Internal Academic Review Committee

Report on the Review of the Department of Sociology

Approved by Senate January 25, 2001

The internal academic review of the programs in the Department of Sociology reveals, to an external observer, a Department and a discipline in transition and at a critical point in their history. This is particularly apparent in the unusual degree of divergence in the views expressed by the External Consultants, the Review Team and the responses from the Department and the Faculty. All report a generally positive impression of the Department pointing, in particular, to the quality of the undergraduate program and the degree of satisfaction of students. There is, however, a remarkable degree of divergence of opinions on the weaknesses and gaps that should be attended to in order for Sociology at Queen's to develop as a strong and nationally recognized department.

The internal academic review also highlights the struggles faced by a small unit at a time when it is experiencing increased enrolment at the undergraduate level and also adding a new Ph.D. program, all in the context of severe financial constraints. Such circumstances have resulted in personal stress for individual members in the Department, and the unavoidable reality that the unit has to face very tough decisions. There are no simple solutions.

The Department emphasizes three areas of specialization that have shaped its curriculum: communication and information technology, socio-legal studies and feminist sociology. Several recommendations arose from the External Consultants regarding the undergraduate and graduate curricula, leaving an overall impression of a Department that is struggling to achieve quality in all of its programs given its current resource level. For instance, questions are raised regarding gaps left in the curriculum by focusing on only three specialization areas. At the same time, gaps are identified within a given specialization area. Concerns are voiced over the limited range of courses offered exclusively at the graduate level, while at the same time, the Department is advised to look at the balance between teaching and research. The requirement for thorough training in quantitative methodologies is also raised as an important issue to address. The Internal Academic Review Committee (IARC) notes that subsequent to the review an appointment has been made in the quantitative methods area, which addresses this issue. The IARC concurs with the recommendation of the Review Team that the unit examine its graduate and undergraduate curricula in light of the reports of the External Consultants.

Both the External Consultants and the Review Team expressed some concerns over the overall research profile of the Department, while recognizing the excellent research productivity of some individual faculty members. It is possible that some of these perceptions are not accurate; however, the IARC believes that such perceptions coming from peers and members of cognate disciplines deserve careful and immediate attention as they could prove a severe hindrance to both faculty and graduate student recruitment in the future. The IARC agrees with the Review Team that the Department needs to develop a strategy to significantly enhance its research profile, and are encouraged that the Department has recently initiated procedures to address this concern.

Despite having produced an Academic Plan in 1995, which was further revised in 1997, the Department is advised by the Review Team to develop a clear vision for itself and a strategy to achieve this vision. In the course of the review, it became evident that the Review Team had not seen these plans. More importantly, though, it is apparent that these plans have not yet been translated into a cohesive and clear sense of direction for the Department that is visible to others. The IARC recognizes that unexpected enrolment increases and financial constraints may have hindered the Department's progress in implementing its Academic Plan. All departments within the Faculty have been asked to submit a strategic plan to the Faculty by August 2001. The IARC encourages the Department to use this process to address the critical issues identified in the internal academic review and to trace a course for its future that will allow it to thrive, given the constraints but also the opportunities in its environment.

Follow-up on recommendations and issues raised will occur as part of the annual staffing and budget strategy meetings between the Dean and the Vice-Principal (Academic).

December, 2000

N.B. Professor Laureen Snider, member of the Department of Sociology and of the Internal Academic Review Committee, did not participate in the preparation of this report.