My Life As A Teacher: Part 4 Addendum 3: A Gentle Rogue History of North Island College from my Perspective.

I owe a great deal to North Island College. I worked there from 1983 until 2012. That’s quite a stretch. My time there was mostly fruitful (I got paid decently), challenging but exhausting too. It probably didn’t have to be that way, but it’s my nature I guess to never allow a vacuum on time in my life. Whatever time I have seems to be filled and if it isn’t I get to filling it as soon as possible.

I got the job at the college because I was an experienced sociology instructor who had taught a number of sociology courses, but who also taught the history of Québec at Douglas College, I was (am) bilingual, and I had experience with teaching studying techniques. In the context of a unique distance education organization that hired tutors rather than instructors, the president of the college soon realized that I could tutor a large number of course. And I did. Like I wrote in my last post, I tutored students from all over the north island in courses on sociology, anthropology, Canadian history, geography, French, and studying techniques. Eighteen courses in all.

At the time (1983) the college had a lot of what it called learning centres all over the place. Twenty-one in all if I recall. The main ones were in the Comox Valley, Campbell River and Port Alberni, but there were learning centres in Port Hardy, Port Alice, Port McNeill, Sointula, Alert Bay (ironically in the abandoned residential school), Cortes Island, Ucluelet, etc.. Just before my time the college also had mobile units that travelled to Denman and Hornby Islands, and a ship, a converted ocean-going tugboat called the Samarinda, that was supposed to bring education to the remotest places on a wild and wooly coast. That didn’t last long. The Samarinda’s propeller graces the foreshore park in Horseshoe Bay. The rest of the vessel is long gone. Meanwhile, the distance ed. thing rolled right along.

The college expanded into doing telecourses on the Knowledge Network. The first ‘tutor’ to take on the job was Michael Catchpole, a Port Alberni psychologist who did as I did and travelled to Vancouver to the Knowledge Network studios to do his thing at least once a week between September and May. We were followed by a couple of English instructors. We did that until 1992. The college also developed its own internal kind of television network after the Knowledge Network gig went bust. For example, I might be teaching a course in Courtenay which was being broadcast live to Port Alberni. That was a riot…literally. Controlling the remote site was a special challenge but the local students weren’t always thrilled with the arrangement either because they weren’t getting my full attention. I constantly had to remind myself that there were students out there that I couldn’t see in at least one other site, sometimes two other sites. Technically it was a constant challenge because we had no techs that were always available because they had more than one course to deal with themselves and they often worked with marginal equipment off the sides of their desks. Fun and games. But we carried on.

Getting back for a minute to the older days, the end of learning centres was entirely predictable. Small villages like Sointula couldn’t sustain a learning centre for long because once a group of students took a course, that was it. There was no second group ready to go in the next term. When the college finally closed the centre in Sointula I think the hue and cry could be heard from as far away as Port Alberni. In the early 90s, there was a coup at the college. Dennis Wing, the first president and the strongest advocate for distance education anywhere was turfed and Neil Murphy took over with the mandate of transforming the college into a conventional community college. In 1992 the college moved from a number of sites in Courtenay to its current campus on Ryan Road, a new facility was built on Roger Street in Port Alberni and Campbell River got a new campus in the same buildings as Timberline High School. I had to commute there every week to teach on that campus as well as in Courtenay. I even travelled to Port Alberni on occasion to be with my ‘remote’ students. Finally, I was the first instructor at the college to teach an entirely online course for students in the north island. I think I had eight students.

The college’s official history is pretty sparse and doesn’t tell anywhere near the whole story. For instance, it says nothing of our union organizing and the establishment of CUPE Local 3479 and The Federation of Post Secondary Educators Local 16 as the North Island College Faculty Association. I was its first president but only lasted a short time in that role because I was burnt out and headed for a health crash for which I had to take months off. That was not my most enjoyable time at the college. As far as I can see there’s one line in the official timeline about NIC and the Knowledge Network. Frankly that is a bit disappointing but the college doesn’t owe me anything. I got well paid and generally very well treated by the administration during the times I had to take time outs for health reasons. Of course, I’ve left out a lot of the juicy bits. Can’t tell all, of course. Lawsuits could ensue. But, mygawd, there’s a lot more to tell.

I should say in conclusion that I was awarded emeritus status at the college as I retired and I received two teaching awards in my time there, one for innovation in teaching and the other for teaching excellence from a group at the University of Texas at Austin dedicated to celebrating such things.


8 thoughts on “My Life As A Teacher: Part 4 Addendum 3: A Gentle Rogue History of North Island College from my Perspective.

  1. Roger, I enjoyed this entry. Maybe the college is old enough for a short book about its history. Perhaps you are uniquely qualified for the job!

    Keep your blog going!

    Jeff Lawrence


    1. The thing is everyone who ever worked there (or is still working there) has a plethora of stories about the place. I could never write a straight up history of North Island College. Mygawd! I mean what if I wrote about the time a former (now deceased) president threatened me with physical violence?


  2. The Flying Sociologist. Much better than The Flying Nun. I remember you going to Texas for that award, but not how the ceremony and your comments turned out?


    1. The awards organization is called NISOD and is associated with the Education Faculty of the University of Texas. It was very interesting, Marilyn. Austin is a city with many attractions and we enjoyed our time there touring around. My expenses were all paid but Carolyn came too as did the spouse of one of my colleagues, a nursing instructor.Food was great, company was good! The awards ceremony took place in the massive convention centre and there were thousands of people there, hundreds getting awards from all over North America. There was a number of workshops and events during the week that we were there. I attended a few of these. During one I won a t-shirt that reads: It’s in the syllabus! Well, that wasn’t very helpful as I was retiring right then and I would not return to the classroom. I’m thinking I need to give it to someone still teaching. They could wear it the first day of classes.
      I was chosen by a dean to get this reward. It was partly his way of poking the administration in the eye because although I feel I deserved the award and he did too, there might have been a couple of administrators who felt differently about it. The dean himself left the college soon afterwards to accept another position in Victoria. He had had a huge row with the administration himself which went to arbitration. He won but winning in this circumstance is not always something to celebrate.
      I think teaching excellence needs to be celebrated, but many of my colleagues were great teachers and who gets rewards is often political or arbitrary. Perks like a free trip to Austin are nice!
      The ceremony was slick and highly organized. The organizers do this every year so they have a well-oiled machine doing this. All very professional and celebratory.
      We met lots of people, some Republicans even. One woman from the east coast stood out. I wonder who she voted for in the last election. Trump, I’m sure. She could NEVER vote for the Democrats.


      1. From the Australian Contingent who doesn’t want to mess with logging into WordPress. I post his comment sent by email:
        As an NIC instructor who arrived some years before you, (in fact on the first day that Fair Comparison – oh my gawd! – came into effect) who served on the Fair Comparison Committee for the full duration of that benighted process and was thereby a continual (and necessary) thorn in the flesh of the administration (the first principal once threatened to settle a disagreement with fists in the parking lot outside – that’s how heated things became – puts me in mind of another president who weighs heavily on the minds of many of us at this time), as the negotiator of our first collective agreement, as an instructor who, like you , once tutored at least fifteen courses in the maths/science area (including gardening and navigation), who drove the mobile classroom for some years one day every week to Merville and Black Creek, who recalls the first time the Samarinda (actually a whale catcher, not a tugboat) set to sea and chopped off the skipper’s finger (well, one of them, or maybe the thumb) before even clearing Comox harbour … the memories, both good and not so good, roll past in an amazing cavalcade.

        The history of NIC, especially the early years before it conformed to the norms of other similar institutions, really should be recorded before it is forever lost. I’ve suggested this to Brigid more than once, but I fear the result, if written truthfully, might be actionable. Maybe someone should start the ball rolling by recording what he (definitely he, because no female tutors/instructors were hired to continuing full time positions in the early days – they were at best tolerated on sessional contracts – whether purposefully or simply by default I can only conjecture – but this was probably the single main driver of the move to form a faculty association, resisted vehemently by the first president and only allowed by the second when the pressure became irresistible. Excuse my tortured syntax here.

        The outcome could then be passed to another willing ex-instructor – to add, correct and edit – and so on until nobody else is willing to contribute. Once completed, it could then be submitted to all contributors for final editing/approval, and whether published or not (probably not, although maybe on-line) would still be an exercise well worth the undertaking.

        So, Roger, who should start – you or I?

        Mervyn Mitchell

        Onetime instructor, chemistry and maths

        PS BTW The ill-fated Samarinda (upon whose decks no student ever trod) was the college’s inducement to commit to the Fair Comparison process, at that time a near obsession of an ADM (I forget his name) in the BC Min of Ed. But, Samarinda or otherwise, I think Fair Comparison also fitted nicely into the mindset of the first college president, who definitely liked to hold all the stings to all the players (puppets?) all the time. A democrat he was not! Fair comparison would not have survived more than a year or two had it not been that voting for its renewal was, until the very end, confined to those on full time, well paid, continuing contracts with good benefits. So why rock the boat?


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