Plan presented to Queen's Senate

Task Force writes 89 recommendations including a mandatory full-year literacy course

Plan of the Task Force Peter Taylor will resubmit the Plan to Senate.
Plan of the Task Force Peter Taylor will resubmit the Plan to Senate.

After almost a year of work, the Academic Planning Task Force presented its final plan to Senate on Sept. 27. During the discussion that followed, Senate members voiced concerns over how the 89 recommendations would apply to all Queen’s students.

The Academic Plan will be brought back to Senate for an approval-vote in October or November. If passed, the implementation process will start immediately.

Academic initiatives include: fewer lectures, a mandatory full-year literacy course, and reducing the impact of first-year marks on a final transcript by using a pass-or-fail system.

Task Force member Mark Jones said he doesn’t support the current Plan anymore.

“My sense in this is that this is not ready to come forward yet,” said Jones, a professor in the faculty of English. “It was produced in a couple months; I think that is too short of a time.”

The Task Force was formed by Senate in November 2010 as part of Principal Daniel Woolf’s campaign for a new academic plan, which began with his January 2010 document ‘Where Next.’

Seven other members sit on the task force, including AMS Vice-President of Operations Kieran Slobodin and professors from various disciplines.

During their first seven months, the Task Force consulted with many groups including the AMS, the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS), the office of Student Affairs and faculty boards. The plan took three months to write.

Jones said the Task Force Chair Peter Taylor is a member of the Board of Trustees and consequently the Academic Plan’s recommendations are too financially-motivated.

“The motivation seems to be ‘how can we do these things on the cheap,’ ” Jones said.

A recommendation that undergraduates work as TAs for credit would generate revenue for the University through tuition while saving on what it costs to pay faculty, he said.

“I would say most students come here to be taught by faculty,” Jones said.

He added the increased focus on online courses was financially-driven and that the University would save on dormitory and faculty costs while receiving tuition. Provincial funding is also granted on a per-student basis.

“They say students want fewer lectures, which may or may not be true. It’s over-generalized,” Jones said.

Peter Taylor, chair of the Task Force, said the plan will continue to be revised until it’s approved in a vote by Senate.

“We need to reduce the amount of details and make the main ideas clearer,” Taylor said.

The Task Force will amalgamate ideas, reorganize and simplify the plan, Taylor said, adding that over the next two to four weeks they will accept comments via their website.

Pilot projects of certain recommendations will be run on a small-scale first, he said.

One example is a mandatory full-year literacy course for all first-year undergraduate Arts and Science students.

The class, UNIV 100, will be graded on a pass-fail basis and the material will teach writing, reading and communication skills in an interdisciplinary and engaging manner. Example themes for the course include “conflict and co-operation” and “the life cycle of common products.”

The Task Force has suggested that a four-week on-campus remedial course in the summer be taken by students who fail.

Taylor said the course is being suggested due to observations from faculty, students and employers that there’s a need for improved literacy skills in students.

“Employers tend to find that students are weak in these aspects, and that’s what they need students to do,” he said. “If academic skills are weak, the time to get them right is in first-year.”

Undergraduate Student Trustee Lauren Long said she supports the implementation of the UNIV 100 course but that the mandatory remedial course should be rethought.

“If they fail, to hold them back for a summer course for four weeks, I think that could potentially place a financial constraint on students,” Long, ArtSci ’13 said at Senate on Sept. 27. “They’d have to find housing for this period; as well the four weeks taken away from their summer break could prevent someone from getting summer employment.”

Overall she said the seminar-style of the class, the interdisciplinarity and the pass-fail grading are worth supporting.

“If Queen’s brought that opportunity to all first-year students it’d really set us apart,” Long said.

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