Your Rights as Alumni
by Howard Fienberg
I loved the Superbuild scheme to consolidate Trent from the moment I first heard about it and have thus stood in stark opposition to most every other alumni voice with whom I've come into contact. These people have turned to some of activism's tried-and-true methods of influencing policy: a blitzkrieg of letters; unscientific Internet "opinion" polling; and simply assuming that "everyone" shares their opinion that selling the Peter Robinson and Catharine Parr Traill campuses will destroy Trent. I am here now to share with all of you a little dose of reality: the Superbuild project will help Trent and looking a gift horse in the mouth is not an alternative method for university preservation.
What effect will the closing of PR and Traill have on Peterborough? Many alumni have told me that downtown business relies on Trent students and closure will destroy the economy of Peterborough. Oh, the hubris! For historical perspective, Peterborough actually pre-dates our university. While no economic powerhouse, it can certainly withstand the loss of the two campuses, especially because Trent students will still be supporting the town's businesses. Students generally cannot survive only on campus. The beer at the Commoner goes stale, the cafeteria food loses its appeal, and the clothing made by developing world slaves starts to itch. Whether hunting for a good meal, a new wardrobe, or interaction with a person not lost in high-brow theoretical musings, residents of the main campus always visit the town eventually. Even the few pizza shops and convenience stores which cater specifically to PR and Traill can survive on patronage from that area's other residents. Moreover, the attraction of that area for student housing should change little, due to its proximity to both downtown and (relatively) the Symons campus.
Will Trent lose its uniqueness? I attended Trent primarily because of what it represented: Canada's lone small liberal arts university. But many others were attracted by the Oxford-like medieval imagery of the college system. Each college has its own "character" which is reflected in (and on) its membership. But tribal affinity does not require an unchanging physical association. The downtown colleges were not unique merely because of their physical location. To think so would merely cheapen the collective experience. That experience can be moved to the main campus or remade in some other fashion. Crumbling downtown buildings are not necessary to play at dysfunctional hippie communes, or whatever other social movements we associate with the PR and Traill "tribes."
Time is a wonderful distortion which can make you easily forget the downtown campus buildings' physical destitution. How easily you also forget the inconvenience of trundling back and forth between the main and downtown campuses, an action suffered by most every student and faculty member at one time or another.
You can cherish your memories of Trent without hampering its future. You can ensure that Trent's unique "soul" carries on beyond your graduation primarily in how you remember it and how you express that memory to others.
But that is all. It is time to grow up, to stop telling other people how to use other people's money. Simply being an alumnus gives you no sovereign right to demand how your former university should be run, but being a donor does. If you want to have a say, put your money where your big mouth is. Either exercise your wallet or exercise some self-restraint.
Trent has been in dire financial straits for years, and this project promises to keep Trent afloat, perhaps even allow it to prosper in the long run. So go get a job, donate some of that income and earn your influence over the university rather than demand it.
Howard Fienberg went on to get his Masters at the University of Essex and is now research analyst with the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), a nonprofit nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.
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