Supporters hold rally for Alta. campus

Advocates for the University of Alberta’s Augustana campus in Camrose worry about what funding pressures mean for school

CAMROSE, Alta. — Joelle Skinner met her husband at Augustana, found herself at Augustana and learned to understand rural communities at Augustana.

“I think of Augustana as my love story,” said Skinner, during a Friends of Augustana rally across the road from the 110-year-old university.

“Augustana has absolutely shaped who I am,” said Skinner, who grew up in Valleyview, Alta., and never imagined she would go to university until she heard about Augustana.

“Without Augustana there would be a massive hole in who I am.”

Skinner was one of dozens of Augustana students and alumni who spoke of the importance of the rural Alberta liberal arts university, now under funding pressure, because of provincial government cuts to post-secondary universities.

What started as Camrose Lutheran College in 1910 by Lutheran settlers was merged into the University of Alberta in 2004 and has become a stepping stone for rural students wanting to attend the University of Alberta while avoiding the large student population at the U of A.

Recent budget cuts have alumni and Camrose community members worried about the campus’s future.

The provincial government has cut more than $110 million from grants to the U of A, including a $2 million cut at Augustana. The cuts are part of larger cuts to Alberta’s 26 post-secondary institutions. At Augustana, the cuts have meant a hiring freeze on campus, 40 Augustana staff positions eliminated and the ending of the Master of Science degree in physical therapy and the after-degree in nursing, which focused on rural nursing and physiotherapy.

Rally organizer Margaret Rathnavalu said she was inspired to organize the events after reading a letter to the editor in the local newspaper by four former and local Progressive Conservative and New Democratic MLAs advocating for Augustana and its importance to rural Alberta.

The graduates of Augustana’s nursing and physiotherapy programs often did their practicums in rural Alberta and stayed to work and live in rural communities, key to ensuring the health of rural Alberta, they wrote.

A sign at the event lists contributions to the community made by the University of Alberta’s Augustana campus in Camrose. | Mary MacArthur photo

Former PC MLA and Augustana administrator Leroy Johnson said the university was a “stepping stone for rural students.”

Marie Rudzika of Camrose said she met students from across the world as part of the university’s Spirit of the Land course that connected students and farmers.

“The liberal arts education here is pretty amazing.”

Ken Eshpeter of Daysland, Alta., came to the rally because of the importance of the university to rural Alberta.

“I think the maintenance of this facility of Augustana is a no brainer. It has been fabulous for the extended Camrose community,” he said.

“The rural areas have been forgotten politically for a long time and I think this is a continuation of that process.”

Agnes Hoveland, Camrose’s deputy mayor and Augustana alumnus, said the university contributes more than $70 million to the community.

“This community would not be as it is without Augustana and Augustana would not be what it is without the city and surrounding communities,” she said.

“We on the city council are devoted to doing whatever we can for Augustana and access to rural education of this calibre in our community.”

Richard Bruneau, a Camrose book and games store owner, graduated from Augustana with a degree in math and physics, but worked as a website developer in Bolivia and a Canadian diplomat in New York, Afghanistan and the Palestine Territories. He credits his time at Augustana for his varied career.

“Augustana helped teach me how to think,” he told the group.

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