Saskatchewan Polytechnic is assuring students and staff that physical health will be part of the college’s new “holistic wellness” strategy, after announcing a decision to cancel their sports teams and intramural sports programs.
However, many are still outraged by the decision, saying it will diminish the experience and prestige of the province-wide college.
The college is cancelling six athletic teams, abolishing the campus recreation program that organized clubs and services. The institute also terminated recreation services at three of its four campuses.
Provost Anne Neufeld spoke to Gormley Tuesday morning, saying the decision to axe their competitive athletics programs was made after analyzing the college’s overall strategy.
“We had a relatively small number of students taking part,” she said, noting 110 students were involved in the 2017-18 academic year.
“We wanted to look at our overall resources we were investing in this area, and really look at ways to maximize that benefit rather than reaching a small number of individuals.”
Neufeld also defended the college’s decision to lock the doors to their gyms, barring students from working out on campus in Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw.
“Equipment (rented out) could go missing,” she said. “It was just in an abundance of caution.”
She noted the exercise spaces will likely re-open in the fall, once Sask. Polytechnic develops their new strategy in consultation with students and staff.
Student association won’t negotiate before investigation
After Neufeld’s interview, Sask. Polytechnic Student Association (SPSA) President Justin Skwark called Gormley and said his organization didn’t support the college’s decision.
He said the SPSA is demanding to see the data Sask. Polytechnic used to reach the decision to cancel the athletic programs, after Neufeld claimed it was made after consultation with students. “What we’re hearing is the exact opposite,” he said.
Skwark added he and other members of the student association executive team were told of the decision in a meeting with administration on May 31. They believed the meeting was a gathering to discuss how to maintain programming.
After the SPSA was informed of the team cancellations, they were asked to enter into discussions about the new “wellness strategy” and to enter into an agreement where the student group would take over the organizing of intramural sports.
But the association has told the college there will be no discussions until an investigation into the decision-making process — demanded by the faculty association — is completed.
Students, families and staff feel ‘sense of betrayal’
Cory Schultz, who has coached men’s volleyball at Sask. Polytechnic for 16 years, said the loss of athletics programs could cripple the Prairie Athletics Conference in multiple sports.
“You’re taking three teams out of a league that had six or seven teams,” he said. “You’ve essentially killed the league.”
He noted fewer people could be attracted to Sask. Polytechnic because of the decision.
“You’ve taken services away from students who look forward to coming to an institution just to play athletics, and for myself you’ve taken away something I’ve enjoyed doing for 16 years,” he said.
Schultz said he wants the college’s board to “take a hard look” at the impact of the decision.
Gormley also fielded calls from students and parents.
One parent, whose daughter plays basketball at the Saskatoon campus, said there was a “sense of betrayal” among the athletics community.
A student named Jessica called to question the college’s strategy.
“They say they want to position this new wellness program around physical health,” she said.
“It’s really difficult to do that when we don’t have any resources.”