Queen’s-Blyth Worldwide: A Faculty Discussion with Vice Provost James Lee (23 January 2013)

On 6 November 2012, a group of Queen’s faculty (Annette Burfoot, Karen Dubinsky, Marc Epprecht, Petra Fachinger, Emily Hill, Jennifer Hosek, Mark Jones, David McDonald, and Adèle Mercier) met with Vice Provost James Lee, Tom Gallini (Queen’s-Blyth International Assistant, International Programs Office), and Jenny Corlett (International Programs Office) to discuss concerns about the Queen’s-Blyth Worldwide (QBW) program.

Before the meeting we sent a series of questions, to which Vice Provost Lee has provided written responses:

Q: What are the revenue-sharing arrangements between Queen’s and Blyth–i.e., what are the respective shares of revenues per-course or per-student?

A: Queen’s receives a portion of the application fee to cover administrative costs.  Out of the all-inclusive program fee, Queen’s only receives a portion equivalent to the Queen’s tuition for the course. The remainder of the program fee covers the student’s airfare, accommodation, some meals, and course-related academic field studies.

Q: What are the arrangements around intellectual property rights:  e.g., what rights does the developer of a QBW course have over the idea and material for the course (e.g., does the developer/1st instructor acquire rights of first refusal?) and how are these rights protected under the Administration’s assumption that the CA between Queen’s and QUFA does not govern these contracts?

A: Queen’s-Blyth Worldwide instructors have complete ownership of their course materials, like any Queen’s instructor.  They are covered under same Senate policy protecting their intellectual property rights as that applying to Queen’s faculty members, which may be found at http://www.queensu.ca/secretariat/policies/senateandtrustees/intellectualproperty.html.

Q: How is the administrative decision-making shared between Queen’s and Blyth–i.e., who decides or how is it negotiated what courses will be offered when and where and what faculty will be designated to teach the courses?

A: Queen’s has complete control of the educational / academic components of the Queen’s-Blyth Worldwide International Studies Program.  All instructors are vetted by departments and approved by Queen’s, and Queen’s selects the courses, based on the recommendations of departments.  Queen’s also solicits student and instructor feedback through course evaluations (USATs) and exit surveys.  Blyth is responsible for all operational logistics, including air travel, ground transportation, accommodation, and logistics associated with academic field studies and optional excursions.  Program locations are jointly decided by Queen’s and Blyth – the two main criteria are pedagogical value and cost. 

Q: How is the administrative decision-making managed within Queen’s–i.e., how and by whom are the courses and their modifications for QBW delivery assessed for academic quality?  If courses are to be approved by Departments, is there any assurance that they are actually approved by the Departments themselves or by duly constituted departmental committees rather than by individuals such as a Head or Undergraduate Chair?

A: As mentioned previously, Queen’s has complete control of the educational / academic components of the Queens-Blyth Worldwide (QBW) International Studies Program. QBW courses are Queen’s courses, fully approved by departments and the relevant Faculty Curriculum Committee, and can be found in the academic calendar.  Once QBW instructors are appointed, they must contact and work with departments to ensure that the detailed course syllabus contains course content and course outcomes analogous to a course given on campus.

Q: How are course evaluations to be handled:  are they to be handled by QBW as they are by Queen’s?  Are instructors to have the option to choose particular questions?  In the case of a course taught by a Queen’s faculty member, are the numerical results of the course-evaluation routinely to be forwarded to the relevant department and faculty or school, as is done for regular Queen’s courses?

A: The process for course evaluations is identical to those undertaken in courses delivered on campus. USATs are administered to each class and the multiple-choice results for the compulsory questions are returned to the relevant department for review by the Head/Chair.  The instructor receives all of the responses, including written comments.

The goal of the Queen’s-Blyth Worldwide International Studies Program is similar to that of our other international programs—for Queen’s students to have educational and rewarding international experiences.  Instructors who have participated in the program so far have worked hard to create high-quality and meaningful courses for the students, enhancing the learning experience by taking students beyond the classroom.  Initial feedback from students and instructors who have participated in QBW has been overwhelmingly positive.  I am happy to meet with individual faculty members at any time to discuss concerns with any of our international programs.  

As follow-up to the meeting, David McDonald asked Vice Provost Lee:

  • Can we see a copy of the contract that Queen’s has signed with Blyth so we know the full terms of the agreement?
  • Can we see the past financial statements of the programme, as well as the business plan for the next two years?
  • Would the administration be willing to participate in a public forum on the QBW programme (or perhaps on a wider topic such as ‘austerity and education’ or ‘private partnerships and education’)?

No response to these questions has been received to date.


The following is not a transcript of the discussion, but a series of statements by the faculty involved concerning the issues they raised at the meeting or would have raised, had time permitted:

 Petra Fachinger:  Concerns about the language of the QBW website:

As I pointed out at the meeting, the Queen’s-Blyth Worldwide website could be improved with some rewording.

Although obviously meant to be jocular, the suggestion to “escape from the classroom walls” expresses a certain disregard for what instructors are working hard to achieve in the classroom at Queen’s. “Practice a new way of learning” suggests that something is wrong, or not up-to-date, with the learning that happens in our classrooms.

“Embrace a new culture,” considering the 3-week exposure that students have to another culture through the Blyth experience, sounds presumptuous. I wonder if it would not be more appropriate to say “learn more about a new culture” or “experience a new culture.” Embracing a new culture also has a colonizing ring to it.

The “Course Structure and Expectations” section explains in parentheses what “traditional teaching methodologies” are, but it neglects to define “non-traditional teaching methodologies.”

Also, the term experiential learning needs to be defined. According to David Kolb, “experiential learning” has four elements: 1. concrete experience 2. observation and experience 3. forming abstract concepts 4. testing in new situations (http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm).  It is a term that has been around for quite some time (particularly in foreign language instruction) and has its supporters and detractors. There is a wealth of pedagogical literature out there on the topic. Recent efforts by Queen’s to adopt the term in its mandate statement and other documents (by the way, the Academic Plan does not use the term experiential learning) might come across as pedagogically unsound or lacking academic substance.

Let me quote from Pillar III of the Academic Plan, which addresses the complexities of meaningful intercultural learning:

Queen’s community members involved with international student exchange programs agree that exchanges, however valuable, are not sufficient in themselves to educate students in global-mindedness and impart intercultural competence. The following caveats have been voiced: exchange programs are cost and labour-intensive; a relatively small number of Arts and Science students are able to participate in international exchanges; and Queen’s students going out on exchanges need to be better prepared. Surveys have shown that students often struggle adjusting to new cultures. Moreover, the university needs to optimize learning experiences that students gain from international exchanges by preparing them more adequately for their time abroad and by making debriefing/reflection seminars mandatory upon their return.[1]


Marc Epprecht:  Concerns about academic merits

M. Epprecht expressed grave skepticism that a 3 week course, including travel time and acclimatization, could possibly involve an equivalent academic content as the on-campus course of the same name, number and description. This creates a serious problem for departments like DEVS which count courses from other units toward their concentration. It is particularly worrisome that Queen’s apparently has no control over the travel agenda or learning venue. While it makes some sense for an Art History course to see original pieces of art in Rome or Paris, it makes no pedagogical sense for a course on African politics to take place in game parks (five of them, hundreds of kilometers apart, in the Tanzanian case). Indeed, it makes a mockery of the “learning hours” exercise we are obliged to do for on-campus courses through the Curriculum Committee.

It is a relief that the most offensive tourism language and images have been taken off the QBW webpage. We no longer advertise the chance to dance with “tribespeople.” But this does nothing to address the fact students will still dance with said local colour as part of the Blyth travel and profit-seeking agenda. There is a huge scholarly literature on the ethical among other problems in such packaged “experience” which DEVS, and colleagues in many other departments, are sensitive to and take great care to structure into our existing in-house courses like the Cuba and Fudan programs.

M. Epprecht requested that a clear, transparent “exit strategy” be articulated, with provision for public debate and rigorous research that will enable QBW to be assessed on its academic merits. If found wanting on those grounds, it should be terminated before it brings Queen’s into disrepute (this has already started among DEVS students and my colleagues in other development studies programs elsewhere in Canada).

DEVS would happily volunteer to develop new, truly experiential learning courses through collaboration with our research partners in the Global South. Although this would require some up-front investment in faculty and staff time, the courses could be delivered at far lower cost to students and hence be more accessible.


Mark Jones:  Concerns about Process:  How are QBW courses recommended and approved? 

I’m concerned by the nominalistic relation between QBW courses and Queen’s on-campus courses.  QBW courses are identical in their titles, numbers, and academic credits to courses taught on Queen’s campus, yet they are in actuality not the same:  they are radically shortened in duration and have to be redesigned for the purpose (see David Hanes’ video on the QBW website).  In certain cases they are taught by non-Queen’s faculty.  Out of fourteen taught last year, only half were taught by Queen’s personnel, according to Tom Gallini.

In Queen’s Senate, October 2012, I presented a motion that all courses for which Queen’s grants academic credits, including online and QBW course variants, be submitted to Faculty Curriculum Committees for review.  The Provost and four Deans all opposed this motion on grounds that it would (a) deter innovation and (b) infringe academic freedom.  The motion was voted down, 25-20.  (See Senate Minutes, Oct. 2012, pp. 10-13.)

The objection about academic freedom was preposterous.  Academic freedom in teaching is the freedom of instructors to iterate a given course as they see fit, so long as the course remains true to the calendar description.  But QBW modifications (such as the three-week  time-frame) are institutionally imposed.  They constitute variants of the standard calendar description.  Their terms are binding on all instructors.  The three-week term of a QBW variant, for instance, is part of its definition; every instructor must adapt to the shortened term as an essential feature of the variant.  These institutionally imposed variants cannot, therefore, parade as expressions of academic freedom, which pertains to individuals.  Having them assessed by curriculum committees to ensure that they merit academic credits would be to restrict administrative license, not academic freedom.

I would therefore like to know the administration’s rationale for opposing the submission of such course variants to curriculum committees for approval, as the Provost and four Deans did in Senate in October 2012.

Vice Provost Lee responded to the question about course approval (which was not so fully expressed in the meeting) that QBW courses are approved by Departments—in some cases a Head, in some cases an Undergraduate Chair, in some cases a committee within the Department.

While a departmental approval process is better than nothing, it is not sufficiently impersonal and arms-length.  For instance, a Head who is asked to choose or approve courses for QBW is likely to know the department members or graduate students who wish to teach a given course in a given location.  The decision to approve or deny a proposed variant could thus be inflected by personal factors.  Curriculum committees are more impersonal and arms-length and thus minimize the likelihood of approvals being made for non-academic reasons.  This is, presumably, why departments must have regular courses and curricular changes approved by curriculum committees.


Emily Hill: Queen’s-Blyth sells out professors (revised, 9 Nov. 2012)

Jim Lee has now told me twice that no one who does not wish to teach in the QB program is obliged to do so. It seems that he does not understand that I feel obliged to do so despite the fact that no one has asked me to get involved in any way. I feel that I must teach for QB because I am committed to developing study opportunities for Queen’s students in China as part of a curriculum in Chinese studies at Queen’s and to ensure that our curriculum in Chinese studies is well-integrated and reaches respectable academic standards.

I have proposed a new 3-unit course to be taught in the QB program in Beijing next May. I have invested time in planning the course and preparing submissions to the Curriculum Committee at Queen’s and to QB. My department head told me yesterday that he had just recommended (presumably to the Lee-Blyth-Gallini team) that I be hired to teach the History course in Beijing that I proposed through him back in the summer. It turns out that no one else applied. The title that I proposed for a History course in Beijing is “Contemporary China: From Red to Green” and was featured in QB brochure during the Fall. Thus a small but valuable piece of my intellectual property was used long before any assurances to me that I rather than someone else would teach the course. I don’t know exactly what happens next in the process of hiring for next spring or what would happen next year if I were to apply to teach the course again in competition with someone else who might seem preferable to me for some reason.

My aim is to create a high-quality course for QB. To do this will require careful planning. To teach the course will take a lot of energy. However because the venture is intended to generate revenue, I am making a risky investment. My success will be judged according to the goal of revenue generation. To ensure that I am hired to teach the course again, 
I might end up stressing direct experience a lot more than reading and writing.  Therefore my wish to benefit from my investment will be somewhat in conflict with my wish to develop a good-quality course.

Another condition affecting quality in the QB program is that all instructors are paid at the same rate: $5,000. Jim Lee has pointed out to me that salaried faculty members like myself receive their salaries at the same time as teaching in QB and that free round-trip air travel is also provided, but as I replied on Tuesday, this is still not enough. The problem is that our only choices are to teach a QB course as an overload course or to buy ourselves out of another course so as not to take on an overload. $5,000 is not enough for a 3-unit course buyout.

By assuming a 3-unit course overload, someone earning a salary of $100,000 to 120,000 who normally assumes 12 units or four semester-long courses in teaching annually as the standard 40 percent of his/her duties is doing work that normally is equivalent to $10,000 to 12,000 in salary. At the same time, there is an opportunity cost related to teaching rather than doing research. Part of the person’s salary is being paid from public funds with the understanding that the person’s time is being spent on research, or if not on research then on other activities that serve Queen’s. Therefore the real cost of the course can be calculated as $10,000-12,000 plus the opportunity cost. I estimate $5,000 as less than one-third of this.

For Queen’s to divert part of our salaried time into support of Sam Blyth’s effort to earn profits in a partnership with Queen’s is to sell us out to Sam.

Naturally, not many salaried associate professors will choose to sacrifice research time for $5,000. To throw in airfare does not make a big difference. I, for instance, have been active enough in research that different organizations in China have paid for my Toronto-Shanghai round-trip travel in 2010, 2011, and 2012. In 2013, my schedule will not allow me to stay on in China after teaching in Beijing.

Therefore, it is likely that senior instructors with expertise relevant to regions overseas will not be attracted to the QB program. I do approve of providing opportunities for scholars who have not yet gained salaried positions. However, QB appears to be cutting corners and forgoing the potential for quality in this respect, just as it is undermining quality by circumventing the process of curriculum review and by giving department heads sole say on hiring.

The solution to this problem is to give Queen’s faculty members the opportunity to teach in the QB program as part of their regular course loads. They would not be hired on contract and would not receive $5,000. They would still be provided with airfare, accommodation, and meals. The cost to departments of replacing their teaching could be met using the $5,000, by part of the QB tuition revenue, and by fees paid by Blyth, which he would owe in recognition of the fact that faculty members’ expertise is a public good. If these arrangements cannot be made, salaried faculty members should not be teaching for QB, and if salaried faculty members are not encouraged to get involved as part of curriculum development in their fields of expertise, then QB should not be continued.


Jenn Hosek:  It is not only the desire of Queen’s faculty to participate as stakeholders in curricular matters, including study abroad; it is our right and responsibility under the Collective Agreement (e.g., secs. 15.2.1(a), 28.5.3(d), 29.1.5(c), 29.2.1(d), 37.1.4(b)).


Appendix:  Concerns about financial (as opposed to academic) motivations: 

Vice Provost Lee assured us that Queen’s gets nothing from the QBW program but BIUs and tuition, and that its involvement in the program is purely for the sake of providing Queen’s students with valuable international experience.  But earlier documents concerning QBW suggest that the program was, at least initially, motivated more by financial aims.  For instance, the Queen’s University Budget Report 2011-12 states:

As part of its planning exercises (in the face of the need to balance the budget), Queen’s has been exploring various revenue-generating ideas. For example, we have begun major initiatives with Blyth Enterprises to facilitate educating Queen’s students abroad, and we have explored the feasibility of offering Queen’s degrees and certificates through distance on-line learning. In the coming year, business cases for a number of such initiatives will be generated.[2]

And a memo to heads written on 30 Jan. 2011 says “There are strong indications that the Program will have the potential for significant revenue generation.”[3]  In the sections “Revenues” and “Conclusion,” it notes the following:

Based on their own ongoing market research and current programming numbers, Blyth estimates that an eventual steady state of 2,000 course enrolments would not be unrealistic. Such a figure could of course take some time to achieve, but indications are that an enrolment of 500 students could provide a net revenue to the university of about $330,000; an enrolment of 1000 students could provide in the region of $700,000; and an enrolment of 2000 could provide approximately $1.45 million.


The potential for revenue generation does indeed seem significant, and the Dean’s Office will of course be arguing for retaining as much of this revenue as possible within the Faculty of Arts and Science, thereby contributing to the relief of at least some of the continuing financial pressures on departments. [4]

As Queen’s Academic Plan says of QBW:

“The potential for revenue generation” figures largely in the rationale for this project; it is of course important that such ventures and the participation of Queen’s students in them be subject to rigorous academic supervision and review.[5]


[1] Queen’s University Academic Plan 2011, p. 52;  http://www.queensu.ca/secretariat/index/QUniversityAcademicPlanFinal2011.pdf, accessed 5 Dec. 2012.

[2] Queen’s University Budget Report, 2011-12 (n.d.; ca 2011), p. 7 (http://www.queensu.ca/financialservices/reports/budget/Budget_Report_2011-12.pdf, accessed 10 July 2011). The phrasing that views these initiatives “as part of [Queen’s] planning exercises” is matter for some debate, for this Budget Report was completed, as were the negotiations for the Blyth initiative and the business case for “distance on-line learning,” before the completion of the plan. As the Budget Report immediately continues:  “In the coming months the Academic Plan will be completed. This plan will provide guidelines to promote the reconceptualization of instructional and curricular norms” (p. 7).

[3] Patrick O’Neill, “Queen’s-Blyth International Studies Program,” 30 Jan. 2011; emailed to Heads in early Feb. 2011.

[4] ibid. The memo also indicates that “In each year of the three-year pilot project, Blyth will provide Queen’s with a subsidy of $100 for each course enrolment, but amounting to not less than $30,000 in total, to defray associated administrative costs.”

[5] Queen’s University Academic Plan 2011, p. 49, n. 62; http://www.queensu.ca/secretariat/index/QUniversityAcademicPlanFinal2011.pdf, accessed 5 Dec. 2012.

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