Envisioning academics

Principal releases academic planning report on Friday

More interdisciplinary programs and fewer areas of research concentration are on the academic planning agenda, according to Principal Daniel Woolf’s vision document released on Friday.

The 22-page document contains Woolf’s vision for the long-term academic direction of Queen’s and calls for innovative ways of structuring degree programs and teaching methods.

Faculties have been asked to submit responses to Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane by April 15 based on discussion prompters provided in the document’s appendix.

“The document was a great opportunity for me to put into paper form some thoughts I’ve had really over the last 12 or 14 months going back to when I was a candidate for the job of principal,” Woolf told the Journal. “Right up front, it’s not an academic plan. There may be some ideas in it that have take-up and there will be some that will not have take-up.”

Woolf said he wants Queen’s to focus on areas the University’s already excelling in instead of overstretching its resources.

“Universities have talked about doing more with less for a very long time and we seem to be very, very good at squeezing out more activities rather like squeezing extra suits into an overstuffed suitcase,” he said. “We’re going to have to start being more selective about the activities we engage in. … We can’t be all things to all people.”

Woolf said faculties will have to decide internally which departments they may want to put more funding into.

“I wouldn’t want to begin to name what those are because they are departmental-level discussions.”

Queen’s should also expand its interdisciplinary programs, he said.

“Some quarters of campus are practicing that very well already,” he said, adding that gender studies and global development studies in the Faculty of Arts and Science are two such departments.

The University should also consider redesigning education delivery, he said.

“It’s sometimes taken as a given that degrees must be offered in a pattern,” he said. “In Arts and Science it’s typically 19 credits, et cetera … but that hasn’t been there since the dawn of time.”

Woolf’s report contains 10 proposals, which include offering students a variety of class formats, more field studies and laboratory work and common spaces for faculty and students to interact regularly outside of class.

Woolf said the University’s financial situation will play a role in which proposals are carried out.

“The finances provide a big fence around what we can do. … We’re not encouraging blue-sky thinking without a foot in financial reality,” he said. “I’m a great believer that you portion the budget around academic priorities, not the other way around.”

Dean of Arts and Science Alistair MacLean said he thinks it’s important to involve the faculties in academic planning.

“Survival of the Faculty of Arts and Science I think that’s what’s got to come out of the discussion we have in the next few months,” he said.

MacLean said he’s asked Arts and Science departments to start internal discussions.

“We asked last term for departments to prepare a three-year curriculum and budget plan so that faculty members would have a realistic appreciation for where we stand financially,” he said. “I would expect those documents to inform our discussion.”

MacLean said the faculty office has created a timeline for receiving feedback.

“By Jan. 29 we’re going to release a briefing document from the faculty office that will give some wider context for some of the discussion in the faculty,” he said, adding that departments will have until Feb. 19 to report back to the faculty office.

“I’ve asked departments to make sure their faculty, staff and students are included in that discussion,” he said.

The faculty will produce a first draft response by March 1. After more discussion, the office will produce a second draft by April 2. The final response will be submitted by the April 15 deadline.

“I think it’s an important step in terms of seeing where we go in the next five to 10 years,” MacLean said. “I’m just hoping for a lot of involvement from members of the faculty and I hope that we’ll come to a fruitful conclusion.”

To read a copy of Principal Daniel Woolf’s vision document, please see queensu.ca/principal/news/vision.html.

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