Professor Donald Wiebe presents to the Academic Board of the Governing Council. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

A University of Toronto professor is raising objections to proposed changes to the Doctor of Theology (ThD) program. The changes would see the current ThD program replaced by a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Theological Studies, effective in 2015. Current ThD students will not be affected by the change, but some worry that the university’s shift in focus and resources on the new program will negatively affect current students. In a presentation to the Academic Board of the Governing Council on October 3, Donald Wiebe, a professor in the Theological department at Trinity College, asked the board to postpone approval of the changes.

The proposed changes arose out of a review commissioned in October 2012 under the U of T Quality Assurance Process. The review addressed programs jointly offered by the Toronto School of Theology (TST) — a federation of seven Christian theological schools — and U of T. One of the recommendations was “addressing the ‘below standard’ quality of the Doctor of Ministry and Doctor of Theology.”

Professor Donald Wiebe presents to the Academic Board of the Governing Council. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Professor Donald Wiebe presents to the Academic Board of the Governing Council. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

According to David Neelands, dean of Divinity at Trinity College, the new PhD will be more research-focused than the current ThD. “PhD is a better title for a research doctorate in Theological Studies than the older [ThD], which suggested a more professionally based degree. The [ThD] degree has already become a high-level research doctorate,” he said.

Wiebe disagrees: “[The ThD] is not a professional degree. That is deliberately misleading,” he said. Wiebe also raised issues with the university’s handling of the proposed changes, saying the “proposal breaches the university’s own ‘New Degree Program Approval Protocol’.” According to that protocol, a new program must have “substantially different program requirements and substantially different learning outcomes from those of any existing approved programs offered by the institution.” Wiebe contends that the new PhD program will be virtually identical to the ThD program in terms of program structure and learning outcomes. Under the current plan, current students will not be able to choose which degree title to graduate with.

A current ThD student, who requested anonymity, asserted that the ThD program was not advertised as a professional degree when students enrolled. The student also said that the university administration has failed to consult with current ThD students. “We have no advocates for us, apart from a few faculty, and we do feel that we have the right to have these issues addressed and not swept under the rug. The emphasis is being placed on the new PhD program, and current ThD students are being sacrificed for it.”

At a meeting of the Academic Board of the Governing Council on October 3, in which the board voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal, provost Cheryl Regehr spoke about the proposed changes to the program. “I believe the changes are so significant we will have to take it through as a new program,” Regehr stated. “It is not uncommon at the University of Toronto that we end one program and begin a new program.”

The proposal will now go to the executive committee of the Governing Council for confirmation.

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