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Four motions headed to Senate in response to Writing Centre-Academic Success Centre change

Following a review of documents requested from UFV administration about the Writing Centre to Academic Success Centre changeover, the Academic Planning and Priorities Committee (APPC) is sending four motions to Senate.

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By Michael Scoular (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: May 20, 2015

Photo Credit Michael Scoular

Following a review of documents requested from UFV administration about the Writing Centre to Academic Success Centre changeover, the Academic Planning and Priorities Committee (APPC) is sending four motions to Senate.

Before those motions were discussed, acting APPC chair Peter Geller suggested separating the meeting into an in-camera session, which would have restricted any public attendance, minutes, and outside discussion by committee members. Three members, including geography professor Michelle Rhodes, provided reasons against this move.

“I do think it’s important that this remain an open dialogue, because there were decisions made that were not open and this is the continuation of the fallout of that, so I don’t think it lends itself to a sense of trust in the process,” Rhodes said. “I have huge issues putting the whole thing in-camera.” Geller’s reasoning was based on the potential disclosure of employment decisions and salary information connected to individuals. During the 100 minutes of discussion that followed, this subject did not come up.

The first motion recommends that Senate accept the APPC’s report, compiled and written by a subcommittee that included Geller, Rhodes, and English professor Melissa Walter, who each spoke about the purpose of what the APPC is now doing.

“We are stuck in a position right now where the old Writing Centre has been disbanded, and the Academic Success Centre (ASC), they’ve already started hiring tutors,” Rhodes said. “The process of review has unfortunately not been connected to the process of actual change on the ground.”

The APPC’s report is the first formal step to address what many in the university community identified as a lack of consultation before the announcement in February of an Academic Success Centre replacing the Writing Centre.

Program development co-ordinator Sylvie Murray was also part of the subcommittee, and said even with this effort, there is still a considerable distance between the work the committee was able to do, and the work it could have done — had it been involved sooner.

“We shouldn’t be spending [months] reacting to decisions,” Murray said, adding that the information made available was still inadequate, in some respects. “[The subcommittee] had no assessment of the Writing Centre that allowed us to speak in an informed way on whether or not it should have continued in that format.”

Following directions from the Board of Governors and Senate, the APPC’s report discusses the service change in relation to UFV’s Education Plan and Strategic Enrollment Plan, while also discussing the structural differences between the two centres.

Its conclusion was made into another motion, intended to emphasize the findings of the sub-committee when it is presented before Senate.

“Taken individually,” it reads, “the goals of each model could be deemed consistent with the Education and [Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM)] plans, and the Writing Centre has shown a capacity in the past to contribute to student success. However, there are significant concerns about the ASC implementation and feasibility, and about its ability to provide writing support of equal quality. Writing is key to the student success sought in the Education Plan and the SEM plan. Any model that seeks to maintain the integrity of writing support at UFV needs to incorporate the expertise of those in the field, and should be appropriately budgeted.”

While the APPC debated the wordings of each motion and the effectiveness they might have, members recognized that it is Senate and then the Board of Governors who will take this information and reject them, revise them further, or accept and plan specific responses to them. Therefore, the committee’s two other motions recommend two potential courses of action in response to the academic changes that have already taken place.

To prevent the recurrence of decisions made, intentionally or not, without the consultation university governance policy requires, the APPC “recommends that Senate and Board develop mechanisms and criteria used to determine jurisdiction of, and processes for, review of academic support services and units.”

Gerry Palmer, who is also the Senate vice-chair, said that beyond the ambiguities in policy language, there needs to be better, earlier communication from the people making decisions at UFV.

“Somebody should have asked a question at an early stage — we need an early warning system, otherwise this is just the first of many,” he said. “Those people who forward things on, like administrators, need to have a clear understanding: If there’s a question, ask, here’s the mechanism. And then we won’t be in this position again.”

Finally, in response to how the Academic Success Centre is described as a service that is curriculum, rather than skill-based, the APPC “recommends that a process be developed for initial (a year from now) and ongoing evaluation for the Academic Success Centre, specifically including the quality of writing support provided by the Academic Success Centre.”

Multiple faculty members present at the meeting agreed that without the Writing Centre, course syllabi and planning will likely be affected adversely. How much that effect reaches students would, potentially, be tracked by the “process” suggested in this motion.

These motions will now go before Senate at its June 5 meeting, with the last Board of Governors meeting of the academic year following two weeks later, on June 19.

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