CTR Home Internal  Relations and Communications Home About CTR Publication Schedule CTR Archives

October 24, 2002 Academic planning pays off, Lightstone says




by Laurie Zack

Two years into the latest phase of the ongoing academic planning cycle, Provost Jack Lightstone wants us to know that a lot of things are going right. Speaking to a group of service-area directors recently, Lightstone traced the academic planning process from its beginnings in 1995.

The planning process began in 1995 just after the government made cutbacks that saw the university lose over 25 per cent of its funding between 1994 and 1999. Lightstone explained that two models for planning were tried at other universities across North America.

“Bottom-up planning looked good on paper, but serious restructuring could not be undertaken with so many vested interests at stake. Top-down plans proved too general, and any real academic restructuring, unless restricted to generalities, ended up stymied by protests.

“The model finally adopted was that SCAPP, a university-wide planning body of senate, would fix the general objectives and the faculties would develop and implement the concrete measures — knowing that if they didn’t do it, SCAPP would.”

The latest round began in the fall of 2001. Four main themes were identified: renewal, rebuilding and retaining faculty ranks, developing our research capacity, adapting to the impact and developing new information technology in our pedagogy and maintaining accessibility while increasing student retention.

Lightstone explained that faculty renewal benefited from several university decisions. The FALRIP program, which saw 150 of our most senior professors retire, left the way open to do targeted hiring based on academic plans.

Concordia’s balanced budget allowed new provincial funds to be put to hiring instead of trying to bring our annual operating budget to a balanced situation. Finally, while other Quebec universities shrank, continued enrolment increases added revenue to reinforce hiring.

The impact of faculty renewal was also felt on the research side. Young, dynamic faculty were well placed to take advantage of a federal commitment of $5 billion to be spent over five to 10 years in programs like the Canada Research Chairs, CFI and opportunities created by boosted funding to the granting agencies CIHR (medical), NSERC (science and engineering) and, to a lesser extent, SSHRC (social sciences and humanities).

Lightstone compared the impact of new technology on knowledge transfer and pedagogy to that of the printing press in the late 15th and 16th centuries. Learning how to harness the power of this technology to teach students is a key pedagogical responsibility of the university.

Finally, accessibility and student retention, cornerstones of Concordia’s identity, remain a constant challenge, but also an enriching experience.

“Seventy per cent of our students work and 45 per cent are part-time students,” Lightstone said. “This is very different from the usual 20- or 21-year-old full-time student profile. Factor into this our large representation of students from the cultural communities and many recent arrivals and you have a rich and diverse population, with many challenges.”

Lightstone ended his presentation with a few startling statistics. Enrolment has shot up from 17, 800 in 1999-00 to 22,200 this year. Full-time faculty was 675 in 1999-00 and is now at 813 (just 12 short of the planning goal).

Research revenue, which was $16.9 million in 1999-00, grew to $20.1 million in 2001-02. The percentage of faculty with peer-reviewed research support went from 48 per cent in 1999-00 to 63.2 per cent in 2001-02. Thanks to the aggressive work of the academic technology area, there are over 300 course-related Web sites and only 50 three years ago.

Where do we go from here? Lightstone is rolling up his sleeves.

“SCAPP is discussing several adjustments in this cycle, including the mix of undergrad to graduate students. We’re at 14 per cent grad students; we’d like to be 20 per cent as soon as possible.”