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Is VCC Closing a Campus? Just a Rumour, Says Admin

Support staff and students fear the worst, but college brass says alarm hurts the school.

By Katie Hyslop 21 Aug 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter.

Vancouver Community College's support staff and student unions are warning of secret government plans to close the college's downtown campus. But the college's administration and faculty union say the evidence doesn't add up to a plan, and the message could discourage enrolment.

"Recent developments suggest B.C. politicians are about to move forward on a hidden plan to sell off Vancouver Community College (VCC)," reads the website of Save Our VCC, a campaign started by CUPE Local 4627, representing over 600 college support staff. The campaign is supported by the Students' Union of Vancouver Community College and CUPE Local 15.

On its website, Save Our VCC cites public documents, news articles, and decisions made by the college and Ministry of Advanced Education, as well as one staff rumour, as evidence that the downtown campus' days are numbered.

The evidence includes the closure of two-thirds of the college's English as a Second Language programs last year; the replacement of government funding with tuition and student aid for adult education, ESL, and college upgrading courses; the freezing of capital funding projects; a plan to rent 12,400 square feet of the campus to private businesses; cuts of $3.5 million in operational funds; and the removal of key board of governors members.

"The vision for Save Our VCC is to knit together a network of supporters who can be called on to demand better than backroom decisions and the privatization of affordable programs," reads an emailed statement from Jo Hansen, chief shop steward for CUPE Local 4627.

Hansen said the group has communicated its concerns to the ministry, but has yet to receive a response.

The college's administration denied there's a plan to close the downtown campus or cancel more programs, although some courses are currently under review as part of normal college operations.

The evidence that Save Our VCC cites doesn't prove the college is closing, said Karen Wilson, interim director of marketing and communications at the college. "Those are indicators of VCC being fiscally responsible," she said.

Big cuts?

The college's 2015/16 budget shows $3.5 million in cuts.

But both Wilson and the ministry put the cuts at $1.25 million, because $2.28 million in targeted funding was allocated into programs at VCC for in-demand jobs as part of the government's Skills for Jobs Blueprint.

Zachary Crispin, services coordinator for VCC's student union, said the targeted funds don't compensate for the cuts.

"[Let's say] I come into your home and I say, 'Okay, I'm going to take all of the money that you usually spend on heating your home, internet, hydro. But I'll give you money for a new TV, because I'm prioritizing everyone having great cable.' That would not be acceptable to you," he said. "Government interference in the institution only serves government's interest."

Save Our VCC cites a 2014 request for proposals from private businesses to rent out two storeys of the nine-storey downtown campus as further evidence that the campus is slated for closure.

Wilson said that renting out space previously used by ESL classes to generate revenue was part of the plan. But that plan fell through and the college's fashion program is moving in, while other space is in use by one of the remaining ESL programs.

"There are no leasing or any [requests for proposals] at this time," Wilson said.

Board chair tenure ends

In late July, the ministry announced that VCC board chair Eugene Hodgson and board member Ted McGurk had finished their tenures and were stepping down. There is an interim board chair, but replacements have yet to be announced.

Save Our VCC is concerned this was an overreach of ministry power, Hansen said, because both board members were seen as champions of the college and are well-liked by staff and students.

Wilson said the two board members simply opted not to "reinstate" themselves on the board once their time was up. McGurk had been a board member for six years, and Hodgson for almost three.

In an interview Hodgson said it wasn't his choice to leave, and that Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson decided not to reappoint him. "No idea [why]. I haven't talked to the minister; he makes those decisions, I don't," Hodgson said.

The Tyee requested an interview with Wilkinson, but the minister was on vacation.

Wilson said that Save Our VCC's message is damaging to the college's attempts to attract more students, especially in light of low enrolment for adult basic education and college upgrading programs, which could result in lay offs for dozens of faculty.

In an email sent to faculty on Aug. 12, VCC faculty association president Karen Shortt agreed.

"The statements and allegations in the CUPE communication create stress and concern for all employees and they raise doubts amongst students that they will be able to complete their programs," reads the letter. "In addition, they raise doubts amongst potential students on whether they should register at VCC. These are concerns we precisely do not need to have raised at this time."  [Tyee]

Read more: Education, BC Politics

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