Quest toward a new kind of university

"Squamish Chief" by Flickr user BigA888

I’m not going to lie, I originally signed up for an autumn weekend in Squamish, B.C. because, well … have you ever seen  pictures of Squamish, B.C.? It’s I-must-be-hallucinating stunning out there.

But scenery aside, the real point is that a small group of Green College residents (myself included) will venture up to Squamish on October 1st to meet Quest University‘s first graduating class.

In case your eyebrow just shot up, no worries, I had never heard of Quest University before today. More importantly, I’d never heard of a Canadian post-secondary school like Quest either.

Turns out it’s Canada’s very first independent, not-for-profit, nonsectarian university of the liberal arts and sciences.

It offers only one degree, a Bachelors of Arts and Sciences, and has been specifically designed to challenge the mass model (or diploma factory) style that many universities employ. (And the only kind I’ve ever attended, by the by.)

Quest undergrad students have had 20 person classes for their entire post-secondary career. I didn’t have classes that small in my fourth year seminars at York University. They also focus on one topic area at a time instead of balancing five different courses every semester.

We’re going to talk to Quest students about “interdisciplinary pathways inside and outside the academy,” as Green College principal Mark Vessey so eloquently put it. We’re also going to eat, hike and hang with them. I kind of wonder what the catch is, seriously.

“Quest U is a radical experiment in post-secondary education, not without affinities with Green College,” Vessey explained in an email invite. It was founded in 2002 by former University of British Columbia president Dr. David Strangway, who was also one of the founders of Green College.

As a member of the mass-educated crew, I’m excited to spend some time with students who have never made “just a number” jokes or devoted expletive-laden Facebook groups to hating their school.

Are they mountain-top flower children or trail-blazing academics? Stay tuned…

Check out the comments below for a bit of nuance!

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6 thoughts on “Quest toward a new kind of university

  1. Well, it’s certainly neither the first nonprofit university, or the first non-sectarian university. So what do they mean when they say “independent”?

    I presume they mean “independent of government funding”, which is why tuition is $26,000 a year. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with forgoing government subsidies, but I wouldn’t say it’s the kind of independence to be boasting about, either.

    • Hey Flynn, it’s my understanding that it’s the first of all three in Canada specifically, which I don’t think you mentioned.
      What other nonprofit/non-sectarian universities do you know of? I’d be very interested to read about them.
      I must have missed them in my half-ass google search.

      You raise good questions, though, especially in regard to the definition of “independent” in this context.
      I’ll definitely ask about these things when I head up there and do a follow-up post, at the very least.

      Maybe I’ll also do some more digging myself and see if I can come up with a more satisfying explanation for you. :-)

      • If Quest is the first non-sectarian university in Canada, I must be very confused about the meaning of “non-sectarian”. My understanding is that it means that the university is not affiliated with a religious denomination. This is the case for most universities in Canada.

        I’d also think that most universities in Canada are ‘nonprofit’ in the traditional sense of the term. York, U of T, etc., do not have shareholders. Any surplus of revenue is kept for the organization’s purposes, rather than being paid out as a dividend, as would be the case for a for-profit corporation.

        I think that Quest describes itself as the first ‘private, independent, and non-sectarian’ university in the sense that it is the first university to meet all three of those descriptors, not the first to meet each.

        • That’s what I meant as well, and now that I look at it the short description it’s also possible that it’s the first school to combine four ingredients:
          “Canada’s very first (1) independent, (2) not-for-profit, (3) nonsectarian university (4) of the liberal arts and sciences.”

          I also received a private message from a fellow greenie that said: “Quest is essentially a private university, which means tution is pretty pricey by Canadian standards. We actually had a little debate about it the other day at dinner because some residents believe that it is not appropriate to have non-public educational institutions like that in Canada.”

          I think it’s a very interesting debate. I’m excited to go check it out and ask a few of these questions first hand. I admitted in my post that it’s the first time I’d ever heard of this model, and I do find aspects of it (small classroom, topical learning) very intriguing. It will be telling to meet the first graduating class and discuss what it’s like to study there from a student’s perspective.

          My initial impression was positive, which is apparent, but we’ll see what nuances are introduced as I learn more about the place.

  2. Squamish known as the Outdoor Recreational Capital of Canada has amazing hiking trails and views. Windsurfing, parasailing, rock climbing, river rafting, metal of steel, skiing and snow-showing. In the summer there are these ‘crazy’ mountain bike races. Of course, you can’t forget the old ‘Squamish’ Days festival. If you are an outdoor enthusist, then you are in the right place.

    OK, I sound like a travel brochure, but you will enjoy this sleepy town with all the big-box stores that has spoiled the quaintness of it. The winds and valley where the GA airport is located is wicked. Many would-be pilots train here as the mountainous terrain is good for learning to fly in the types of terrain and winds in the valley.
    You will be amazed by all the outdoor activities

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