Over the past several years there has been a wide-spread attack on academic freedom across Ontario Colleges. So wide-spread that the protection of this freedom was a key addition to our most recent collective agreement.
Recently the Union put forward a grievance related to the protection of academic freedom and the implementation of new Course Outlines by SLC’s Program Planning, Development, and Renewal department (PPDR). This grievance is the consolidation of the individual grievance requests of two members as well as a union grievance on the same matter.
Historically, the Course Outlines provide an overview of what students can expect to have to demonstrate in order to earn their credit. For professors, it provides direction for content development, and indicates what must be assessed. It’s like being given a blank canvas and being told “create a picture however you like, so long as it contains these important features” and you are allowed to use whatever tools and mediums best help your students create their picture to meet the guidelines. Through this method innovation blossoms and students receive relevant and meaningful learning experiences.
SLC’s new Course Outline, however, is intended to dictate how a given course will be taught, including resources to be used, modules and their content, evaluation methods and weighting of those evaluations. So instead of a blank canvas with some guidelines, we are being given a colour-by-number sheet and told we must use only red, blue, and yellow Crayola crayons and we must colour in a very specific order. No, it doesn’t matter if there was a change in the industry between semesters, or if the course is being taught in two completely different programs, the content must be identical- even if a varied approach would benefit different cohorts in meeting the same learning goals.
This one-size-fits-all approach does not respect the learning needs of students in a given course, or the experience and expertise of the professor delivering content. Historically, professors address these variables in the Learning Plan, and this autonomy is protected under our current collective agreement. Meaning professors can neither be forced to adhere to such outlines, nor can they be asked to develop them.
Article 13.4 states every faculty member is able to exercise academic freedom in the performance of his or her duties. Within the class definition of a professor the professor’s duties are to design revise update of courses including defining course objectives and evaluating and validating these objectives; specifying or approving learning approaches necessary resource is etc; developing individualized instruction and multimedia presentations where applicable; selecting or proving textbooks and learning materials the teaching of assigned courses also includes evaluating student progress/achievement and assuming responsibility for the overall assessment of students work within assigned courses.
While we respect and acknowledge that the College has the right to establish learning outcomes, how students achieve and demonstrate these outcomes should be at the discretion of the content expert—the professor. The overreach on the part of the College through the PPDR department extends so far as to dictate course modules and their order of delivery, as well as all related resources and assessments. Should a faculty wish to make changes to the order of delivery or to implement a more relevant assessment measure, they must first present justification for these changes to their Associate Dean for approval. Members have had their Learning Plans rejected for not aligning closely enough to the new Course Outlines, despite reasonable, expressed rationale for their given delivery approach.
The union believes the concept of prescribing what is taught is a violation of academic freedom impacting ALL members. Professors are hired as subject experts yet the College is insistent on micro-managed, dictated teaching. If this is the projection of teaching at SLC, why must new hires have such extensive formal education and teaching experience?
For over 50 years, Ontario Colleges have been where practical skills are developed through innovation and experimentation. When professors are not allowed input into their own courses or how students will be assessed there leaves no room for innovation or growth, at least not without fear of reprimand for colouring outside the lines.