When Nova Scotia Agricultural College student Paul Manning saw Tom Traves in the hallway of his school, he had already figured out why the university president was there.
“I heard talks were going on, but was shocked when I saw him and I had a decent idea of what was going to happen,” says the third-year student from Canning, N.S. who heads the NSAC Students’ Union. “But I must say it’s exciting. I think it will strengthen our school and open up opportunities for us.”
Also in Truro on Friday, Agriculture Minister John MacDonell called it a “big day” for the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) as he made the official announcement that NSAC and Dalhousie University have begun formal discussions leading to a merger.
Sharing the news
Minister MacDonell, along with Marilyn More, the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, Leslie MacLaren and Bernie MacDonald, co-presidents of NSAC, Bob MacKay, chair of the NSAC transitional board, Lenore Zann, MLA Truro Bible Hill, and Dalhousie President Tom Traves spent the morning sharing the news with a number of groups, including college administrators, students and faculty and staff.
Speaking to a gathering of about 200 faculty and staff, Dr. Traves compared the merger to “an arranged marriage” with two willing partners. The “engagement” will take about a year, and is expected to be finalized by September 2012 with the opening of the fall semester.
The two institutions already have close ties going back years—Dalhousie grants bachelors and masters degrees for NSAC students. NSAC faculty have a presence on the Dalhousie Senate, and Dalhousie is represented on the NSAC Faculty Council. The two institutions also share a strong research focus.
“We’re so well aligned with Dalhousie already,” remarked NSAC graduate student Todd Larsen after hearing the news. NSAC masters students are part of Dalhousie’s Faculty of Graduate Studies. “It should elevate our status, for sure.”
Since 2007, a new model of governance was sought for NSAC, which currently operates as a division of the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture. But, until an overture from Dalhousie, the plan was for the college to morph into a crown corporation.
“We want the college to grow, to be bigger and better,” said Minister MacDonell. “We’re really anticipating that to be a good thing, to join with Nova Scotia’s premier research university.”
Although “change is inherently anxiety provoking,” said Dr. Traves, the intent of a merger is not to downsize, save money or rationalize jobs. “The idea is to take our strengths and build something better together,” he said. The point was further emphasized by Paul LaFleche, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, who said the priorities for the government were for the college to maintain a strong presence in the Truro-Bible Hill area, protect jobs, increase enrolment and enhance the student experience.
Merger teams to be appointed
There are still many details to be worked out. Merger teams will be appointed in the next few weeks.
“Dalhousie has deep respect for the work you do, the impact you make,” said Dr. Traves. “The whole purpose (of the merger) is to enhance that ... this will be a process of change focused on continuity rather than disruption.”
NSAC was founded in 1905 to train Atlantic Canadians in the best practices of farming. It now offers a broad range of academic and technical training programs in agricultural sciences and business, aquaculture, environment and rural issues. In 2010-11, about 950 students were enrolled at the college, including approximately 200 international students who’ve come to the college through reciprocal agreements with schools in India, China and the Netherlands.
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