Questions for Principal Woolf (13 February 2012)

Questions for the Principal, as submitted to the Secretariat on 13 February 2012 for the 28 February meeting of Senate, in reference to the Principal’s January address.

Questions concerning Principal Woolf’s Report to the University Senate:

1.  Your summary of the “core suggestions of the [Academic Planning] Task Force” makes no mention at all of writing and communication skills–and yet the promotion of discipline-specific training in writing and communication is a “core suggestion” of the Plan.   It is a recommendation, moreover, that had very broad campus support in the Task Force’s consultations.  As the Academic Plan states:

“We recommend that Queen’s foster Academic Integrity at its roots by enabling its students in the communication skills and discursive conventions appropriate to their chosen fields of study . . . . university students need to learn not just general communication skills but also the discursive / communicative practices appropriate to their specializations.” (November Draft, as approved by Senate, p. 21)

As it also states,

Beginning with its informal session in Senate in February 2011, the APTF has consulted widely on the propositions “that the performance or mastery of a discipline is largely coextensive with the ability to write in that discipline and that writing should therefore be taught in connection with disciplines.”  Support for these propositions has been strong, though some have argued for general writing courses at the first-year level in lieu of or in addition to discipline-specific training, and still others worry that required first-year writing courses would infringe on time and resources needed for teaching disciplinary content. Support for improving the teaching of writing in general has been practically unanimous. (p. 22; see original for notes and documentation)

As one faculty member enthusiastically suggested, Queen’s should strive to be known as “the University you go to, to be produced as a writer” (p. 21).   Do you support and hope to implement the Academic Plan’s recommendations for improving the teaching of writing?

2. You observe that in government, universities “are frequently contrasted with the colleges that are seen as more flexible, quicker to adapt, and more responsive to the needs of the employer marketplace” (emphasis added).  Do you accept this as a fair criticism of the universities–i.e., as a complaint that they should act upon?  Given that Ontario’s post-secondary system has, since the 1960s, allotted career and trades training to colleges and held universities responsible, among other things, for research and liberal education, is it not actually appropriate that the colleges should be the “more responsive to the needs of the employer marketplace”?  As the Principal of a major Canadian research university, are you committed to reminding our politicians of this important distinction?

3.  You say “it is imperative that we move to a system where departments are more equitably funded for the level of teaching and research activities they undertake and in which money in support of teaching, quite simply, follows the student” (emphasis added).   Would you please explain exactly what you mean by saying that money should “follow the student”?   Would you agree that a publicly funded university is duty-bound to allocate resources to the support of research and teaching in some disciplines that are socially necessary but lightly subscribed or unremunerative?

4.  The QNS was a notoriously inefficient search mechanism since it pitted many departments against one another in competition for limited rewards.  If ten or twenty units compete to hire where only two positions may be awarded, a great deal of  faculty time and effort is wasted in advertising, interviewing, assessing, and promoting candidates. Would you support a more efficient method of allocating QNS positions  among departments/programs, e.g., by telling Department/Program X “it is your turn for a QNS” and allowing that department/program sufficient time to find a suitable candidate? Often units find  it difficult to do so within one year.  Considering that the APTF’s recommendation to make the recruitment of Aboriginal faculty a priority (recommendation 10 of Pillar III) was unanimously approved by Senate, would you consider putting the hiring of an Aboriginal QNS first on the list?  (The graduate program in Cultural Studies as a cooperatively staffed and interdisciplinary program would be in a very good position to put forward a QNS application in Indigenous Studies  because of the significant number of self-identified Aboriginal students in the program as well as its faculty expertise.)

I would also like to draw to your attention and that of Senate  that QUIC’s director Wayne Myles, not the APTF, first suggested internationalizing Queen’s “at home” (in his Response to “Where Next?”).

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