This was an interesting Senate meeting because of the presentation on the Strategic Mandate Agreements, question period about the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, and discussion of a new Post-Baccalaureate Diploma certificate to replace qualifying years (Q-years).
Strategic Mandate Agreements
The provost presented material on strategic mandate agreements. This made for a very lengthy monologue, through which many in attendance seemed to be falling asleep. However, I very much appreciated the level of detail, including history. The provost at this senate meeting provided far more background than we ever received in Towne Hall meetings on this subject. While it is too bad that it took this long for Senate to be informed of these details (the process is largely finished), it is better late than never.
Strategic mandate agreements are part of the province’s goal to differentiate universities. Their first attempt at this a few years ago was based on a Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) report. But the result was that the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (TCU) could not differentiate universities based on that first round of submissions. According to the provost, “HEQCO has been marginalized by the province” since that failed effort. And, after recent turnover in the TCU minister’s office and the premier’s office, the province supposedly had a very different notion of what was meant by differentiation. Hence the very recent (ongoing) second-round of strategic mandate submissions. TCU has provided all provincial universities with six components (facets) of differentiation:
- Jobs, innovation and economic development
- Teaching and learning
- Student population
- Research and graduate education
- Program offerings
- Institutional collaboration and student mobility
The first of these, “jobs, innovation and economic development,” was suggested by and emphasized by the current minister of TCU. I find this component of differentiation short-sighted, albeit consistent with imminent elections. Economic growth is usually not good, which is why Carleton stresses sustainability. But, on a more personal note, our roles as faculty members should not be to train someone for a trade, especially in our BA programs. Around 99% of my students will never need to directly use in the workplace the materials that I teach in my courses (plant form & function; evolution of sex; Indigenous perspectives in ecology & evolution). Therefore, my philosophy is that content does not matter. Instead, I use the subject matter of these courses as vehicles to teach critical thinking, breadth of ideas, the so-called 3 R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic), ability/interest to question everything, and the joys of life-long learning.
Carleton has two remaining proximate tasks regarding strategic mandate. First, next week, Carleton will submit an appendix that contains narratives, stories that the ministry can tout in their public relations efforts. Second, in coming months, Carleton will provide up to three new boutique (“institutional”) metrics by which the province can gauge our university. MTCU has a special advisor, Paul Gennest, to advise the minister on strategic mandate agreements for all universities in the province. Somebody else is doing this for provincial colleges.
The provincially mandated metrics and the institutional boutique metrics, in conjunction with the strategic mandate agreements, will be used to inform funding and policy. Our funding formula will thus depend on these metrics. This seems superior to basing funding solely on enrolments and grant dollars (both of which will undoubtedly be in the metrics), but this seems to forget why the various universities were founded in Ontario. Funding policies are always difficult decisions, especially when governments are running deficits. But too often we forget that we governments should run deficits to smooth through business cycles, to help disadvantaged members of society. The good news is that at least the province apparently understands the demographics, with a projected diminution of 8% in the number of high school students who will be attending universities. See my 3 December 2013 Board of Governors blog for the demographic data.
Carleton listed the following five “strategic growth areas” in our strategic mandate submission:
- Health science
- International studies
- Information management and digital media
- Business, entrepreneurship & governance
- Advanced technology
Health science still seems like a pipe dream to me, especially given that we do not have a medical school, nursing school, dentistry school, or pharmacy school. International studies also seems like a counter-productive emphasis, at least so long as it costs several times more money to bring in an international graduate student than a domestic one. The phrase “advanced technology” seems pretty silly in two respects. First, nobody would list the opposite, namely “primitive technology”. Second this category seems to foreclose study of Indigenous technologies, which is unfortunate because those are probably the technologies that are most tested and most sustainable. But this is what we get for the strategic mandate process being taken away from purview of the university senate.
After 31 March 2014, at which time all strategic mandate agreements are supposed to have received final approval, these agreements will be used to allocate the remaining 22,500 graduate students spaces throughout the province and will be used for allocation of new degree (not diploma) programs. Starting in 2015, the multi-year accountability framework (MYAA) will be based on these metrics for allocation of funding. That is our brave new world, at least until the next election, which could bring something even more draconian.
The dean of arts & social sciences gave an exuberant defence of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, which he described as a brilliant incubator for new interdisciplinary programs. For example, cognitive science was spun off several years ago. The only downside that he mentioned was the program in Directed Interdisciplinary Studies, which will probably be eliminated soon. I truly appreciated getting such a fabulous answer at senate.
I love the idea of an incubator for interdisciplinary studies. We could use one in science, where we are in the process of closing down the long-running Integrated Science program, which only needs senate approval to be declared officially defunct (the Integrated Science program is being closed solely because somebody neglected to turn in the quality assurance paperwork). Furthermore, the Environmental Science program sometimes seems to be floundering…at least that is the rumour from the upcoming report from the “Working Group on the Governance, Administration and Resourcing of Interdisciplinary Programs”. But what I would really like to see is an incubator for interdisciplinary programs that bridges all five faculties in the university. For example, from my naïve perspective, I cannot discern the philosophical differences between our programs in Environmental Science (in science) and Environmental Studies (in social science). The faculty members in both programs actually do both natural science and social science, and do them well, which is amazing. The only major difference that I can discern is that Environmental Studies focuses on the Arctic, whereas Environmental Science focuses on southern Canada. I am not saying that we need to integrate all of our interdisciplinary programs, but we could do a better job of breaking down silos.
Senate approved with dissent an umbrella post-baccalaureate diploma. Individual programs will each have to petition to get approval for their own such diploma. Such approval should be trivial because diploma, credential, and certificate programs are not subject to the new quality assurance protocols. This also has the potential to drive program design, which may be unfortunate. These new post-baccalaureate diplomas are intended to replace qualifying years, aka Q-years. Several programs, economics in particular, were finding that international students who were offered admission only to Q-years were not coming to Carleton because of visa and funding issues. Apparently it is much easier to get a student visa if you will be attending a diploma program. Furthermore, some countries are more willing to provide funding to their citizens if enrolling in an overseas diploma program. This a bit of an untapped market and we will be early entrants into this niche, with apparently only Simon Fraser University ahead of us in Canada. Post-baccalaureate diplomas will require somewhere between three and five full credits of coursework, with the number depending upon the program and possibly also depending upon the applicant’s previous undergraduate coursework. These post-baccalaureate diplomas should also appeal to Canadian students who picked the wrong majors and want to change tacks for graduate school. This is one reason that I mourn the demise of the Integrated Science program, which allowed students flexibility throughout their baccalaureate degree.
For me, however, the problem is not with the Q-year, but that our masters degree programs have become too course-based. I believe that graduate degrees should be purely about research, with no or little need for courses. Q-years and now this new post-baccalaureate diploma should never have been needed. They merely signal that Carleton is not particularly research-intensive. I say this with trepidation and as a bit of a hypocrite insofar as academic freedom should drive all of our programs and therefore maybe we should eliminate many or all of the layers of approval for new programs (which would certainly make the senate briefing materials – aka the senate “binder” – much thinner). [Full disclosure: I earned several course-based masters degrees and had also been accepted into masters degree programs without having taken any undergraduate courses in the subject area.] While post-baccalaureate diplomas may be a stopgap measure, I think we really need to tackle to the bigger problem of making Carleton look and be more research-intensive by realizing that courses should become minor or non-existent parts of graduate programs.
The associate vice president of students and enrolment reported on the number of application to Carleton and other provincial universities for the upcoming academic year. The number of applicants who ranked Carleton as their first choice is down 4-5% from last year, but the total number of applicants is up 1%. See my 30 January 2014 Board of Governors blog for how these numbers broke down across faculties. The associate vice president of students and enrolment also responded to the query from question period over her earlier predictions about how many students the new health science program would take away from biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience. Apparently the numbers are similar to the prediction, but her data table at senate was laid out in such a way that I could not easily do the comparisons.
Nobody answered the accompanying query about whether Enrolment-Linked Budget Allocation (ELBA) will be adjusted to account for the students who opted for health science in lieu of other life sciences. Absence of the vice president of finance at senate is not a valid excuse for ignoring this query at question period. I hope senate gets answers at its next session.
The president announced that she has formally made the request to the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities for a new health science building at Carleton.
The president mentioned the design phase of the new residence building that will have “apartment-style” accommodations. She also mentioned studies showing correlation (but not causation) between living in residence and retention rates.
I truly would love to hear your feedback on this blog. This blog reflects my personal views and reflections of the senate meeting (open session only) and is not meant as a surrogate for the official minutes of the meeting, which will eventually appear at the Carleton Senate website.