Objections to the Faculty of Arts and Science Draft Response to Principal’s Vision Statement (18 Mar 2010):
By Mark Jones, 25 March 2010
I’ve asked colleagues to come to Faculty Board on Friday to help reject the FAS Draft Response to Principal Woolf. The documents are long and time is short, so here is a digest of five reasons to show up, along with some talking points. The first four are recommendations being made by the Faculty of Arts and Science in (see my fifth point) our name.
1. The Draft Response recommends centralizing “administrative offices in the various buildings that comprise the Faculty” (pp. 15-16). This means downsizing—collapsing departmental staff positions and technical support. The Draft Response admits it “would come with some costs to current levels of departmental service” (p. 15). In recent decades departmental staff complements have already been compromised to a degree that compromises rather than improves efficiency. Most faculty now act as their own secretaries: highly specialized scholars do their own typing, copying, filing, scheduling, web maintenance, and so on (we don’t even have a dossier service)—while university administrators appear to have maintained or improved their own secretarial and staff support to improve administrative efficiency. In the English department our staff members are already working flat out, sometimes overtime. And they know their jobs, the department’s seasonal calendar, its history, and its processes, better than anyone because they have been making it work for years. How would English departmental functions be better maintained by a central Humanities office? We have no redundant equipment. Our copier is in almost constant use, and a group of interested faculty members had to chip in last fall to purchase a departmental laser printer. Can we really hope that a central office on the first floor will improve our efficiency? And were our staff members themselves, who know this issue best, really consulted upon it?
2. The Draft Response recommends virtualization of undergraduate teaching in years 1-2 (pp. 4-5, 14). Decisions to apply classroom technology in teaching need to be made individually by teachers on the basis of its fitness for specific contexts, materials, and intellectual and pedagogical purposes, rather than being imposed uniformly from above for cost-cutting or other administrative purposes. Moreover, virtualization of teaching has not been proven to increase efficiency—many reports indicate the contrary.
3. The Draft Response uses “under fifty concentrators in years 2-4” as a benchmark indicating the non-viability of an academic unit (p. 15). Other factors need to be considered here, such as the academic necessity for certain subjects in a modern Canadian university, and whether the number of concentrators in such units has been increasing or falling. Italian, for instance, has been severely cut because it had too few concentrators, despite good arguments for its cultural and intellectual relevance and the fact that its enrolments had increased dramatically over the previous four years. It should be noted that this benchmark has been moving upward lately. At last April’s Faculty Board meeting the magic number was 25. A few years before, it was 10. The implication is that it is an arbitrary number imposed for purely financial considerations. It needs to be weighed against academic justifications for retaining smaller units for the greater good of the whole. Some bodily organs are smaller than others. Most are not therefore dispensable.
4. The Draft Response recommends that “The Faculty needs to review its course weighting structure,” specifically by de-linking this from “contact time with faculty” (pp. 5-6). Still more specifically, it recommends that we increase current weightings of “capstone courses” to “a minimum course weight of 1.0, and possibly 1.5,” in order to enable “the Faculty . . . to absorb increased undergraduate enrolments” (5-6). Re-weighting of courses for budgetary reasons, to accommodate increased enrolments without increasing teaching resources, will result in shell-games whereby students’ total instruction goes down while their nominal credits remain constant. This is not academic but budgetary planning. Where course credits have been linked to actual “contact time with the faculty,” there should be no de-linking without very serious academic reasons–as opposed to rationalizations. The way to ensure this is to require that such changes be initiated locally at the ground level and to go through proper channels (e.g., Curriculum Committee) rather than being imposed by general dictates from above.
5. False consultation: The Draft Response opens with the claim that “the Faculty Office has attempted to synthesize a range of comments by faculty, staff and students who have made their views known through meetings of the Committee of Departments and Faculty Board, through submissions in response to the Principal’s ‘Where Next?’ document and through Departmental responses to an early draft of the Arts and Science planning document” (p. 2). With the possible exception of some isolated individuals, staff and students have not in fact been consulted; they don’t attend the Committee of Departments and Faculty Board, and they were never asked to respond to “Where Next” or to earlier draft documents (ask your secretaries and your students). So in what sense does the FAS “Response” “synthesize” their views? Even where faculty have been consulted, their objections have not been listened to. Despite strong objections in the Committee of Departments to Draft 1 of the Response (11 Mar.), Draft 2, produced a week later, is substantially identical. The very rapid pace of the supposed consultation (ten days between the prompt and the due date for departmental responses to “Where Next,” and one week between Draft 1 and Draft 2 of the FAS “Response”) precludes reflection and meaningful academic planning. Now we are told that the Faculty Board meeting of 26 March will be the last date for public discussion of the FAS Planning document. This is apparently our last chance to speak for ourselves on this issue.