Anticipated drop in graduate enrolment cited by TRU in move to convert library space to offices

TRU cites enrolment slump

Thompson Rivers University is citing an anticipated 30 per cent drop in graduate enrolment next year as one of the reasons behind a decision to convert 10 study rooms to office space — a move that rankled the university's librarians.

In a report delivered to TRU's senate Monday, the university said the decision was made as part of a plan to revitalize “Student Street” in the Old Main building, consolidate administrative offices and in consideration of a projected 30 per cent decrease in graduate enrolment in the next academic year.

The librarians claim they weren’t consulted prior to the decision and the repurposing of the rooms is a loss of an “academic service” offered by the department.

According to the report, the university said it has purposefully increased study spaces across campus by 278 per cent between 2016 and 2020 and 108 per cent since then, “even accounting for additional student FTE’s.”

“This decision is done on balance against the investments that have been made previously,” said Gillian Balfour, TRU provost and vice-president academic.

Different interpretations, same data

The librarians said the graduate study rooms were highly sought after by students and had an average utilization rate over 69 per cent over a 12-month period, while the university says the average utilization rate was 35 to 47 per cent.

“I do stand by the data that we have received from the library about the utilization of the space, so if you have new utilization numbers those are new to me in this moment,” said Matt Milovick, TRU vice-president of administration and finance.

Speaking with Castanet following the senate meeting, TRU library department co-chair Amy Paterson said she was unsure how the same utilization data has been interpreted differently.

“It's not a conflicting data point, it's one data point. I don't know where the error happened but that's the data,” she said.

Consultation 'could have been better'

During the meeting, TRU senator Juliana West asked why there was no consultation with the university’s library and why the department was given only two weeks of notice after the decision was made.

Milovick said the consolidation plan was “complicated” and took several months to determine if the move would accommodate all services and could be completed mostly over the summer.

“I’m not saying that that's an excuse. I'm saying that's why the consultation period was as small as it was,” Milovick said.

“I can't speak to why the overarching plan was communicated to the libraries so late other than the fact that it really wasn't fully known probably until early April that this is how it would look and what the outcomes would be."

Milovick said he felt the decision was the best use of space that was identified. He said he thought the future benefits to students are "enormous," but said consultation "could have been better."

Senator Jason Bermiller questioned why the university didn’t consult with the librarians if planning for the move has been occurring for months.

“There are a lot of discrete units that are involved here, different renovations that have to come into play, and quite honestly we only landed upon the potential for the library to be a solution, I would say, in the last couple of months,” Milovick said.

Senator Greg Anderson said he felt the summer was the best time for the move to be made. He commented that no consultation was done in 2020 when the library was moved from the OLARA building to the House of Learning.

Paterson said she took issue with this. She said the House of Learning was conceived and fundraised for as a library and had always been earmarked for the library department.

Academic service or space allocation?

West questioned why the report wasn’t delivered at an earlier meeting and whether consideration was given to graduate students who spoke in favour of keeping the rooms.

TRU President Brett Fairbairn, who chairs the senate, said the report wasn’t delivered earlier because issues of space allocation don’t fall under the purview of senate. Balfour acknowledged that graduate students spoke in favour of keeping the rooms and said their comments were part of a separate external review.

Paterson said she disagreed with the issue being presented as a matter of space allocation. She said the study rooms were an “academic service.”

“It's another way of taking these decisions out of student and faculty hands and putting them in finance,” she said.

“I think faculty and students, generally in an academic institution, know what's best for faculty and students better than finance does. But that's just me.”

Paterson said she feels there hasn’t been any attempt made to address the library department’s concerns.

“They haven't done any consultation with us about how this has gone, there's been no effort to make this right in any capacity,” she said.

"This is also the first time I've ever heard that graduate enrolment is dropping, and it is my job to evaluate the services. And if we saw that it wasn't working, we would rethink how we did the service."

The report states TRU is optimistic the loss of the study rooms will be a “temporary measure” and more space will become available in the next 18 to 24 months due to upcoming capital projects.

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