Faculty of Arts and Science Response to Where Next?: Executive Summary (18 April 2010)

As posted by Arts and Science 18 April 2010:

Making up approximately half the University the Faculty of Arts and Science offers, in twenty-seven departments and schools, an extraordinary scope of educational possibilities encompassing the creative arts, languages, humanities, social sciences, and physical and natural sciences. Supported by devoted staff members, undergraduates have the opportunity to compare themselves to some of the best minds in Canada and the world among their peers, their graduate colleagues, and their professors. During the course of their studies both undergraduate and graduate students are exposed to mentors who are recognised world-wide for their contributions as artists, writers, scientists, thinkers and much more. It is to preserve this heritage and to build upon it that the Faculty of Arts and Science defines and debates the challenges and choices that lie ahead.

Perspectives on Excellence: A Strategic Framework for Future Planning

This response to the Principal’s Vision statement sets out an assessment of its current state and future potential. At its core, this document also establishes a framework for planning based on four perspectives on excellence. The academic or institutional perspective emphasizes the importance of scholarly excellence and the mission of the university as the collector, protector and creator of knowledge. The constituency or beneficiary perspective encompasses, on the one hand, its students, those who derive direct benefit from Queen’s programs and services, and, on the other hand, a larger community who derive indirect benefit from the work of the university, including Queen’s alumni, parents, the population of Kingston and Ontario, the governmental organizations to which the University is responsible, and potential employers. The financial or resource-based perspective views excellence in terms of accountability of budgets, sustainable programs and services and an optimization of the use of physical infrastructure in the offering of all programs and services. Finally, the strategic perspective brings together the academic, beneficiary and financial or resource based views within a creative tension that enables the pursuit of scholarly excellence that enriches Queen’s students and the larger community and is organized within a sustainable model of fiscal responsibility and optimization of the campus infrastructure. These perspectives on excellence can be most clearly visualized in the form of the diagram accompanying this summary.

Future directions

The Arts and Science response to Where Next? includes a range of issues to be addressed. Some of them are summarized below under six distinct headings.

Undergraduate Education
Increases in undergraduate student enrolment have obvious immediate financial benefits. From a beneficiary perspective, it demonstrates Queen’s commitment to an increasing number of students seeking university education and to a provincial government which seeks to provide post-secondary opportunities for 70% of the Ontario population. However, the increased strain on residence space, classrooms and the Kingston community must also be considered. Academic imperatives are also part of the strategic decision about growth, since increased student numbers potentially compromise the ability to provide an enriched educational experience that includes collaborative learning, student- faculty interaction and easy access to courses and programs of choice. From an academic perspective, an investigation of alternate pedagogies and continuance of current curriculum reforms are part of the strategic development of the undergraduate experience.

Graduate Education
In their engagement with research in their own studies, in their participation in the research enterprises of faculty members and in their involvement with undergraduate education, graduate students make an integral contribution to the academic excellence of Queen’s. Recent increases in graduate enrolment under the Reaching Higher program established by the Ontario Government have had financial benefits to the institution and a re-envisioning of a budgetary model that moves from a growth model to a steady-state environment for a sustained presence of the current graduate complement is a priority for Arts and Science.

Currently, support for research programs in Arts and Science amounts to approximately 30% of its annual budget. The importance of research to the academic profile of the institution, especially one like Queen’s which prides itself on combining research with teaching, cannot be understated but the present fiscal pressures may compromise the ability to continue the current level of financial and infrastructure support. While the relationship between research and teaching has always been complementary, the Faculty needs to re-evaluate the balance the academic need to continue important (and sometimes expensive) research with the need to provide other aspects of undergraduate and graduate education within a financially viable plan.

Internationalization and Diversity
While more students than ever before are engaging in various forms of study abroad and the curriculum on campus includes an increasing range of opportunities related to international interests, the growth of these academic areas requires further development. Creative financial solutions for greater support of these initiatives need to be found. Decisive and assertive action must be taken to improve diversity, both within Arts and Science and throughout Queen’s University. The Faculty is committed to participation in University-wide initiatives such as those proposed by the Senate Educational Equity Committee.

Organization and Governance
The health of an organization as large and diverse in its operations as the Faculty of Arts and Science requires regular review of the structures and processes which facilitate development and delivery of high quality programs and services. Academic excellence will not flourish where effective and efficient processes are not in place to make possible the optimal availability of courses and programs. The beneficiaries of these courses and programs will not be able to dedicate themselves to academic study if the services which make them possible do not run smoothly; and resources will not be used effectively if the organizational structures and the staff and faculty who put these structures into action are not adequately matched.

The financial pressures facing Queen’s and most other post-secondary educational institutions threaten to have a profound impact on the academic excellence of Arts and Science and will inevitably register in potential dissatisfaction of its students as they compete for the courses and programs they wish to pursue. An approach to post-secondary education in which the strategic importance of providing the best academic programs for the best students within the confines of resource constraints is a difficult framework within which the Faculty must operate. New financial models must be considered while the academic imperative of providing an educational environment which values the importance of freedom of intellectual discovery across a range of academic fields is maintained.

In common with the rest of Queen’s, and indeed most of the Canadian post-secondary system, the Faculty of Arts and Science faces the challenge of an increased desire for higher education in an adverse budget environment. The Faculty will have to determine how to embrace change while maintaining, as much as possible, the high academic standards to which it aspires. How this can be done without losing the fundamental characteristics which have defined a Queen’s education will require the open-minded but critical engagement of students, staff, faculty and alumni as this planning process unfolds over the coming months.

[Venn diagram:  “Perspectives on Excellence”]

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