Mark Jones, Comments on the Strategic Enrolment Management Group Report (22 March 2013)

As emailed to Provost Alan Harrison and copied to QUFA Executive and PACC, 22 March 2013.  The Provost has not responded.

Dear Dr. Harrison:

I write in response to your invitation for comments on the SEMG Report on Enrolment Targets and Projections.

1.  As I mentioned in Senate, and as Senator Bridges reiterated, it is a serious matter for concern that this Report purports to address “Factors Affecting Enrolment Planning” (p. 2) without discussing the key factor of faculty renewal and while barely referring to academic staff at all.  Faculty numbers at Queen’s have suffered serious attrition since 2007 (as you acknowledged in the same meeting of Senate) while student numbers have risen.  Ominously, the Report’s only reference to “faculty” in the sense of professors is as follows: “Several programs expressed concern about their ability to maintain current enrolment levels in research-based Master’s and doctoral programs due to […] reductions in faculty numbers” (p. 10).  But the Report offers no comment on this.

The only other reference to faculty numbers is the prediction that in Arts and Science, “Increased faculty revenues from increased enrolment will also ensure adequate staffing to address the need for additional course sections” (p. 9).  This is more supposition than either plan or promise; and it is not supported by recent experience, in which increased student enrolment has been accompanied by faculty attrition.  It is not even clear that what this passage calls “adequate staffing” refers to full-time permanent faculty renewal, for the Report discusses “Academic Learning Support” elsewhere in terms of Writing Centre staffing without so much as a passing reference to regular faculty positions (p. 11).

Similarly, a section of the Report titled “Institutional Capacity” (p. 4) focuses exclusively on matters of residences and “space planning,” thus implicitly excluding faculty numbers as a determinant of “capacity.”

If I correctly understood your response, the Report omits this central factor because it addresses enrolment at the University level, whereas hiring is the responsibility of Faculties and Schools.

It remains a problem that the Report does not even mention that it does not mention faculty complement and renewal.  At the very least, it should acknowledge the central importance of these  factors, speak to the need for the University to address them, and indicate when and where they will be addressed.  It is worth noting, in this connection, that attention to faculty complement and renewal is lacking in the 2011 Academic Plan as well–a serious oversight–and that although Senate directed the new APTF to address it, the APTF has not found time to do so.

As a more practical response to your objection that hiring is the responsibility of Faculties and Schools, I suggest that the Report could and should make a general recommendation that additional enrolment in any faculty or school be contingent upon a level of faculty renewal within that faculty or school sufficient to maintain student-faculty ratios at the present (or better yet at a pre-2007) level.

2. The Report’s treatment of “distance” or online learning as a resource for handling rising enrolments is a second concern.  It is a particularly serious concern in connection with the Report’s failure to acknowledge the need for faculty renewal.  For instance:

The growth of distance studies is planned at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. At the undergraduate level, access to on-line courses helps meet student demand when on-campus classes are at capacity. (p. 4)

Given that on-campus courses “are at capacity” due to insufficient faculty numbers, this looks very like a proposal to use on-line resources as a substitute for faculty renewal.  Likewise:

Some of this growth could be realized through distance delivery, building on those graduate and professional programs currently offered through videoconferencing or online. (p. 3)

I hope it is not necessary to argue that online learning should not be conceived as in any way a substitute for faculty renewal.

3.  Concerning terminology, please note how both of the passages just quoted use “distance” learning as a euphemism for on-campus online learning.  The “Business Case to Grow Distance Enrolments” (FAS, Aug. 2011) used the same double-speak, pretending to promote “distance enrolments” even though it is well known that something like 85% of such enrolments are by students on campus.  The SEMG Report (and Queen’s more generally)  should take care to call things by their proper names, both so that all members of the community can clearly understand and properly assess what we are doing, and to avoid exciting distrust.  As the new Draft Report from the APTF has put it,  “Distance learning as a synonym for fully online courses is confusing. In some Faculties and Schools, most of the students taking online courses are residential students” (p. 9).

Respectfully submitted,
Mark Jones
Faculty Senator for Arts and Science

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This entry was posted in Enrolment Planning, Faculty Complement, Faculty Renewal, Open Letters. Bookmark the permalink.

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