After years of planning and discussion, Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC) has gone from a proposed idea to a reality.
The Leadership College greeted its inaugural pioneer class to the University of Alberta last week. The cohort comprised of 60 students from various faculties are entering their third year of studies, and were accepted based on their “exemplary” leadership and academic experience demonstrated throughout their first two years at the U of A.
The college is part of the the overarching Peter Lougheed Leadership Initiative — named after the former Alberta premier — and is geared toward stimulating and advancing cultures of leadership and the U of A and Banff Centre.
The program has drawn heavy criticism from the U of A community since it was announced in 2013. The perceived “elitism” and “exclusivity” of the program have historically been the main points of contention regarding the Leadership College.
Although he’s been part of the pioneer class for just one week, third-year political science student Ben Throndson said he doesn’t feel any “elitism” coming from the group thus far.
“I don’t get a sense of that,” Throndson said. “It’s something meant to empower the student body and empower the people involved with the college moving forward to create that type of experience that fits in with that (U of A) theme of uplifting the whole people. I don’t get the feeling that elitism is the kind of ethos that’s in the college.”
The U of A and the Students’ Union reached an agreement in 2014 where student input would play an important role in the future plans, and those who live in the residence — which is due for completion in 2017 — would not be given exclusive leadership programming.
But SU Vice-President (Academic) Fahim Rahman said he hasn’t seen that commitment yet.
“It’s been tough to gauge for voice feedback with concerns about the PLLC,” Rahman said. “It’s about accountability, and I really don’t see that yet. We haven’t seen as much as a commitment from university administration to enable more things that reach out to more students.”
“It’s really about making sure that students are getting the best experience possible from the PLLC, and not just the small cohort … we need to be broadly speaking as well.”Throndson, who also sits on the SU Students’ Council as an elected Faculty of Arts representative, said he acknowledges the contentious issues regarding lack of understanding and communication that have been raised at council forums in the past, and that he could provide a medium between the university and the SU.
“I think building those relationships and communicating between the SU and PLLC is something I can bring to the table,” Throndson said of utilizing his first-hand experience with the college.
Leadership College Founding Principal and former Prime Minster of Canada Kim Campbell said the PLLC is working to make its programming as accessible as broadly as possible. Lectures and seminars are public, and the notion of “elitism” in the program is “hilarious,” she said.
“It’s far from being elitist,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is create a centre of excellence that shares our experiences around the university. We have no disincentive to share with other faculties.”
Along with Throndson, the rest of the pioneer class is “crucial” to the development of the program for future classes, she added. The Leadership College’s will house 125 students when the residence — currently under construction on Saskatchewan Dr. — opens in 2017, and the inaugural class gives Campbell and university administration a chance to solve and adjust issues as they arise for the future.
“We get a chance to do this for real and see if our vision turns out to be as good as we hoped it to be,” Campbell said. “If it isn’t, we’ll tinker it and change it and try to make it even better.”