In Focus Opinions

OPINION: King's is headed to Dal

Rock n’ roll. Deal with it. This is where we’re heading, folks.

(Photo: Jesse Laufer)

On a Friday in mid-summer, Kate Ross sat in her office on the third floor of the A&A building Googling tech problems and editing photos while listening to CKDU 88.1 FM. The masters students had left for the day, and the building was mostly empty. Moments later, she was summoned to a meeting in the director’s office. There, she was informed her services were no longer required.
Ross was a well-known journalism tech assistant at King’s and somewhat of a notorious figure in the quad – with hundreds of pairs of glasses, dozens of refurbished bikes and extensive knowledge of Apple products. That day, she was let go as a part of King’s “restructuring.”
Rock n’ roll. Deal with it. This is where we’re heading, folks.
The King’s so-called “restructuring” is a short-sighted hatchet job.
The most visible signs I’ve noticed:
1)Journalism tech assistant mysteriously let go
2)Printed version of the Halifax Commoner newspaper torpedoed, and with it the popularity of the upper-year journalism print workshop
3)The sale of a property owned by the school
4)The end of the line for the registrar and at least two communications staff.
None of these stand out on their own, but combined with the formation of the “College Task Force,” the poorly named “Strategic Plan” and disturbing annual financial reports, one thing is clear: enjoy King’s while it’s still an independent (sort of) institution.
I had to laugh when the school of journalism booted Kate Ross. On one hand, the school promotes “digital journalism” and on the other it cuts ties one of the most tech savvy employees it has… I mean, had.
Ross was not a journalist by trade. Despite not being classified as an instructor, she taught classes in photography, coding, and print and web design. Ross was one of a handful of journalism staffers who is proficient in skills needed for 21st century journalism.
King’s hired a replacement with a similar name, occupying the same office and a disturbingly similar role. This replacement graduated with a bachelor degree from the journalism school in 2013, just over a year before she was hired to replace Kate Ross.
This signifies where we are headed: cut costs and pretend nothing has changed.
The fact that King’s still offers a print journalism workshop is baffling. It’s an injustice to charge students to take a six-week course in a dead medium that they’d be wise to avoid. For the past few years, it went on as it always has, until this Fall when the 2015 graduating class abstained from ludditry (at least for one semester).
Finally, students were smart enough to know they were being had. Unfortunately, the multi-talented professor Dean Jobb – recognized for expertise in journalism, law and history – saw his role change from educator to recruiter. Yes, a full-time King’s prof and author of two widely used journalism textbooks was sent on the road to recruit any rubes foolish enough to consider a journalism degree in this day and age. I’m sad I didn’t get an invite to one of these spectacles.
Jobb should’ve been reassigned to another teaching or research role where his skills could have been utilized. Instead he spent six weeks re-enacting a Bob Seger song.
Jobb’s print workshop had no chance. My opinion is that it was torpedoed as a cost-cutting measure. The workshop must have ran a significant deficit from printing a newspaper, so I’m sure someone was quite happy no one signed up.
Oh wait, in the Fall, it was announced that the ‘print’ workshop would not be printing anything. That’s right. King’s expected students to sign up for a workshop where the finished product was something akin to a make-believe newspaper, while their colleagues broadcast actual radio and TV shows and publish articles online. This seems too foolish to be true, yet this is where we’re headed.
It’s mysterious that Ross was previously the assistant in the not-to-be printed workshop, back in the days when it was printed (up to 2014).
I’m not a mathematician, but to me, the solution was simple: offer the print workshop in one semester, instead of both, and actually print a paper. That’s half of the production cost.
As the print workshop returned in January from the Fall hiatus, Ross’ non-replacement-replacement seems to be assisting Jobb’s reincarnated web-only newspaper on a regular basis.
And the house went up for sale.
In the fall King’s rid itself of 6305 Coburg Road at nearly $100,000 below the assessed value of the property, records show.
Once again, I’m not a mathematician, but two things stand out:
1) Real estate that can be rented to students, close to a university, should be worth more, not less, than the assessed value
2) It’s never a positive sign when an organization liquidates capital assets that can be used as a revenue-generating asset (for example, as Dalhousie University has, offering off-campus housing).
Sure, the house goes a long way in balancing the $1.1-million deficit earlier this year. More must be done to make a lasting financial effect on the budget crisis.
Cutting the registrar likely helped.
Elizabeth Yeo and her $120,000 salary is no more.
The details of her departure are cloudy at best. She is said to be pursuing academic interests, but this too doesn’t pass the smell test. Why ditch a lucrative job with status and a chance to travel for more schooling?
Yeo will not be replaced. Her job will be split up between her former underlings and others. Those staff will not be in line to replace the now-amalgamated position.
But this is where we’re headed.
It’s only a matter of time, I believe, until nearly all of the financial and administrative services are folded or turned over to Dal.
Play Harry Potter and listen to the choir while you still can.
Food and residence may still make money for King’s, but Dal may need the beds. Soon we could see the quad have a new landlord.
I predict in 10 years, King’s will still be called King’s. The school will offer some of the same courses, yet will be little more than a department of Dal. That department will have the Dalhousie Student Union (God help us) and lack in-house administration, the Blue Devils, separate facility services, residences and dining hall – and several professors we all love.
Even tenure is not the Divine Right of King’s. That can be revoked.
In one year, the school is well on its way to being a shadow without consequence. This is where we’re heading.
Philosophers and journalists of the quad unite (if you’re not too busy).

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

6 replies on “OPINION: King's is headed to Dal”

1. WTF Kate Ross was amazing and this was a terrible move. **If** you’re going to fire, why not give the woman a promotion and dismiss a more-expensive reporting prof teaching old-school skills??? dumb. DUMB.
2. you’re sort of wrong about the house. Buying it in the first place was the mistake. It’s not zoned properly to become a residence or a classroom space, the neighbours hate King’s too much to support a rezoning request, and the uni doesn’t need to take on the liability of a regular landlord. Residences are different and have all sorts of rules and regulations that just renting out the house would not entail. (What if some second year students decide to have a fondue party, light their fondue pot in the kitchen, move it to the living room, and spill boiling hot kerosene all over the hardwood floor?) but where
3. you’re sort of not making sense about the newspaper. On the one hand you think teaching a print workshop is archaic, but on the other you think that getting rid of the newspaper is some sort of terrible decision? You can’t have it both ways.
3. If the Registrar’s Office staff are going to be doing Yeo’s work without getting her job, they better be pushing hard for some serious raises right now. #justsaying
tl;dr — let’s have fewer conspiracy theories, MOAR KATE ROSS

This article is offensively poorly researched and inaccurate. Forgoing facts in favour of “your best guess given some stuff you’ve heard” does not constitute a journalistic opinion. A lot of people are trying to seriously understand a complicated situation at a place we all care a lot about. I think they deserve better than this.

The firing of Kate Ross is leading to King’s being taken over by Dal? Hrm…
Leaps and bounds all over the place make this piece excruciating to read, not to mention the lack of reporting or any solid research. Focus on one thing, please.
Oh, and a conversation (i.e. Interview) with someone up on the third floor of the A&A building might’ve helped, too.

Dave Lostracco: Spend a little less time navel-gazing. Real problem with the story, for me, is that Ms. Yeo’s termination, the sale of the Coburg house and the trajectory of the journalism program all seem like meaningful threads that, even with just a couple of questions, could be stories. What’s written here is clearly meaningless pablum. Come on The Watch! Where’d your integrity go?

I want to provide an update on Elizabeth Yeo. While she has expressed interest in pursuing further education, she is not unemployed. Elizabeth is the new Senior Manager of Student Service Policy and College Programs with the Department of Student Services at the Nova Scotia Community College. We are so excited for her and we wish her all the best.

Your columnist, Dave Lostracco, has chosen to criticize recent changes
at King’s without first trying to find out why they were taken or what the
impact will be.
I cannot speak for events
outside my department, but Dave is just plain wrong about the motivation for
and impact of changes within the School of Journalism.
Restructuring the
position held by Kate Ross allows us to hire experts with higher-level
technical skills to help in specific classes and with specific IT issues. This
has already benefited students through a better design for King’s Journalism
Review and Peninsula News, better and more support for the TV and video
curriculum and more assistance in specific workshops. It will help students
even more as we roll toward the summer term and the start of a new year in the
graduate program.
While Kate was an
iconic member of the King’s community and beloved by many, not one student,
staff or faculty member has complained to me that they are getting less expert
help or attention because of her absence.
While it is true that
King’s is facing financial difficulties, that was not a motivating factor in
our decision to restructure the IT position.
Dave also says that
students didn’t sign up for the newspaper workshop because we chose not to
print the paper. If that was true, why did so many sign up for the workshop in
the winter term with the exact same conditions? He also says that printing
ended because the workshop ran a “deficit,” which shows that Dave doesn’t know
the meaning of the word “deficit.”
Dave’s most offensive allegation
is that high school students considering our degree are “rubes” who are
“foolish” to consider Journalism. A
little bit of research on his part would have shown that the number of journalism
jobs in Canada has remained steady over the last 10 years, even as the nature
of media has changed. If he had bothered to talk with me, he also would have
found out that that four-year honours degree in Journalism at King’s is
designed to be an outstanding base both for journalists and for those who use
journalism skills in other professions. Our alumni include some of the finest
journalists in Canada as well some of the finest lawyers, activists,
politicians and entrepreneurs in this country.
I can’t speak to
changes in the Registrar’s Office or the sale of the house on Coburg Road, but
I can say that neither had anything to do with issues your columnist identified
in the School of Journalism. Dave chose to throw a bunch of disparate events
together and spin a theory around them.
In the end, he accuses
King’s of sacrificing the best interests of its students for financial
expediency. That is simply untrue. Every decision we make stems from our
determination to maintain or improve the student experience. Sometimes those
decisions are difficulty, but they are always about student wellbeing.
On a personal note, it saddens me as
director of the School of Journalism that someone who has studied with us for 18
months would choose to form opinions without bothering to get facts. In this
case, Dave chose not talk to those who are accountable for the decisions he
criticizes. He chose to write instead from a place of ignorance.

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