Castle's future in question

Bader International Study Centre hit by resignations and dismissals

The BISC is housed in Herstmonceux Castle at Herstmonceux, England.
The BISC is housed in Herstmonceux Castle at Herstmonceux, England.
Credit: 
Supplied by Rachel Smith

For almost two years, a series of dismissals, resignations and curriculum changes have rocked the Queen’s Bader International Study Centre (BISC) with scant attention from main campus.

After the centre’s executive director Dr. Bruce Stanley was suddenly removed in 2014, Queen’s introduced a new amalgamated course curriculum at the castle. That new curriculum resulted in the removal of several professors and the courses they taught.

Stanley — who has yet to be replaced — was originally appointed Executive Director of the castle program in February 2011. 

Stanley had been set to help Queen’s forge new international partnerships. He had previously worked as a country director for Amideast, a U.S. based not-for-profit in Jerusalem and Gaza. 

During a visit by Provost Alan Harrison in February 2014, however, the director was abruptly removed from the BISC campus. 

According to an official release by Harrison, Stanley left due to “a result of differences with respect to the priorities of the [BISC]”.

His departure was followed by the beginnings of a wave of resignations and “redundancies” — where professors are notified that they’re no longer needed at the castle. 

The BISC wasn’t always the subject of scandal and curriculum debates. In its 22-year history, the castle has steadily grown in the size of its student body and program offerings. 

But, since Stanley’s departure, students have raised questions about the direction and organization of the international centre. Johanna Strong, ArtSci ’17, who was at the castle the day that Stanley left, said she remembers it “vividly”. 

Strong said stunned students were invited to a lunchtime meeting with Harrison, where the provost promised to explain the decision. 

“Many of us attended the session with a variety of questions, none of which, I recall, were answered directly.”

While Strong said she understands that decisions are often made without notifying students, she said she was alarmed by the lack of transparency when Stanley was dismissed.

“When events like this happen, Queen’s staff members fly into England to give us the news, and then fly out again and do not have to deal with the consequences,” she said.

“When Bruce was dismissed, the Executive Director who understood life at the Castle, who engaged with students, and who was working for our best interests was replaced with an administration in Kingston who didn’t understand.” 

Strong added that while she had loved her time at the castle during the 2013-14 school year, she may not have chosen to go if she were applying for the current program. 

Since Stanley’s departure, the roles and responsibilities of Executive Director were split between Dr. Christian Lloyd, Caroline Harber, Claire Anderson and Peter Bowers. Anderson, however, has since left the BISC, leaving management to Lloyd, Harber and Bowers. 

In an email to The Journal, Alan Harrison stated that, “the leadership positions at the BISC report directly to myself, and other BISC personnel work closely with their counterparts on main campus.” This has been the case since February 2014.

Harrison stated that the BISC leadership team meets regularly with himself, along with stakeholders on main campus, to discuss operational and strategic matters at the BISC. 

Under the direction of the Queen’s administration, Lloyd, Harber and Bowers have grappled with the introduction of new — and much-debated — BISC 100/101 curriculum.

BISC100, “Thinking Locally”, and BISC101, “Acting Globally”, were designed to amalgamate several subjects into two single-semester courses. The courses, introduced during the 2014-15 school year, were intended to give students a larger breadth of options.

By taking the two courses, a student can pursue up to seven different subjects at once before entering their second year. The subjects covered by the courses include History, Sociology, Drama, Geography and Film and Media Studies. 

“The goal was to use the course to help identify, develop and assess the academic and cultural skill sets that students will need for their success in studies and in future employment,” Harrison stated. 

However, the creation of those courses resulted in the elimination of several other full-year course offerings at the castle, including courses in History, Drama, and Philosophy.

In doing so, several faculty members were made redundant and removed from the castle, including Dr. John Keefe in Drama, Dr. Eric Litwack in Philosophy, and Dr. Scott McLean in History. 

Although McLean was given a redundancy notice for History, Harrison told The Journal that the castle has two professors currently teaching History, “both of whom have PhDs in the discipline”.

Other staff members left of their own volition, including Dr. Chris Taylor in Science and Mathematics, Academic Travel Manager Nina Lawrence and Assistant Student Services Manager Rachel Smith. 

Harrison was unable to speak on the departures.

“It would not be appropriate for the university to comment on individual arrivals and departures of BISC employees,” he wrote.

When The Journal contacted McLean, he said he couldn’t speak to the matter, as he had been legally prohibited from discussing the circumstances of his departure. 

However, Kate Skelton, ArtSci ’17, who worked under McLean, said the professor was asked to both leave his position and the house on-campus that his family had inhabited for over a decade.

Skelton added that McLean’s departure came a year into a three-year, $200,000 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant held jointly by McLean and Dr. Steven Bednarski from the University of Waterloo. 

She says she’s unsure where the remaining funds will go without a specific program for either subject in operation at the BISC. 

Professor Richard Greenfield, a current professor and former chair of the History Department, has his own concerns about the removal of McLean.

“One of the understandings [with the new BISC 100/101 courses] was that there would continue to be somebody at the castle who was appointed by [the History Department], and so this was Dr. McLean,” he said.

“With the loss of Dr. McLean, this is a major blow to History and to the Classics Department too.”

Greenfield, along with Professor Adnan Husain, had been designing a field school focusing on Medieval Mediterranean studies.

Despite being deep into the planning process, the pair put off their plans in January 2014 due to concerns about the “lack of practical support we were getting at a relatively late stage,” Greenfield said.

He said communication had become difficult due to unclear circumstances, and they didn’t believe they could meet their deadlines to run the program that summer. 

But, Greenfield said, there was still a “clear understanding” that the program would likely run in the summer of 2015.

A few hours after Greenfield and Husain informed the administration that they intended to delay the program, Dr. Stanley — who supported the program — was removed from the castle.

“Nobody has ever been in touch with us again,” Greenfield said. 

In response to Harrison’s reasoning for Stanley’s removal, Greenfield said he acknowledges the administration’s authority, but wants a coherent plan. 

“You have these difference of opinions, and you have clashes, and if permissible legally you can get rid of somebody, but you need to have a clear plan in place to justify that sort of action,” he said.

“Since [Dr. Stanley’s departure], I’ve seen nothing about a clear plan at all.”

From a student standpoint, Harrison said BISC 100/101 have been met with positive feedback from students. 

“A number of students who took the program last year have since commented on how well the course prepared them for their second-year studies at Queen’s,” Harrison said.

Madilyn Darrach, ArtSci ’18, disagrees. She said she’s seen student concerns about the courses across the board.

Darrach attended the BISC in 2014-15 and served as her year’s Academic Representative. She worked alongside Dr. Christian Lloyd regularly on academic affairs. 

“Christian was very confused about what to do with the castle. Nobody seemed to have an idea about what to do,” Darrach told The Journal via Facebook Messenger. 

“They don’t actually know what they’re trying to achieve anymore. They did [BISC100 and BISC101], now they’ve added science, and gotten rid of all the courses that are best experienced and learned in a 15th century castle in England.”

She said Provost Harrison was always visible to students in her year and recalls him flying to England to discuss students’ academic concerns. But she said there was rarely any action taken.

“We did respond and make our voices heard, but then the information would go into meetings and never be talked about again,” she said. 

Harrison disagreed, stating that Queen’s has made a point to “[gather] feedback from students, and have this year made adjustments to the course structure and evaluation in response to the feedback.” 

Darrach said she believes the program can be figured out, but doing so may require the BISC to close temporarily. 

“I think they need to shut it down for a couple of years. Figure it out. Figure out the funding, what their mission should be, who they should serve, [and] create [physical] accessibility,” she said.  

She’s unsure, however, whether or not Queen’s will be willing to make the necessary sacrifices required to fix the program. 

“They’re gonna need time and money to do it. It’s gonna cost a lot in manpower and brainpower. 

“My question is: will Queen’s sacrifice these things in the short term to create what could possibly be very beneficial in the long term?” 

Corrections

November 20, 2015

A version of this story uploaded on Friday, Nov. 20 did not reflect several small changes made in final edits, including the replacement of the word "firings" with "dismissals" to better describe events at the castle. The article has now been updated to reflect the final version of this story as it appeared in print.

The Journal regrets the error.

April 26, 2016

Madilyn Darrach provided her comments via Facebook Messenger, not via email.

The Journal regrets the error.

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