Queen’s reputation, on the classroom level

Pushing academia beyond the conventions of the canon

Image by: Herbert Wang
Courses are developed within faculties.

Queen’s prides itself on being one of the top research universities in Canada, founded on Oct. 16 1841 and predating confederation. Part of Queen’s reputation comes at the classroom level based on the courses run by its faculties.

Recently, the English Department started offering a new course for the fall 2022 semester: ENGL 294 Cultural Studies: Theory into Practice (Taylor Swift’s Literary Legacy (Taylor’s Version)), taught by Megan Burry. The announcement sparked controversy among the student body.

Reddit pages flooded with debates over the value of the Taylor Swift course, and people complained about Queen’s wasting money on novelty courses. Now, whether students and faculty are yay or nay is still to be argued—the greater significance lies in the conversation itself.


Publicly assisted Ontario universities are continually assessed in an audit every eight years to ensure they’re adhering to the provisions of their Quality Assurance Process.

The 2018 Institutional Quality Assurance Process claims to generate a framework that “provides a mechanism for academic programs to clearly articulate the quality of their programs, and includes such features as degree level expectations (DLEs) and learning outcomes.”

This framework examines criteria for degree expectations, completion requirements, learning objectives and outcomes, and any significant modifications. These standards ensure students meet the correct admission requirements threshold, address the current state of discipline or field of study, and understand the role of academic integrity.

These mandates confirm the student’s ability to study in the educational institution and maintain the integrity of a research facility.  

In a statement to The Journal, the Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) outlined the basic procedure for their annual course reviews.

Queen’s departments review and discuss course offerings, revisions, and deletions annually. This may include changes to current plans through either deleting or creating new ones.

Once these changes are agreed upon within the relevant department, they’re forwarded to FAS for the curriculum committee to review.

After this committee assessment, they check the faculty regulations, impact on current and future students’ place in the plan, and relevant learning outcomes. If all these areas meet up to the standards, the Committee recommends the Faculty Board approve these changes.

The final step is to add these additions or deletions to course plans, SOLUS, and the academic calendar.

These changes are conducted at the department level. When it comes to course creation and plan adjustments, it’s an internal process that doesn’t often involve the entire faculty.

“Student input is a valued and significant part of the process at both the departmental and Faculty level,” FAS added.


The Journal spoke to Dax D’Orazio, a post-doctoral fellow in Canadian affairs and Political Studies at Queen’s, about course development.

Starting his second year of teaching here at Queen’s and entering the classroom after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, D’Orazio discussed his approach to teaching students.

He currently teaches POLS 355 Issues in Contemporary Political Theory in the fall and POLS 422 Public Opinion in the winter. He spoke on his approach to teaching “topic courses” and his balance between representing the theoretical and methodological concepts with an “unorthodox approach” to gain the perspective of various political actors and their interests in public opinion.

Since “topic courses” are less personalized toward a specific field of research, D’Orazio spoke to finding a balance between relaying content and keeping students engaged with the material.

He emphasized the importance of collaboration in academia when describing his approach to instructing and organizing his courses.

“I’ve been consistently asking students both in the classes and outside of classes, what they think the most timely political issues are,” he said.

“I’m trying to think about, in tandem with that, what are some courses or topics that I could offer that are personally intellectually stimulating for students.”

This approach to teaching and the interaction with the student body shows how faculty members view academia as not necessarily a lecture, but as a conversation.

In D’Orazio’s courses, students are active participants in the course creation process—they don’t remain on the sidelines of their own education, but help influence the decisions instructors make about their courses. The classroom is both an area to learn about the content and an area discover how to discuss contemporary issues with peers of the same level.

D’Orazio is a new staff member at Queen’s and thus hasn’t had the chance to create his course from the ground up. However, he did speak to the benefits of being a post-doctoral academic—it gives him more time to develop his courses.

“I’m only teaching one course this semester, so I’m lucky in the sense that I can craft this course in a way that’s as close to the ideal as possible without having so many courses to teach in one year.”

This focus gave him the time to look towards project areas that are both relevant in the classroom and in political modes today.

“So, we tried something a bit novel, which is creating a podcast out of the course,” he said.

“In the last half of the course, students are watching a guest lecturer, reading an article, or watching a documentary. And then they’re submitting podcast questions for this eventual podcast mini-series that will be taped.”

Students will be marked based on the questions they ask, giving them the chance to become a political analyst and learn how to ask critical questions when delving into complex ideas.

He also pulled on his resources by asking guest speakers ranging from political theorists, journalists, and Emmy award-winning documentarians to “have their brains picked” by students in the course.

D’Orazio also commented on the pandemic’s effect on his teaching style and the importance of being aware of the academic environment.

“The pandemic context has had a lot of influence on my approach to teaching and trying to create a really healthy balance […] Which is showing up rolling your sleeves, doing the work and genuinely trying to improve and being able to take constructive criticism and do something with that.”

He spoke on this give-and-take relationship between students’ willingness to learn and their effort to push themselves in the classroom setting—they need to show up ready to talk about the content and participate in a discussion that may create tension.

He noted how challenging the transition has been for students in the pandemic, and he’s changed his approach to teaching to accommodate for this.

Another critical issue regarding course instruction is the education of the professor and their academic background.

D’Orazio’s research focuses on free expression, academic freedom, controversial political issues, and how public discourse works. Despite his courses not focusing on the specifics of his research, he can still incorporate his knowledge into the class discussions and assignments.

 “I’ve slowly become more and more interested in taking my research expertise and experience and trying to figure out how that attaches, or how that relates to the contemporary moments as closely as possible.”

He touched on the significance of academic flexibility and how students, as the future of academic research, need to continue contemporizing their education and knowledge.

He wants to try and make theoretical and complex ideas “tangible and relevant” based on “what students are actually experiencing in the world right now.”

He commented on how this flexibility adapts from 200-level lectures to 400-level seminars.

In 200-level classes, students are mainly focused on the presenters, who collect their opinions and arguments from the sources given to them. In comparison, once you reach the 400 level, you start “to craft or to cultivate their own authorial voice, their own political ideas,” D’Orazio said.

It’s not necessarily about an emphasis on the content becoming harder; rather, the student addresses the content in a more sophisticated manner than just regurgitating the professors’ lectures. Upper-level courses get the students to come into their “own intellectual space.”

D’Orazio emphasized the importance of pushing academia beyond the canon previous researchers have established for the students below them.

Though creating a foundation is essential to understanding political theories and discourse, there’s a constant shift within the social sciences and humanities towards new ideas and concepts.

“It’s a part of diversifying the canon as well, and within almost all fields, there’s a similar movement afoot to include new voices and new perspectives,” D’Orazio said.

The inclusion of diverse topics within the political field is something he’s commented on as a positive aspect of both the research and educational environment at Queen’s.

Despite this being his second-year teaching at Queen’s, D’Orazio’s experience has been “very diverse” and “very engaging.”

On Queen’s official website, one of the key selling points is first-year students’ ability to be undeclared majors.

“It’s hard to know what you want to study right out of high school where your options were limited,” the website says.


Reputation does not always equal value, yet Queen’s faculties are working to offer their students the most engaging and current forms of education.

When D’Orazio first got a position at Queen’s, he was excited to be a part of the Political Studies department’s good reputation. Once he arrived, he said it was “akin to winning the lottery.”

When questioning if university giants like Queen’s really live up to their legacy, one might consider how courses are developed and run.


courses, Faculty of Arts and Science, Politics

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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