It is customary for the the Provost & Vice-President, Academic to provide a report to each meeting of Senate outlining plans, priorities, issues and other news. As these reports are already public through the University Secretariat Office, they will also be shared regularly through this memorandum page.
Provost’s Report to Senate – October 28, 2020
Dear Senate colleagues,
As the Fall term progresses, I want to thank you for your efforts to continue to support our students in their studies, whether virtual or in-person. I realize that this is a challenging environment in which to continue your teaching and research activities. I am continually impressed by the excellent instructional and scholarly work being done at Brock under these unparalleled circumstances.
Let me begin by providing updates on some critical files. First, working with the President and other members of the senior team, I continue to work to mitigate the substantial budget shortfall created this year by the drop in enrollment and loss of ancillary revenue occasioned by the necessary move to virtual teaching this Fall. I have approved a somewhat increased number of classes to be held in-person in the Winter term, provided that public health guidelines are observed and alternative arrangements are in place for virtual learning in the case of lock-down. In-person instructors have also been asked to accommodate those students who are unable to study in person due to health concerns or distance from campus.
Many of you know that Amos Key Jr. left Brock University in mid-September. Since that time, the President and I have been consulting with Indigenous leaders both inside the University and in the broader community to determine the path forward that would best allow the University to attain its strategic objectives. On October 19, I announced that Dr. Robyn Bourgeois, an Associate Professor from the Faculty of Social Sciences, has accepted the role of Acting Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement until August 2022. Professor Bourgeois is an accomplished academic with a track record of community engagement and commitment to the work of reconciliation and decolonization. I look forward to working closely with Professor Bourgeois as she provides interim leadership for Indigenous initiatives at Brock, including the development of new programs and the recruitment of Indigenous faculty and staff colleagues. Please join me in congratulating her on her appointment.
On October 5, the Government of Canada announced that it would be opening its borders to international students effective October 20. This has been a topic of much discussion and negotiation between the federal government and universities since the beginning of the pandemic, and while the government had signaled at several times its openness to pursuing a solution, very little action came from these discussions until now. To be eligible to receive international students, institutions were required to qualify as ‘designated learning institutions’ (DLIs) by developing a COVID readiness plan to be approved by the provincial government. The plan had to include details on how international students would be informed of health requirements before arrival, how institutions would help with quarantine, and what kinds of health and safety protocols would be in place. Thanks to the hard work of many departments across the institution, we recently learned that Brock would become one of only 11 Canadian universities that has met the government requirements by October 20. We hope that this will give us an advantage in the sector as we seek to welcome international students on campus for the Winter term.
Working with Gord Arbeau, Brock’s AVP, Advancement and External Relations, I have agreed to co-chair a committee to review Brock’s perceived brand as a post-secondary institution and value proposition to students. While this project has been planned for several months, it is timely given our current enrolment situation and the shift in Ontario’s competitive landscape given the pandemic. The committee is made up of student, faculty and staff representatives from across Brock.
On October 15, Ontario University Athletics (OUA) announced the cancellation of all sanctioned sport programming until March 31, 2021. While this comes as unfortunate news for our many student-athletes, it is not surprising given the course of the pandemic and mirrors the decision made by a number of other sporting organizations across the country in recent months, including USPORTS.
Finally, Brock has concluded an agreement with the City of Burlington to relocate its current Hamilton campus. The Memorandum of Understanding between the University and the City was approved by our Board of Trustees in cycle 1 and endorsed by Burlington City Council at its October 19 meeting. This agreement will allow discussions to begin about identifying a potential location within the city for the relocation. Consultation will also continue with academic units about potential program offerings, research opportunities and campus design for the Burlington site.
2020-21 academic plan
At the September 16 meeting of Senate, I provided a brief summary of some of my priorities for the current academic year. In my remarks at the time, I mentioned that I would be coming to the October 28 Senate meeting with my plan for the current year, which would focus on the role that Senate could play during this academic year to help the University achieve its strategic objectives and counter the headwinds we face from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
I suggest that now is the time to move the University in new directions that will expand our base of prospective students and better align our offerings with student needs and employment opportunities. While the immediate need for this introspection comes in large part from the decline in enrollment we face this year, as well as the changing competitive climate among Ontario universities, I argue that the broader context is even more important. Brock is deeply embedded in its Niagara location. As many of you know, the Niagara Region has one of the lowest post-secondary attainment rates in the province, with its university attainment rate being even lower. Despite this, the social and economic benefits of a post-secondary education are well established by research and are even greater in areas with low attainment rates. That is, while a university credential can always make a difference, it becomes an even more important and distinguishing factor in areas where few people have one.
As we move through the academic year, Senate can help Brock achieve its objectives in the following ways:
- Several proposals will be brought forth this year to create pathways for new student populations. Two of these are before you today, having been considered at the Undergraduate Student Affairs Committee earlier this month.
- New academic programs will, at times, also require new academic units to house them. The Governance Committee of Senate is currently considering a procedure and pathway for the approval of new academic units. I encourage the Committee to finalize this document. Following the approval of the new procedure, a proposal for a new engineering department will soon be presented for consideration through the appropriate Senate channels.
- Beginning in November, I will be proceeding with the program viability review under the procedure outlined in the Faculty Handbook. I do not view this review as primarily a financial exercise and I do not think that significant financial savings will arise from the process. However, I do believe that the review will raise questions that all institutions should ask themselves on a regular basis to ensure alignment between program offerings and student demand and to allow for greater focus in resource allocation and recruitment.
- Continuing and professional education is an important source of revenue for many universities and colleges in Ontario. These offerings can also play a critical role for the region, making Brock an important partner for industries that want to grow the local economy and for workers looking to up-skill or re-orient their careers. The growth of continuing education at Brock is a key objective of the current strategic plan. I ask for Senate’s partnership as we pursue this project, both in finding ways to accommodate continuing education students within our registration systems and as we develop new courses, certificates, and micro-credentials to populate our list of offerings.
- I will be bringing forward a proposal to re-think the role of full-year undergraduate courses and to minimize their number. As we seek to pursue new student populations and new points of entry for students, full-year courses limit the options students have in building their timetable.
- I will be bringing forward a proposal to move to a trimester system, combining the existing Spring and Summer terms into one and increasing the number of course offerings in the summer. This structure for the academic year is becoming increasingly common in Ontario, especially at institutions that have significant experiential education and/or co-op involvement. We have clearly heard from students, especially international students, that they enjoy being in St. Catharines over the summer and would welcome the opportunity to continue their studies at that time.
- Finally, I will work closely with Professor Bourgeois to pursue projects to continue the Indigenization of the undergraduate curriculum, including new academic programs that focus on Indigenous history, culture, and ways of knowing.
This plan will require close collaboration with Senate colleagues. I hope that we can move forward together this academic year in achieving our common objective of placing Brock on a solid footing for the future.
Professor Lynn Wells
Provost & Vice-President, Academic