Virtual Town Hall
Red River College 2020 Virtual Town Hall
Featuring Fred Meier, President and CEO
Moderated by Kerri Korabelnikov, Dean, School of Education, Arts and Sciences
Q&A Table of Contents
- About Fred
- State of the College
- Parking and Building Access
- Employee Engagement
- Strategic Planning
- Diversity and Inclusion
Tell us about you, Fred. What is life like for you right now, not just as the new president and CEO of Red River College, but as a person living in the time of COVID?
Coming on board in the midst of COVID is not how I would have preferred to begin. I would have loved to meet you all, interact with you, and get to know this campus community in person, but COVID means I’ve had to do that in a virtual way.
Managing life in the time of COVID is the same for me as it is for many of you – a delicate balancing act.
I have a son in high school, so in the morning I help get him prepared. I make sure his mask is in place, and we talk about the importance of keeping safe. I also have an elderly mother, and we’ve had to find safe ways to connect with her – in this case, we’ve set her up with an iPad. I’m living through the same fears, anxieties and challenges many of you face on a daily basis.
So, like many of you, I’m adapting to COVID and learning new ways of doing work. Much of my time early on at the College has been spent on ensuring that we’re prepared for COVID. My early days here at the College were spent in many video calls and discussions, so I’ve been plunged into the same reality each of you are now operating in, and can appreciate its challenges first hand.Our team has done a great job. I know how hard this has been, how overwhelmed many of you feel. I appreciate your efforts. This is a new reality and it’s going to shape our future. Everything I’ve seen gives me confidence we’re ready to meet that future.
What drew you to this role at the College?
Before coming here, I spent 23 years in the public service, working in various roles for the Manitoba government. What drew me to Red River College is the critical role it plays in our community, shaping the lives of so many people and strengthening our province’s economic development, industries and businesses. I saw this role as an opportunity to contribute to this important mandate in a new, challenging way. I feel very fortunate to have been selected for this role.
Who in your life has left an indelible mark on your learning?
I can name two people who had a significant impact on my approach to my life and my career.
The first is my father. He believed deeply in the opportunities created by post-secondary education (opportunities he never had himself), and he made sure my brother and I had the skills we needed to pursue higher education.
The second is my graduate thesis advisor. I have a graduate degree in agriculture, and one day in my mid-20s, after standing over a piece of equipment doing research, I went to my advisor and told him I wasn’t sure that this was what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. I felt I’d made the wrong choice in my career. He told me that education wasn’t only about what you learn, but about your ability to gain experiences. He encouraged me to finish my degree and go on to explore other areas, to never limit myself to too narrow a focus. He was right, and I often think about to that conversation.
Given the educational mandate of RRC, which of your unique skills, abilities, and ideas do you think would be most relevant to helping us fulfill our mission?
My specific experience has been in leading large organizations. Some of my areas of focus have been organizational structure, strategic planning and innovation management. I believe strongly in the value of teams and the importance of communications, relationships and strategy.
What is your biggest and brightest idea or vision for RRC?
I’m not here to impose my own vision on Red River College, but to bring us together to create a vision as a community. I want everyone to be a part of that.
What is your leadership philosophy?
Collaboration is the foundation of my leadership philosophy. My experience has taught me that leadership is about supporting the collective, empowering people to work together as part of a team to achieve a goal. It isn’t about me, it isn’t about our leadership team, it’s about our entire College working together towards success.
Employee engagement plays a critical role in achieving this.
What are your goals for the College?
My overriding goal for this College is to foster greater employee engagement, to focus on collaboration, discussion and dialogue, to create a culture in which we connect better internally. I want everyone to understand our priorities and the pressures we’re facing so that we can meet those challenges together. We can take a lot of pride in what this College has achieved since it was founded, and I want to build on that.
What are your routines for staying fit in this time of pandemic?
I think like a lot of Manitobans this summer I spent time outside exploring our great province. I’m an active cyclist and took the opportunity to visit some new areas. I also spend a lot of time walking my very active dog, Luna. And I took the opportunity to take up the occasional tennis game.
What is your personal strategy when you find yourself overwhelmed with information and tasks?
When I find myself in these situations, I go back to what my key priorities are. I then compare my list of tasks against my priorities. I sometimes find that I take on tasks that aren’t aligned with my priorities.
State of the College
What have you learned since starting at Red River College that you think it’s important for people to know?
Because I’m relatively new to the College, I still have a lot to learn, but three important observations stand out:
First, I’ve spoken to many stakeholders over the past few months, and I’ve been struck by the number of times I’m told how strong our reputation is in the community. I’m not surprised by this, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how often people go out of their way to tell me.
Second, I was surprised by how quickly an organization of this size was able to adapt to COVID-19. Faculty and staff moved our programs and services online on very short notice to make sure learning continued for our students.
Third, I’ve learned that we are really, really good at what we do. Just as I knew coming in that Red River College had a great reputation in our province, I knew that we were effective at delivering our core mandate, which is getting graduates ready for the labour market. But to see our achievements in detail, and how they’re reflected in the numbers and statistics I’ve been shown since I began, has really reinforced my impression of the quality of the work we’re doing collectively at this College.
What do you think we could do better?
I’m more interested in what you, as College staff and instructors, think we can do better. I’m listening for you to tell me where we need to go from here. I want our sense of direction to be informed by those with the closest connections to our stakeholders in industry, who know where things are headed, who know what economic needs we need to fill, who know what opportunities we need to pursue in the work we do.
I think we’re great at many things. Perhaps we can do a better job of reporting on our successes – for example, the progress we’ve made on achieving our current strategic plan. Bragging maybe goes against our humble nature, but our achievements matter to the people we serve and the community we’re a part of. Let’s get the word out.
With the start of the Fall Term, what is our current enrolment as compared to previous years?
Enrollment numbers for this fall are similar to previous years. We are trending down slightly, but not significantly, partly because of our decision to stagger the start dates of some of our courses to accommodate COVID restrictions. Year over year, the fill rate is very similar to past years, but slightly down.
What impact will lost revenues from parking, food services, etc. have on the current budget?
The revenue impacts you asked about are a reality. Ancillary revenues such as parking and food services have been impacted as a result of COVID. But on the other side of the equation, we’ve also seen reduced expenses: for example, travel expenses, conference costs and discretionary spending have dropped almost to nil since COVID began.
How is COVID affecting RRC’s bottom line?
At this point in time, Red River College continues to work towards a balanced budget. This is an unusual year, so it will be important to track closely and make adjustments when planning for next year. The development of next year’s budget will begin shortly.
Due to the pandemic, where do you see the College in 6 months? 12 months? Three years?
Because of the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, it’s difficult for us to project where we’re headed in the next six to 12 months, let alone three years.
It’s difficult for us to anticipate what students may need next, or how we’ll adapt to new restrictions or realities – but investing in initiatives such as course-based registration is a great move, and offering micro-credentials and expanded corporate training should offset some of the downs we’ve seen in our revenues.
I am hopeful that as we learn more about the pandemic, we can expand the amount of in-person and applied learning we’re providing on campus.
We know some learners struggle with distance and need to interact with other students and instructors, so over the next 12 months we’ll explore ways to safely provide more opportunities for that kind of learning.
That said, we won’t completely move away from an online platform. Online learning is here to stay, and I think it’s going to bring us a lot of benefits. Workplaces are changing fast across all industries and all parts of our economy. Some of the impacts of the recent disruption aren’t going to go away after the pandemic ends. Those training with us for careers will be well prepared to address this new reality.
I can’t offer more concrete projections than that yet, but we continue to work through these issues on an ongoing basis.
How will programing at RRC be affected by the province’s socio-economic factors, government priorities, and industry trends?
The Province of Manitoba has a huge impact on how we operate. The provincial government is our largest funder. We are a public institution under legislation, which influences our goals and how we support economic development.
That said, Red River College is particularly well positioned to achieve great things going forward – in part because of our applied learning approach and the quality of our instructors and staff and researchers.
Because we have a finger on the pulse of industry, and have adopted new and agile ways of developing and delivering programs, we’re ready to respond quickly to the needs of our province. Just look at the micro-credentials we’re creating for specialized skills and community partners – especially our new course that trains healthcare students and professionals to boost Manitoba’s COVID testing capacity. This course was a collaboration between our experts at the College, Shared Health, and the Province, and we pulled it together within a few short weeks in order to meet an urgent need in the labour force.
The Innovation Centre, too, signals a bright future for us by creating a space for students and businesses to work together. And very soon we’ll unveil new programs that provide training in emerging areas of our economy, including financial technology and gaming.
For those reasons, I think Red River College’s future in our province is extremely bright.
What do you see are the top three strengths of RRC and the top 3 opportunities?
- We are great at our core mandate: providing our students with a high-quality education that leads to meaningful careers in industries across the province.
- We have a strong reputation and brand.
- We have great industry and community partners who value what we provide.
Our top opportunities are in embracing disruption – and we are well poised to do so. I’ll list more than three. Course-based registration, blended learning, micro-credentials, work-integrated learning, and the opening of the Innovation Centre – all of these initiatives will put us on the right track to graduate students with the tools they need to succeed today and into the future.
What are your plans to ensure that budget and revenue are appropriately and consistently addressed in a way that both do not have any adverse impact on academic programming and quality? Are there plans to offer more higher degree programs beyond Diploma and Certificate academic credentials in the College?
We have a great Finance team that works on our quarterly projections and keeps us informed of pressures on our budget. COVID has of course had an impact on our budget, but we have been managing effectively to date without impacts to academic programming.
The quality of our programming is where we’re likely to face greater risks because of our transition to online delivery. That’s why we shifted resources so quickly to develop the flexible online delivery model. We’re working hard to enhance that model and continue supporting instructors through faculty development offerings, just-in-time assistance via Learn Support, Educational Development consultations, and support for video recording and production, in addition to working collaboratively with academic program areas directly undergoing academic transformation.
The academic transformation we’re engaged in is, at its core, about ensuring the success of our students, supporting teaching and research excellence, and continually responding to the needs of industry and the overall labour market. It puts us in a better position to address the need for our students to have the relevant skills that we know our industry partners want to see in our graduates when they hire them.
It’s also why micro-credentials and a course-based registration model in certain programs is so important. Employers and student learning needs are changing. Flexibility is paramount. In order to maintain that flexibility, we need to look at our programming and identify opportunities to make education as accessible as possible, while keeping it affordable and supporting the financial performance of the College.
Higher degree programs are certainly worth exploring in the future. We currently offer bachelor degree programs in Construction Management, Nursing and Teacher Education (in partnership with University of Winnipeg). We continue to explore new programs at every credential level to meet labour market demands. We also want to ensure that we capitalize on strengths within the post-secondary system and, where appropriate, collaborate on new programs with other post-secondary institutions.
Who do you see as RRC’s key stakeholders at this time, and what do you see as our relationship with them going forward? What needs to be developed and what needs to shift?
Our key stakeholders remain the same as they always have: our students, employers, faculty and staff, and government. Within those groups we have many different kinds of relationships, such as applied research partnerships with employers, or work integrated learning relationships.
We need to be aware of what is influencing our stakeholders because those factors will shape our programming. For example, we understand that technological advancement is disrupting traditional industries at a pace no one has seen in the recent past.
We need to be visionary enough to predict these changes, nimble enough to adapt to them, and prepared enough to ensure our graduates have the competencies to help industries face the disruption and thrive.
How many staff and faculty positions have been eliminated in the past few months?
I mentioned earlier that there’s been an impact on our bottom line as a result of COVID. During the period when we transitioned to only online program and service delivery, work was not available for a small number of programs and services. In those situations, every effort was made to re-assign staff to other areas – however, that was not always possible. As a result, some staff and faculty were temporarily laid off. We have seen a number of impacted staff placed in other positions throughout the College in accordance with the provisions in the Collective Agreement.
As we saw a gradual transition back to working on campus, some of the staff who were temporarily laid-off have been re-called.
Moving forward, we continue to take a cautious approach – which means, for instance, we might be slower than usual at filling open positions.
Will any staff and/or faculty be cut for this year or next?
As we developed our immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, we had to make some difficult decisions around reducing our expenses. Overall we have weathered this crisis quite well and have been able to deliver on our mandate; however, it remains difficult to predict how this virus will progress.
We continue to take the same approach we always have with staff trying to reduce the impact on individuals through attrition, retirement and other vacancy management approaches. We work closely with the union to ensure the provisions in the Collective Agreement are followed. We have been able to mitigate the human impact of other reductions in the past, and we would look to do so again.
Many students have told me they choose RRC because of our small class sizes, which offer a better learning experience. In a world where class sizes seem to be getting too large to allow for meaningful connections between instructors and students, what are you plans for keeping class sizes small?
You are right, we have a tradition of smaller class size that has served our students quite well, especially given that we are an applied learning institution. I see smaller class size still remaining a core tenet of program delivery at RRC, but we must also be flexible enough to allow for larger classes where it can be accommodated without impacting applied learning outcomes.
Course-based registration can be an opportunity to ensure that the course sections we run are at full capacity, and help us maximize fill rates for existing classes by introducing shared courses between programs, where appropriate, and by providing more flexibility for students to access those courses to accommodate their schedules.
With the elimination of the Union Officer position, how will the College change the way it manages union-related issues?
The decision to eliminate the Union Officer position does not reflect any change in the value the College places on the relationship with the MGEU or union/management relations. The College made the decision to shift the financial resources provided to the Union Officer role in order to support the sustainability of our core programs and services. This position was an arrangement unique to RRC. The College has worked closely with the MGEU to ensure that the full-time Union Officer’s responsibilities are being transitioned appropriately to the Staff Representative and local stewards at the College.
Parking and Building Access
What will you do to ensure Handicap spots are easily available to everyone who needs one now that RRC has switched to scramble parking?
This issue was raised shortly after we moved to scramble parking. As a result we have now worked with Safety & Health Services to ensure the open lots for Fall 2020 align with the convenience and safety needs of those working in nearby campus buildings.
Will you or the College accommodate parking for employees who work downtown?
I understand downtown parking has been an issue since our downtown campus opened its doors. Parking at our downtown campus is a challenge because we don’t own any parking lots there. Unfortunately we aren’t in a position to subsidize downtown parking for the time being.
I don’t think there are any easy solutions to this, but I’m definitely open to ideas.
Why is it okay to waive admin fees for students, but not parking fees for staff who are required to work on campus during a pandemic when they can work from home? (anonymous)
I know the move to scramble parking has not been easy for staff. It’s had a significant impact on employees who have been accustomed to having their own parking spot. The move is related to our COVID response and enables us to manage access points in ways that align with public health directives and keep our on-campus staff and students safe.
Is it possible to unlock the East Doors of Building F in the morning and leave them open during the day, similar to Buildings A, C and D?
Decisions about building access and entrances were made as part of our campus re-entry planning process. This process involved rigorous occupancy, cleaning, parking, and traffic flow assessments. Our Incident Management Team and Safety and Health Services continue to assess the need to open access to buildings on an ongoing, as-needed basis, and in keeping with the latest public health developments and directives. At this time, they have decided to keep these doors closed.
What do those words “employee engagement” mean to you?
I’ve spent much of my career in organizations where employee engagement was a priority.
Employee engagement surveys, such as the one we completed last year, provide an important snapshot of where we are at a certain point in time. As we begin work on the action plans arising from that survey, we need to remember that employee engagement is an ongoing process that continues throughout the life of an organization.
To me, employee engagement means creating an organizational culture that makes you feel proud to come to work every day, a culture that represents your values and aligns with what you believe in – a culture that prioritizes integrity and trust, open two-way communication, listening and responding. We all have a part to play in building that culture so that we can succeed as individuals and as a College.
As an employee in my 23rd year (22 as an instructor), I have been witness to much change at this institution. The most concerning negative change has been to faculty morale. During my time, College enrolment has escalated, along with management positions. With this burgeoning leadership team came a noticeable decline in communicating decisions affecting those of us on the front lines. RRC has lost good people in recent years. What are your thoughts and plans for improving a depressed moral and rekindling the pride of working at RRC?
I am aware that there has been a lot of change to this College in recent years. One of my goals is to bring stability, to work with faculty and staff on a common vision for the College, and to ensure we are engaged with each other.
I don’t view my role as “fixing” the College – we have to build the College we want, together. I see a tremendous amount of Red River pride when I talk to staff and faculty, so I think we have a positive foundation to build upon.
The path to improving low morale is through building a culture within our organization that everyone feels connected to – a culture that values feedback and transparent, two-way communications. Our leadership team is committed to moving forward boldly in engaging and developing this kind of culture within Red River College. We’ll start by developing systems for you to provide feedback and for us to report back on what we’re hearing and the actions we’re taking in response. This town hall, and Q & A, is one example.
An engaged employee culture is not something we achieve and then move on from. It’s something we continue to work on. It’s not all going to happen overnight, but hopefully we’ll rebuild those connections and move the needle on morale as a result.
Today it is about starting an ongoing dialogue with Red River College staff and faculty. How would you like everyone to reach out to connect with you? And what will you be doing to connect with them?
In my weekly messages, and on Staff Forum, you’ll find opportunities to leave me feedback. I really do want to hear it. I know some people fear repercussions for being honest and open, but the only way to make our College better is through open, genuine, respectful dialogue.
If your thoughts and feelings are not shared and expressed, they won’t be heard, and we can’t act on what we don’t hear.
You can always reach me at Connect with Fred to start a conversation about what matters to you.
As a new employee, I’ve noticed cliques and hierarchies in some departments. How do you plan to fix these?
Inclusiveness is one our core values at RRC. Feeling that you are included in conversations and informed of decisions is a leading indicator of good organizational culture. As we focus on initiatives to build our organizational culture, I’m confident that we can build a culture that values inclusiveness.
Our employee engagement initiative will help us learn about and address concerns like this one. College leaders are currently reviewing the survey results with their department/area/unit. This will help us address areas where we can do better and come up with solutions together.
What will you do to ensure that College leadership models the values, ethics and policies of Red River College?
Ethical leadership and integrity are strong values for me. A new ethics training program has been developed and will be required training for all college staff. We are beginning a phased rollout of the program, with Senior Leadership being the first cohort. It is important we are all modeling ethics in all we do.
We also have a number of policies and procedures for bringing forward complaints, and I encourage people to come forward if they have specifics on ethical breaches. We need to be aware of the situation in order to take action.
We are all responsible for ensuring our actions align with the values of the organization we work in or lead. The values in our current strategic plan give us a solid foundation to build on.
My personal commitment to the College community from the President’s chair is to always act with integrity.
Red River College is committed to lifelong learning, yet it charges for online courses through Continuing Education. Can you please consider changing this?
The College offers many professional development activities through the Envision, Enable and Engage programs.
The shift to online offering does require us to look at the policy decision to waive tuition for staff when there is a space available for an in person class.
We value professional development and we need to keep pace with the changing delivery models.
Most of our instructors are hired for their subject area expertise. How can we ensure that instructors are adequately prepared to address the expectations we and students have of them?
Adequately prepared and supported instructors is critical to achieving our desired outcomes of high quality education and excellent student experience. That is why we offer the Certificate in Adult Education (with a new name soon to be revealed!) for all new instructors. The Centre for Learning and Program Excellence now has a dedicated resource for faculty development, and plans are underway to create faculty development opportunities that support continued education for instructors at every stage of their career.
What are the College’s plans to better manage instructor workloads, and, in particular, the challenges due to online delivery?
In the last round of collective bargaining, significant time was dedicated to instructor workload discussions. The union raised concern that included perceptions of inequity, lack of transparency and lack of accountability.
As a result the parties agreed to address those concerns following bargaining through a Joint Union and Management Taskforce.
The Taskforce members have worked to develop enhancement to Faculty work assignment in keeping with the principles of fairness, equity, transparency and accountability.
The final report and recommendations were completed on time in August 2020 – and the enhancements to process, guidelines, and documentation related to Faculty work assignment are being communicated to management and Faculty this week and next week. Information sessions were held at the end of September. Following the presentations, the Academic Division has launched a Faculty Work Assignment Portal on HUB – a single online location for all Faculty Work Assignment information.
The Executive Director, Academic, RaeAnn Thibeault has also established the Implementation Advisory Group to support these changes to Faculty Work Assignment.
The Implementation Advisory Group has a list of action items for further development as well as reviewing feedback from management and Faculty regarding these materials, tools and processes to best support implementation. Follow-up will occur with both the individuals that provide feedback as well as sharing the responses through the Portal.
If you have feedback, there is a devoted email address firstname.lastname@example.org that will be monitored expressly to provide a direct avenue for feedback. I have no doubt that the challenges wrought by COVID-19 will become part of this ongoing initiative.
Could we also talk about staff workload?
We understand that everybody has taken on an increased workload as a result of a number of things, including COVID-19. We’re open to talking about workload, and about the ability to find the proper balance. I want to ensure that we have a culture that allows you to bring your whole self to work, to feel that you’re contributing, and making a difference. That’s when an organization is at its best. Workload is a key aspect of that, and I plan to begin a broader discussion about the challenges staff are facing and how we can support them.
Is there anything you feel we can easily implement to score some quick wins on our strategic goals – specifically, Elevating Student Success and Advancing Indigenous Education?
Our movement towards course-based registration and our strong commitment to work-integrated learning has positioned us to embrace disruption more easily than other organizations. Micro-credentials fit into this new agility, and I think we are already seeing quick wins with the new programming we are offering.
Can we expect a College-wide strategy to ensure consistency and accuracy when reporting on meeting our goals as a College and as departments?
We’re doing a lot of good work to advance the goals and objectives in each of our strategic pillars. I want us to start sharing more of those successes with our stakeholders and the broader College community. We are working to develop our next strategy, and your input will be critical in shaping its development.
Our current Strategic Plan takes us to 2021. What will the process look like and who will be involved in creating the new Strategic Plan?
We’re going to develop it together, and it’s going to be an important part of guiding the College into the future. The Board will be involved, as will our industry and community partners.
We know that some elements of our current plan, such as Indigenous Education and student success, will continue to be a focus. But we also know we are in a new era of learning, and not just because of COVID. Disruption just came faster with the pandemic, but we still needed to move forward with a new way of learning, new technologies, new ways of teaching. Again, that’s where CBR, micro-credentials, power skills and the style of collaborative learning inside the new Innovation Centre come into play. These will all be part of our future vision.
I look forward to hearing your ideas for our next Strategic Plan. In the near future we’ll begin inviting staff and external partners to participate in the planning process. You’ll have opportunities to influence and help shape the plan by offering input and feedback. We’ll be actively seeking your participation at the table because this plan is something we want you to understand and connect with.
What about people who don’t see themselves or their area reflected specifically in the strategic plan?
Strategic plans are supposed to be exactly that: strategic, high-level, and focused on priorities. They aren’t meant to encompass absolutely everything you do, because then you end up with a plan that is too large and cumbersome to act on effectively.
That said, we all have a role to play in achieving our strategic goals. One way to understand your role is to get involved in creating the plan, and connect with it from the inside out. We’ll be inviting staff to take part as soon as we’re ready to begin the planning process.
As part of the previous 5-year College strategic plan, RRC entered into the Academic Governance and Organization Review (AGOR) project. I’m curious to ask if the College plans to complete the former AGOR process?
AGOR was an important process and will continue to inform the work of the College going forward.
The AGOR process helped us identify key areas where there are organizational and administrative pressures, and has since informed follow-up reviews, process improvements, and governance clarification (such as the new Academic Authorities grid that has brought clarity to who can authorize various academic decisions).
There is still work to be done: Academic Leadership, with the support of Human Resource Services, is currently reviewing the information collected through the AGOR consultations. This work will validate the data we collected and update it to reflect our current realities. A span of control review, which looked at the layers and level of management positions across the College, was recently completed and will help us address the significant span of control in our Academic Departments.
Diversity and Inclusion
Where are you at in your own journey of learning about anti-racism? What role do you see yourself having in tackling systemic racism from your platform?
This is a great question and one many of us are trying to better understand. The recent BIPOC discussions have prompted me to consider my own place of privilege and how I make decisions as a leader. It is important for all of us to look at that and be open to embracing different opinions and experiences.
On a personal level, like a lot of people, I’m on a journey of understanding, learning to listen to different perspectives, particularly those of the BIPOC community, to understand the challenges they’re facing.
I recently read a piece that spoke about equating racism with being mean. And that’s always the way I’d seen racism in the past: as meanness. And I’m not a mean person, I don’t think that way. But that’s not what racism is. It comes from a much broader perspective. And realizing that feels like an important step in my journey. I’m open to moving forward and understanding more.
What is Red River College doing to ensure diversity and representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) at all levels, including in our Board of Governors and senior leadership?
To our commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), we have launched a new EDI strategy. We need to ensure BIPOC voices are heard. We are also developing recruitment plans to ensure greater diversity at the College and BIPOC representation among our senior, mid-level and front-line leaders (which we recognize is very low at present).
The creation of the EDI Champions, which includes staff and faculty representation from each School and Department across the College, is a first step to enhancing conversations and actions.
Why are there so few First Nations instructors in SIE?
A key priority for the College is to strengthen our partnerships and continue to advance Indigenous achievement in our communities, and we recognize that education is the key to improving the lives of Indigenous peoples and to improving Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations across Canada.
We are proud of the efforts we continue to make to advance Indigenous achievement. Over the last two years, we have added a number of new academic programs, student services, and a historic level of bursary support – and we have increased the number of staff and faculty to support these new initiatives – including our new Truth and Reconciliation and Community Engagement Manager.
The College is committed to creating more opportunities for Indigenous students and faculty. We are working hard to build partnerships with Industry, Indigenous organizations and other bodies that want to support our students.
Student mental health was a growing concern in many departments before the pandemic arrived, and is even more of a concern now. What do you think the College’s obligations are to student mental health, and how do you think we can enhance the mental health supports we offer students?
COVID-19 has impacted our students in many ways. We tend to focus most on the impacts we can see: for instance, disease progression, case numbers. But we also need to keep sight of other significant impacts of COVID, including its effects on mental health.
We know that among our own students, mental health struggles have increased during COVID far beyond where we’ve been in the past. The College does have mental health supports for students, and we do everything we can to make students aware of them.
We know some learners struggle with distance and need to interact with instructors and other students, and we continue to explore ways to provide in-person interaction. I think the greatest positive impact we can have on student mental health is to allow students to connect authentically but safely.
Why are more people coming back to our campuses now, while others aren’t?
One of the highest priorities for me and our leadership team is to keep everyone who comes onto our campuses safe.
Red River College has been following public health recommendations to protect against virus transmission on campus. As a result, the College has implemented many stringent health and safety protocols that meet or exceed current public health guidelines, including: mandatory wearing of masks, physical distancing, cohorts to minimize exposure, staggered academic schedule, increased access to hand sanitizer and enhanced sanitization measures of all spaces and surfaces. We maintain close, constant contact with Manitoba Public Health to seek their guidance on how we can bring people onto campus safely.
As we continue to live with this pandemic it’s important to continue to adhere to those measures at all times in order to keep each other safe while on-campus. These measures have been very effective in reducing the risk of transmission of the virus at Red River College and I appreciate everyone’s continued diligence and commitment to these principles.
One of our strengths has been our high quality hands-on learning, not just for students looking to start careers, but industry looking to build workforce capacity.
We’ve adapted well to provide as much of this online as possible, and I’ve heard some incredible stories of instructors finding unique and effective ways to teach remotely, but there are aspects of learning we need to provide in person. We need staff and students on campus, in a safe environment, to do that. There are certain types of services we need in place to support our students, and some of those need to be in person. That’s why some areas require more people on campus than others.
I know our return to campus plan indicated percentages. These serve only as guidelines, and we’re asking areas and departments to interpret those guidelines according to their own specific needs when deciding which staff need to come back, and which can continue to work remotely.
How many cases of COVID-19 have we had on our campus?
To date, we’ve seen one case of COVID-19 at a construction site at our downtown campus, and two at our Notre Dame Campus.
The first case, in early September, involved a worker with one of the sub-contractors at the Innovation Centre construction site. The College immediately informed RRC employees who regularly work at the construction site, and sent them home to self-isolate and contact officials at Health Links. The construction site was immediately closed for deep cleaning and all workers on site were sent home. Public Health advised our primary contractor that the risk of exposure to our employees – or any of the workers on site at the Innovation Centre – was extremely low.
Subsequently we have had four additional cases, in late September and earlier this week, which involved individuals at NDC who were asymptomatic while on campus. Due to safety measures and protocols in place at the College, these situations were considered low risk. Impacted classrooms were cleaned and disinfected and then reopened. The individuals who were in those spaces at that time were sent home out of an abundance of caution, and we worked with Public Health to follow up with them and support them as needed.
All our efforts are to ensure the safety of our staff and students, which is always our top priority. We continue to work closely with Public Health and follow their advice every step of the way.
How is it fair that those who are working on campus have to commute or pay parking, and deal with the increased hazard of COVID-19?
RRC continues to operate and provide necessary services and supports to our students and applied research partners. To do this, we require some staff on campus. As explained earlier, COVID has also posed a financial challenge and ancillary revenue is one of those areas. Our Safety and Health team has worked very hard to implement measures to keep all of us safe while on campus. However, I understand that these are challenging and stressful times for many.
Can you share more information about the member of NDC who tested positive with COVID-19? Ie. the building they were in, the time/date they were on campus?
We’ve worked closely with public health officials to develop guidelines for notifying staff and students whenever a case of COVID-19 occurs on one of our campuses. We aim to be transparent without compromising the privacy of our staff and students. If public health authorities deem that an exposure on campus poses a risk, we will notify all those who may have been impacted. You can be sure that if you haven’t been contacted, there hasn’t been an exposure that puts you at risk.
How do you see the role of research in the College, both in applied settings and in scholarly or teaching/learning settings?
Applied research plays a critical role in our connection to industry and business. Industry stakeholders value access not only to our facilities, but to our expertise. Applied research is also critical to our students, who benefit from work-integrated learning experiences.
What is your plan to elevate the College’s Applied Research capabilities?
I think we have the capability to leverage more of our assets, and expand our applied research and work-integrated learning into other academic areas.
Currently, instructors are not permitted to teach remotely from outside Canada. Considering that we are now allowing students all over the world to take our courses, do you intend to revisit this question?
COVID has certainly encouraged us to think differently about how we design and deliver education, including remote learning for students and remote teaching for instructors. We also do have opportunities for international faculty with partner institutions to teach remotely to our students (such as partner institutions in China or India). However, while some courses may continue to be taught fully online into the future, it is important that our employees remain able to attend on-campus meetings with colleagues and/or provide on-campus teaching as public health guidelines allow in the future.
Why is LEARN not being flagged automatically for every course?
It can create a confusing student experience to be enrolled in an empty, unused course in LEARN, so we try to only flag courses for LEARN that have a need for a presence in LEARN.
The majority of delivery at RRC does have a LEARN presence, but there are some exceptions that do not always require LEARN access, such as skills labs, practicums, work placements, and co-ops. Some apprenticeship programs are scheduled into courses that can be quite small as well, so we create alternative LEARN shells for them and do not flag the courses themselves. There are many other examples of situations where it wouldn’t make sense to flag every course in the College automatically for LEARN.
I would ask that Academic departments work with the timetabling team in Enrollment Services to identify those courses that are being used for LEARN delivery so that we can make sure that students have a smooth experience when accessing their online resources.
I don’t have a question, but rather want to say thank you for the time you took at the town hall to start conversations and engage. I appreciate the approach and effort. I look forward to hearing more from you.
Thank you, I look forward to further conversations.