Western apologizes for Brescia secrecy
Plan to integrate women’s college shocked faculty
JANET HURLEY SENIOR WRITER
Western University has apologized for the way it went about announcing the closure of Canada’s only women’s university.
In a statement Friday, Western said its decision to integrate Brescia University College, one of Western University’s three affiliated colleges in London, Ont., was done with good intentions, but its approach “did not reflect our shared values, including our commitment to collegial governance.”
On Sept. 21, Western announced that Brescia would cease operations next May. At the time, university administration said programs and staff would be preserved.
But Brescia’s faculty and 1,200 students said they were caught off guard by the news that the 104year-old institution would soon be no more.
Protests ensued, with criticism aimed at Western for a lack of transparency and consultation.
Friday’s statement, jointly issued by Western and the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA), noted that Brescia had, earlier this year, approached Western about its financial difficulties and proposed an integration. In September, Western entered into a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Brescia, but “without advance notice to or consultation with the senate or with UWOFA.”
“Upon reflection,” said the statement, “Western should have meaningfully consulted earlier with UWOFA as the exclusive bargaining agent for Western’s faculty members and librarians.”
In the apology, Western acknowledged that the process “has caused undue strain in its important relationship with UWOFA.”
Working with a mediator, Western and the faculty association said they have come to a resolution on several points, including a commitment to integrate all full-time Brescia faculty and librarians who want to join Western, as well as creating new positions and a joint working group to address issues that arise out of the amalgamation.
Western’s faculty association said in the statement that it “recognizes that the exceptional circumstances facing Brescia faculty warranted some compromise and solidarity for the greater good of faculty and librarian colleagues.”
At the time of the original announcement, Brescia President Lauretta Frederking noted that while the university continues to be committed to women and their leadership, times have changed, reflected by both the fact that more women than men are enrolled in Canadian post-secondary institutions and that women’s-only universities in North America now number 26, down from 280 in the 1960s.
The Brescia Preservation Alliance, consisting of current students and alumni, continues to protest the merger, and fight to preserve Brescia’s legacy, including advocating for safe spaces for women to gather and study.
Western’s Vice-Provost (Students) John Doerksen recently wrote to current Brescia students indicating that a dedicated lounge would be created to help them keep connected and that Brescia’s Clare Hall would remain, for the current cohort, an all-female-identifying residence “subject to demand.”
“The commitments that Western has made to Brescia students are a positive step towards an immensely important goal,” Emma McBean, a first-year student and co-president of the alliance, told the Star. “However, there are many things that we still hope for as students.”
Among the ongoing concerns, the alliance wants Clare Hall to remain a women’s only residence for future students and wants current students to have the option of remaining at Brescia for the entirety of their degree.
‘‘ Western should have meaningfully consulted earlier with UWOFA as the exclusive bargaining agent for Western’s faculty members and librarians. WESTERN STATEMENT
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited