By Donald Warnholtz
President, Townshippers’ Association
For more than a century and a half, Bishop’s has been a pivotal institution in the Eastern Townships, enriching not only the minds of its students but also the very fabric of our community. Today we stand at a crossroads, facing potential catastrophic impacts on this invaluable resource. It is time we come together to appreciate and understand the profound impact Bishop’s University and its students – many of whom originate from outside of Quebec – have on our community.
Bishop’s University is a welcoming place for everyone here in the Townships. It’s where people from all backgrounds come together to learn and grow. It is not only a place where many people of our community, or their children, have gone to school, but also a place where many people work.
As you may know, finding work is already a known challenge for English speakers in Quebec – a recent study by the Provincial Employment Roundtable (PERT) found that the general unemployment rate for English speakers is 8.9%, which is 2% higher than it is for French speakers (PERT, Employment Profile of English Speakers in Quebec). With so many of our English-speaking community members employed by the University, it is clear that the potential impact of tuition increases on Bishop’s will not only affect students but will also have an impact on the livelihoods of those who work on campus and will threaten jobs that indirectly rely on the University’s existence. This goes beyond professors and administrators and includes the staff of many different departments, such as the maintenance and custodial personnel who keep the campus running. Our local economy would be seriously impacted by this change since the money that comes into our rural region through the university will be hard to replace. Suppliers and local businesses beyond the campus will also suffer.
Earlier this school year, Quebec’s Education Minister Bernard Drainville estimated that Quebec had 8, 558 vacant teaching positions to fill. In terms of educational resources, it is clear that our schools here in Quebec need exceptional teachers and Bishop’s University plays a significant role in helping to keep future educators in our region and bring new ones here, too. Nearly every year, we hear stories of students who chose to attend Bishop’s, fell in love with the region, and then never left. Many of these former Bishop’s students now teach at the elementary and high schools in the Eastern Townships School Board and help to ensure the success of current students – in the classroom and beyond.
The Bishop’s campus also gives our community access to many resources. Its library and learning commons are a wonderful source for books and information, the sports complex keeps us active and healthy, and the medical services benefit both students and our community. We can’t forget to mention the events! Football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and hockey games. Nearly half of Bishop’s University athletes are out-of-province students who decided to come to the University to study and wear purple. Sports events are not just about the games; they’re about our community coming together to cheer and support our teams. And many of these student athletes give back to the community by helping our local students learn how to become better athletes.
Concerts, art exhibits, and guest speakers are also occasions where our community comes alive. The Bishop’s University Singers’ annual concerts, which feature choir members from both students and our community, are showcases of harmony and togetherness. The Old Lennoxville Golf Club (est. 1897), with members from both the English and French communities, has a great reputation in the region with its friendly, inclusive, family type of atmosphere.
People from Bishop’s, including those coming from out of province, aren’t just bystanders; they’re also champions within our community. They sit on local boards of directors, collaborate with our municipalities, and with non-profit organisations that support our citizens. Students from Bishop’s also volunteer their time and energy to mentor, support local activities, and give back to charities. The annual fashion show alone organised by student volunteers has existed for more than twenty years and has raised significant amounts of money for many local charities. Local kids attend summer day camps and sports programs at the university. Bishop’s University contributes to the lifeblood of our community and helps all of us to keep the community vital and strong. Because of this, we all bleed a little purple.
Dr. Sébastien Lebel-Grenier and his team at Bishop’s University have been working tirelessly to outline the issues and to gather support. It’s inspiring to see the support coming in from so many sources including municipalities, Francophone universities, as we all stand united for this cause. But they need our voices too.
By standing up for Bishop’s, we are standing up for our community’s prosperity, vibrancy, and unity. The proposed policy changes are not calibrated for our small University and will have major impacts. So, let’s not just talk – let’s mobilize, let’s rally! Talk to your friends, especially those in the Francophone community. Send letters to your local politicians. This isn’t just about language. It’s about preserving our institutions, our culture, and our community.