Although the notion of reducing undergraduate enrolment has occasionally been discussed in recent years - most notably, as a complement to increasing graduate enrolment - the current fiscal situation in the University, inseparable as that is from the present situation and future prospects for all postsecondary institutions across the province, makes such an idea impractical.
While a radical and dramatically positive alteration to the system for funding Ontario's universities could allow the idea back into consideration, the unlikelihood of such a change recommends that we adopt a pragmatic approach. Pragmatism dictates not only that Queen's put aside the idea of shrinking undergraduate enrolment, but that we accept the necessity of growing at least to a certain amount. As the Ontario system expands, institutions that fail to do this will effectively shrink, relative to their peers, as will the pool of resources available to them.
Except in a small number of specific departments and programs, undergraduate enrolment growth at Queen's is not desirable in itself; and where faculty complement and other resources are already stretched to capacity, further growth will be a definite and significant challenge.
While such challenges can of course be met, the key question to be asked in each case - and therefore the vital question to be answered before proceeding - is at what cost?
Although we might not be pondering growth at all were it not for financial pressures on the university, the cost needs to be assessed not only in budgetary terms, but even more so in academic terms. The latter assessment, furthermore, is enormously complex. As measured against what we used to do, it may be that what the future will require us to do will seem a falling away from standards, but this is not inevitable. As we seek to protect the academic values upon which the institution has been built, we will need to be open to the possibility that there are different ways of getting to the same point, of furthering the goals of the academic enterprise.
Over the fall we identified some of the key challenges that face the University as it contemplates further growth. We then listed some of the ideas that have in recent history been deemed by this institution to be imperative, either in its conception of its mission or in its formulation of what is valuable in the student experience.
Our ability to meet our challenges depends very much on our relationship to these ideas: if treated as dogma or articles of faith, they will leave us little room to respond creatively to our present and future circumstances. If engaged with as outcomes we might arrive at by a variety of means, they will stimulate creativity and guarantee our future.
The task force identified several possible opportunities for enrolment growth in areas of strategic academic strength while addressing our current financial challenges.
The task force will confer further with the Deans before developing its final report and will work within the scope of the recommendations to assess the viability and the cost of the opportunities identified.