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Stevenson floats ideas for academic reform

April 2, 2009

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While President Michael Stevenson spoke at length about SFU’s financial difficulties during his President’s open forum last month, he also reflected on its successes during his 10-year tenure, which ends in 2010. And he had some novel suggestions for reducing costs and improving academic productivity.

Among the university’s achievements, he highlighted the growth of computer science and engineering; the new health sciences faculty; Surrey’s interactive arts and technology and mechatronics engineering programs; the material sciences "clustered around 4D Labs" and a new focus on medicinal chemistry.

He also noted advances in graduate business, forensic science, psychology, archaeology and criminology, neuroscience, international studies, public policy, urban studies, gerontology and world literature.

These initiatives "have built in a resilience at SFU in terms of our funding and our profile in budget politics both in the province and federally," he said. But despite "years of fiddling at the margins to cut down on operating expenses… there remain certain serious (budget) exercises that we have to show (government funding authorities) we have done."

While noting that specific changes will be decided during an upcoming three-year planning process, he recommended several measures to reduce costs and increase academic productivity. They included ensuring that instructors teach a "minimally acceptable" number of hours and reducing teaching hours for those with "higher research productivity."

He also proposed larger class sizes, increased weekend and evening classroom use and "potentially expanding the hours of the day and the days of the week we expect to teach."

But his most intriguing suggestions included a 15-per-cent reduction in the number of in-class credit hours matched by an increase in web-based e-learning; credits for co-op and unpaid volunteer work; "enriched" credits for international exchanges, field courses and dual degree courses; and credits for working in faculty-led research teams.

Without these or similar reforms, it will become "increasingly difficult to deal with the kinds of economic pressures that we now face," said Stevenson.

"And in this economic climate we cannot presume that things will get easier for us in the near future."

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