Building a new Faculty: York Senate approves the name

Above: Revised degree requirements and course offerings for the new Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies are being completed now and will be ready for student advising sessions in Spring 2009

The search for a dean to head the newest Faculty at York University can officially begin, after York Senate last week decided what to call the entity that will replace the Faculty of Arts and the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies on July 1, 2009.

Although it sounds simple enough, the issue of naming the new Faculty was crucial to preparing advertisements for the dean’s position and is just one example of the thousands of details that must be addressed before the new Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, or LA&PS, becomes a reality.

The new Faculty, encompassing humanities, social sciences and related professional studies, was approved by Senate and the University Board of Governors last year. Since then, a host of working groups have been set up to bring the two Faculties together in what everyone agrees will be a new entity. Senate approved the new name at its regular session on April 24.

Currently, at meetings all across the Keele campus, staff in about a dozen departments from the two Faculties are working to harmonize the hundreds of courses offered by both Faculties in order to create one unified calendar that will be ready by September 2008. That’s when the annual process of allocating classrooms begins for Fall/Winter 2009, to ensure details of when and where courses take place can be displayed online for students.

Sheila Embleton
Sheila Embleton

“It’s actually quite remarkable,” says Sheila Embleton, York vice-president academic, who is spearheading the most comprehensive academic transition York has ever undertaken. “When I talk to people outside of the university world they don’t quite understand why this process is so complicated – it’s not just like gluing it together and ‘there we are’.”

Ross Rudolph, senior adviser to Embleton on the transition and a professor of political science in the Faculty of Arts, calls the course realignment a “Herculean task” and one that must be completed within the next two months, although other transition work will continue for another 14 months and beyond.

To consolidate program and degree requirements and harmonize curricula in areas of study such as economics, English, philosophy and sociology, courses from both Arts and Atkinson must be compared in detail before a decision is made to either change two similar courses to make each unique, merge them into a new course different from either current one, or drop one altogether in favour of another. Once the core course content has been reorganized, it must be put into a calendar rotation, so students in different terms and years can take it sometime during their study program, during the day or night and in one of three terms being offered: Fall, Winter and Summer.

As complicated as it is, the process is already far advanced and both Embleton and Rudolph are confident that degree-requirement consolidation will be completed by the end of May, on schedule. “Everybody is nose to the grindstone, working very well together,” says Rudolph.

Left: Students review course offerings online

“Good colleagues come together and that makes all the difference in the world,” said Embleton, who also credits Robert Drummond, dean of Arts, and Rhonda Lenton, dean of Atkinson, with showing great leadership. Now, says Embleton, York is moving away from the days when the two Faculties would compete for faculty and students, to a new era where everyone is focused on what’s best for their field.

The transition process, which follows other academic changes at York over the past two years, has already started to show significant benefits, which are allaying fears that the new Faculty would be too large and unwieldy, says Embleton. “When I started as vice-president academic in 2000, Arts was about 48 per cent of the University,” she notes. “Now the new Faculty is going to be about 50 per cent.” Changes to other Faculties, such as the growth of the Faculty of Science & Engineering and the creation of the Faculty of Health, helped keep the relative size of the new Faculty in check and comparable to similar Faculties at other universities.

And size does have its advantages. At a recent student forum on the transition, many speakers said they looked forward to an enlarged choice of courses that was almost unthinkable in the old days of conflicting Faculty rules and policies. “It used to be easier to transfer credit for a course on a letter of permission from another university than from one York Faculty to another York Faculty,” says Rudolph. With the transition to one new Faculty, course offerings will be clearer and more logical, and more easily transportable from one degree to another.

“The students have already twigged to this,” says Rudolph. “I heard an Atkinson history student say he is just salivating at the prospect of having access to more Arts courses.”

Course alignment will also aid a separate but parallel process taking place at the graduate level. “It was always a resource nightmare, as a graduate program director, having to go around cap in hand to half a dozen or, in extreme cases, up to a dozen different undergraduate units to try and get your graduate curriculum together,” says Embleton. “Now, with all these consolidations, students will be more lined up at the undergraduate level, making it easier when they apply to graduate school.”

Right: Students visit the York booth at the Ontario Universities’ Fair

Benefits like that are what started the transition process. “Transition was not required, in this case, by the administration to save resources,” says Embleton. “It was a decision by the Senate to reorganize activities to promote Senate academic priorities, expressed in the University Academic Plan, of increasing research, growing graduate studies and enhancing the student experience.”

With the name of the Faculty now official and the search for a dean beginning, the next major step in the transition process is preparation for the Fall recruiting cycle and York’s participation in the Ontario Universities’ Fair. Viewbooks containing the new name will be ready for the 2008 fair in September.

The final major milestone, in Spring 2009, will be the moment when the transition rubber hits the road and students begin arriving, looking for information on study programs that will be vastly different from the year before but easier to understand.

Visit the Faculty Transition Web site for background information, news and FAQs on the process. A broader Web site is in the works, and there will be more stories in YFile about the Faculty’s progress.

By David Fuller, YFile contributing writer