As fall approaches, most students are secure in knowing their classes, where they are living, and presumably how they are managing to pay for both. For the faculty and staff at Dal’s Truro Campus, a different kind of precariousness exists – where they will put their children during this coming school year.
Earlier this summer, Dalhousie University made the decision to close the Agricultural Campus Daycare, approving that the last day of operation will be Friday, Sept. 2 – four days before classes begin.
In announcing this the university cited the continuing lack of financial viability of the service, primarily based in it’s lack of enrollment; at the time of the announcement there were only 10 slots of the full 30 which had been signed up for.
This announcement was met with criticism from the Truro area Dalhousie community, who challenged this as a cut on what they understand to be an essential service of the university.
For the parents who were impacted by the cuts, they’ve been looking for further details.
The parents committee of the Truro Daycare had been asking all throughout the summer for more details about the operations of the daycare, asking whether or not it was in a sustainable financial state.
Eventually one of the members would file a FOIPOP request for more information last winter, which would only be delivered in June after the announcement of the daycare closure.
This closure, besides the local reaction, saw a reaction from the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA). The DFA protested this issue in relation to violations of the collective agreement that this posed, which specifies that daycare facilities will be available for the DFA’s membership. The DFA in July launched a formal request for arbitration around this issue.
Just days before the daycare closure on Aug. 29, the arbitration was temporarily adjourned.
In a joint announcement the DFA, Dalhousie, and the Nova Scotia Government and General Employee’s Union (NSGEU, representing the majority of the Daycare’s staff) announced that they would have the daycare and it’s services be put onto a temporary hiatus through the Fall semester, while a working group from the university and community would work to establish a sustainable business model for childcare at the Agricultural Campus.
For the DFA, this working group is seen as a successful way to help mitigate what would have been a messy arbitration for it’s members. As DFA President Dr. Laurene Rehman said, “[This choice to take it out of arbitration and into a longer form working group discussion] provides the greatest opportunity for the daycare to also stay open, longer. My fear would have been that if we had simply won straight up the arbitration and the daycare was advised to be open from this point forward, there wouldn’t be a strong impetus to find that sustainability.”
Rehman continues to be hopeful about this, and that the working group which will be formed by the university will be able to accomplish this task.
The DFA is still worried about the precedent that this sets for the university.
Rehman emphasized that any changes or discussion of items within the collective agreement are specifically supposed to be done in a form of joint discussion and agreement – not the unilateral decision making that had occurred earlier in the summer.
Nonetheless she viewed this as a positive step forward with the university’s decision to work with them, demonstrated by their joint release.
For others, like Dr. Sarah Stewart-Clark, an assistant professor of Aquaculture at the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus and one of the individuals who has been put forward as a community member for the working group, they have a less positive impression of the working group.
For Dr. Stewart-Clark, this decision has left a sour taste. “Had I come in 2016 and been interviewed for this job, I don’t know if I would have come up here. If you’re moving to a new province with a 13 month old, and you don’t know anyone there, you need to be pretty confident about the daycare provider.”
As a recent study from the University of Manitoba done under their “Childcare Initiative” launched to evaluate the quality of their own services points out, childcare services are a norm at all U15 members.
As Dr. Stewart-Clark would put it in her frustration, “It’s not like Dalhousie needs to invent the wheel here. They just need to prioritize daycare on its campus.”
To Stewart-Clark and the other members of the daycare’s parent committee, they would see from the FOIPOP request that they made that there was two conversations which were happening about the daycare. “One which they were included in” and “one which they were not.”
Evidently from the records, which they received, the university had been discussing closing the daycare since 2015. This was something that had not been relayed to the parents until the June closure announcement.
“As parents and as faculty members we are disappointed that we had to essentially force Dalhousie legally to support our families and their employees,” Dr. Stewart-Clark would put it.
While she thinks that the output of the working group will be successful, at the same time she and a number of the other parents have lost trust in some of the specific individuals from Dalhousie associated with the decision: “Moving forward we’re not interested in communicating with these individuals at all.”
For the three years after the merger of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and Dalhousie, the operating budget of the AC was locked into the same structure that it had before the merger.
This year’s budget has been the first year since the merger that the changes were made, although it is unclear whether or not the funding of the daycare was within this part of the budget.
At this time it is unknown what the exact composition of the working group or the nature of it’s reporting back to the university will be. It is likely that some sort of an update might be at least presented at the first Senate meeting of the year on Sept. 12.