SMU debates new academic plan

SMU held a town hall meeting to discuss their 2012-2017 academic plan.

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Faculty and administration before the meeting.

SMU faculty and administration gathered Tuesday night for a town hall meeting to discuss their new Academic Plan, a document which outlines the guiding principles and focuses of the institution. Academic Vice-President David Gauthier and Andrew Seamen, the project manager for the plan's renewal, made their presentation and then fielded questions from a crowd of around 60.

The process to renew the plan began in 2010. It is currently on its second draft. The 17 page plan outlines the University's core values and general aims, as well as hightlighting successes that they seek to build on.

The new plan will extend until 2017, running two years longer than the previous one did. The crowd asked about a variety of issues, including the order of the bullet points, but two topics were revisited; an emphasis on international students and the new co-curricular transcript.

The co-curricular transcript will be similar to the ones at the University of Windsor, Acadia University and Guelph University. As a supplement to a student's academic transcript, the co-curricular transcript would track a student's extra-curricular activities that they are involved in for more than 20 hours. Justine Stacey, vice-president of student life for the student union, expressed excitement about the idea.

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Dr. David Gauthier, SMU's Academic Vice President, fields a question from a faculty member.

A quarter of SMU's student body consists of international students and the new plan calls for a continuation of the recruitment and commitment to diversity that drew those students to SMU. Some faculty members were concerned that this was not enough and that a larger emphasis needed to be placed on addressing the needs of that community. "We simply must do a better job of helping our international students with the challenges they face," said Gauthier in response.

When asked about the vague language in the document, Gauthier said people had expressed a desire for a non-prescriptive academic plan. Other faculty members expressed interest in having individual plans for each department, which Gauthier said would work with this plan.

Andrew Seamen, a former SMU professor who was tapped to lead this project, said having a too-restrictive plan didn't make sense. "The truth of the matter is that we don't know what will be happening three years down the road," Seamen said.

The plan also attempts to address SMU's retention issues, placing an emphasis on first-year education. It highlights a Faculty of Arts initiative that intervenes with first-year students facing possible failure and refers to it as a success story.

One of the faculty members in attendance called it a "visionary document," adding that SMU would be lucky to achieve everything that the document aims for. The meeting was optimistic, but according to Seamen, it's not unrealistic. "I don't think there's much puffery. It's all factual," said Seamen.

Gauthier hopes to have the plan approved by the school's senate in early February.

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