SU Reviews: SU VP academic Shannon O’Connor, a.k.a the acrobat

O‘Connor has to jump through hoops thrown from the U of C administration, student faculty representatives, four academic commissioners, and any student who feels slighted in the academic realm. O’Connor is pulling off these stunts well, using the safety net of SU staff to great effect.

It’s more than a cliche to suggest VP academic Shannon O’Connor is the hardest working member of the SU executive–it’s also arguably the truth. As VP academic, O’Connor has a lofty set of responsibilities. From sitting on countless committees with senior administration on issues that span virtually every aspect of the academic experience for undergraduates, to facilitating the largest “commission” of any VP–13 faculty reps and four commissioners sit on the Students’ Academic Assembly–O’Connor has to be informed, professional and extremely busy just to get through her daily workload. She manages these things and has still found enough time to advocate for a few extremely intelligent special projects.

Shannon’s top five accomplishments
1. Held the first (hopefully) annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.
2. Led five of eight quality money initiatives.
3. Continued revitalizing SAA’s effectiveness by alternating formal and informal meetings.
4. Started a major overhaul on the Universal Student Ratings of Instruction in conjunction with stakeholders.
5. Developed a proposal to require all teaching staff at the U of C to go through a program to improve quality of instruction.

Yet to come
•Expect USRIs to be renamed and revamped for end of the winter semester, aiming to make them more useful and ratchet up participation.
•If all goes well–and it’s on track now–all professors and TAs teaching first-year arts and science classes in fall 2007 will have gone through standardized teacher preparedness training, with all other profs to follow eventually.
•Community cafe to bring students, faculty and administration together to candidly discuss quality issues.
•Online exam bank to bring all tests together available to all students.
•Opening That Empty Space for studying at exam time.

O’Connor hopes to work with the faculty association and administration to put all professors and teaching assistants through standardized training for instruction. O’Connor’s focus on the importance of teaching in a research-oriented institution is refreshing, and a program like this–accepted by administration, as it seems it will be–would be a huge step towards acknowledging that importance, even if some profs take little away from the training.

Getting the ball rolling on teacher preparedness training alone would be a giant legacy project for O’Connor, but she is also pushing for an online exam bank open to all and some much-needed revision to the USRI process. The exam bank idea has been around for years, and has faced some understandable opposition from academic clubs relying on their exam monopoly to sell memberships. While clubs funding and sustainability is important, the playing field for all students has to be levelled in regards to who can access past exams, and O’Connor is on track to do that. She will be bringing a proposal to the U of C’s general faculties council and has already received tentative support to see the project up and running by next September.

O’Connor is quick to acknowledge the help she has received from her SAA colleagues and some of the SU’s staff, especially their policy advisor. It’s clear that she has used these resources and her own experience on the Residence Students’ Association and as an academic commissioner to master an understanding of her job.

As long as she can continue to get nods of tentative approval out of administration and faculty for her innovative ideas, her next semester could be marked with more big accomplishments than any VP academic in recent memory.

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