Vets 1, Philosophers 0

I was quite excited when I heard that the University of PEI was holding an open house today: I’m something of an open house junkie, and I love the combination of “backstage access,” education and fun that a good open house brings together.

And we’ve some good open houses here on PEI: CBC Prince Edward Island always puts on a good one, and who can forget the opportunity to see the amazing envelope-opening machines at the GST Centre’s open house many years ago when it first opened.

The Atlantic Veterinary College is well-known for it’s extremely well-organized open houses, and I welcomed the opportunity to learn about the rest of UPEI’s activities in the same manor.

And so, after our usual Saturday morning trip to the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market, Oliver and I headed across the street to UPEI, primed and ready for action.

With memories of an unfortunate goat incident still fresh in my mind from the last Vet College open house, I decided it was probably best to start elsewhere, so we headed over to the shiny new business school ready to see what delights were on offer.

Alas there were none: we found some sort of conference going on, but no evidence at all of open house-related activities.

Okay, so no business school. But science is cool. So we walked over to the chemistry building. Nothing. The Cass Science Hall. Nothing.

Things were not looking up, so I decided we’d better head to the Vet College.

And, true to form, they put on a great event: everything from a handshake and welcome by the Dean at the front door onwards was well-organized, entertaining and educational. We saw living animals and dead animals and a horse treadmill and a snake skeleton. Oliver got dressed up in surgical garb and won a pencil in the fish pond. We learned about parasites and bacteria. And there was even a magic show.

With our spirits renewed by our veterinary successes, we headed back out onto the campus, sure that there must be something to see.

First stop: the School of Nursing. We followed a friendly chap who was hanging up the signs around the corner and up the path: “just go down the stairs and you’ll find them,” he told us.

We went down the stairs. Nothing. Wandered through the halls. Nothing. Finally, at the end of the end of the building we found an open door: the open house!

While I wish I could report that we emerged newly educated about the nursing profession and its educational process, what we encountered was the opportunity to be shown a non-working medical dummy and a drawer full of supplies. The nursing student who took us on this tiny tour was friendly enough, and answered all our questions, but there was, literally, nothing at all to see.

The only other open house activity on the signs was at the Robertson Library; knowing all the amazing things that the library is up to, I was excited by the prospects of what might be in store there.

And while there was slightly more energy in evidence in the library – well-meaning librarians singing songs and offering cookies and juice – the lost opportunity to showcase all of the library’s amazing projects was tragic. Where was the tour of the language lab? The demonstrations of the book, map and newspaper scanning equipment? A hands-on workshop in the Collaboratory? All these doors, alas, were left un-opened.

And that was it.

An entire university full of fascinating people doing fascinating things, and, aside from the vets, all we were exposed to was a hospital bed and a rousing rendition of a nursery rhyme.

If the University of PEI is sincere in its mission to, as President Wade MacLauchlan suggested, “find the time to tell each other and the world about what we are doing and achieving,” then they have to do better than this.

Open houses, done well, take a lot of effort by a lot of people. They take resources and time and energy and imagination. But UPEI has a head start: the vet college’s yearly open house is a showcase for how to do open houses well, and the rest of the university community needs to follow that lead and start thinking about how to tell their own stories to the “university island” that surrounds them.

No, the philosophy department doesn’t have cute puppies and pig bladders on its side. But it does have interesting, creative people, skilled at story telling and making sense out of arcane and complex ideas. And that’s all you need to open your doors.

Next time out UPEI needs to either scale back and do what it does well at the AVC, or take this open house idea seriously and make a real effort to open the house.


Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 25, 2010 - 19:53 Permalink

I blame the Internet. All these departments could have great Web sites—and even if they don’t, that’s a more natural aspiration nowadays than to put on a brick-and-mortar show, which is bound to come off feeble and foibled by comparison. Why approach in a cafe somebody you could approach on Facebook? Especially if all you want is respect for your ideas.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 25, 2010 - 23:09 Permalink

From here: The whole campus is open and ready to welcome you … Be sure to visit your old lab or classroom or residence – Every building on campus will be open to tour through!

Donald Moses's picture
Donald Moses on September 26, 2010 - 10:53 Permalink

Hi Peter:
we started the tours of the digitization lab at 11am and ran until 3:30pm and did provide demonstrations of the equipment and how that digitized content was flowing into our projects. We had a number individuals and groups come through, but saying that I take your point about doing more to highlight our work. Having a hands-on workshop in the Collaboratory would provide a great introduction to that resource for the community … we’ll do that. I know that as soon as the event was over we had discussions about the changes we’d be making for next year.
Robertson Library

Marian's picture
Marian on September 26, 2010 - 18:45 Permalink

I heard a really good discussion held at (I think) Dalhousie university last weekend that looked at the role of a post secondary education in the contemporary world (the actual question was something like: is a university education worth it?). I think it was recorded live and was broadcast as part of the Sunday Edition on CBC radio. Anyway, it was a great program and it made me think that that kind of discussion would probably also be part of an interesting open house. Maybe you could have a series of lectures or discussions like that geared to the layperson that could be scheduled during the open house days at the university. Just a thought…

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 26, 2010 - 20:32 Permalink

I wish the staff doing the singing and dancing had pointed the way to the digitization open house (perhaps they thought I’d already seen it?).