This year the Ontario Government asked Universities to establish a Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) outlining the qualities that make their institutions unique. This move resulted from a series of initiatives by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) to strengthen Ontario’s public postsecondary sector, a move that will “strongly inform future decisions, including allocation decisions and program approvals.”
A Green Paper to be used to prepare Trent’s new SMA can be found on the MyTrent Portal, posted on November 15. All Ontario Universities’ SMAs can be found on the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) website.
According to HEQCO, these agreements are a chance for Universities to articulate an institutional mandate statement identifying their distinctive strengths or aspirations as well as identify key objectives aligned with that aspiration.
Trent’s SMA promises to be a paper “without prejudice,” aiming to offer these issues for us as a community to discuss and debate. This is coming about due to a change the Ontario Government is making to post-secondary education, asking for Universities to take a look at rethinking the way they are structured.
Trent’s SMA acknowledges these changes, as well the task of acquiring the necessary data to make these changes, are “ultimately hard decisions within what will become a transformed Trent University.”
The SMA starts off in a very positive light of Trent, praising our institution for developing teaching positions, research and sustainability. The point on Sustainability states, “That Trent reaffirms its historical commitment to Interdisciplinary Schools which would bring together individual departments under a streamlined administrative structure.”
It goes on to advocate Trent on always being different from our fellow Ontario universities, and even quotes a recent consultant on defining Trent as “Canada’s champion of collaborative learning that is personal, purposeful and transformative.”
The document goes on like this whilst maintaining that our commitment to small class sizes, critical thinking, research and graduate programs are that which make Trent special.
That is, until page 12 of the 18-page document. Here it states that our community “must soberly address the fact that across North America enrolments in the humanities are declining; Social Sciences are remaining relatively stable, if not climbing slowly upward.”
In addition to this, Trent has applied for a MTCU Productivity and Innovation grant to help us obtain software, using metrics, which will gather data to determine which departments are worthy of funding, and which are deemed obsolete.
On page 14 the nature of this metric system is identified, “The MTCU metrics favour larger, comprehensive and medical/doctoral institutions. A university that houses a Faculty of Engineering, Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Education, and Law, along with Humanities, Science, and Social Sciences, will score higher than institutions that are smaller. Unless of course Trent declares itself a “niche” University, one that provides excellence in a smaller number of areas but in ways that are more cost efficient, more productive proportionally, and more effective overall than larger competitors.”
Which begs the question, if Trent is a smaller University, which in fact is declared as a Liberal Arts University, why is this system being used? If the nature of the development of our University is open to debate, a software using metrics that does not favor virtually any of the characteristics our humanities departments have, leave very little room for that debate.
On the very bottom of page 16 it states, “… low enrolment courses and programs need to be phased out.”
Under Program Offerings it states, “Strong academic programs will receive increased resources to foster growth, weaker programs will, in the first instance, be offered incentives to consolidate their programs. By 2016 remaining weak programs as per the criteria established in the AAPP will be eliminated.”
So, in order to “re-affirm Trent’s unique interdisciplinary traditions” a metric system will be put in place to eliminate disciplines that operate on the very things that make us who we are, and that includes small class sizes will equally small enrollment.
It will also further eliminate Masters and PHD programs the humanities have fostered, a reality that does not in any way honor the years of hard work and development within the programs.
The metric system does not take into account that, though the humanities at Trent favour small class sizes, a recent influx of interest in the Liberal Arts courses Trent offers have made classes overflow.
Departments such as English and Cultural Studies that expected class sizes of 20-30 students now have numbers nearing 85-100. With some full year courses condensed into half-year courses, a lack of resources that the humanities are experiencing is already evident.
It seems the wheels have already been set in motion, with the Dean of Humanities refusing to cap courses, syllabus structures fall to the wayside, and the quality of education that Trent is known for is compromised.
The metric system being sought out to determine the future of these departments would not take into account this growing interest in the arts by comparing it to disciplines such as the sciences, but not to worry, this is all “without prejudice.”
Hugh Elton, who returned to his position of Acting Dean of Humanities in July 2013 after a sabbatical, has written the MTCU Productivity and Innovation Fund Proposal. In it, Elton writes “Over the past decade, Trent has changed dramatically, with the addition of many graduate programs and a near doubling in size. But as the university has grown and changed, its curricular development has evolved rather than being managed, so that program delivery now contains numerous artifacts from the past…”
He further goes on to state that this process “will allow a top-down streamlining of the curriculum by standardizing the degree structure and identifying unnecessary duplication and underused curricular options, thus cutting degree and delivery costs.”
The project’s total budget for the year 2013-14 is estimated at $250,000.
These administrative decisions are to be made by expensive software cleverly compiling data, and subsequently avoiding the thoughts and opinions of both students and departments.
To give feedback regarding Trent’s Strategic Mandate Agreement, an email can be sent to [email protected] by November 30.