Guest Post: Agenda for an “Academic Planning” Meeting with Principal Woolf

(QUFA is pleased to publish the following post from Mark Jones on behalf of Queen’s Students and Employees for Real Academic Planning.)

Representatives from Queen’s Students and Employees for Real Academic Planning will meet with Principal Woolf in June to discuss Academic Planning issues raised by the students’ and employees’ petitions to the Board of Trustees last April 30-May 1.

At Principal Woolf’s request that they state their agenda, the students and employees sent him following joint memo on May 21.

To: Principal Daniel Woolf
From: Queen’s Students and Employees for Real Academic Planning
Date: 20 May 2010
Subject: Proposed Meeting Agenda

Dear Principal Woolf:

In discussing “Phase II” of our Academic Planning, you recently promised further “consultation with students and departments to create a first draft of an academic plan,” and you expressed a desire to “create lots of opportunities for the public to [consult] us” (Queen’s Journal, 18 May 2010).

In light of recent expressions of frustration across campus regarding Administrative failings in consultative process (see, e.g., the FAS Faculty Board motions of April 2009 and March 2010; the grassroots town hall meeting of March 2010; petitions and letters of April-May 2010), we seek to help you clear the air of what you have called “confusion.”

In that spirit, we ask you please to provide specific details about the how, what, and why of the upcoming consultation process. What are your specific plans and objectives, in the following terms: which sectors of the campus community do you propose to consult with, and how deeply will you canvass each sector? What is the method to be? What kinds of input and feedback mechanisms are to be put into place? How and by whom are the results of this consultation to be synthesized in the form of the “Plan,” and how will the stakeholders be enabled to verify that the resultant Plan corresponds with their consultative input?

More specifically:

o Will consultation with undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and staff occur separately, collectively, within disciplines, and/or across disciplines?

o Given that a first draft is due in late August and that you promise to continue consultation until then, how do you propose to continue consulting through the summer, e.g., how will you compensate for the inevitable widespread summer absence of both students and faculty?

o How is the “Task Force” working, and on what timeline? We have been advised that Nick Day, Jawad Qureshy, and AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Kieran Slobodin are now involved, but the nature of their involvement remains unclear to the community.

o Given that Queen’s prides itself on both conducting and teaching research, we hope to see a stronger presence of empirical evidence and citation in the Administration’s rationales for changes to existing pedagogical structures and practices.

o You have mentioned “using social media outlets such as Facebook and [a Planning] website to gather information for the first draft” of the Plan (Queen’s Journal, 18 May). Can you explain more specifically how these media will be used to achieve more than a rhetorical demonstration that Queen’s “values student input”? The students among us are aware that academic unit Heads have been systematically canvassed with “templates” directing their attention to specific issues and questions, and that their written documents are now on record and are being incorporated in documents at higher levels. Students should also be treated as a serious source of systematic input, and their feedback should also be treated as valid data, subject to rigorous documentary methods. What methods will you employ to collate, organize, and publish student input–that is, what are your objectives, data collection methods, analytical methods, and plans for incorporating this input with input from other sectors in your consultation process?

o The last point raises the question of why different methods have been used among different sectors of the community. On a more proactive note, what thought has been given to the use in all sectors of a mixed-methods approach (qualitative and quantitative) to achieve breadth and depth of understanding both within and across disciplines, and thus to set the stage for some of the proposed interdisciplinary approaches to pedagogy and research at Queen’s?

Especially given that the planning process in FAS and the specific proposals by its Deans were overwhelmingly rejected by their own Faculty Board (26 Mar. 2010), we continue to believe, as our petitions have made clear, that the process now underway is building on a false foundation and should be redone on a proper basis. But given the Administration’s insistence upon continuing on the same foundation, we offer the following suggestions to improve the process now remaining:

o that Task Force Minutes be made public so that all interested students, faculty, and staff, can follow the decisions being made and have means for open response. For this purpose, sending out occasional email updates does not suffice, since this method is unilateral and renders response fragmented and invisible to the community.

o that consultation occur at more frequent intervals. There should be on-going consultation between Task Force members and constituents, with regular postings of Task Force agenda items and specific objectives to elicit feedback from all stake-holders.

o that student input be in a virtual and/or real public forum, to achieve transparency. One simple example of a way to achieve this would be to attach blog-style “comments” fields to all administrative communications, including the updates on the Principal’s website. These could be moderated to exclude abuse, but we assume that such openness on the part of Administration would inspire respect and serious contribution on the part of the community.

o that Queen’s Administration endorse and support and contribute to TransparentU. Most objections thus far have been about lack of transparency. The AMS, SGPS, and QUFA (via their largely attended AGMs) all voted to co-sign a letter calling for open publication of the Departmental and Faculty Responses to “Where Next?” We view this as an important initiative to make academic decision-making transparent, collegial, and collaborative. We urge the Administration to join in and contribute to this initiative and to find other ways to contribute in the same spirit as the Academic Planning Process moves forward.

o that spaces for feedback (virtual and otherwise) include specific process-oriented questions (rather than querying only output). Faculty and students are experts in the processes of teaching and learning. They should be given space to speak from their own experience about the process of achieving quality education, and their feedback should be weighed seriously.

o that questions in subsequent consultation be more specific. Asking “What are your metrics of excellence?” or “How do you define quality education?” will elicit responses too general to be useful or foster fruitless ideological debates. Some examples of more useful questions might be drawn from the First-Year Students’ Perceptions of the Quality of their Learning survey: e.g., “If you were Principal . . . what one change would you make to improve the quality of the first-year learning experience at Queen’s?”; “Which . . . have been helpful to you in improving your learning? Comments on assignments, Discussions with other students, Results on tests and exams, Questions you asked in class, Discussion(s) with professor(s) or TAs out of class, Reading the textbook, Group work, Packages of readings, Interactive field study, Other (please specify).”

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