Academic Plan Forum

Queen's University


General Comments

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4 Responses to “General Comments”

  1. Jim Lee says:

    The principles of academic integrity speak to some of the most fundamental values of the university; indeed, it is the foundation upon which all of our academic endeavours are based. Across the diverse spectrum of our academic activities, without these principles, the academic mission of the university would have little credibility and a Queen’s degree would have little value.

    Academic integrity is quite possibly the ONLY theme which transcends discipline-based, administrative, and constituent boundaries across the university. Thus, academic-integrity principles should be integrated throughout all aspects of the university’s core mission of teaching and research. Moreover, academic integrity can serve as exceptional conduit through which our academic initiatives can be meaningful and relevant to all members of the university community.

    Along with innovation, interdisciplinarity, internationalization, and imagination as enunciated in the Principal’s Vision Statement, I would suggest that a 5th I-word – integrity – must form yet another “of the major intellectual tools we take on this journey” (quote taken from Where Next? – Principal’s Vision Statement).

    One might say the academic integrity is so fundamental to our mission that it is implicit in this report and, indeed, in everything that we do. Yet, I suggest this would be akin to saying that LEARNING is implicit in TEACHING or DIVERSITY is implicit in INTERNATIONALIZATION. Just as this report goes beyond implicit meanings and intentions with respect to issues such as diversity and internationalization, we need to go beyond assuming that academic integrity is implied in what we do. WE MUST BE PROACTIVE.

    During this academic planning exercise, we have an unprecedented opportunity not only to reaffirm but enhance our commitment to the values of academic integrity. So when we talk about “Differentiating Queen’s”, this is one distinguishing feature which could set Queen’s apart from its peers.

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  2. Tyler Johnston says:

    Firstly, thank you to the AWT team for what I am sure was an incredible amount of time and effort that was put into reviewing the submissions and preparing the document. Trying to synthesize the opinions of all the relevant stakeholders was undoubtedly a very difficult task. What you’ve done will help set the stage for another round of fulsome discussion regarding the future of Queen’s.

    The document covered a huge range of topics and my comments come only after a few hours of review of the most recent document, Principal Woolf’s “Where Next” and Faculty submissions so I am sure under further review I may better understand some of the AWT’s points of emphasis that I disagree with if we were able to discuss them in a more dynamic conversational way.

    Additionally, as an arts and science (05′) and public administration (07′) graduate of Queen’s now in healthcare (resident physician), I come with my own biases for the undergraduate Arts and Science programs at Queen’s, “the Queen’s undergraduate experience”, focused, well respected graduate programs such as the MPA and the field of healthcare.

    All that said … here goes:

    In terms of positive aspects of the most recent document, having just been through 3 different strategic planning / governance reviews with national medical organizations I think the emphasis on metrics is extremely important and had appropriate discussion early in the document and in each section (Well Done). I thought the comments around interdisciplinarity, better efficiency in terms of course offerings (e.g. stats in artsci is a big one), better degree flexibility, cultivating “life-long” learners, greater internationalization of Queen’s, and supporting innovation were all spot on. Also, I can remember professors “buying out” of their teaching responsibilities having a significant negative impact on my ability to attend a diverse set of courses given by high quality faculty (who often do high quality research that draws them away from the classroom) so I am glad this is being considered.

    Further, I thought one of the most important key questions for Queen’s was raised – Are all of our academic units sustainable??? – I think this question is a difficult one and the right answers to it may not be palatable to everyone but ultimately, I think in an age of finite resources Queen’s needs to focus on fewer program offerings both at the undergraduate and particularly at the graduate level so that resources can be focused on cultivating the “outstanding undergraduate experience” that Dr. Woolf alludes to in “Where Next” as well as allowing for a more focused, well resourced approach to producing high quality graduate education and research. Perhaps, some of the areas raised by Dr. Woolf at the end of the “Where Next” document (e.g. environment, international development, public service, global health, ) along with those raised by each of the faculties could be viewed as a lens through which to evaluate which program offerings to retain and which might be less needed. Enrollment and resource considerations would obviously also have to play a role here.

    I had some concerns with the document including an overemphasis on high quality research as a focus for Queen’s. Interested in being an academic myself, I am in total agreement that Queen’s needs a high quality research program to continue to attract top level faculty and graduate students and maintain the high quality of the intellectual environment at Queen’s. However, I feel this emphasis on high quality research has led to a decreased emphasis on undergraduate programs in recent years which I believe to be the heart of Queen’s and I also believe that this emphasis on research has led to a fragmented set of graduate programs that don’t mesh neatly together or with the undergraduate programs. This would make integrating research and UG progams more difficult.

    With regard to the idea of reinvigorating both research and teaching / UG Ed by better integrating research into undergraduate programs I would offer significant caution in this area. I think that students get excited about research when they can research issues that are interesting and important to them and under the current departmental structure at Queen’s, or at least when I was there, students are too often drawn into the research interests of faculty supervisors, often areas they were not originally interested in, and they end up not liking their research experiences because they were somewhat dictated to them rather than developed out of interest. I think the emphasis on inquiry based education and interdisciplinary studies that Queen’s is considering could be a better way to stimulate and integrate research into undergraduate education that may better foster research skills and help facilitate positive experiences in research. Simply forcing students to do more research within their programs is simply not going to work and will lead to a further shunning of research as a component of their education.

    When Dr. Woolf released “Where Next?” back in January I was quite excited about all the innovative ideas he put forth in terms of reforming the learning environment at Queen’s, cultivating an “Outstanding” undergraduate experience, and focusing the University on pertinent real-world challenges (e.g. environment, international development, public service, global health). It made me fell like the new Principal “gets Queen’s” (quite possibly because he is an alumnus) However, I feel as though the latest AWT document does not fully capture some of these ideas (although it does well on some of the educational environment reforms) in terms of having to make difficult choices about
    de-emphasizing certain activities (e.g. expansive research base rather than somewhat more focused base) and I feel like the latest AWT document is a bit conservative in this regard and defends the status quo rather than embracing the changes that some in the Queen’s community feel need to be made.

    Overall, the AWT document will be quite helpful in moving Queen’s academic planning forward and the working group should be commended for that. Nonetheless, I feel that everyone should take another look at the “Where Next” document for its imagination and its willingness to ask tough questions.

    All in all, good luck with the rest of the planning process and if there are any other ways to potentially contribute please let the Queen’s community know.

    Tyler Johnston

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  3. Mark Jones says:

    I agree with Roberta Lamb’s comments (see that the AWT’s public posting of its Report and its creation of this Forum are steps forward in transparency. But I also agree with her that this Forum’s format, with field-by-field comments, is awkward and impedes access: to view all comments, one would have to check into 22 separate boxes. Also, it would be clearer to mark the Response field with “Leave a Comment,” rather than “Leave a Reply,” for the latter makes it look like one is meant to reply to the previous “Reply.”

    Below are my more substantive comments on the AWT’s Report, as posted on the Real Academic Planning Blog at’s-university-2-september-2010/ :

    “Selling Out the Future: Away from Academic Planning for Queen’s University (2 September 2010)”

    Reflections on the Report “Imagining the Future: Towards an Academic Plan for Queen’s University”:

    by Mark Jones

    The central weakness of the so-called “academic planning” exercise now underway at Queen’s is its subordination to a budget-cutting agenda. Arts and Science cut programs like Italian early in 2009 for baldly budgetary reasons; an outcry went up for the necessary precedence of academic planning; and a new Principal arrived promising academic planning. But even he made doing “less with less” the slogan and the keystone of his planning exercise. What now parades as “academic planning” at Queen’s remains budgetary planning in disguise. Sometimes the disguise is rather thick; sometimes it is rather thin; but very few of the main suggestions voiced on campus so far reflect purely academic (i.e., pedagogically oriented) priorities.

    For instance, among the main propositions floated in the Arts and Science Response to the Principal’s invitation (15 April 2010), or in its various drafts, were: expanding first-year sections; virtualizing learning; re-weighting course-credits, such that a course now worth 1 credit might eventually count for 1.5 or 2; centralizing departmental administrative support by buildings; reducing the complexities of degree program requirements; and expanding the intake of students, especially of the more useful and lucrative graduate students. All of these proposals were academically dressed up as measures toward optimizing learning, but—surprise—they all dress down as excellent means for cutting educational costs or generating university revenues.

    “Imagining the Future” is more of the same. It intones academic priorities throughout, e.g.: “Among the common resonances we heard was the importance of teaching and learning as crucial to the Queen’s mission” (p. 18). It compliments Queen’s students, staff, and faculty, e.g., for being so “curious, inquisitive, and on a life-long journey of knowledge discovery” (p. 4). It specifies “goals” that are unimpeachable in themselves, e.g., “To provide transformative learning experiences that assist students in becoming self-directed, responsible, life-long learners” (p. 18). And it invokes buzz-words like “interdisciplinarity,” “internationalization,” “discovery-based learning,” and “capstone-courses.” But in its specific recommendations it reproduces, one after another, the same old budgetary ideas in the same old “academic” togs. Thus it advocates larger 1st-year sections (p. 23); “virtual learning” (p. 20); “more flexible course-credit allocation” (i.e., re-weighting of courses) (p. 27); reducing the complexity of degree program requirements (pp. 16, 20, 25); and maintaining recent increases in the intake of graduate students—who, coincidentally, “contribute substantially to the university’s revenue” and “generate a significant net financial gain from a complex of tuition, scholarship, and BIU … funding” (13).

    What can it mean that the “Academic” recommendations by the Principal’s specially appointed “Academic Writing Team” so consistently echo the financially motivated recommendations made by the Dean of Arts and Science four to five months earlier? It reflects, first, that there has been little meaningful dialogue in the interim, and second, that the Administration has no real intent to implement ideas based on academic priorities. The “academic” in our “academic planning” so far has been merely nominal and sedative.

    Some of the academic window-dressing is thick and needs to be read carefully. Thus the Report’s “academic” justification for enlarging first-year class sizes takes cover as an attack on the “common view . . . that only small classes can offer a quality experience.” “We disagree,” pronounce the authors, “with the assumption that only low student:faculty ratios translate to quality education.” And on this basis they explicitly recommend “that Queen’s . . . not dwell on class size as a specific end goal” (p. 23). The problem is that no one really does pretend “that only small classes can offer a quality experience.” The point of the “common view” is rather that other things being equal, smaller class sizes do make for better educational experiences—which would be hard to deny. A properly academic planner would, therefore, indeed advise Queen’s to strive for smaller classes. This is a plain instance where a basically financial consideration (that small first-year classes may no longer be so affordable) has generated an “academic” rationalization (that smaller is not academically desirable)—a case of “sour grapes.”

    More insidious is the Report’s use of “interdisciplinarity,” one of modern academia’s most sacred cows, as a cover for reducing core requirements in particular disciplines:

    “A significant proportion of students is increasingly interested in flexible, interdisciplinary programs, which allow them greater freedom to be more active participants in directing their studies (see also 4.3 Interdisciplinarity). Such programs are less dependent on specific core courses, allowing for more flexibility in program delivery. Interdisciplinary programs and streamlining degree options are also ways to maximize resources.” (p. 20)

    It is an important and revealing passage. The primary emphasis falls upon the students’ “freedom to be more active participants in directing their studies”; but the objective of reducing students’ dependency “on specific core courses, allowing for more flexibility in program delivery,” is an essentially budgetary matter. The subtext here, and in the Report’s recommendations for simplifying “complex” degree program requirements in general, is that the university’s movement toward fewer, larger course-sections has rendered “program delivery” more difficult. In English, for instance, there used to be 50 or 52 sections offered per year. Now that there are only 35 or so, it is harder to guarantee that students can satisfy requirements for medieval or American literature in any given year. That is no doubt a problem the university needs to face, but it is an essentially budgetary problem, and it does not help to pretend that it is an academic virtue to have fewer course-requirements by calling free-for-all registration a matter of “interdisciplinarity” or of students’ “freedom.” The passage as much as admits the “resources” subtext in its final sentence.

    But the serious academic question that goes begging here is whether one can have interdisciplinarity without sustaining disciplinarity. If academic units are discouraged from specifying “complex” program degree requirements (see p. 22), disciplinarity will suffer, and true interdisciplinarity will suffer with it. For interdisciplinarity requires more than letting students take what they wish in assorted departments (see p. 24, paragraph 2). A more laisser-faire registration regime may ease the “burden for the Faculty,” but that is a resource issue; to pretend that a move to “simplify program degree requirements” is an academic recommendation is only to confuse matters.

    The Report occasionally admits its budgetary priorities: “If resources continue to decline and student-faculty ratios continue to increase, we recommend that we adapt our learning models” (18). That would be a sad event, and it could even be an inevitable one; but let us get our academic priorities straight from the beginning so we can truly make the best of our situation. Let’s not betray ourselves by presenting our budgetary compromises as academic innovations.

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  4. Chris Davidson says:

    The great strength of Queen’s is its alumni. The sense of community and respect for tradition at Queen’s creates alumni who feel attached to the university for their entire lives. Queen’s needs to capitalize on this strength by being more engaged with its alumni that any other Canadian university.
    Queen’s is already making great strides towards this end. However, here are my two cents regarding further engagement:

    Regular department-specific updates (e.g.send English Department Newsletters to English alumni bi-annually)

    Make more appeals for donations for specific projects and target some of these appeals (use the department-specific updates to appeal for endowed professorships within that department)

    Make attempts to get alumni back to campus more often (use alumni mailing-lists, especially department-specific ones, to advertise special lectures, etc.)

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