Whig Standard: Queen’s Trainwreck Coming? (5 May 2010)

Letter to the Editor, Kingston Whig Standard, 5 May 2010.

By: Mark Jones

Daniel Woolf says of the “Academic Planning” process at Queen’s: “The train hasn’t left the station, it’s still boarding” (Group questions money woes, Whig Standard, 1 May 2010).

In truth, it is May in a process scheduled for January to December. In Arts and Science, Queen’s largest faculty, departmental heads have already reported to Deans. Deans have already assimilated those reports in a report to the Principal. The former were given ten days to describe their units’ strengths, potentials, and five-year plans. The latter had under two months to synthesize reports from 27 units. They circulated five drafts of their “Response to Principal Woolf,” during term, at intervals as short as one week (Mar. 11-Apr.15), and sent them only to unit heads, many of whom never distributed them to their units. Now another committee is considering the Schools’ and Faculties’ “Responses” to shape a university-wide report by August.

“Still boarding” is therefore disingenuous. If this is a train, it is halfway home, and a good many are not on board. But a pyramid may be a better figure. The foundations have been laid and the structure is rising. But as both students and faculty object, the foundations are worse than sandy. They should consist of input from those who know Queen’s educational needs and objectives first hand—students and faculty. In fact they are largely administrative invention.

The Arts and Science Faculty Board meeting in March was to be the last chance for concerned faculty and students to discuss their Deans’ “Response” to the Principal. Over 300 faculty, staff, and students attended and moved to reject not only the Deans’ “Response” but the whole planning process. Their motion carried without amendment; votes didn’t have to be counted. But the Administration has proceeded like nothing happened. Arts and Science presented its final “Response” to the Principal on schedule. Students meeting with Administration later in March asked that the “Response” include at least one line representing their concerns. They were disappointed.

It matters little that trains run on time if no one is on board. In any case the real problems here cannot be papered over with glib metaphors. In their March motion and in their current petitions, Queen’s students and faculty are testifying in large numbers to problems in both substance and process. The plans floated by Queen’s administrators to date, and presented as “syntheses” of proposals at lower levels, have a cost-cutting rather than academic character; they include ballooning first and second-year class sizes, increasing use of virtual learning, centralizing staff-support of individual departments, and re-weighting academic credits to let students graduate with the same nominal credits but fewer contact-hours. Queen’s students and faculty have objected (in their petitions and elsewhere) that these suggestions never came from them and would only degrade Queen’s learning experience and reputation. Not only is Principal Woolf’s train well out of the station, and not only is it missing passengers, but it is headed for a trainwreck. Queeen’s students and faculty would like to prevent that.

Notes: See also the student petition and the employees’ petition. The Mar. 26 Faculty Board Meeting is described in the Queen’s Journal and in QUFA Voices for April 2010.

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