Unions decry decision to end sports and recreation programs at Sask. Poly

(Kayle Neis / Saskatoon StarPhoenix) Jessica Morrow, who’s in the nursing program and was part of Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Saskatoon basketball team, stands for a portrait by the closed facilities in Saskatoon, on Saturday, June 2, 2018.

The union representing non-instructional staff at Saskatchewan Polytechnic has joined with the Students’ Union in decrying a recent decision by the institution to suspend recreation services, including athletics programs, intramurals and the closure of all recreation facilities including fitness centres.

The discontinuation began on May 31 at the Prince Albert, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon campuses.

At the time, no press release was sent out by Saskatchewan Polytechnic, but one was sent out by the Saskatchewan Polytechnic Students’ Association (SPSA).

“We were informed yesterday morning that the move to abolish recreation services was made to align with a new wellness strategy that is yet to be developed, said SPSA president Justin Skwark.

“We have requested that recreation facilities remain open during this transition, which has not been supported to date. We will continue to hold discussions and advocate on behalf of our students for the services they deserve. It is troubling to the student body that tuition continues to rise, yet student services are being cut or reduced.”

The institution responded via a press release sent out over Twitter on June 7. In the press release, Sask. Polytech said while it did begin changes to athletic and recreation programming, “efforts to communicate these changes fell short, leading to confusion among our students, faculty, staff and other close stakeholders.”

The institution said that student wellness “is vital to learning and student success. We now we can do it better. That’s why we’re shifting our current approach and resources to promote student wellness across our campuses.”

Saskatchewan Polytechnic said that new approach “will evolve” and require more conversations this fall. They said future plans will include access to fitness facilities, support for intramural programs and a focus on mental health.

Over the next few weeks, the institution will initiate discussions with students as to next steps.

Friday, the SPSA and SGEU fired back.

SGEU represents non-instructional staff at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. One of its members lost their jobs when seven staff were fired.

“Our recreation programming was popular and the fitness centres and weight rooms were well used by students and staff,” said Bonnie Bond, chair of SGEU’s Professional Services Bargaining Unit.

“It makes no sense that Sask. Polytech spent money this spring on a new fitness centre at the Prince Albert Campus and locked the doors on it a month later.”

SGEU also takes issue with the news that recently, nurses who worked fulltime on campus also lost their jobs.

“Sask Polytech’s statement that they are changing their fitness model to focus on a new ‘Wellness Strategy,’ while at the same time laying off the nurses whose on-campus presence was a core part of student wellness, is a clear demonstration of the lack of forethought that went into this decision,” said Bond.

“Rather, this appears to be a desperate and short-sighted attempt to save money on the backs of students and staff.”

SGEU called for a reduction in management jobs, which have increased between 2010 and 2017. They also called for the Sask. Party to stop cutting funding for education.

According to the SPSA, Saskatchewan Polytechnic provided research to students Thursday to support their decision to dismantle recreation services. The students union said studies cited were from 2002, 2005 and 2010, and consultation done with students were with only 10-17 students at each campus.

“Since the distribution of this research, I have been hearing from students non-stop with concerns regarding the use of outdated studies and lack of an acceptable student consultation process in order to make a decision of this magnitude,” Skwark said.

In response, the SPSA shared data from its survey conducted with student membership.

According to the student union’s data, as of 3:30 p.m. on June 7, 576 members had responded. Only 40 were from the Prince Albert campus, with two-thirds of respondents coming from the Saskatoon and Moose Jaw campuses. In total, 530 students, or 92 per cent, of all students said the decision will negatively impact the student experience, while 524, o r 91 per cent, said the cuts will negatively impact the mental health of students.
Only 12 students said the cuts will provide a positive impact on the student experience.

In an interview with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s provost and vice-president academic Anne Neufeld said seven employees have been laid off due to the program cancellation. She said these decisions were not based on budgetary concerns, but a decision to shift to a more “holistic wellness strategy” to help with more than physical health at the four campuses in Saskatoon, Regina, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw.

“A lot of the emerging research shows that it’s really important to be … not only looking at the physical, but also the various mental, social and other emotional elements of health and wellbeing,” Neufeld said.

Neufeld also said the institute’s sports teams — which include just over 100 students at three of their four campuses — was not a way that the institute would be able to “differentiate itself” among similar schools.

–With files from Matt Olson, Saskatoon Starphoenix