Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Making the Grade - Keyano College and the Arts

Part of writing this blog sometimes is knowing what issues to tackle, and when. I often find myself playing monkey in the middle, having both sides of an issue speaking to me and hoping I will see their side. And usually I do see both sides, but being human I cannot deny I usually take a stance and have an opinion - that's really the joy of being a blogger, not a journalist. This has been the case this weekend as I pondered the recent programming cuts/changes at Keyano College, cuts and changes that affected the college, the arts in Wood Buffalo, the community - and some personal friends, too.

You see I have friends on both sides of this issue - friends in administration, who work at Keyano, and friends who just saw their lives changed when their employment at the college ended on Friday. I have looked at both sides - the college side that says enrolment numbers aren't high enough to sustain these programs, the lack of funding, and the need to focus on where the enrolment is, and the other side, the arts side that says these programs could have been changed and not eliminated, that this was not the right direction for the college to go, and that this is heading the college down the path to being exclusively a trades and technical institute. And you know what? Both sides have a point. They are both right to an extent, and as it usually is no one side is completely right and the other completely wrong. So, I'm not going to write about that aspect. I'm going to write about the impact on the community, which is my true focus in this blog - and the impact on my friends and the others let go on Friday, because that is where my true discomfort with this whole scenario lies.

So, first to the community impact. Cuts to arts programming will hurt the community. As my New Zealand friend says "full stop". There is no possible way to deny that this will impact the community, and there is no way to see it in a positive light, I'm afraid. Students leaving the local high schools hoping to study certain aspects of the arts will no longer be able to do so here and will instead have to leave our community for other places. That is, in my opinion, a loss regardless of how you slice it.

It also becomes a bit tougher to sell this community as a burgeoning centre of arts and culture when we see these kinds of cuts. I've started to be seen as a promoter of Fort McMurray and one of the things I really and truly like to promote is our arts and culture scene, which I happen to think is vibrant and energetic and amazing. And it will continue to be, of course, but these programming cuts will have an effect on that vibrancy and energy, and it will have an impact. I can no longer point to these programs as an example of our commitment to the arts in this community, and that is a loss, no matter how we try to dress it up and make it dance. While I understand the reasoning behind the loss of these programs it doesn't mean I don't also see the impact and feel saddened by it - and I do.

This second part is a bit tougher, and a bit darker for me, because I am deeply troubled by it. This is a small community in many respects, one of over 100,000 people but still tight-knit and close. The arts community is even smaller, with roots that run deep and strong. I think everyone knew cuts were coming at Keyano, but even those who lost their jobs had no idea it was going to be on Friday, I suspect. And I think they truly didn't expect it to occur in the manner that it did - when they, employees of a community college, some of whom had worked there for DECADES, were given 15 minutes to clean out their offices and escorted out, in some cases by security. I was stunned by that revelation, people. That is typically the treatment given to executives in industry when their employers don't want to see them taking proprietary documents or information. That is typically the treatment given to someone who has been fired for cause, because they have performed their job poorly or not at all. That is NOT the treatment I would expect for instructors at a community college who have spent years - in some cases 22 years! - educating our youth. It is NOT the treatment I would expect for individuals who have garnered tremendous respect in our arts community - and in the wider community, too. I will tell you this right now - regardless of the reasoning for the programming cuts, regardless for the change in focus at the college - I think this treatment of long-time, devoted, and respected instructors is deplorable, and it has harmed my respect for the college. I have had a good relationship with Keyano College, and as I said I have many friends who continue to work there - and I sincerely hope those friends are never on the receiving end of this sort of treatment from their employer after years of dedicated service. I won't deny it - I am deeply, deeply disappointed that the college would choose to treat their employees in this manner when it could have been done in a far gentler and more respectful manner as befits those individuals who were let go - individuals who were not trouble makers or slackers or embezzlers but rather respected teachers and community leaders. Perhaps that is where my deepest issue with all of this lies, really - not the cuts to programming, and not the the community impact, but rather the impact on almost twenty people who were given 15 minutes to clean out decades of life in their offices, and then shoved out the door.

So, there it is, people. I'm guessing this post won't please everyone, and it may not please anyone. The problem with seeing both sides is that it becomes hard to take a side, as you want to be fair. I see both sides, and I see that they both have points and a lot at stake. I see the impact on the community, and it is detrimental, so let's not pretend it isn't. And in the end I saw first hand the effect on a dear friend who was unceremoniously booted from their place of employment, and it saddened - and angered - me. Agree with the cuts, or not. Agree with a new focus and direction for arts at Keyano, or not. But treat people with the respect and dignity they deserve, especially when they have dedicated their professional lives to your institution. And in that class, Keyano College, I give you a failing grade.

Several others have written about the recent cuts
at Keyano College, and I include these links 
so you can read further and learn more:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this well balanced viewpoint of a situation that has not been pleasant for alot of people.

    Facebook has a page to "Save the Arts" and has a well thoughtout responce to the "Open Letter" Keyano Posted. It is by a person called Alex and is well written in my opinion and should be read. It responds paragraph by paragraph to the "spin" placed on the letter.

    Balance is always needed, however, the truth is also needed and shouldn't be swept under the carpet by a smooth counter letter to be taken for "Face value".

    I urge people to read it all and decide for themselves what is important to them regarding "THEIR" community College!