© Nigel Armstrong - The Guardian
Mike Randall, left, of Engage Atlantic was moderator at a public meeting Wednesday to discuss the findings of the Institute of Island Studies Review. With him is Laurie Brinklow, a researcher with the institute, and Ed MacDonald, associate professor of history at UPEI and chair of the Island Studies Futures committee.
Move away from advocacy, activism
The Institute of Island Studies is under review so what’s the status of a conference it is supposed to host 2015, asks a staff member.
A public meeting was held Wednesday at the University of Prince Edward Island to present the report of an external panel commissioned to review the institute.
“Since its founding in June 1985, the principal activity of the Institute has been the initiation and co-ordination of research projects and public engagement activities,” says a description of the institute. “With an emphasis always on Prince Edward Island, the work of the Institute focuses on the culture, environment, and economy of small islands.”
A three-member panel of Liette Visseur,Graham Whitelaw and David MacDonald met in Toronto on September 4, 2013, to review their findings on the institute after holding several on-campus forums and interviews earlier in the year.
The very first recommendation of this review panel is the Institute of Island Studies should continue to exist, with the same mandate it has now.
The report did note the “current model is unsustainable” and that the institute should refocus.
“Considering some of the actions and statements in the recent years suggesting a greater role in advocacy and activism, there is a concern about the credibility of the (institute),” said the report.
The institute should go back to its previous mandate of being “an honest broker,” said the review report.
It suggests there was too much work for its former director and it needs to have even more projects in the future, but managed by a broader membership than just the director.
The review suggests an executive committee or board to govern the institute, that terms of reference be developed and applied and that it seek funding under the Canada Research Chair program.
The main issue is money. Earlier this year, UPEI did not renew the contract for Irene Novaczek, the institute’s director, citing cost savings.
The institute is part of a number of university departments and programs that have special focus on islands, including its Climate Lab, an environmental studies program and a masters program in island studies.
Ed MacDonald, associate professor of history at UPEI, is chair of the new Island Studies Futures committee that will make a plan for all of UPEI’s island-related programs, including the institute. One key factor will be a financing plan and budget. The report of the futures committee isn’t expected until next year, past the university’s next budgeting process.
That means any budget application for a revived institute won’t make it into the system until at least 2015, the meeting was told.
“All the information I’m hearing is that the budget is going to be a very unhappy one this year as well,” said MacDonald. “To expect that there will be immediate expansion and growth of the (institute) in this climate of retrenchment would suggest we have access to money that I can’t promise.”
“Further to that then, I’m just wondering what’s supposed to happen to the Institute of Island Studies in the interim?” asked Laurie Brinklow, a researcher associate with the institute. “I’m the chair of the North Atlantic Forum which is scheduled for September 2015, which the Institute is supposed to be hosting. What am I supposed to do?”
“There is a board that still exists,” said Christian Lacroix, interim vice-president, academic at UPEI. “We are open to proposals, of course. We are not going to pass (over) opportunities that may bring attention to the university.”
There is also active work underway to seek funding for the conference and the institute from sources outside the annual UPEI budget, said Robert Gilmour, vice-president research and graduate studies.
“I would be very upset if I were to find that the university were to argue later on that it did not have the financial resources to properly fund the institute after going through a massive building campaign and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on indefensible human rights claims,” said Ron Kelly, who attended the meeting out of interest for the institute.
The island studies futures committee is taking comment and input at firstname.lastname@example.org