Problems on the home front

By Rhia Perkins

The release of the University of Calgary 2001-2002 Fall/Winter Timetable left International Relations students scrambling to reshuffle summer jobs, internships and graduation plans in order to fulfill program requirements due to a shortage of courses offered at the senior level.

Mike Willmott, executive member of the International Relations Students’ Association, noted the main deficit is in Political Science.

"There are 30 possible courses within Poli Sci that could be taken by IR students but when it came down to it, I think there were five or six that were actually being offered," he said. "Granted, you can’t offer all of them, but I think you can offer more than six. For my particular cluster combination, there weren’t any."

Willmott had to decline an internship offer in Beijing, China this summer in order to complete some required political science courses and will not graduate on schedule. He is not unique in his predicament, as the IR program experienced significant student enrolment over the five years it has existed, without a similar increase in resource allocation.

"The program is under-resourced for the number of students it has," said John Ferris, IR Program Coordinator. "The way [the program] has expanded outstripped our expectations. We’re playing catch-up in general terms."

The IR program is interdisciplinary and flexible. It requires majors to select a theme of study such as Political Economy, Security and Strategy or International Institutions and Governance and a world region to study. As such, programs of individual students vary greatly. Many require non-core social science courses that may not be key to majors in those disciplines.

"Because they’re international courses, departments like Political Science or History or Economics will put their core curriculum ahead of these extra classes," said Willmott. "I think they tend to view the international courses as peripheral or secondary to what their students need."

Dr. Ronald Keith, Political Science Department Head, defended his department’s support of the IR programme.

"We’re very concerned that we make a success of the program," he stated. "It’s very well crafted and designed. We do have courses that would contribute to certain clusters and regional thematic concerns."

Keith felt the problems have more to do with a lack of funding support than any deficit in the Political Science Department and expressed concern over a perceived lack of provincial support for this type of program.

Willmott recognized these problems are not immediately solvable but urged students and staff to do everything they can to make a difference.

"These are issues that should be started on right away," he said. "It’s affecting us now and although we realize that these are difficult problems, they need to be dealt with."

He is confident that an IRSA report on the Bachelor of Arts (International Relations) Degree Program submitted to Dean of Social Sciences Stephen Randall in March 2001 will help to direct change within the faculty, even if it did not help with current course offerings.

"The report couldn’t have an effect on them because of timing, but we just wanted to get started," he explained. "I encourage people to write letters as I have."

The report, which Willmott noted was well received by Dr. Randall, also outlined the IRSA’s desires for honours and co-operative programs, as well as office space for the club and additional opportunities for student

Ferris expressed support for the club’s efforts.

"The significance of that body can be high in the next few years," he said. "They can guide us in what they want. Students in that organization have more opportunity."

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