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Senate approves review of Writing Centre and Academic Success Centre, discusses admission requirements

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By Michael Scoular (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 17, 2015

Photo Credit Michael Scoular

The Writing Centre-Academic Success Centre review written and compiled by the Academic Planning and Priorities committee has passed through Senate on its way to the Board of Governors, two months after the process began.

The call for a review, initiated by a motion from the private session of April’s Board of Governors meeting, emerged from a context of miscommunication, unanswered questions, and uncertainty over how the decision to change the Writing Centre’s operations should have been made. Now completed, the review and its recommendations, which answer some of those questions, was approved unanimously and uncontroversially by a nearly full-attendance Senate.

The motion now headed from Senate to the Board of Governors submits the review and identifies two areas that can be addressed over a long-term period: further review of process and writing support quality.

In various discussions, the proper jurisdiction and process for review was interpreted differently among members of UFV’s faculty and administration. So one part of the motion recommends: “That Senate and Board develop mechanisms and criteria to determine jurisdiction of, and processes for, review of academic support services and units.” In the creation of this motion, the APPC mutually agreed that a method for looking at how changes should be proposed and examined earlier in the process would be beneficial for UFV.

The other part of the motion responds to concerns about writing support quality in the developing ASC. The motion 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 ASC,” before appending a modified version of the review’s conclusion: “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 Ed Plan and the SEM [Strategic Enrolment Management] plan. UFV should adopt a model that seeks to maintain the integrity of writing support at UFV, which therefore needs to incorporate the expertise of those in the field and be appropriately budgeted.”

This conclusion comes with a note that the review is, to some extent, incomplete. “No program review or detailed program closure proposal has been done regarding the Writing Centre, and no formal and complete proposal for the ASC, including details of budgeting, duties of employees, comparatives, priorities, and most significantly, the identification of measurable outcomes, has been submitted,” it says.

As discussion wrapped up, Dean of Arts Jacqueline Nolte reminded Senate members that the passing of these motions does not signal the end of their work, saying that it is now their responsibility to follow up on the recommendations in a future meeting. Nolte adds that there are multiple ways to approach this matter.

“Senate would do well to return the item to the agenda in the fall with a view to discussing what UFV can do to ensure that students are benefitting from the same levels of [writing] support they enjoyed in previous years,” she says in an email. “I don’t know how we ascertain this except through surveys of students and faculty.”

In addition to the part of the motion that calls for a review of the Academic Success Centre, Nolte says the Writing Council, “a group of faculty who meet to discuss how best to teach and to support writing” at UFV, will also pay close attention to the ripple effect this change will have.

The Board of Governors will consider and interpret these submissions at its final meeting of the academic year on Friday, June 19. However, Senate’s motions are not included on the agenda for the Board’s public session.

Graduate student admissions discussion begins

In other business, Senate considered a motion to approve changes to a fundamental piece of university administration: the admission of graduate students.

Currently, UFV offers master’s degrees in criminal justice and social work. Alastair Hodges, presenting the work of the graduate studies committee (GSC), explained that an alternate path to admission besides holding an undergraduate degree with a 3.0 GPA was vaguely described in the current guidelines.

“Other than precedent, there is no clarity on how exceptions to the minimum requirements should be made,” he wrote in the motion’s rationale, adding that “exceptions to the minimum requirements have made up a significant number of admissions (17 per cent of admissions to one graduate program in the past nine years).”

The GSC amendment would give students conditional admission based on two scenarios. Instead of “submitted evidence of the student’s ability to undertake advanced work in the area of interest,” students would be given two semesters to either improve their GPA (specific courses and specific grade targets unique to each student), or to complete their bachelor’s degree.

These changes were postponed at the May Senate meeting, and as a result discussion carried over, beginning with how, when it comes to applicants, universities across Canada are looking more into applied work or other forms of practice, rather than academic numbers alone. Nolte, drawing on research prepared by program development coordinator Sylvie Murray, noted the shift at a graduate-studies level.

“There are institutions beginning to talk about admitting people into their programs on the basis of core competencies,” she said. “Some med schools have moved into this direction — not many — but it is an emerging discussion.”

Amy Prevost, the director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, shared an anecdote of how a student at UFV applied to the criminal justice graduate program, was turned down due to GPA, and then was accepted at Royal Roads University on Vancouver Island, where there is also a flexible admission option based on experience in the field of study.

University secretary and registrar Al Wiseman brought up the example of UBC, where broad-based admissions have been in effect for all faculties since 2012 at the undergraduate level. Broad-based admissions attempt to look at the character and potential engagement levels of applicants, but also require a more extensive reading process on the part of the university.

As well, the question was raised of how these admission requirements could apply to upcoming graduate degrees yet to be approved. Currently, there are three at a preliminary planning stage, but have yet to receive approval from the GSC: masters in integrated science and technology, in migration and citizenship, and in professional accountancy.

Senate chair and UFV president Mark Evered proposed that because of the depth of research required to adequately broach the topic, and the timing of input from existing graduate degree programs, the motion should be postponed again. The next meeting of Senate will be in September.

“This is a vital matter,” Evered said. “It touches on the very nature of our university, in terms of access and opportunity.”

The motion was subsequently postponed.

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