Future bright for academics

Queen’s may add new programs

German Studies professor Jill Scott says students should work with their professors in research.
German Studies professor Jill Scott says students should work with their professors in research.

Award-winning German Studies professor Jill Scott sees little distinction between professors and students.

“What we’re doing is learning to learn,” she said.

Scott hopes to see more of what she calls “integrated learning” in the future Queen’s classroom.

“I’d like to see the walls come down with what we view as academics and what we view as everything else,” she said.

Integrated learning is a chance for students to gain critical thinking skills in their classes and then apply them outside of class, she said. Scott, who received the SSHRC Aurora Prize in 2005 for research, said she wants to see more undergraduate students interact with their professors and assist them in research to broaden their own knowledge.

Scott said students have to come to university thinking of themselves as researchers. Right now, she said, many come to Queen’s under pressure to do well and get good grades.

Acknowledging that it’s difficult to assess qualitative factors, Scott said she wants to see changes in enrollment criteria to include non-academic activities.

“Marks are only one indicator,” she said. “If you come in with, ‘I must do this,’ there’s a big fear. ... Curiosity and creativity aren’t fuelled by fear.”

Scott said she thinks taking part in an exchange program, doing field research or even living off campus are good ways to test your boundaries and learn about yourself.

“It’s important to put ourselves into situations where we’re somewhat uncomfortable,” she said. “Break out of the bubble mentality.”

Balancing research and teaching is a challenge for professors, Scott said.

“There’s a perception that professors care more about their research than their teaching,” she said, adding that she can’t imagine doing research without teaching.

“If you’re very serious about research you have to share it, and that’s with your students,” she said.

She wants students to be involved with their professors’ research, but that’s hard to do if class sizes keep growing.

“In 2027, I’d like to think that we won’t have gotten to the point that classes have gotten really big ... and students will still have access to a professor.”

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said he thinks technology in the classroom will become an everyday experience for students, but that shouldn’t replace the intimate working environment between professors and students that exists right now. PowerPoint slides may be a useful supplement to lectures, but Deane said he doesn’t want to see taped lectures where the professor won’t have interaction with students.

“Their learning can be mediated by new technology,” he said. “But I would always want [Queen’s] to retain itself as a community of learners. ... There is, really, ultimately no substitute for the interaction with a professor.” Deane said he wants more undergraduate students to engage in research with their professors outside of the classroom.

“I think we might stop seeing undergraduate teaching, graduate teaching and research as such separable things,” he said. “What we’re more likely to see is a way of learning which is really similar for undergrads and grads.”

This type of learning will involve more inquiry-based activity and more independent research, he said.

“That would be a terribly exciting thing.”

Deane said part of integrating this new, research-intensive, hands-on learning will involve developing new programs. He said every university has its strengths and wants to develop them, but he still wants to see more resources put into existing programs to maintain their quality.

“Queen’s is, by its history and partially by its nature, a comprehensive kind of university,” he said. “It’s imperative for us to maintain strength and quality in a broad range of disciplines. Occasionally you do find particular areas emerging into strengths.”

“There are so many outstanding departments in this place that to name one or two would be undermining the others,” Deane said.

Deane said it’s likely the University will add new, interdisciplinary programs in the future.

“It’s the difference between taking courses in a number of discrete fields for breadth and studying a specific issue as taught by a number of people in different fields,” Deane said.

“Cultural studies is an area that’s growing in importance. We may see programs like Islamic studies.” Deane said many students find their chosen lines of work require more breadth than typical university degrees provide. The University wants to respond by breaking disciplinary boundaries.

“What has lately been the case is that people begin to see knowledge as difficult to contain within disciplinary boundaries,” he said.

“I suppose the model to think of would be something like development studies … what will probably happen is we will see a number of departments coming from an interdisciplinary program.”

Deane said some universities change the way they group their departments because they see them as narrow boundaries.

“I’m not sure [Queen’s] will go there, but that is one thing you can see,” he said. “We may begin looking at different kinds of administrative structure.”

One challenge for developing new programs is ongoing, across-the-board budget cuts. This year, all academic departments faced four per cent cuts, with some interdisciplinary programs such as Canadian Studies facing significantly larger cuts.

Deane said he doesn’t see small programs being cut in the future.

“While one area might be very strong right now, there are always emerging areas,” he said. “You have to establish strengths against an overall picture which is strong.”

Deane said it’s too early to talk about the effects of budget cuts because they haven’t been finalized yet.

He said it’s normal for deans to make accommodations for smaller programs that require more funding.

“You’re concerned to look at the impact of the cuts in certain areas and where the impact is going to be bad,” Deane said. “I, along with the deans, will do whatever we can to mitigate the cut in some way.”

Deane said Queen’s has found new ways of doing things in periods of harsh budget cutbacks.

“You can sometimes restructure a program in a way that does not require as much formal classroom time as it once used to,” Deane said. He said this can be done by putting more emphasis on working with a professor outside of the classroom, for example in a lab.

Departments facing cutbacks can save money by allotting less lecture time per course, freeing professors to teach more courses, Deane said.

“It’s not a matter of making faculty members do more, but changing the role a faculty member plays in a particular course,” he said.

He said this could lead to more opportunities for students to make up the lost lecture time with less conventional learning, such as assisting professors in research.

“It is possible to, through pursuing that model, improve the quality of engagement that the student experiences,” he said.

“Regardless of what is happening with the budget we have to find new ways of building on the strength we have,” he said. “If a university isn’t developing and progressing, they just cease to perform the function a university is supposed to perform.”

Deane said the University has to use its resources strategically to maintain the quality of existing programs and invest in new ones.

“You have to find a way of allocating resources, even if they’re very modest resources, to new initiatives,” he said.

He said the University will continue to support new and existing undergraduate programs. He wants students to bridge the gap between undergraduate and graduate studies.

“If you’ve got undergraduates who are thinking of their relationship to the program in a way a graduate student does–different intensity, but in mode very similar–you will begin to recapture some of the interaction that was sacrificed in the budget cuts.” Principal Karen Hitchcock said one of Queen’s priorities is to create small-group interaction in classes.

“We’re looking to engage students and to do that we want to increase students’ opportunities to participate,” Hitchcock said.

She said the University’s first priority is to hire additional faculty to improve the student-to-faculty ratio. One challenge will be finding the revenue to support this, she said.

“We’re in the early stages of a major fundraising campaign,” she said. This will include increasing the University’s number of endowed shares and finding private support. Queen’s will also advocate with the provincial and federal governments for more funding.

“We’re in a very opportune time because both the Ontario and the federal government see post-secondary education as critically important to the future of Canada,” Hitchcock said. She said she hopes this means they will dedicate more funding to postsecondary institutions.

“We have to provide opportunities for interdisciplinary programs,” she said. “Increased involvement of students with their professors and the interaction of different disciplines—those are the themes for the future.”

Deane said Queen’s has an international reputation for groundbreaking research.

“There’s a lot of diverse research that goes on, on this campus,” he said.

The Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) published a report in 2004 that listed Queen’s as the fifth most research-intensive university in Canada.

In 2003-2004, the University received $147.5 million in sponsored research funding. The funding was divided into $67.8 million from the federal government, $22.7 million from the provincial government, $21.3 million from foundations, $24.1 million from corporations, and $11.6 million from other sources.

The Office of Research Services, a branch of the vice-principal (research), doesn’t keep records of how much research each department conducts.

Robert Dalrymple, head of the department of geological sciences and geological engineering, said his department has one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios in the University. He said this makes it one of the more expensive departments to operate.

“The implication of this is that we are never the first department that the University thinks about when it comes to giving resources,” Dalrymple said. “The line of reasoning is that other departments have greater needs than we do.”

Dalrymple said the department has been able to function effectively despite this.

The program is split between faculties, with geological sciences as part of the arts and science faculty and geological engineering under the engineering faculty.

Each year, graduating students in undergraduate programs are asked to fill out an exit poll survey in which they rate the quality of the education offered as well as student satisfaction.

In the last few years, Dalrymple said, the geological engineering program has had the highest exit poll ratings among engineering programs.

In comparing the department’s low priority for resources and high quality, Dalrymple said, it seems the University’s financial policy tries to equalize departments.

“I know it’s not the case [but] some wonder whether it isn’t the University’s policy to promote mediocrity through failure to reward those departments that are good, by objective measures,” he said.

Dalrymple said he wants the department to have an international reputation for developing groundbreaking research and student leaders in the field in 20 years.

“I want our faculty and students to be the people who help society to find the mineral and energy resources that are necessary to maintain our standard of living and to allow the developing world to improve their lot.”

He said this isn’t possible without proper funding from the University: the department has had to seek support from alumni and companies that employ them, he said.

“In this, I see universities in Canada becoming much more like those in the United States, where the elite universities rely heavily on donations to finance their operations.”

The School of Business hasn’t felt the budget cuts as much as some other programs, said Commerce Program Director Shannon Goodspeed.

“While we always have to be really careful about how we spend our money, it hasn’t made any effect on the number of students we’re taking in or the number of classes we’re offering,” she said.

The School of Business is working on an expansion project which involves a new, three-storey building.

Goodspeed said she hasn’t felt pressure from the University to expand the commerce program or make it highly specialized. The expansion was triggered by the increasing number of applicants. Each year, more than 4,500 people apply for the undergraduate program and the acceptance cap is set at 300.

Goodspeed said she hopes the program will also use technology in creative ways to enhance students’ experiences.

“Maybe [in 20 years] there’ll be some classes from residence rooms,” she said. “Also, being able to take part in group discussions via the Internet [and] having video conferencing from other countries.”

“There are so many great ideas we want to do, but they all need money.”

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