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Faculty of Arts & Science embarks on new self-assessment

After a last-minute retreat over drastic changes in 2010, administrators are proceeding with caution, seeking input from all quarters
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The Faculty of Arts & Science is again embarking on an “external review” to evaluate and adjust the academic and administrative structure of the university’s largest faculty.

The outcome of a previous review, which began in 2008, ended with the retraction of the most drastic measures that would have included the amalgamation of several language and literature departments, amidst vocal protests from students and faculty.

The new review, also known as a “self-study,” will be guided by terms of reference featuring extensive consultation and input from departments across the faculty. The input process, which has been ongoing for much of the previous year, will act as a “touchstone” for the process of considering and implementing any changes.

According to a memorandum from faculty Dean Meric Gertler earlier this year, Provost Cheryl Misak is expected to appoint a team of external reviewers to undertake the assessment. Priority topics include a progress report on the faculty’s long-term academic plan, its approach to undergraduate and graduate education, its research and support culture, and its relationship to other campuses and local, national, and international communities.

Assistant dean and director Helen Lasthiotakis explains that the external reviewers “will be professors from other universities that we consider peers. So there might be deans from other universities or faculty members.” The team will conduct site visits and eventually publish a report with their observations.

Katharine Ball, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (assu), confirmed that “the external reviewers will likely be on campus for 2–3 days at some point between the summer months and the fall semester.” She added that the assu would be “part of the consultations, but not a part of the organizing of the self-study.” (Disclosure: Katharine Ball sits on The Varsity’s Board of Directors.)

Munib Sajjad, vice-president, university affairs, told The Varsity that the utsu does not have a voting seat nor do they sit on the review committee, but that the central student union supported the assu in offering input to the review process, and would oppose unfair changes. “We’re waiting to see what actually transpires in this review. What’s the purpose of it? Why do they have to do another review? It’s very unclear right now,” said Sajjad. He adds that the utsu is hoping for a balanced outcome that will be “economically safe, as well as academically safe,” and encouraged students to pay close attention to the procedure and outcome. According to  Lasthotakis, the reviewers will welcome written input during their appraisal.

The self-study is a regularly-scheduled undertaking, and Lasthiotakis explains that “every faculty undergoes a review on a cyclical schedule.”

The last self-study occurred in March 2008, with the report it produced advising the faculty to “better define its relationships” with the seven colleges, utm and utsc, in regards to graduate and undergraduate programs, as well as addressing issues with inter-disciplinary programs and other administrative matters. One of the main recommendations, to create a joint graduate program across the three main campuses, was implemented last year.

Other changes arising indirectly from the 2008 self-study were dialed back after an outcry from students, staff, and faculty. Ball clarified that the bigger changes were not initiated by the external reviewers, but rather by the faculty administration, who devise the bulk of the changes using the external review as a blueprint.

“The plan for the School and Languages and Literature and the program fee were things that were later justified by the results of the last self- study, but in no way were the three external reviewers directly connected to these plans or a part of them,” said Ball. “The resulting academic plan after the last self-study was a project of the faculty and the Provost’s office.”

Lasthotakis emphasised that the external review is “different from the academic planning process that occurs internally in the university.” Gertler will present more details about the self-study to the Faculty Council on March 5. The final report is expected to be completed by May 2013.