A sad end to the Department of Biochemistry?
Re: “School of Medicine reorganizes,” Issue #3–2010, p. 15
The distinguished 73-year history of the Department of Biochemistry is about to end with little more than a footnote in the Review. During the past 30 years student enrolment in Biochemistry courses has increased five-fold while the total enrolment at Queen’s increased only 1.5-fold. This reflects the burgeoning interest in biochemistry and other health-related sciences. All over North America, Departments of Biochemistry and allied departments have doubled and redoubled in size and influence, but not here at Queen’s.
We teach five times as many students with almost the same number of faculty we had in the 1970’s. The response of the University to this shift in student interest has been to cap courses and programs, and to raise entry standards rather than shift resources. Successive University and Faculty administrations have failed the Biochemistry and Life Science departments by not providing even cost of living increases in the base budget over the last two decades. Now, we are faced with three years of even more severe attrition when there is nothing left to cut.
The amalgamation of the five basic medical science departments into one mega-department is the Faculty of Health Sciences’ response. This merger has little to do with promoting “interdisciplinary collaborations” or any of the other buzz words and phrases the Vice-Dean (Academic) used in the quotes attributed to him in the Review. It will simply facilitate further reductions in support staff and a more even increase in work load for all, as professors leave, die or retire without replacement. Also, when the Vice-Dean said the merger is “widely supported” it should be recorded that the Department of Biochemistry faculty voted 11-1 against this forced union with the Life Science Departments.
Dr. Ian Young, Acting Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences, replies:
“Peter Davies rightly highlights some of the significant contributions of the Department of Biochemistry, but he understates the level of its achievements. The very high quality of the Biochemistry programs has for many years attracted superb students, and the Department has a record of excellence in research that continues unabated.
“Biochemistry is but one of five departments of biomolecular sciences, the other four of which also have long histories of similarly impressive achievements in education and research, including the delivery of the outstanding Life Sciences Program. That the biomolecular science departments have collectively maintained such high performance despite the challenges of the last decade is a tribute to the conviction and commitment of our faculty. The challenge we must now address is how to adapt to rapidly changing internal and external environments in ways that will enable the continued success of our students, faculty and staff.
“The decision of our faculty to create a single integrated academic unit for the biomolecular sciences reflects their recognition of important new determinants of academic achievement. The emphasis of research funding agencies on trans-disciplinary research and the emergence of transdisciplinary graduate education programs are but two of many examples of the significance of interdisciplinarity as an important driver of change that cannot be ignored. Furthermore, future leading academic institutions will have the agility to respond to opportunities and challenges through the rapid strategic deployment of resources.
"By establishing the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences (DBMS), our faculty have created an environment that will not only foster interdisciplinarity in both education and research, but will also enable the best investment of consolidated resources. The DBMS will provide a new and stronger foundation for the bio-molecular sciences that will support the ongoing development of our high quality academic programs in Biochemistry and the Life Sciences while providing the flexibility to allow us to evolve as our environment changes.” – Ed.