In September, members of the francophone community in Alberta and students from Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) sat down to discuss the future of the campus, including potentially increasing CSJ’s autonomy from the university.
The summit, which was held from September 21 to 23, was organized by the Association Canadienne-Française de l’Alberta (ACFA) to discuss the challenges faced by the French campus and the solutions they could work towards in the future. The conference was a joint effort between the ACFA and Campus Saint-Jean, as well as student representatives from Association des Universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean (AUFSJ).
Adam Brown, the president of AUFSJ, said the biggest problem facing the French campus is financing as both the university and the province do not recognize the increased cost that comes to educate students in French in a minority context.
“The university says, ‘Well we’re going to treat all the faculties the same and we not going to recognize that so we’re not going to give you as much money,’” Brown said. “But at the same time they don’t recognize that in order to have a vibrant francophone campus in Alberta, it does cost more.”
One idea that was discussed during the conference was getting CSJ to adopt the governance structures featured in other francophone universities such as Université de Saint-Boniface, which has its own Board of Governors after gaining autonomy from the University of Manitoba. Brown said that because it has its own board, Université de Saint-Boniface is able to get its funds more directly and that Campus Saint-Jean could follow that direction.
Brown mentioned other problems at the French campus including outdated academic programming, increasing class sizes, and infrastructure problems.
“At this point, many people in the francophone community and at Campus Saint-Jean feel like we’re ignored,” he said. “We’re in the riding of the Minister of Advanced Education, Marlin Schmidt and we feel very ignored by him and the provincial government even though we are in his own riding.”
Pierre-Yves Mocquais, the Dean of Faculté Saint-Jean, said the debate around giving more autonomy to the French campus is not a new one, and that while people in the francophone community might feel that autonomy is the solution, it may not be the best solution. He added that the French campus benefits from being part of the University of Alberta, such as having access to higher quality faculty members compared to other francophone universities.
“I think that at that time a lot of people (at the summit looked at Université de Saint-Boniface and) said ‘Oh that’s what we need’ and so on, I mean it’s not necessarily the absolute panacea,” he said. “There are a lot of advantages to being part of the U of A.”
Mocquais said it’s up to the ACFA and the other stakeholders at Campus Saint-Jean to decide if autonomy is something they want to pursue.
“If the Government of Alberta and the university and the ACFA decided that a different arrangement is needed, my role is to ensure that it be done as smoothly as possible. Whether I’m in agreement with it or not is not really the question I’m particularly concerned about,” he said.