Bridging the gap between STU and UNB

St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick have shared College Hill ever since STU came to town 48 years ago. It can be a playful rivalry, but do the tensions stop there? (Tom Bateman/AQ)

They seemed inseparable at first: co-dependent, almost like brothers.

One, much younger than the other, held different values and beliefs. And it was their differences that allowed them to work together – different sizes and specialties, clashing colours and sports teams.

“It’s like two kids in a bed and every now and again your parents say, ‘Smarten up.’”

But what Anthony Secco, University of New Brunswick Fredericton’s vice-president academic, is actually talking about are two universities on a hill.

St. Thomas University and UNB have shared College Hill ever since St. Thomas moved to Fredericton from the Miramichi, 48 years ago.

From that come comparable stereotypes – UNB’s sweatpants and STU’s blazers – and rivalries like the Battle of the Hill between varsity hockey teams.

But does it all stop there? What is the real battle on the hill?

Increasingly, that battle has been over money. UNB thinks STU is no longer paying its fair share to use UNB’s services; and STU may be getting tired of its neighbour down the hill telling it what to do.

“People would recount some of the dialogue between the two [UNB and STU] and it was fairly colourful,” laughed Dennis Cochrane of his time as STU’s interim president. “There seemed to be very much a…love/hate relationship.”

And perhaps rightfully so.

According to Secco, STU was originally supposed to move from its first location in Chatham to Saint John.

“It was a gentlemen’s agreement,” he said, but they decided to move STU to Fredericton instead because of the facilities UNB’s main campus could offer.

That seems to be where the real tension begins.

According to Secco, STU pays $1.4 million to use UNB’s Harriet Irving Library and at least $500,000 more to use the other facilities, including the Student Union Building and the bookstore.

Secco thinks it’s time for STU to rethink how much it pays UNB, and he said it starts with the library.

“Inflation and the costs of services [have] reached beyond St. Thomas’ contribution,” he said, adding that the universities are in the middle of re-evaluating just that.

The current STU administration was unavailable for comment this week.

Cochrane agreed the $1.4 million is “probably out of date,” but said conversations like these can often be awkward or tense like any “landlord/tenant” relationship.

During Cochrane’s term as president, UNB asked if STU could contribute money to The Richard J. Currie Center. It was simple enough for Cochrane to say no.

He said the offer was an “afterthought” and he didn’t think STU students would use it that much because of its distance from STU’s campus.

“My answer was polite,” he said, but St. Thomas was not in the right financial situation to offer any capital money, anyway.

“I did suggest at the time…that we would have been interested in buying the South Gym and the South Gym is the one we use all the time…[for] St. Thomas’ basketball and volleyball,” he said, adding that UNB could have then used that money to build the Currie Center.

But UNB wasn’t interested.

“I don’t think UNB sells many of its assets,” Cochrane said, laughing.

He also said strong personalities, like former STU president Daniel O’Brien and former UNB president Elizabeth Parr-Johnston, can sometimes cause more strain than the relationship naturally has.

That’s just it though: the tension is natural.

“That’s not exactly an unhealthy thing,” Cochrane said.

Secco said we have to be careful “to send flames that aren’t embers,” encouraging “rhetoric and feelings that aren’t based on fact.”

But do students feel the same way?

Some STU students think the relationship between the two universities is “pretty much non-existent” because they don’t use the shared services offered by UNB.

“I think we have sort of [have] a slightly symbiotic relationship with them simply because we mooch a lot of stuff off of UNB,” said fourth-year STU student Keif Goubout.

For others, STU has always been a separate institution that can stand on its own.

“I have some friends that go there, but I don’t associate enough with them to have an opinion towards them,” said STU student Daniella Daponte.

Jordan Thompson, president of UNB’s student union, agrees that as STU continues to develop, it becomes more independent from UNB.

He said the relationship between the two universities is “improving” and is “mostly valuable,” though he agrees certain things can – and will always – cause tension.

“I’m sure the arts faculty [at UNB] is a little more hostile,” he laughed.

But “some [UNB] students do think, ‘Why is St. Thomas on [our] campus?’”

And apparently they’re not the only ones.

This year, the UNBSU wanted to increase UNB students’ presence on the Student Union Building board of directors. With that extra presence came questions of repairs and deferred maintenance of a 43-year-old building.

That’s when STUSU president Mark Livingstone questioned STU’s presence in the SUB.

“It is time for the union to find new space,” Livingstone said in an interview with The Aquinian more than a month ago. He wanted the STUSU, which has its offices in the SUB, to be closer to students on STU’s campus. A suggested relocation was one of the houses owned by the St. Thomas on Windsor Street.

The university denied Livingstone the space and so the STUSU has to stay in the SUB – at least for now.

Besides the students’ union, the only other STU organization with office space in the SUB is The Aquinian. The space hadn’t been used in years, leading to some sanitary issues. The SUB board did not want The Aquinian back in the space this year.

But after agreeing to pay a renovation bill of almost $6,000, The Aquinian will be allowed back in next year with a few probationary clauses.

But UNBSU president Thompson said these issues aren’t “contentious” and that it’s just a matter of re-evaluating the how much each student body uses the SUB.

Livingstone said it comes down to understanding each other’s concerns and going from there.

“As far as I can tell, we’ve had one of the closest relationships student union-wise,” he said.

“It’s something that I’m quite proud of.”

And Cochrane said there’s no reason why the administrations at the two universities shouldn’t be proud of their cooperative relationship as well. The relationship has allowed great physical and mental health facilities for both groups of students, as well as events like Congress 2011 to take place, which he said was a “very big deal.”

Cochrane said there’s no reason why STU and UNB can’t work even closer together, citing ideas like joint degrees for arts and education students. It’s a matter of taking advantage of a unique situation.

And if STU happens to become even more independent?

“UNB, over the years, they’ll understand,” Cochrane laughed.

With files from Jordan MacDonald.

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