for Open Learning building to be better utilized. Milovick said the floor had a 59 per cent utilization rate.

TRU’s library department also took issue with the consultation process before 10 of their graduate study rooms were repurposed into office space as part of the same plan.

Milovick has previously acknowledged the consultation process prior to the repurposing of the graduate study rooms "could have been better."

Will the move impact students?

In the letter, the department claims the current plan allows no space for current operations, much less anticipated growth under new initiatives. They say the move will impact the ability for online learning teams to work together and suggested the move could impact students.

“If we're trying to maximize utilization of space based on actual usage, we are moving towards a more, I guess one could say, decentralized model for open learning. I would call it a more integrated model, in time," said Balfour.

“We've certainly heard the concerns that have been raised so we're trying to to introduce a more gradual approach to this.”

TRU senator Manu Sharma said she thought the loss of private spaces where students can speak with program advisors will impact student learning.

Senator Greg Anderson said he felt the consolidation plan would allow for the creation of space that would serve students in a “meaningful way.”

"In moves, there's always people that feel that they've been disadvantaged. And I would say in this case that might be the case, except that it's going to advantage the entirety of our student population," Milovick said to Castanet.

'The value of open learning'

The instructional design department said it felt the move sends a clear message.

“While our disproportionately small team serves 15,000 students (half the TRU population), we are not valued by TRU and can’t even be allowed one floor of a building purpose-built for Open Learning to ensure we can stay together as a well-functioning community,” the letter reads.

Balfour disagreed with this, saying much work has been done that “speaks to the value of open learning at TRU.”

“The past several months have signaled an intentional integration of open learning into our academic mission, various investments, senate approvals, definitions of different course modalities, the recruitment of associate deans of flexible delivery and various faculties,” Balfour said.

Milovick said the move is not meant to be commentary on the department's services or importance to the university.

Milovick said his department is hoping to have a “meaningful discussion” with open learning leadership to resolve some of the issues moving forward.



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