Daniel Woolf on the Academic Plan and the “Domain of Senate” (excerpt from a Letter to William Young) (posted 7 October 2011)

A letter written by Principal Woolf to the Chair of the Board of Trustees on 25 June 2011, laying out “Annual Goals and Priorities” for 2011-12, was leaked sometime in July and discussed widely on campus and in the national press (see discussion by Queen’s Journal, 27 July 2011, QUFA, CUPE, QUFA, and USW, OCUFA, and  Macleans on Campus, 28 July 2011.)

The letter discusses “Conclud[ing] the Academic Planning Exercise” as the third of three “Group A Priorities,” and makes clear not only the Principal’s view of the parameters of the planning now in process, but also his determination to have the plan completed and approved by Senate by December. Of particular concern is the Principal’s assertion that the Academic Plan “will not identify particular faculties or units for closure or expansion, which is not the domain of Senate but of management.” Whether or not the plan (still to be considered by Senate) will recommend closures or expansions is still uncertain, but the claim that this “is not the domain of Senate” is dubious. Senate’s “Purpose and Functions” document opens with this definition of the “Central Function” of Senate:

Under the jurisdiction of the Royal Charter of 1841, Senate determines all matters of an academic character that affect the University as a whole, and is concerned with all matters that affect the general welfare of the University and its constituents.

If academic unit closures and expansions don’t count among “all matters of an academic character that affect the University as a whole,” it is difficult to guess what does.

(For more on this question, see here for background and then read David Mullan on “Responsibility for Academic Programs.”)

Here is the relevant section of the Principal’s letter:

3. Conclude the Academic Planning Exercise

The Academic Planning Exercise initiated shortly after I took office is now at a crucial juncture. There has been 18 months of discussions, an Academic Writing Team (last summer) and a Senate Task Force. The latter should have its report finalized in the fall term. I am hoping to have it through Senate and available for discussion at Board at the December meeting. I would anticipate that a fair bit of my time, and that of the Provost and the Vice-Principal (Research) in particular will be spent on both getting it through Senate and subsequently developing an operational scheme by which the Academic Plan’s goals and aspirations can be implemented over the next five to ten years.
It might be timely for me to clarify here what the Academic Plan will and won’t be. The Plan itself should be a statement of institutional values, priorities and ambitions; it will not identify particular faculties or units for closure or expansion, which is not the domain of Senate but of management; nor will it get down to the microscopic level and indicate that ‘we need more sections of first year Accounting’. It will provide the hub for the development of related documents such as the campus/capital plan and the tri-council driven Strategic Research Plan.

In order to ensure that the plan becomes more than a set of platitudes, however, it will be important to generate a set of milestones and metrics as we move to the execution phase. These, too, will require some internal discussion. As you know, we have been working with Institutional planning on moving reporting at Board meetings and elsewhere to a dashboard format. I envisage a set of university-wide metrics and others that are much more Faculty and Department-specific.

As stated in last year’s goals document, the ultimate purpose of this exercise— and the accompanying capital, advancement, research and advancement plans—is to allow us to develop a long term vision for “a reinvigorated, innovative and internationally recognized Queen’s” over the next ten to twenty years. This should include some bold and transformative plans to differentiate Queen’s in the ‘sea of sameness’ that postsecondary education in Canada has become, and ideally to make us less dependent on the vagaries of government funding. (pp. 5-6)

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