QUFA’s Response To Principal Woolf’s Academic Planning Exercise (17 Feb. 2010)

As posted on the Queen’s University Faculty Association Website:

To our Members:

QUFA has advised and continues to advise its Members to participate in Principal Woolf’s Academic Planning process. But both Administrators and QUFA Members need also to be aware of serious shortcomings in the process as it has been initiated, since these shortcomings detract from its efficacy as consultation and will compromise its findings. Among many problems, QUFA hereby advises both its Members and Queen’s Administrators that the exercise appears to QUFA to be:

  1. Financially driven. Despite Principal Woolf’s promises of a planning process in which academic and financial considerations would be balanced, the present exercise is preponderantly financially driven. “Academic” considerations are concessively mentioned but the structure is such that academic planning is encouraged only within previously established financial parameters. For instance, when Dean Alistair MacLean’s “Planning Document” specifies the university “Goal” of maintaining graduate student enrolments, “both academic and financial reasons” are claimed, but the reasons specified are entirely financial: “incentives from government have made this opportunity one that made sense from a strategic perspective,” and “The financial opportunity offered by the Reaching Higher programme . . . is a significant incentive to build on an area of growing strength.” Not even mentioned here is the more intrinsically academic question that hangs over fields where employment for new PhDs lies chiefly in the academy: how many new doctorates are needed in such fields at a time when Queen’s and other universities are down-sizing faculty? Does it make sense for Queen’s to have grown its graduate programs by 102 MAs and 106 PhDs since 2005 (p. 15) when Queen’s and most other Canadian universities are not hiring? Are these new doctorates getting jobs in their fields? These are the kinds of questions that a “planning document” should ask, and this is the kind of information that it should seek to provide. (This is not to suggest that any graduate programmes be arbitrarily cut, suspended, or closed. It is to recommend a thoughtful, balanced approach that acknowledges how workplace demand for graduates varies according to discipline and that the roles and resources of graduate programmes are specific to the culture of the academic Unit.)
  2. Excessively Rushed. The response time (with templates provided Feb . 9 and responses required Feb. 19) is far too short to allow information-gathering and meaningful consideration and feedback on so large and complex a subject. Rushed consultation during term increases workload at a time when faculty are already overburdened by rising student numbers and falling faculty numbers. Worse yet, giving faculty inadequate response time will defeat the proper purposes of consultation. False consultation empowers Administrators to impose their own agenda in the name of the faculty.
  3. Pre-decided. The Arts and Science “Planning Document” poses as a call for input, but at the same time it anticipates the whole process by laying out conclusions on p. 2. Before hearing input, Dean MacLean already proposes:

  • that lower-level class-sizes rise to protect upper-level class-sizes “and capstone experiences”;
  • that “graduate enrolments must be maintained at current levels”;
  • that Units be restructured to be uniform in size, “30-40 faculty members” each;
  • that undergraduate enrolments be increased.

If these “do not necessarily represent my [Dean MacLean’s] final position,” that is as it should be. But they should not represent his starting position, in advance of consultation, either.

Of the Arts and Science “Planning Document,” QUFA would observe further:

A. The Planning Document blames QUFA for what it calls an “imbalance” in Adjunct numbers: “Given the current QUFA Collective Agreement parameters, an imbalance is arising in the number of adjuncts in essentially permanent continuing adjunct positions” (sec. 7.c, “On Faculty Complement,” p. 14).

The facts are that QUFA has no interest in increasing the ratio of contract faculty to permanent faculty, but that Queen’s Administration has for years used contract faculty for its own strategic purposes of increasing flexibility and reducing costs. QUFA would also remind the University Administration that “the QUFA Collective Agreement” is a contradiction in terms. The Collective Agreement is an agreement between QUFA and the Administration, and every article in it is bargained for and signed by both sides.

B. The Planning Document’s treatment of the academic criteria for planning (under the heading of “The Academic or Institutional Perspective” on “Excellence,” sec. 5.a), is one-sided, since only administrators’ guidelines (“The Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Level Expectations,” or UDLES) and administrators’ measures of academic viability (“the assessment of faculty member accomplishments, publications and credentials,” etc.) are mentioned. No provision is stated here for considering faculty members’ views of what constitutes academic viability in their own areas of expertise. A university planning exercise that balanced academic and financial criteria would have to consider the views of the faculty members concerning the academic objectives and the minimum conditions for achieving those objectives in their own areas of expertise. Indeed, the faculty actually doing the teaching and conducting the research in their fields must be considered as embodying the “academic perspective” upon those practices. For instance, the down-sizing, amalgamation, or closure of language Units must be considered not only from a financial perspective but also from an “academic” perspective consisting of the views of all teachers and researchers in those and affected areas. Conceiving the “academic perspective” only in terms of UDLES guidelines and of administrative “assessment of faculty member accomplishments” leaves no opening for the genuinely academic perspective of faculty themselves.

C. In Sec. 8, “Challenges and Choices,” the Planning Document invites consideration of changes to practices including “Degree requirements,” “Course weights,” “Number of in-class hours,” “Virtualization,” and “Emphasis on self-directed learning.” These suggestions are cryptic; each is merely listed with a question mark. We therefore merely observe that reducing degree requirements or the numbers of in-class hours, increasing course-weights without increasing course contents, or increasing reliance on virtualization or self-directed learning should all be considered as primarily financially driven expedients whose effects are most likely to compromise academic effectiveness, with serious adverse effects on both faculty and students.

D. The Planning Document’s generalizing approach may pose problems for specific Units. The Document seeks (and in many cases is already promoting) general principles whereas the cultures, practices, and needs of its many Units differ radically. For instance, the suggested policy on graduate enrolments (sec. 7.d, p. 14), discussed above, ignores important differences among Units. Likewise, a question like “Should support of research at the Faculty level be discontinued and left to the responsibility of the VP(R)?” (p. 17) may have radically different answers depending on whether one is speaking of research in humanities or in sciences.

E. The Planning Document mistakes the role of Administration: “As financial and human resources become constrained and as the Faculty’s beneficiaries and constituencies expect increased service orientation and as the organization itself becomes increasingly complex, the administrative and service components of the entire university emerge as increasingly important and defining elements” (p. 18). We would remind the Administration that the important and defining elements of the University are its students and its faculty, and that the Administration’s role is by definition supportive. In times of pressure and constraint the Administration should grow, not “increasingly important and defining,” but increasingly supportive.

These remarks are not intended as a comprehensive critique of the Planning Process. But they are meant to suggest that faculty will best cooperate in academic planning by thinking beyond the terms of the Administration’s planning documents.

Cathy Christie,
On behalf of QUFA’s Political Action and Communications Committee & QUFA’s Executive Committee

This entry was posted in Clippings, Open Letters, Process. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to QUFA’s Response To Principal Woolf’s Academic Planning Exercise (17 Feb. 2010)

  1. Pingback: We Request Open Planning Meetings on Specific Issues: An Open Letter to Principal Daniel Woolf and Dr. Susan Cole (Deputy Provost and SCAD Chair) (20 October 2010) | Real Academic Planning Blog

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