Academic plan discussion reveals needs

The first of 16 open house discussions about the pillars of the University of Calgary’s academic plan revealed several areas of concern on Tue., May 27. Faculty members were asked what the university’s strengths were in the area of public policy and how to improve upon them.

“Through dis- cussions with the 16 groups, I hope to find common messages, and what are the issues that come out of these discussions,” said U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten. “We’ll talk to people who will help us think about how we should pursue what we should be pursuing.”

About 40 people attended the discussion, with representation from Humanities, Social Science, Management, and other faculties.

“Over the years, we have lost a number of faculty to other universities,” said Ronald Keith, Head of the Department of Political Science. “Right now, we don’t have a way of attracting senior people to us, so we can’t afford to lose good people.”

Keith suggested creating a cadre of senior faculty to recruit and retain top academics in public policy. He acknowledged that doing so would be a challenge, with budget constraints limiting the number of faculty recruited or generated from graduate students.

“In Ontario, the hiring numbers are exceptional: eight in Toronto, five at McGill, four at Brock,” he said. “Even the big departments in public policy are hiring vigorously.”

Keith added that strong interdisciplinary study in public policy requires an inventory of individuals currently involved in teaching that subject. Weingarten agreed.

“We have a less than optimal organization of our teaching, particularly at the graduate level,” said Weingarten. “We don’t look across departments [for expertise].”

According to Centre for Military and Strategic Studies Research Associate Nancy Pearson Mackie, the market-based structure of teaching at this university where teaching is owned by departments hinders program development and student learning.

“When we asked people if they want to teach [in our program] they say ‘Yes, but you have to buy us out.’ We have no money to buy out so we try to fit [our content] within existing courses,” she said.

“Right now, we’re in the most primitive model, the buy-out model,” agreed Weingarten. “The question is whether we want to move beyond that to a collaborative model.”

Another concern was faculty working in isolation of each other. The need for the university to provide encouragement was evident at the meeting but some were cautious of too much integration by the university.

“We have a very well-regarded spot for labour policy, we gave a model here that is very successful and patches like that within the university,” said Daphne Teras, Haskayne PhD Program Director. “I’m worried that if an institution allows these pockets to flourish without support, if there is any attempt to absorb them to the public good they vanish and dilute the initial product champion.”

U of C Vice-President Academic Ronald Bond said the issue should be carefully considered

“It’s critical to acknowledge now that we can do much with the intellectual assets we already have,” said Bond. “How to muster the resources already at the U of C is the most significant challenge. There will be some new resources to support the 16 areas but what is important is how to get the right structure to support those areas.”

Some participants suggested that academics studying public policy should also practice it by engaging the public, and engaging others working with aspects of public policy different from their own.

“I would like us to go beyond the scholarship of discovery, and include the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of application, and the scholarship of teaching,” said Associate Dean of Research at the Faculty of Education Dr. Robert Stamp. “Certainly in our faculty, we are as much into those other three areas as we are into the scholarship of discovery.”

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