Mark Jones, The “Final” Draft: How it’s been Revised, and Why We Should Care (4 November 2011)

A new draft of Queen’s Academic Plan appeared on the APTF website late Wednesday, 2 November.  Two days later it was announced to Senators that this is the “final” draft we have all been waiting for, the draft that Senate will be asked to consider for approval in less than three weeks.

Since the APTF has not “red-lined” its drafts or explained how they differ, the main points of comparison are as follows (I don’t pretend to be minutely comprehensive).

1.  A problem that has not changed is the ambiguous titling, whereby “The Academic Plan” may include far less than it appears to.[1]

2.  The section in the October Draft (p. 14) promoting the use of “Undergraduate TAs” has been omitted (November Draft, p. 15).

3.  The October draft’s recommendations (p. 15) for “A less specialized curriculum,” especially in the sciences, and for “restraint in curriculum design at all levels,” have been omitted (cf. November draft, pp. 15-16).

4.  The October draft’s section on “Virtualization and online learning” (pp. 18-19) has been omitted (cf. November draft, p. 19).

5.  The almost complete neglect of graduate students and of issues related to graduate and professional studies, remarked upon at length in September Senate, remains unchanged in the present draft.[2]

6.  The “Key Recommendations” have changed less than they may appear to have. The first “Key Recommendation” in the October draft has been subdivided as Nos. 1 and 2 in the November draft (p. 7 in both), which necessitates re-numbering throughout.  Promoting “foreign-language learning” has been made a “Key Recommendation” in the November draft (p. 10 in both).  Also in the November draft, the “Key Recommendations” as given in the summary (pp. 10-13) have now been made consistent with the lists in Pillars III and IV.

In sum, the November draft reflects a process of revision mainly by subtraction:  for the most part this draft simply omits passages to which strong objections were expressed in September and October.  It does not add significant content or remedy deficiencies.[3]

To an administration bent upon a December completion, and likewise to a community beset with academic-planning fatigue, these revisions may seem like satisfactory concessions, like reasons to approve.  So why not recommend the plan now?

The answer is that it can be dangerous to pretend to have completed what is only partly done.  The November draft Plan gives a satisfying appearance of completion, with “Queen’s University Academic Plan” on the cover and with the rubric of “four pillars” suggesting a stable and well balanced structure.  But  in fact the time and resources of the APTF turned out not to be nearly adequate to its task, and it came far from producing anything like a comprehensive Plan.  Look closely at what is here, and it is clearly not a whole, but an assemblage of fragments:  a report on teaching writing, one on disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity, one on global citizenship and inclusiveness, and one on health and wellness.  Some of these are substantial reports on particular issues, but posing them as “four pillars” does not in itself make them over as a complete and well rounded treatment of academic issues facing Queen’s.  Consider here just two significant gaps:  (1)  As the September discussion in Senate emphasized, the September draft almost entirely neglects graduate and professional studies at Queen’s, and the APTF has done nothing since then to remedy this deficiency (in fact, its report has grown only shorter; see also note 2, below).  (2)  The removal of all statements concerning virtualization and online learning has produced, or at least emphasized, another gaping hole.  Online resources present an urgent set of academic questions for any modern university, certainly for Queen’s.  The Province of Ontario has been developing an Online Institute that may well require the participation of all Ontario post-secondary institutions, and at Queen’s the Center for Continuing and Distance Studies has been busy promoting more blended and purely online courses and programs. A “business case” has been prepared for this expansion in online learning–but where is the corresponding academic planning?[4] In this context, silence is not just another deficiency in our planning:  if we approve an “Academic Plan” that pretends to completion but says nothing on this subject, that silence will imply consent to current developments, seeming to express Senate’s considered opinion that virtualization is not an issue requiring any special academic consideration at this time.

There is, moreover, an elegant alternative that would embrace truth in advertising, endorse and implement real consultative planning, and allow delivery of the work that has so far been completed.  That alternative is embodied in Senator Jordan Morelli’s motion for 22 November. This motion accepts that our planning is incomplete, but celebrates the fact that the Task Force appointed by Senate has produced some good pieces and initiated a fruitful process.  Senator Morelli’s vision has three parts:

  1. Senate should thank the APTF for its work, and particularly for instituting an open collegial planning process using issue-specific consultation and transparent,  interactive media for sharing consultative materials and drafts;
  2. Senate should institute a focused annual academic planning process in which it identifies an issue or set of issues and appoints a specialized task force to consult and report on said issues each fall;
  3. Senate should consider and approve, where it sees fit, the several draft reports of the APTF that were finished in the past year, in completion of the 2010-11 cycle.

In contrast with the many objections that have been made to the APTF’s drafts, Senator Morelli’s motion has inspired no objections, and in fact has been strongly endorsed by QUFA Council and by over 150 petitioners.   Senators voting on the Academic Plan in November will need to consider seriously whether the November draft or Senator Morelli’s motion represents the better option for the academic future of Queen’s.

Notes.

[1] Like the October Draft, the November draft as a whole bears the title “Queen’s University Academic Plan” (see the top of p. 1).  But beneath this, its “Contents” page includes “The Academic Plan” and the “four pillars,” suggesting that the “four pillars” (pp. 14-53) are actually extraneous to “The Academic Plan.”  The APTF website confirms this suggestion, referring to the document as “The Academic Plan plus the four supporting pillars.”  Likewise, the APTF’s Notice of Motion to Senate moves “that the Senate approve the Queen’s University Academic Plan 2011 and its supporting Four Pillars” (emphasis added).  Technically, then, these manipulations shrink the “Academic Plan” to a mere 12 pages (pp. 2-13); to put this differently, they manage to exclude from the “Academic Plan” virtually all of the work that the Academic Planning Task Force members produced between January and late July–those very pieces of the Plan that were carefully built upon the issue-specific consultations that the Task Force was mandated to conduct and to use in its drafting.  It seems pointless to have required that Task Force Members do this extensive work and then to exclude it from the Academic Plan at the last moment by a titular sleight of hand. On the other hand it is difficult to see any positive gain to the University in designating only the 12-page summary as its “Academic Plan.”  If this document is even to be considered, it should be retitled so that the “Academic Plan” unambiguously includes the “four pillars.”  Otherwise, why all this labour since January for a generalizing 12-page document written in October?

[2] See also Mark Jones, “Academic Planning and Graduate Studies: The Unfinished Project” (25 October 2011).

[3] In the few places where the November draft responds to criticisms by revising rather than by deleting, the revisions are not felicitous.  For instance, Principle 8 was criticized in Senate in September, giving rise to this revision:

8. Queen’s must consider all students, whether undergraduate, graduate, or professional, first and foremost as students, putting their individual learning needs ahead of their potential contributions to the University as TAs, teachers, or researchers. (October draft)

8. Queen’s must consider all students, whether undergraduate, graduate, or professional, first and foremost as students, putting aside their potential as sources of revenue for the university.  (November draft)

The new phrasing is less precise (the university cannot “put aside their potential” to contribute to the university, but it could very well adopt the principle of putting their “learning needs ahead of their potential contributions”).  Nor does the new phrasing even remedy what was found objectionable in the old text.   The old text was criticized for de-emphasizing the graduate students’ “potential contributions to the University as TAs, teachers, or researchers,” but the new phrasing excludes those roles further by omitting even the mention of them.

[4] See Mark Jones, “On Virtualization, Blended Learning, On-line Learning, and the ‘Greater Differentiation’ of Ontario Universities” (July 2011), pp. 3-4, 10.

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