Finalizing the Academic Plan

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I recently spent a very pleasant and exciting morning reading the Senate Academic Planning Task Force’s proposed academic plan, which on Tuesday will go to Senate for discussion and debate. It is moderately long, but very rich. Built on four pillars, and very student-focused, it also states very clearly Queen’s position as a pre-eminent research university.

As with the Academic Writing Team report, Imagining the Future which began to circulate just over a year ago, the Task Force has wrestled with some extremely complex issues. The document itself is the result of months of discussion and wide consultation, and without prejudging discussion or suggested revisions at Senate, I think it has captured both the notion of a ‘balanced academy’, excellent in both teaching and research–melded in the notion of learning–and the idea that we can build on our great traditions while contemplating some serious changes or revisions in the ways in which we teach our undergraduates. It is clear on the important role of graduate students as fellow researchers and TAs (but above all, students) and of postdoctoral fellows. It speaks to the importance of having sufficient professional staff to handle many of the administrative tasks (what a former colleague of mine at another university was fond of calling “the monkeys on the professors’ backs”) that are necessary but take up professorial time. It speaks to the critical place of writing and communications skills. Above all, it asks some very big and fundamental questions. What kind of students–and we get the best and brightest in Canada as well as an increasing number from abroad–do we wish to graduate? What kinds of skills (in the broadest sense of the word) do we wish them to acquire? And how can we best deliver these?

This is the most complex academic planning exercise that Queen’s has ever undertaken, at least in modern times, and I for one am eagerly looking forward to the Senate deliberations. Beyond that I look forward to being part of the voyage that lies ahead into a world of learning that our Task Force, chaired by Prof Peter Taylor, and building on the earlier fine work of the 2010 Academic Writing Team, has opened up for the Queen’s community of students, faculty and staff.

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