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February 7, 2002 Letters





We welcome your letters, opinions and comments at BC-121/1463 Bishop St., by fax (514-848-2814), or e-mail (barblak@alcor.concordia.ca) by 9 a.m. on the Friday prior to publication.

A mixed message sent about quality

In a presentation he made recently to the Board of Governors, Rector Frederick Lowy said the following: “The general quality of our students (as measured by incoming grade point average), their learning experience (as measured by the graduation rate and employability of students), and the emergence of several programs of nationally recognized distinction confirm that we provide not only ‘real education for the real world,’ but also education (especially undergraduate education) that is at least the equal of what other universities offer.”

The incoming grade point average may be higher than before, but this is merely a reflection of grade point inflation. A better measure is the knowledge of students when they arrive at Concordia. Examination of the weakening of course content to meet inadequacies is seen when today’s curricula are compared with those of a decade ago. Regrettably, I am led to the conclusion that the general quality of undergraduate students on entry is low and is decreasing.

What matters, and what is being ignored, is what students know when they enter and when they leave Concordia. Neither of these is being measured. Certainly in Engineering and Computer Science, we do not measure what students know on entry; nor is any assessment made when they leave.

This conclusion is consistent with the agreement with the provincial government that we should pass 80 per cent of incoming students in exchange for money, implying that “numbers beat knowledge,” or quantity is more important than quality. It is a Faustian deal.

Regarding research, until very recently, Concordia did not even recognize the existence of post-doctoral fellows. Some deans still do not recognize it as meritorious having them, whereas graduate students do count towards merit. There is little research culture, and this may be a consequence of our beginnings. The highest national academic award (FRSC, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada) goes deliberately unrecognized in the undergraduate calendar.

To the end of informing the public and one another, Concordia (departments and faculties) should publish an annual research report of publications. Why is this not done?

Unrealistic internal assessments of our quality and achievements do not help. Ultimately, we are judged, not by what we think of ourselves, but what the external world thinks of us. I believe it remains puzzled.

John McKay, FRSC
Department of Computer Science
Department of Mathematics and Statistics