Wednesday April 16, 2014


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The education debate: due diligence or dragging feet?


It’s the issue that Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says is the “biggest decision council will make this term:” post-secondary education in Whistler.

And it seems to be heating up, with at least three different groups all working separately to get in on what’s considered by many to be Whistler’s best chance for economic growth in the post-Olympics and global financial uncertainty reality.

The Whistler U and Capilano University competing proposals have both been submitted to muni hall, and a local, independent committee has also been formed by some prominent Whistler business folks to explore other education opportunities (stay tuned to The Question in the next couple weeks for a story on that committee).

In a municipal staff report to council this week, there’s also talk of issuing a call for proposals to seek even more post-secondary proponents.

By the time the municipality is ready to seriously consider any proposals — about nine months or so from now, according to said staff report — who knows how many more pitches could be on the table.

While we think competition is a good thing, it seems the post-secondary education landscape in Whistler is perhaps getting a little unwieldy and overwhelming. When many questions remain unanswered about the longstanding Whistler U purpose-built campus idea, community members are suddenly faced with having to digest and consider other proposals.

Don’t get us wrong — choice is good. But who’s to decide what’s the best fit for Whistler and has the best chance of success and the hoped-for economic impacts?

Well, council voted this week to establish an Education Task Force and hire a dedicated project manager as part of an extensive planning and public consultation process to evaluate post-secondary opportunities in the resort.

Given the increasing complexity of the issue, we think that’s probably a good plan — but, of course, will depend largely on the qualifications, expertise and personal views of the individuals who are engaged in those official capacities.

Still, we’re not convinced it should take nine months of work and consultation to come up with a formula for evaluating the various proposals.

It seems a bit uncharacteristic of what we’ve seen of this council so far to approve another long study phase after one report on post-secondary education in Whistler has already been commissioned by the municipality and completed.

The “RMOW Post-Secondary Opportunities Study,” presented to the former council in September by the Academica Group, confirmed the believed potential benefits to establishing post-secondary in Whistler, and even identified the type of institute that would best suit the community.

We’re not education experts, but there seems to be some good information in the study that could help direct the evaluation process of the Whistler U and Capilano University proposals.

And did anybody go back to the study authors to ask how much work it would take them to complete the next step of establishing a strategic framework? We would be surprised if they said it would be another nine months after the work that’s already been done. It feels a little like council is starting over from the beginning.

And yes, community consultation and engagement are important. But so far we haven’t heard anybody say that the concept of offering post-secondary in Whistler is a bad idea.

So if the general consensus is that the concept is worth pursuing, then it becomes a question of which proposal is best for Whistler as a whole. Due diligence is important, but we don’t think it should take nine months to answer that question.

And it would be a shame to see a missed opportunity for Whistler because the evaluation period took too long. Maybe it’s just us, but it seems like Whistler could use an economic shot in the arm sooner rather than later.

— Jennifer Miller



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