Roberta Lamb: Open Letter to the “Academic Writing Team” (19 July 2010)

Queen’s University is known for the quality of its teaching and its research; therefore, I wonder why the academic planning exercise does not follow procedures for academic planning and/ or strategic planning that are recommended by the research literature in the fields of institutional planning, strategic planning, and curriculum development?

I am not a research specialist in any of these fields, but as an educator I have some familiarity with specific aspects of these literatures. I have included sections on school planning and curriculum development, as well as on action research for teachers, in some of the courses I teach to undergraduate students who wish to become music teachers. From my limited reading of this literature, it appears to me that none of the guidelines for successful institutional planning and change in educational settings are being followed. It appears to me that the format outlined by the Principal and being carried out by the Deans and the Academic Writing Team is not based in scholarship but is, rather, a political action dressed up as a scholarly and democratic process.

Is there research literature that supports the type of academic planning that the Principal has introduced? If anyone knows of examples, could the resources be posted?

If there is no supporting research literature, what is really going on in this “planning”?

The Principal promised us that academic planning would come before financial. Yet as many contract staff (both academic contract and general staff) have been laid off as is possible. Academic programs have been cut, some amalgamated, some put on hold. At the same time new graduate programs are added. Where is the logical and scholarly thought in this activity?

The experience of the students, staff and professors in the humanities and almost all of the social sciences is that academic quality, educational encounters, and working conditions are being degraded. This threatens Queen’s good reputation. The Queen’s experience of 2010 is not of the quality of 1990, 1980 or 1970. We need to pay attention to Tom Russell’s study of the first-year experience that provides data on hundreds of Queen’s University first-year students before we get rid of all those things that students identify as beneficial to their education.

We need to value general staff and provide enough support—including enough people to do the work required—so that general staff can do their jobs under reasonable working conditions. QUASR has increased workload and does not work efficiently. Staff now work flat out all seasons of the year. There is no time to do the things that are put off until things slow down. There is no slowdown. Staff desks are piled so high in some areas that important documents are lost. This is not the fault of the staff; it is the consequence of not having enough employees to do the work the University Administration is requiring. General staff have specific knowledge of academic departments that is greater than any professor’s. General staff provide the continuity from one department head to another, one grad chair to another, one undergrad chair to another. General staff know the procedures for university governance. And yet general staff are the most poorly treated. Currently the University Administration is delaying the certification of the general staff by contesting membership.

The language departments have been totally “re-designed.” The University Administration had not provided necessary tenure-track positions for Spanish, Italian, German, and Francophonie. The contract faculty who did not have enough courses or seniority to keep their positions were let go. Had there been tenure-track positions to replace faculty who went into administration, died, or retired, the language departments would not be in such a tenuous situation. This appears to have left the language departments with no choice but to amalgamate. Is this really what should be done, or is it making the best of a bad situation?

The fine arts departments are not in much better shape. In Music, contract faculty outnumber tenured. Since 2000, a replacement position has been promised if Music would do such and such. Yet when Music followed through, the University Administration did not. Music has been through 2 IARs, both of which said that additional faculty were required, but that has not happened. Of course, this is not unique to Music, because nearly every department that has gone through an IAR has needed additional funding in one way or another. As in the language departments, two music professors went into administration. Full replacement positions were not provided for the duration of their terms, so even though the Dean tells us there are benefits to having professors in administration, what Music sees is the cost of the increased workload for the remaining faculty and the inclusion of the administrative professors’ salaries in the departmental budget.

There is more to say about the other fine arts departments, but this post is getting too long as it is. I will stop for now. What is obvious is that financial decisions are driving academic change. There is no need for this. Queen’s University continues to have a crisis of leadership rather than a budget crisis. So I repeat my earlier questions:

Is there research literature that supports the type of academic planning that the Principal has introduced? If anyone knows of examples, could the resources be posted?

If there is no supporting research literature, what is really going on in this “planning”?

Roberta Lamb
School of Music
Cross-appointments to Gender Studies and Faculty of Education
Queen’s University

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One Response to Roberta Lamb: Open Letter to the “Academic Writing Team” (19 July 2010)

  1. Roberta Lamb says:

    On 21-Jul-10, at 10:03 AM, Kim Richard Nossal wrote:

    Roberta

    My colleagues on the AWT have asked me to respond to your post, which raises a number of important issues.

    First, let me, on behalf of my colleagues, thank you for taking the time to provide such a detailed set of observations, not only about the process writ large, but also about the situation “on the ground” on the fine arts side.

    On the planning process: you no doubt will have noted the AWT response to the open letter from QSERAP to the effect that our report to the Principal will be incorporating a number of recommendations about the planning process.

    On the declining quality of the “Queen’s experience” (academic quality, educational encounters, and working conditions): this is something that all of us are deeply concerned about.

    On the value of staff: please be assured that we will be making recommendations to the Principal on these issues.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to contribute to this process.

    Sincerely,

    Kim Nossal

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