Building a new Faculty: LA&PS makes its public debut

It will be months yet before the next class of York first-year students starts asking in earnest countless questions about courses offered by the new Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) for Fall 2009. But advisers are already in place to start fielding them.

So is a new Web site, designed to answer many of those same questions. And at the Ontario Universities Fair last weekend, a prominent LA&PS sign invited high-school students to come find out about the new Faculty in a large booth lined up with York’s other Faculties.

In short, LA&PS, which will officially replace the Faculty of Arts and the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies on July 1, 2009, is already making its presence felt.

Left: Advisers from the new Faculty were ready to answer questions at the Ontario Universities Fair

It’s all part of a gradual phasing-in of the Faculty’s new administrative operations in preparation for the official launch. There’s a lot more to do, but much has already been achieved.

The fact that advisory teams are ready to help prospective students is no small feat, given the task involved in creating a Faculty that comprises half of the courses offered at Canada’s third-largest University. It has taken dozens of meetings by committees in all academic units of Arts and Atkinson to harmonize curricula and work out the administrative and policy details involved in blending two course lists into one. Changes to programs and requirements were approved in April and May but the detailed work of planning 2009-2010 schedules and actual course offerings is only just beginning.

Hundreds of faculty and staff have devoted vast amounts of time to get this far, says Ross Rudolph, senior adviser to York Vice-President Academic & Provost Sheila Embleton. “What those involved faculty and staff members, who worked regularly throughout the summer, did was over and above the call of duty. It was magnificent,” Rudolph says. He pays particular tribute to the contribution of expert staff. “The level of detail that they were able to work into the meetings was a real help to faculty. These details are major determinants of students’ success and of the quality of their experience at York.”

Left: Cover of the new view book for the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

As a result, a whole new world of choice will open up for students in what Rudolph calls a “mutually reinforcing” process. Day students will have a chance to take courses they like at night or during the summer, while part-time students will have access to the full range of rich course offerings from some of the pre-eminent academic departments in the country. It’s a choice that appealed to one prospective student during OUF, where new lotus-decorated view books with descriptions of what LA&PS will offer were ready at the busy York booth, one of the largest at the Fair. “They actually have a wide range of courses,” she said, “and the two Faculties are working together so there is better course selection and more ways to get into what I’m interested in, which is creative writing.”

A measure of the task at hand over the summer was the challenge of harmonizing two sets of academic policies, including General Education requirements. Although interdisciplinary general education has been a hallmark of York since it was founded in 1959, there are significant differences in the way the two Faculties deliver that curriculum.

The Faculty of Arts has a number of nine-credit Foundations courses, which were designed for full-time day students who can accommodate the required extra class time in their schedule. Atkinson students taking courses in the evenings and in summer need regular six-credit courses. An inter-Faculty advisory group has just issued a report for consultation recommending a change in requirements that will preserve both options, but also create more flexibility for all students. “The general education courses are distinctively York and we value them highly,” says Rudolph. “But we needed to come up with a system for fulfilling requirements that best served the needs of all students.”

Prospective students gather at the York booth during the Ontario Universities Fair held at the Metro Convention Centre, Sept. 26-28

At the departmental level, curriculum harmonization provided an opportunity to revisit traditional practices, in many cases in response to feedback from program review consultants. This important exercise was repeated in all the consolidating social science and humanities departments in both Faculties, so that the database of courses would be ready for the 2009-2010 course planning exercise about to begin.

“Even before the administrative and academic units have legally merged,” said Embleton in a report to Senate, “they will be collaborating in planning multi-year course offerings spread over all times of day and three academic sessions” to meet the needs of students. Mario Verrilli, the senior coordinator-designate for enrolment management and data analysis, will be providing all units with a systematic analysis of past patterns of enrolment to help them project demand.

In the push to create the new Faculty, current students are not being forgotten. Advising teams for both Arts and Atkinson will remain in place until the end of June to help students not only understand how the changes will affect them but point out new options for changing their study programs to take advantage of the changes. In either case, Rudolph points out, the goal is to make the process “invisible” to currently enrolled students, who will have the option of completing their programs under the rules in place when they began or switching to new ones.

“Not doing this would violate the rules of justice,” Rudolph says, “but if we have succeeded, the new programs will be more attractive to students.” A new integrated student advising and support centre, called the Centre for Student Success, is being developed, which will include sections for both new and continuing students after the new Faculty launches.

Other important aspects of the transition – the search for a new dean, the reorganizing of Faculty governance and the restructuring of research, also continue. The announcement of the inaugural dean is expected by the end of 2008. The Sub-Group on Governance is completing its work on recommendations for membership and mandates of Faculty Council and standing committees in the new Faculty. Meanwhile, the Research Working Group is preparing material for a series of town hall meetings that will help produce recommendations for an LA&PS research plan that will be ready for the incoming dean.

As Rudolph describes it, transition has been and continues to be a “Herculean task” achieved with few resources and much hard work by a widening circle of faculty, staff, and students. “Though much remains to be done,” he says, “the process is well launched. A lot has been accomplished, not just quantitatively – it is work of the highest quality, in terms of what we are trying to achieve and the way we are going about it.”

By David Fuller, YFile contributing writer