Internal Academic Review Committee

Report on the Review of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

The Department of Electrical and Computing Engineering was cited for its high quality faculty and staff, its strength in research and the commendable leadership of its head. However, the reports of the Review Team and the External Consultants also describe the Department as having a number of serious problems. Areas in the Department requiring attention fall under four main categories as identified by the Review Team: management culture; communication; human resources; and expansion.

Despite acknowledging some changes for the better due to the efforts of the incumbent department head, the IARC notes that there appears to be an unhealthy ethos in the Department which manifests itself in a number of ways including low morale among undergraduate and graduate students and poor exit poll results. The exit polls reflect opinions and rankings that are lower than those for the other units in the Faculty of Applied Science. Although there has been a trend to modest improvement over the past seven years, much work remains to be done to improve the existing environment and ultimately the educational experiences of the students.

The Department is urged to seek both formal and informal ways to address the problem of inadequate communication among its constituents. One formal way would be to increase the participation of students in the decision-making and planning processes of the Department. Additional solutions should also be explored as a matter of priority.

The Department faces a particularly difficult problem insofar as its faculty complement is concerned. Retaining faculty members, as well as attracting new faculty appointees, has been a challenge due to very strong competition from both the academic and private sectors. Several members of the Department have taken retirement in the last few years and some have left to take positions elsewhere. While this situation of transience has placed unusual demands on all members of the department, the hiring of many new enthusiastic and committed faculty has resulted in an improved sense of community within this unit. The Department has been proactive in its faculty recruitment efforts, including striving to hire additional women, but it still faces a challenge in this area.

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has recently experienced a period of enormous expansion. Both government and industry were exerting pressure to increase enrolments and produce more graduates in this rapidly changing field, and in partnership, introduced the Access to Opportunities Program (ATOP). The University, Faculty and Department felt an obligation to respond to this societal need, and agreed to participate in ATOP. However, the ATOP program has created its own set of challenges. The Department experienced significant growth in enrolment, but as noted by the Dean and the Head of the Department, they were able to respond constructively and quickly through the development of major innovations to the curriculum including the introduction of new programs and options. Improvements were also made to laboratory facilities. The Department is advised to regularly evaluate the quality of the programs, examining the implications of the rapid growth, and to reassess what is required to sustain this higher level of enrolment over the long term.

In conclusion, the IARC notes that this is a fast-changing, dynamic Department that has been working hard to make progress on a number of longstanding problems, but many challenges still exist and they must be dealt with strategically and openly.

Follow-up on these recommendations and issues will take place in the annual staffing and budget strategy meetings between the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and the Vice-Principal (Academic).