Core and Context Requirements
At its April 13th meeting, Senate engaged in a discussion of core and context credits and then requested that Provost and Vice-President, Academic Neil McCartney report at the next Senate meeting on a recent review of context credits. The review was conducted by a subcommittee of the Senate’s Teaching and Learning Committee. Senate asked for a copy of the report of this subcommittee, as well as an explanation about why the recommendations in the report were not brought to Senate for its consideration.
At Senate’s May 3rd meeting, Associate VP Academic Greg Finn addressed this matter in the absence of the Provost and Vice-President, Academic. He reported that Brock’s Senate adopted the idea of context credits in 1967. At that time, the context credit system was designed to increase students awareness of multiple fields of study and the diversity of society and human nature. Apparently, the principles underlying context requirements has not been substantially changed since their introduction almost 50 years ago.
In 2013, a subcommittee of Senate’s Teaching and Learning Committee, chaired by AVP Academic Finn, was given the task of identifying options for context courses. While supporting the importance of context requirements, the 2013 subcommittee initially suggested an increase in the range of possible context credits. These additional context courses would have gone beyond the existing three Faculty-based groups of context options (science, social science, and humanities). Four breadth domains were identified as possible replacements for the current grouping of context courses. The proposed new breadth domains were as follows: (a) culture and creativity; (b) physical and living environments; (c) reason, logic, and problem solving; and (d) society, media, and the individual. AVP Academic Finn’s report to Senate concluded at that point. However, Senator Larry Savage, a member of the subcommittee, informed Senate that the subcommittee had continued to meet in 2014 and had decided against recommending the alternative grouping of context courses described above. In addition, Senate never received the subcommittee’s report and recommendations for consideration.
The current Senate then requested that the critical analysis of the breadth domains prepared by the Faculty of Social Sciences be circulated to Senate, as well as the subcommittee meeting notes from 2014 (no minutes were taken), in order to inform further discussion this topic at the May 25th Senate meeting. Senate requested that discussion of core requirements also be on the agenda for this meeting. However, the Chair of Senate subsequently announced a decision not to proceed with the requested core and context discussion at the May 25th meeting, citing concerns about a lack of time on the agenda.
The tone of Senate’s initial discussion of context requirements on May 3rd seemed to reflect a view that students should be given more choice in their selection of courses. This approach would mean a broadening of courses eligible for context credit and also a likely reduction of the number of required core courses. Further, it was noted that greater flexibility in choosing courses could be viewed as consistent with the University’s current emphasis on transdisciplinarity.
Decisions about core and context requirements should be founded on good pedagogy, program-specific needs, and a well-considered philosophical position about the essential nature of university education. These decisions, however, also have substantial financial implications for programs, Departments, and Faculties. Potential tensions between academic principles and a unit’s financial needs should be recognized and considered as Senate discusses core and context issues in the fall.
Committee Year-End Reports
Year-end reports for Senate committees are linked to the May 25th agenda on the Senate website. These reports summarize the work of each committee over the past year and include suggestions for next year’s committees. In addition, committees were asked to identify medium and long-term priorities for the University within the areas defined by their mandates. These priorities will inform Brock’s 2017-2018 budget calculations, as the budget developers begin their work on that budget in the fall. These reports provide cues about Brock’s potential future directions, with relevance to the whole Brock community.
2016-2017 Senate-Elect and Committee Membership
Senate-Elect will meet briefly on May 25th to select the Chair and Vice-Chair of Senate, as well as the Academic Colleague and alternate Academic Colleague (attends meetings of the Council of Ontario Universities); Senate Committee Chairs, Vice-Chairs, and members; and Senate representatives on the Board of Trustees, and University Accessibility Steering Committee. The Governance-Elect Committee has made recommendations for these positions to Senate. These recommendations were based, where possible, on preferences that were submitted by Senators and Members-at-Large, in addition to requirements for Faculty and Library representation within Committees. Faculty members, professional librarians, and staff who submitted their preferences to Senate for membership on specific committees should be informed of the results of the Senate vote shortly after the May 25th meeting.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Linda Rose-Krasnor, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Psychology
President, Brock University Faculty Association
Phone: 905-688-5550, ext. 3870