Queen’s Journal: Academic plan raises new debate: Discussion continues at town hall (17 September 2010)

By Jessica Fishbein, Assistant News Editor, Queen’s Journal, 17 September 2010

Tensions were high at Duncan McArthur Hall on Wednesday as students, faculty, staff and community members discussed 41 pages of academic recommendations.

The recommendations were written by the Academic Writing Team (AWT) in response to Principal Woolf’s ‘Where Next?’ document, which was released last January.

While many recommendations were praised, some Queen’s faculty and staff had concerns over others.

Susan Lord, professor of film and media and cultural studies, said she worries that virtual learning is being over-emphasized.

“My criticism is that the plan’s examples of the way forward are based on technology, and this is a problem,” she said.

Technology comes up continually in the plan. It is cited as a means to connect with other universities, keep track of alumni and take learning outside the classroom.

Lord said she is concerned that by devoting resources to technological pursuits, the University will neglect more basic aspects of the learning experience.

“[Even] arts students aren’t receiving writing instruction until third year,” she said, adding that many can barely write communicable essays until that point.

Jill Scott, member of the AWT and a professor in the German department, said the recommendations do focus on technology but they look at how it can aid traditional learning, not replace it.

“You can’t substitute a lecture through virtualization,” she said “Media supplements learning.”

She said that although it would be ideal to have also included recommendations about writing, the team only had so many pages and had to narrow their focus.

“Resources are limited, and there is no magic turnaround.” Scott said. “We need to be smart. We need a plan, but a good plan.”

Principal Woolf said he agreed that in reality it’s impossible for the academic plan to include everything.

“We must make choices if we live in a world of constrained reality,” he said at the town hall meeting.

Woolf said he is prepared to be ambitious and make real changes–even if he’s unsure exactly what they’ll be.

“This is university, which is a place for stating bold ideas about where the institution should go,” Woolf said at the Sep. 15 meeting. “There is still going to have to be a lot more discussion, and it’s not going to be easy. The recommendations in the academic plan will require fundamental changes to how we do things,” he said, adding that he will have a much better idea of exactly what should be changed in 2011 when he writes his Academic Plan based off of the AWT recommendations and the feedback from them.

Lord said she hopes financial constraints don’t play too large of a role in Woolf’s final plan and that the money should be found to suit the University’s academic needs.

“We can’t say, ‘we’re not going to talk about this because we don’t have enough resources,’” she said at the town hall meeting. “We must include all objectives and values in the academic planning document in order to show the public and gather resources,” she said. “Financial issues constrained the imagination of the academic plan and are driving decisions of what is emphasized.” Scott said quite the opposite is true.

“We didn’t hold back. We laid everything out on the table,” she said. “That being said, there are things we didn’t think of, because it’s impossible to think of everything.”

She said it was experience, not money, which limited the recommendations. As staff and faculty members, Scott said the team was unable to think of everything students may need or want in their academic environment. As such, they are invited to give their input now.

Students, faculty and staff are invited to give their input at the next town hall meeting on Friday, Sep. 17 at 12-1 p.m. in Wallace Hall in the JDUC or online at http://www.queensu.ca/principal/wherenext.html

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