Recollections of my experience at Champlain College for the 50th anniversary celebration
Dr. Michael Fox, Don C-D Tower, 1990-1993
I was interested in the Colleges from the time I began my new Assistant Professor position in 1989. I had been affiliated with three other universities prior to my getting here, and none had a college system. The Colleges were pitched as the ultimate, interdisciplinary integrator of faculty, staff and students, and coming from a mixed Arts and Sciences background myself, this really appealed to me. I was assigned to Champlain College, and I am still a Champlainer 27 years later.
In my first year at Trent, I spent a lot of lunches and late afternoon hours in the Champlain College Senior Common Room. I remember having enjoyable conversations with faculty of many departments and programs. One colleague who really stands out from that year is Andrew Taylor, a Medievalist with the English Department who now teaches at University of Ottawa. Although I’m a straight scientist, I was always fascinated by the Medieval period, and I still remember Andrew’s description of his research on travelling minstrels in the Middle Ages. That year I also attended the monthly Fellows Dinners, which were held in the room above the SCR. Towards the end of the term I was approached by the Master at the time, the late Professor Jim MacAdam, about being a Don. In those days, Dons were usually faculty or staff and occasionally grad students, not like today. I was living away from my home in Ottawa anyway, and the thought of being a stronger part of students’ lives appealed to me. I said yes.
I was the Don of C-D Staircase from July 1990 to June 1993. C-D is one of the more spacious don units in Champlain, and I was happy to get it, as my wife was planning to join me in Peterborough. For better or worse, it is also physically disconnected from the staircases where the students live. That was good because I had more privacy, but bad because I didn’t always know what was going on in those units I was responsible for. I suspect that the students were happy to have it that way!
When the new students first arrived, I brought them all together in my living room, welcomed them, gave them an orientation, and proceeded to warn them to back up all their computer-generated work, because faculty won’t buy the excuse “I lost my work when my computer crashed”! I remember having several homesick students. They would show up regularly at my door and I would try to help them get oriented to their new lives as best as I could. Nevertheless, I remember at least one that didn’t make it, who went home after two weeks and never returned. I wonder whether that still occasionally happens with new students?
In those days, Champlain College was run pretty laissez-faire compared with LEC, at least in terms of the entertainment expectations put on Dons. We were encouraged to have regular events for our students in the Staircase, but not to the same extent as LEC. I remember having one or two suppers at our apartment, but the premier event of my donship was the campfire and campout on the LEC drumlin. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission to do this (don’t ask and you’re not denied!); however I was pretty nervous about it. However, everything worked out OK, the students had a great time, we weren’t raided by Security, and we didn’t start a forest fire!
Professor MacAdam was a big believer in having regular guest speakers as Champlain events. Problem was that they competed with so many other similar things on campus, and Professor MacAdam wanted to see each event well-attended. So he pushed all his Dons to make sure to “get out the vote”. I was uncomfortable with this knowing how busy students already are, but I did my best to get my staircase out to these events. There were also lots of intramural events at the time, with teams from the different Colleges competing with one another for a trophy or bragging rights. These never required hard sell.
During my second year as a Don, there was a faculty strike. I remember it well because it was the first time I ever had to walk a picket line. I was in a strange position because I was a Don. All other faculty were locked out, but because I lived in residence, I would do my picket duty and then walk back to Champlain College while my colleagues left for home. Fortunately the strike lasted only a couple of weeks, but that late in the year it did cause some disruptions to the usual timing of exams and graduation.
My daughter was born in January 1993, the last year of my donship. I remember that time well because a week before our daughter was due Ontario had one of the largest snowfalls it ever received, and Peterborough got a dump of some 85 cm. We were worried in case my wife went in labour. Digging us out wasn’t high priority for Physical Resources, so I did it myself. It took two days just to clear the driveway up to the campus road, but that wasn’t cleared yet either. I had visions of needing a snowmobile to get my wife to the hospital, but fortunately, our daughter waited for the full 9 months. Once she was born, our family became very popular at mealtime in the Great Hall. Students and staff were always coming over to see the baby, and we never lacked for sitters. By that time we started to look for a house in Peterborough, and found the one where we still live today.
That was the end of my time as a Don and by then there were starting to be big changes in the College System, and on my academic side, my lab in the Environmental Sciences Building was becoming more of a centre for my activities. Although my participation in College life declined, it didn’t stop and I still participate in College dinners, award ceremonies and other special events. I am proud to be a Champlainer, and always happy to go to one of these events and see some of the students I teach there. I hope others will remember their affiliation with the College as an important part of their Trent experience. I certainly will.