I'd forgotten how much time I'd spent hanging around the Association of Canadian Community Colleges' offices during its first decade. From the mid-1970s, those offices grew from a large closet in the depths of a suburban college to a suite in a North York industrial park to a full floor in a fashionable mid town Toronto building.
Becoming successful, ACCC changed. As it changed, it distanced itself from its original commitment to Canadian Studies and shut down its early publications such as the Canadian Studies Bulletin, College Canada and Communiqut? Canadian Studies. The ACCC had an ambitious new agenda. By 1987, I'd found other diversions too; intermittently over 12 years, though, I did enjoy occasionally editing as well as contributing some 44 articles to its journals. College Canada was the last to go; ACCC went on to Ottawa and on to other things.
So, I approached the recent ACCC convention ambivalently. I hadn't been to one in a decade. I hoped I might meet at least a few old friends, but I also worried about Strategic Alliances, the conference's theme. It wasn't just the words that bothered me. I have almost learned to “live with” if not exactly to “feel comfortable with” the gibberish that currently passes for language among us (though I resolutely refuse to interface - much less to network - to hopefully impact a mission statement about frame-wrapping as a cutting edge service strategy in an increasingly technological information society). I worried more about the neo-conservative ideology such twaddle betrays.
That Newt Gingrich regards Alvin Toiler as a “dear friend” doesn't matter; that the Speaker of the US. House of Representatives regards the most entrepreneurial futurist the “major influence” on his thinking does. Indeed, the entire inventory of pop socio-economists who prattle on about competition in the global market only seem ridiculous, for they do provide the justificatory rhetoric for sadder and poorer times throughout North America.
Strategic Alliances promised to be in keeping with the times. There would be emphasis on “partnerships” to assure improved “efficiency,” help “market services” and promote the “business” of education. Nods were promised, of course, to equity -especially toward aboriginal peoples. The doubling of “health problemsbecause of job-related stress” since 1990 would be noted, but what was to be offered was psychological palliatives that, I fear, seldom palliate. Politics - the actual allocation of power within the colleges - would, I expected, be utterly ignored. I was wrong.
This issue of The College Quarterly features three articles arising from ACCC 1995. They are written by people with different perspectives - support staff, faculty and Board of Governors - on experiments modifying power arrangements in three Ontario colleges. Each treats the question openly and displays the participants' enthusiasm for the processes that, they genuinely feel, may help alter the nefarious “industrial model” that has long defined employer-employee relations in the CAATs.
For those seeking hope, some is to be found. Whether or not good intentions and personal dedication to collaborative models are enough to overcome entrenched interests - to say nothing of our virtual vocabulary - is, they agree, uncertain.
Howard A. Doughty teaches Natural Science and Canadian Studies at Seneca College in King City, Ontario, and is editor of The College Quarterly.