Professors pressed for time

‘There aren’t a lot of spare resources around these days’

English professor Rosemary Jolly says she doesn’t have time to teach in new departments.
English professor Rosemary Jolly says she doesn’t have time to teach in new departments.

Rosemary Jolly wants to have an African studies department at Queen’s but simply doesn’t have time to work in a new program.

Jolly is an English professor who specializes in Southern African literature and cultures.

“The resource constraint is not just money—the resource constraint is people like me who would love to teach in an African studies department,” she said. Jolly—who’s only teaching one class for the next four years because of her participation in research projects—is one of a number of professors who specialize in Africa that are already involved in too many different areas.

Part of AMS executive-elect Radcliffe-Wang-St. Clair’s campaign was focused on the creation of new academic programs, such as African studies, Middle Eastern studies and aboriginal studies.

Patrick Deane, vice-principal (academic), told the Journal lack of funding and lack of space are the main constraints preventing the creation of new programs. He said one possibility would be borrowing faculty members from other departments, but the time lost teaching in the professors’ home departments would have to be made up somehow.

In a November interview, Deane said the University hopes to expand interdisciplinary programs, and might offset budgeting shortfalls by allotting less lecture time per course, freeing professors to teach more courses. Students would make up the lecture time by doing research with their professors.

Jolly, who just returned from two months in South Africa where she’s the principal investigator on a Canadian Institute of Health research program looking at gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS, said it becomes a question of the extent to which professors can be shuffled.

“I actually, right now, am already over-committed,” she said.

Jolly said there was a drive for an African studies department around 1994 but, since then, there hasn’t been much initiative in the area.

“I think it’s a very positive thing that Queen’s students and faculty are becoming more involved in trying to articulate strategies,” she said.

But she said priorities don’t always line up across departments. The history department, for example, won’t have an Africanist next year after some professors retire.

“Africanists on campus are stretched to the limit,” Jolly said.

Jolly said a new academic program’s co-ordinator would have to ask department heads to borrow professors from their departments.

She said it costs about $14,000 for a professor to teach a class. There’s a concern the professor would end up spending too much time setting up the new program, especially if it’s an area in which the professor’s interested. She said the department might need to find a replacement for that professor.

“That’s hard if Professor X is a specialist in aboriginal studies,” she said.

“A lot of the people who are interested in those types of areas have already been partitioned.”

Oded Haklai, an assistant professor in the political studies department, said he thinks creating separate departments for areas such as Middle-Eastern studies would compartmentalize learning.

“Pedagogically, I think it’s very useful to learn about areas in relation to other areas,” he said.

Haklai said the University lacks language courses, not regional studies.

“The only course that’s really missing is a course in Arabic language, but for that you don’t need a separate department,” he said.

“For that, the administration just needs to determine that it’s a priority.”

John Holmes, former Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA) president and member of the 2007-08 executive, said he doesn’t think QUFA has been approached recently about decreasing the amount of time professors spend lecturing.

Holmes said there was significant discussion around restructuring the undergraduate curriculum in the faculty of Arts and Science five or six years ago. Discussions focused on reducing classroom lecture hours, as well as providing more opportunities for students to engage in independent work.

“At the end of the day, the word from the dean was that simply there weren’t the resources available to implement what was being talked about,” he said.

Cross-departmental teaching is certainly possible, but it would be a challenge, particularly right now, Holmes said.

“I think at the moment many departments are really stretched,” he said.

“I think it’s a good idea to develop interdisciplinary programs … but then you take resources away from those departments, and my sense is that there aren’t a lot of spare resources around these days.”

Holmes said in the mid- to late-1990s, budget difficulties and an early retirement program lead to a drop in faculty numbers. Over the past few years, there has been a marginal increase in the number of faculty, he said, but the number still isn’t back to where it was before the drop. At the same time, student enrollment levels have increased about 25 to 30 per cent, he said, and the amount of contact professors can have with individual students is falling.

“I think that really is a concern.”

He said QUFA lobbies the University to hire new faculty constantly.

“A lot of people at the moment struggle with the fact that there’s a lot of resources being put into building and some other initiatives,” he said.

“Yes, there are some extra faculty being hired, but those numbers are very small compared to what is required.”

—With files from Erin Flegg

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