Students are being misled about the quality of their education

A proper education cannot exist without accountability measures

Matt believes in accountability for both students and professors
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Supplied by Matt Mellon

The average Arts and Science student at Queen’s University will pay roughly $28,000 for their four-year undergraduate degree. For commerce students, their degree is almost $67,000. While most businesses make quality guarantees for large purchases, it has become clear that a university education comes without such promises.

Those attending a prestigious institution like Queen’s should expect to receive the highest quality of education possible. Administration openly strives for this ideal and has been assuring its students that Queen’s will continue to offer “an equitable and robust learning experience” through remote learning during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, administration is powerless in providing or asserting the delivery of this “equitable and robust learning experience.” This responsibility falls on the professors—however, their unequivocal right to academic freedom means nothing is guaranteed.

Outlined in the faculty-university collective agreement, academic freedom entitles professors to select teaching methods and course materials, pursue research of any kind, and express their views and beliefs, among other freedoms. The promise of high quality is based on nothing more than trust that professors will do their due diligence.

In many ways, a career in academia is backwards.

In most other fields, paid employees uphold standards set by their employers to satisfy paying customers. In academia, the reverse is true; paying students are at the mercy of professors, forced to accept whatever is given to them without any promise of high quality. Working in academia is a position of near invincibility, at least within the boundaries of the law.

This is not an attack on academic freedom as a whole, but rather its non-existent limitations. Academic freedom will always be essential to the proper functioning of post-secondary institutions, particularly concerning the knowledge and expertise of professors.

As it stands, the professor’s freedom to design and administer courses with no oversight, direction, or restriction from University leadership is hurting students. It is not uncommon for students to pay for courses they later consider a waste of time and money. While most instructors design their courses with care and remain mindful of the student experience, it is unfair to students that outliers still exist in such an expensive industry.

This lack of accountability and oversight can facilitate poor course design. Professors are under no obligation to do better than reading from a slideshow for three hours. If an instructor wants to assign textbook readings as the sole form of instruction for their course, there is nobody who can hold them to a higher standard.

Being an expert in their field of study doesn’t make every professor an expert in pedagogy. The absence of accountability measures means poor choices will continue to be made in terms of course design and delivery of material.

Beyond the argument of quality, student safety and well-being are at also risk due to the lack of boundaries on professor behavior.

Other institutions have seen instructors use racial slurs—such as the University of Ottawa and the University of Windsor—and have been caught defending residential schools. One professor at Mount Royal University went as far as suggesting she could take advantage of her tenure status because the chances of losing her job were slim.

It would be naïve to think such hurtful incidents are not happening at Queen’s as well.

As it stands, the storied structure of academic institutions has never been challenged. It’s problematic that conversations concerning consistent delivery of academic quality never happen at Queen’s—the assumption that students always get what they pay for simply isn’t true when it comes to education.

Meaningful change will arise from a collective effort from students across the university. By empowering their peers to speak up, voicing their concerns with their Department Student Councils, and communicating with the AMS, students can help things can get better.

Students must be aware of how the system works and continue demanding that the quality of a Queen’s education matches its price tag. It’s time to reclaim our position as this institution’s biggest benefactor and most important stakeholder.

 

Matt Mellon is the AMS Commissioner of External Affairs



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