(Posted with permission from Jonathan Finn.)
Deb MacLatchy, Vice President: Academic
Paul Jessop, Acting Vice President: Academic
Kathryn Carter, Associate Vice President: Teaching and Learning
April 10, 2017
Dear Deb, Paul and Kathryn,
As the Chairs and Program Coordinators in the Faculty of Arts we are writing to express our deep concern with the March 13 announcement of the “strategic new directions for teaching and learning” at Laurier (see:
https://legacy.wlu.ca/news_detail.php?grp_id=0&nws_id=15837). We have two major concerns: first, the “new direction” places increased emphasis on student services and extra-curricular programs for students at the expense of teaching support and pedagogical development. Merging the Centre for Teaching Innovation and Excellence with the Centre for Student Success will likely result in a Centre with confused responsibilities, and the move seems to undermine the teaching mission of the University. An increased emphasis on co-curricular records, career development for students, and other student support services should not come at the expense of resources that directly support teaching.
The second issue of concern is the firing of three long-serving, well-respected Laurier employees: Gail Roth (Manager, Community Service Learning), Lisa Fanjoy (Manager, Online Learning), and Jeanette McDonald (Manager, Faculty Programming). We became aware of the firings through word-of-mouth which is insulting to those whose jobs were terminated as well as to those of us who have worked closely with these valuable staff members over our careers at Laurier. The way in which this “new direction” was announced, with no mention made of jobs eliminated, and no ability to speak with those who were fired, flies in the face of the strong sense of community and collegiality Laurier actively promotes as core to its institutional identity.
Gail Roth was central to the early development and expansion of a key pillar in Laurier’s strategic plan – experiential learning grounded in community engagement – and to its integration into the academic life at Laurier. Gail and her team created a large network of community contacts, formalized the process of Community Service Learning in order to ensure that it was pedagogically sound through new online tools, and brought the non-profit sector more closely into contact with Laurier’s internal workings. For those of us who wanted to build CSL into our courses, she provided critical support. Gail was essential to the establishment of several key initiatives and programs in the Faculty of Arts including our popular and innovative Community Engagement Option.
Lisa Fanjoy was at the heart of early efforts to expand Laurier’s means of delivering its offerings. She worked actively with departments to encourage the creation of online courses and support faculty as they undertook this challenging process. She made herself readily available in order to coordinate between members of development teams and faculty members, and she was adept at explaining the online development process in plain and clear language. She played a lead role in the establishment of the first fully online degree in the Faculty of Arts, offered through the Department of Religion and Culture. One of Lisa’s many strengths was her ability to build a network of relationships in Arts that would help to achieve the university’s goals; it has been quite clear that her absence recently has coincided with a lack of ideal communication, coordination, and support in this area.
We are particularly shocked and disheartened with the firing of Jeanette McDonald because she is a highly regarded figure in the field of teaching and learning in Canada. In addition to over 10 published articles on teaching and learning and numerous conference presentations and workshops, Jeanette is the recipient of several awards. For example, in 2013 she won the President’s Award for Team Achievement at Laurier. In 2014 she was co-winner of the Pat Rogers Poster Prize at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. And, most recently, in 2016 she was awarded the highly prestigious Distinguished Educational Development Career Award from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. As described on the STLHE website, the award “recognizes individuals for their contributions and leadership in educational development at the local provincial and national levels.” Given Jeanette’s considerable achievements, and her excellent reputation among faculty at Laurier, it is truly shocking that her job was declared redundant and her position terminated. No other person in CTIE has Jeanette’s expertise. Jeanette has been a tireless supporter of teaching and learning at Laurier and has been an invaluable resource for faculty whether they are new to the university, mid-career or senior members. As faculty members we rely on Jeanette’s expertise to become better teachers, something that is of direct benefit to our many thousands of students. Firing Jeanette was a monumental oversight.
We are troubled by the “strategic new directions for teaching and learning” at Laurier, specifically the cutting of valuable teaching support services and the firing of staff members. We ask that you re-introduce a robust network of support for teaching at the University, staffed by experts in the field. And we hope that future decision-making on the teaching and learning mission of the University will be considerably more collegial and collaborative.
Jonathan Finn, Communication Studies
Deborah Van Nijnatten, Political Science
Meena Sharify-Funk, Religion and Culture
Robin Waugh, English and Film Studies
Darren Mulloy, History
John Triggs, Archaeology and Heritage Studies
Chris Nighman, Medieval Studies
Alex Latta, Global Studies
Sharon Marquart, Women and Gender Studies
Natasha Pravaz, Anthropology
Nathalie Freidel, Languages and Literatures
Rebekah Johnston, Philosophy
Lucy Luccisano, Sociology
In reading this article it takes me back to middle school and the remembrance of teachers in and out of class. The memory of almost every teachers family is vivid in my mind because of the small class sizes and personal capability of the teacher pupil relationship. By no means have I ever witnessed a more dedicated staff than the group that sent me out into furthering my knowledge and development of life skills. In our time things were much different less advanced and slower. But books were used also. Teachers actually got paper cuts not carpiltunnel. But all the same it’s the relationship a student has with a teacher that really decides the barriers of their capabilities. Also relationships with the class as a whole. I can remember a classmate standing up and roughing up another young man one time for continuously disrupting class. But all the same it was not the correct choice. I also think about the teachers lives and how they were affected by the career. Perhaps a good example would be the birth of a son or daughter. Which I believe a couple of times affected my own class. The preparation by students as well as faculty but the time away is what really stands out. A substitute teacher ,in most cases , is usually a stand in or more so a hall monitor type character to the class instead of the respected authority figure of everyday. Most times taken advantage by the lax demeanor or carefree loose attitude of the position of “babysitter”. But in extended scenarios as the welcoming of a son or daughter, the stand in would step up and gain the trust and respect of our class. We all know these characteristics are a must and not easily achieved by person’s in this position. But the personal relationships matter in getting the bridge in place for a successful semester. And communication is the key. No teacher ever had to fight for my attention nor substitute. I’ve always seen schools as family establishments rather than business, so I always was supportive of all faculty in any way. Maybe a bit disruptive at times but never defiantly or militiously. Calling my favorite teacher of all “mom” really did express my respect for her. And when family matters arise I knew they come before career. But sometimes students would take situations personally or for granted and seem to affect the main goal of the school year but always found rhythm needed for a class to succeed. I still remember seeing “Moms” face when she brought her newborn son Matthew to meet the class. I have to admit jealousy made itself known but knowing now that baby was the biggest thing to have ever happened to “Mom” and the following school year was like she never missed a day.