This summer, Quest’s executive committee laid out plans to enact significant administrative restructuring and school-wide budget cuts. The Mark sat down with three members of the staff and administration—Darren Newton, manager of Campus Living; Kristin Greene, Vice President of Admissions and Strategic Initiatives; and Venessa Wallsten, University Librarian—to learn more about the beginnings of what looks to be shift in direction for the school.
These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Mark spoke with Darren Newton, manager of Campus Living, to learn about what’s changed in housing and Student Affairs this year, and how Quest might look in the future.
Ian: So, to start, I’d like to review some of the changes that have gone on in the Housing Department over the past year.
Darren: Well, first of all, we’ve changed office spaces. These changes came from a clear indication that Peter wanted to get all the academics in the academic building and all the administrative staff in the library building, and that kind of meant that Student Affairs couldn’t be given those two giant offices for four people. Now that we’re here, I don’t think it’s necessarily that bad. I hope it’ll be that same kind of feel of the open-door, come in, hang out kind of Student Affairs. It’s not meant to isolate me. I think in many ways, it puts Student Affairs back in the hands of the students.
We’ve changed personnel, and in some way we’ve changed the personnel structure, which is both intentional and the result of certain plans that I had set in motion two years ago. When I first got here, one of the things that Melanie said was that Quest was light on the administrative front-end. In other words, we didn’t have a lot of clerical people, secretaries. We tend to eschew the expenses [of those positions], which means that many of us wear multiple hats. When I got here, I realized that [not having layers of management] created a possibility for students to do a lot of the work that, at other universities, would be done by full-time clerical staff. So, I was like, why don’t we start building out systems so that students can do a lot of the work of managing a campus through Campus Life or Student Affairs? This summer, I had two full-time students that worked with Campus Life […] and they did 90 per cent of the work. So my point was made that we can create a Student Affairs operation [that] can be done by students.
And so it was natural that there was a downsizing of the housing office? [Note: Until this year, Newton worked alongside Will Prescott in Student Affairs and Housing. Prescott is now Student Services Officer.]
Absolutely! It was a very intentional design to create systems that I could then train students in, and once they were able to demonstrate that the system worked over the summer months, we could make a compelling argument to give Will more opportunity to expand out his portfolio [towards international/exchange students] and language blocks. Now we have an entire cadre of students running the operations of Student Affairs, which frees up my time, Will’s time, Adrienne [Dalla-Longa, Manager of Student Leadership Programs]’s time. It’s great!
It seems like a lot of that efficiency has paired with budget cuts in Housing Department funding.
There’s been a decrease in funding across the board, including in Student Affairs. My budget was only cut for Village Adviser and Floor Rep hosted events, so we have to be a little more crafty with how we spend that amount of money.
I’ve heard we are close to capacity in the on-campus housing. What’s going to happen as the student body expands and we push out of these buildings?
That’s a good question. It’s one that the executive has already started pondering, and it’s one that the university needs to start thinking outside the box and being very creative about. But we are very close to capacity now. We’ve got, in total, across the entire campus, for this eight-month year, fifteen vacancies, across all buildings.
Do you see the administration leaning towards building more residences, towards allowing off-campus housing…
I think that there’s a compelling argument to be made for both. Giving older students the opportunity to live off the property—while not necessarily keeping with the ideals that we originally had for Quest—is certainly one way of taking pressure out of the system […] if you want to grow the class size.
The other thing, from a business perspective, [is that] if you have beds you want to fill them. [At Quest], we don’t quite have the physical environment that would attract a third- or a fourth-year student who wants a more independent lifestyle. Either we allow them to live off the property, and you let the municipality absorb that, which I don’t think Squamish is prepared to do, or we start building residences that are tailor-designed for the current student population. Letting students live off campus would certainly take pressure off the system.
Do you see there being a continuation of housing subsidies, then?
Probably not. Financially, the university has to be cautious about the kinds of subsidies that they make. Peter hosted an open discussion with the faculty and staff this past June in which he gave a very insightful talk about the financial situation of the university, and he said that as long as we continue discounting our costs, we’re never going to be financially solvent. And so whether we’re discounting costs that come in the form of scholarships, which are basically decreased tuition, or whether we’re discounting housing that we’re renting at market value, we’re going to continue losing money. Financially, if Quest University Canada, Inc.—because it’s technically a business—wants to continue balancing its budget to break even, we are going to have to stop giving subsidies or discounts on the actual operational costs of this place.
Do you think that’s something that’s going to be rather immediate, or will it be phased in over time?
I think it would start immediately, but it would be staggered over time. There is, as they say, no time like the present to make any kind of change. But […] the larger the organization, the more resistant things tend to be for change […] so changing the direction of an organization needs to be done gently and slowly over time with a lot of audience communication.
It seems that this is somewhat of a departure from the old philosophy on housing, which was based around having a cohesive community all living on campus. Do you see a shift away from that mindframe, at least philosophically?
Not as long as I’m managing it. I believe that a residential community is the lifeblood of a university. I think having a diverse residential community for as long as we realistically can has to remain part of the original philosophy of the school. Whether it’s three years or four years [that students stay on campus], I don’t know … [but] experience in my entire career shows that having students living on campus for at least two years significantly increases the likelihood of them completing their entire education.
Darren Newton can be reached for questions at Darren.Newton@questu.ca.
Admissions Changes/New VP
Kristin Greene, the most recent addition to Quest’s administrative team, officially took up her position as Vice President of Admissions and Strategic Initiatives on August 15th. Greene brings years of experience in university admissions and corporate consulting to her position at a transitional time in Quest’s admissions strategy.
How do you tailor your admissions strategy to visiting families?
A lot of families don’t want to talk to admissions. They really want to get to know two groups of people: the faculty and the current students. I think we’ve done a good job of highlighting that, but I think we can do so much more. [For example], why couldn’t we video some snippets of a class? I want to show more of that for students who can’t come [to campus]. I would never want that to replace students actually coming, but let’s think about students who might be further away, don’t have the means, the inclination, to come, and try to get that out there.
How do you see admissions strategy factoring into that?
Well, I started August 15th *laughs*, so you’ve gotta give me a bit of time. We are doing some international recruiting right now, but we are also starting to work on our materials a little bit. One thing I’ve noticed is that in our marketing materials, we focus a lot on the mountains, which is fabulous. But at the same time, you’re really close to Vancouver, so if I was someone who was more inclined to want to go to an art museum, you can actually do that, but we don’t talk about that. We focus on one side without the other.
So, that looks like recruiting students from more metropolitan areas, or people who desire a more urban experience?
I don’t know—maybe both, yes. I really don’t know who this is going to [attract]. But right now [with] the way we show the images and [the way] we market, we say nothing about [Vancouver]. It’s not even a possibility for conversation. So we’d like to give it a go and see what happens.
Are some students who might have come based on outdoor opportunities going to be a little less excited if the admissions rhetoric focuses on urban opportunities?
I don’t think so. Our goal is to broaden, not replace.
What’s with the showroom in Red Tusk?
Part of doing a college tour is you’re trying to see, “Do I fit in here?” When you see a cold bed, mattress and steel, it’s not really welcoming. Bed, Bath and Beyond designed the room for us, and we let [tour groups] know that they had done it.
In the past several years admissions has cut back on some of the international locations they’ve travelled to. Do you foresee a re-expansion to some of those areas in the next few years?
We don’t have the time right now to travel the whole world, as much as we’d like to. So I’m trying to figure out those places where we start, and then where we expand from there. But [we’re also trying to figure out] how we give students that we don’t visit an online experience.
Is there anything else that you want to tell students?
I mentioned that I’m sort of data-focused, but data doesn’t tell the whole story. I need to spend more time with students. I need to do a Canadian focus group to better understand why they made their choices. I would love to understand, does everybody in Seattle already understand who we are? I would like students to know that they’re welcome to talk to me, and I will be reaching out to students for help. The thing about admissions is people always think it is a department of its own, but actually admissions belongs to the whole school, and everybody has a hand in it.
Kristin Greene can be reached for questions at Kristin.Greene@questu.ca.
Claire Siderman and Nathaniel Hanson contributed reporting.
How long have you been at the library?
I’ve been ten years, so I’ve been here since the beginning. This was rebar and concrete when I started. Shaunna and I built the library, the two of us. It’s good to have a little bit of perspective.
Tell us about how recent budget cuts have affected the library.
Venessa: We are one staff person down, and that was a decision that was made as a reallocation [of funds]. Other departments didn’t lose any staff, or even gained a staff member or two; it was just looking at the needs at the time. Because we have a fantastic staff here, we’re able to change our services enough so that we can still provide very good service, but do it with one person less. I wouldn’t want to do this for more than a year, because it can be pretty stressful for everyone, but we can do it for the year.
Have there been more responsibilities placed on the remaining staff now?
Yeah. Heather [Bourne, former Library Technician] left in June for another job at Capilano University. That wasn’t anything nefarious; she just moved up into another job. And so because we didn’t fill it, we had to look at how we were going to spread [her responsibilities] amongst the other staff. Heather’s position was a technical position. Now Alix [Gullen] is the only technician. Shauna [Bryce] and Alix took up most of Heather’s duties. All the other things that go on in the library are split up between us.
In terms of the specific budget available for subscribing to journals and ordering books, what changes have been made there?
We decided not to continue some of our online subscriptions to some of our resources. We knew based on user stats, and also anecdotal information, which ones would have the least effect [if we cut them]. Indexes and abstract services—those were the first to go.
What was the rationale for reducing open hours this year?
It had everything to do with the number of staff. We can only stay open as long as we have staff. And we do have student interns, but they don’t run the library by themselves; they always have a staff person available to them. So … to have four of us covering 12 hours a day was just asking too much, on top of the other things that we’ve been changing in our work flow.
You alluded to this year being specifically different. Do you foresee a return to “normal” for the library in coming years?
I think so. From the conversations I’ve been involved in, this is the first step [we] need to make in order to make [the school] more successful. So this is the year where we have to make a few decisions, but in the next few years I don’t see it at all being an issue. That’s why we made the decisions we did, knowing that it was just one year.
How does the library need to adapt to accommodate the future growth of the university?
Our online resources won’t change. The way the licensing works, it doesn’t matter the size of the student body. We definitely have to increase the print resources just because there’s more use. Space, for me, is the biggest issue, because even with 700 students, it gets busy in here.
Are there any ways the library is underutilized by students right now?
Students should be asking for help all the time! There’s always going to be a feeling that we could help more. In terms of the space, I don’t think it’s underutilized at all. But I would like to see the students use the staff expertise a little bit more. I often hear students saying they wish they had asked for help after the fact, and I think, “Well, we’re here, we hoped you’d come…”
Venessa Wallsten can be reached for questions at Venessa.Wallsten@questu.ca.