Mark Jones, Cut First, Advise Second, Ask Questions Later (11 November 2011)


Many students and faculty members at Queen’s were shocked to learn from the Globe and Mail that their own Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) had terminated admissions for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) program for 2012-13.  FAS sent a memo to select students on Wednesday, 9 November; the Queen’s Journal printed the story online (including the FAS memo) the same day, with a promise for fuller coverage in its Friday issue; and the Globe reported it on Thursday morning, 10 November.  The suspension does not appear to have been mentioned, much less discussed, at Faculty Board or in  Senate at Queen’s (the Nov. 11 Faculty Board meeting was cancelled).  Nor had it been mentioned in the informative e-Queen’s bulletins that blanket campus twice a week (most recently on 4 and 8 November).  For most members of the Queen’s community, therefore, the national newspaper’s announcement was the first they heard.

Associate Dean Gordon Smith explained to a faculty member:  “suspending admission to the BFA program for the 2012-13 academic year [. . . .] does not mean the BFA program is being closed.”  Maybe not.  But it certainly looks like closure.  One does not foster academic programs by periodically shutting their doors.  No first-year BFA’s next year:  that probably means no second-year BFAs the year following.

The present suspension should also ring some bells from February 2009, when Arts and Science suspended programs that had 25 or fewer concentrators. Then too the rationale was strictly budgetary; neither the academic necessity nor the quality of the programs was at issue.  We lost many of our most vulnerable faculty members then, and some of the units involved no longer exist.  But in February 2009 FAS at least had the decency to announce its decision at Faculty Board, on campus.

In 2009, students and faculty responded with a demonstration outside Richardson Hall. They also thronged the next Faculty Board meeting (3 April 2009) to testify to the academic importance of the threatened programs, and they succeeded in passing a motion that FAS suspend the suspensions.[1] The Administration eventually forced its way, but one point appeared to have been made:  Queen’s must not shape its academic future by determining the fate of programs on exclusively budgetary grounds.  Such decisions need to have academic rationales as well.

Accordingly, incoming Principal Daniel Woolf arrived with promises for Academic planning.  As he vowed in his “Financial Update” of November 2009:

The academic planning process that we will be embarking on in the new year will help us prioritize what we do and how we do it. I think it’s very important that our academic values drive our financial decisions, including capital planning, budgets and human resources strategies.

It is deeply disturbing to find, then, less than two weeks before Senate considers a draft Academic Plan, that the Administration has learned so little from the process of which it has pretended to make so much.  We find the academic planning process of 2010-11 book-ended by two program closures (sorry:  “suspensions of admissions”) that have a rather similar aspect.  Both target the arts, both invoke strictly financial criteria, and both are presented to the community as decisions already taken on high.  The message would seem to be:  nothing has changed.

But, you say, the Academic Plan has not yet been approved by Senate!  Surely that will change something?

Don’t hold your breath.  Real academic planning should be what happens any time decisions to cut academic programs are taken.  But the current process has been carefully shepherded by the Administration to make as little difference as possible—e.g., to make it possible to act today exactly as in February 2009.  The draft produced by the Academic Planning Task Force (APTF) in September could well have used Principal Woolf’s motto, “doing less with less,” as its title, for most of its recommendations were cost-cutters, dressed up as programs for  “inquiry.”[2]  Since then, the APTF has produced two more re-drafts, and its solution to criticisms has been simply to cut every passage to which anyone objected.  Thus, its recommendations for UNIV 100, for virtualization and blended learning, for undergraduate TAs, and for reducing academic “content,” are all gone.  This means, of course, that the current draft plan has little left that is positively offensive.  But the APTF’s eagerness to cut every passage that has given offense reflects a weakness in principle, a desperation to pass an “academic plan” in whatever shape.  And why is that?  It is because a bland, do-nothing academic plan in 12 pages will make no difference.

If you objected to the program cuts of Feb. 2009, OR if you object to their mirror image in  November 2011, then insist on real academic planning.  Tell your senators to vote down the draft that is currently before senate and to approve Senator Morelli’s motion.  Sign the petition for starters; there are other ways too.


[1] See also “Queen’s ‘Academic Planning’ Exercises: A Critical History.”

[2]  e.g., recommendations for reducing academic “content,” for using undergraduate TAs to teach, and paying them off with academic credits, and for ramping-up virtualization.

This entry was posted in Academic Planning Task Force, Cuts to Programs, History of the "Academic Planning" Process. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Mark Jones, Cut First, Advise Second, Ask Questions Later (11 November 2011)

  1. M A Pappano says:

    Mark–thanks for your usual astute commentary. Of course, fine arts gets chopped as the new performing arts centre construction continues, once more highlighting the administration’s fondness for buildings over programmes and teaching students. Watch out — surely the performing arts programme is next on the chopping block, but don’t worry–those new buildings can be transformed into offices for the new administrators we seem to acquire from one year to the next …. Surely this is a decision that needs to go through Senate, so let’s fight it!

    • music student says:

      I don’t think the construction of the new performing arts centre is at blame, considering it is being built on with considerable amount of private donations as well as government funding. Granted too that upon completion, the venue will be available outside of university to rent out for performances, it will perhaps be resourceful culturally and financially to the Queen’s community.

  2. Pingback: Update! « Queen's University BFA'12

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