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Open letter to FASS

Concerning the elimination of the position of Manager and Advisor of the Cognitive Science Program

*PDF version with appendix

February 3, 2015

Dr. John Craig, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Dr. Robert Gordon, Associate Dean of FASS
Dr. Jane Pulkingham, Associate Dean of FASS
Dr. Lisa Shapiro, Associate Dean of FASS
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, B.C.
Canada V5A 1S6

cc. Dr. Jon Driver, Vice-President, Academic and Provost
cc. Dr. Andrew Petter, President and Vice-Chancellor

Dear Dean and Associate Dean members of FASS,

We, the undersigned Simon Fraser University students, alumni and extended community members, respectfully urge you to reconsider your decision to eliminate the Position of Manager, Academic and Administrative Services for the Cognitive Science Program. Learning of this motion—to be made effective on February 6, present year—has generated great concern among the members that integrate the Cognitive Science Community at SFU. This is especially true among students who have chosen to pursue a degree in Cognitive Science, and those who have already graduated but still maintain a connection to the community. We are primarily concerned about the implications of transferring the responsibilities held by the Cognitive Science manager and advisor to the Psychology Department. This not only forebodes detrimental repercussions for the future of the program but also evidences critical gaps in student consultation that impair community engagement and the academic experience of SFU students.

The Cognitive Science program owes much of its sustenance and development to the excellent work the Manager, Shamina Senaratne, has done during the past 11 years. Her position was instituted after an external review recommended it for the expansion of the program. Paying careful attention to Shamina’s work during this time and matching it with student enrolment records (FTEs reports, see appendix), one must conclude that she has succeeded—considering the consistent struggle the program has faced against a very limited budget. Even more remarkable is that she has managed the program while simultaneously performing her role as Academic Advisor, and that she has done all this as a part-time employee.

To eliminate the manager position is to severely curtail the efforts and gains achieved thus far. While we keep in mind that the decision was made due to a “context of limited resources” and that universities are being affected by extensive provincial cuts (letter to the provincial government, see appendix), we question the exact analysis and considerations that were made to reach it, and whether the academic merit of the program was taken into account at all. We question further whether there was a thorough consultation on the activities, events and student engagement that Shamina has facilitated. Ultimately, we see with certain distress the fact that no consultation whatsoever was conducted with students of the program or with student representatives of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Does this decision reflect the needs of those in the program?

We would like to provide some detail on what activities the Manager and Advisor of Cognitive Science at SFU has carried out. We do this from our experience as students who have been advised by her, worked under her supervision and sat alongside her for Steering Committee and Cognitive Science Student Society meetings. Our intent is to convey how important this position has been for a satisfactory educational experience of Cognitive Science students, and for the discipline itself within SFU.

On the managerial side, besides the expected administrative duties that such a position involves, Shamina has organized academic events that have fostered the development of a rich and diverse community. These events happened routinely and among the most significant are:

Among other accomplishments, the Manager also:

As we hope you can see, the Manager position has enabled Cognitive Science students to enrich their academic experience by providing them avenues for professional networking, experiential learning and practical knowledge of career paths for their chosen degree. The events mentioned above are examples of why it is necessary to have a particular individual committing to the program. Who will ensure that these opportunities continue to exist for Cognitive Science students now that the management of the program has been transferred to the Department of Psychology?

With a dedicated Academic Advisor, Cognitive Science students have been able to navigate the intricacies of the program more smoothly. Undergoing a Cognitive Science degree is especially difficult because it is interdisciplinary, and thus deals with multiple departments. This complexity is appropriate, given the applications and range of fields within Cognitive Science. This position requires an individual with the appropriate breadth of experience in order to effectively guide students in their academic endeavours and ease the challenges that inevitably arise from pursuing quite a complex program.

Current Cognitive Science students as well as alumni are concerned as to how academic guidance will fare under the Psychology Advisor, who presently takes care of over a thousand students. Adding 45 more students to his workload may not seem to be much more, but as previously stressed, advising on Cognitive Science demands a specific depth of knowledge. The Psychology Advisor is clearly overburdened, evidenced by his lagging replies and highly systematic rules for advising students. Given this, we pose the following questions:

We fear that carrying on with this decision will inevitably lead to a loss of integrity of the Cognitive Science Program—not just academically, but also historically. The program has gone from a joint major between Linguistics, Philosophy and Psychology (initiated in 1975) to a fully recognized interdisciplinary unit as Cognitive Science in 1986—the first of its kind offering a Cognitive Science Program in any Canadian university (this included Computing Science and core Cognitive Science courses.) With the creation of Shamina’s position around 2004, the program has steadily grown into a more sophisticated, dynamic and identifiable academic area within campus. We are doubtful that new management under the Psychology Department can maintain a wide and innovative vision to continue enriching the program. Are there examples of how the Department has done so for its own specialized programs?

It would be a shame for the Cognitive Science program to be mishandled in a way that it eventually loses its place within Simon Fraser University. It is curious to us why FASS or the office of the VP-Academic have not invested in it more, especially when this is a discipline that has gained so much popularity in Academia, and which has found more resources and growth in other universities. At present, there are eleven schools in Canada and fifty-five schools in the United States offering degrees in Cognitive Science. Cognitive Science has applications in economics, marketing, machine learning, software development and human resources, to name a few; why has SFU allowed the program to remain so small, when universities like UBC have given it more options and resources? In comparison, the Cognitive Systems program at UBC has grown at a faster and steadier rate since its establishment. UBC’s program offers five different possible degrees in Cognitive Systems: two in the Faculty of Science, and three in the Faculty of Arts.

Considering that the position is only part-time and that numbers in Cognitive Science FTEs have grown steadily from 2009 to 2014, arriving at this decision seems incongruent. Why cut resources to a program that is seeing more numbers (as humble as they are)? On the contrary, this should indicate that the position of the Manager is effective and that the program has the potential to bring even more money to the Faculty if given the proper attention and care.

We cannot stress enough how regressive this decision is for an option at SFU that delivers such a wholesome and diversified academic experience. Removing this position hurts a community that is truly engaged in knowledge and its application in the world. The Cognitive Science program, if anything, serves as an example of a unit within SFU that engages other programs, departments, campuses, universities, and our own community. As such, the elimination of such an integral part of the program demonstrates a serious discrepancy between SFU’s vision and the decisions made by its administrative bodies.

With urgency, we request a response to the points raised in this letter. Furthermore, we respectfully urge you to begin a consultation process with the students in the Cognitive Science Program, and to revoke the decision to eliminate the position of Manager, Academic and Administrative Services for Cognitive Science at SFU.


The Cognitive Science Student Society at Simon Fraser University (CS^3)

Aaron Richardson Cognitive Science Major, President of CS^3

Jon Waldie Cognitive Science Major, Vice-President of CS^3

Maceo Quintanar Cognitive Science Major, Communications Officer and former President of CS^3

Anita Wong Cognitive Science Major, Treasurer of CS^3

Freya Olson Cognitive Science Major, former Executive of CS^3

Ekaterina Stepanova Cognitive Science Major, former Executive of CS^3

Melissa Hamer-Jackson Cognitive Science Major, SFU

Aaron Richardson Cognitive Science Major, President of CS^3

Jon Waldie Cognitive Science Major, Vice-President of CS^3

Maceo Quintanar Cognitive Science Major, Communications Officer and former President of CS^3

Anita Wong Cognitive Science Major, Treasurer of CS^3

Freya Olson Cognitive Science Major, former Executive of CS^3

Ekaterina Stepanova Cognitive Science Major, former Executive of CS^3

Melissa Hamer-Jackson Cognitive Science Major, SFU

Kayla Hamer-Jackson Psychology

Amanda Hamer-Jackson Communication Major

Morgan Cambiotti Cognitive Science Major

Yue Chen Cognitive Science Major

Tim Nosov

Scott Harrison Cognitive Science Major

Stephen Laboucane Comp Sci Major, Cog Sci Minor

Ibrahim El Chami Simon Fraser University

Alysha van Duynhoven Computing Science

Stefan Lynka

Katheran Krall

Adam Thompson Computer Science, COGS research assistant

Amanda Dumoulin

Joseph Edward Dunn

Iain Edgar Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Gabriel Dipple

Julia DeRocher Faculty of Environment, SFU

Allison Foltyn International Studies Major

Connie lisogar-Cocchia USC

Ankit Dassor CMPT Major, COGS Minor: SFU Undergrad

Mitch McLean Criminal Justice (Criminology), Department of Justice Studies, Mount Royal University, Faculty of Arts

Ryan Hildebrandt Crim/Arts/SFU

Virginia Landry

Emily Wilson-George Cognitive Science alumnus and volunteer

James Delgrande Associate member: COGS/ Professor: CMPT

Natalie Fujisawa SFU

Thomas Cunningham

Theresa Morgan Cognitive Science major

Caitlyn McColeman Psychology

Nancy Hedberg Professor, Linguistics and Cognitive Science

Oscar Lira Sanchez Visual Arts and World History

Harris McKay Computing Science

Casey Haber Cognitive Science alumnus SFU

Carol Ho SIAT

Jordan Barnes Psychology

JB MacGregor Cognitive Science Major

Adam Burnett Psychology, Simon Fraser University

Kayode Fatoba Health Science/Simon Fraser University

Jamie Alexandre Cognitive Science alum 2007; President of Foundation for Learning Equality

Aaron Ancell COGS Lab alumnus

Lihan Chen SFU, BA in Cognitive Science with a Minor in Psychology

Kim Meier Cognitive Science minor, former COGS Student Society President

Vanessa Utz Cognitive Science Major, SFU

Dion Chong International Studies / Society of Arts and Social Sciences

Betty Leung Linguistics

Andres Giudice Grillo Linguistics Major, SFU

Kyle Wallis COGS Minor

Ipek Ceren Guven Cognitive Science Major, SFU

Rahel Losier Cognitive Science

Tamara Connor SFU Arts student

Katie Mai Simon Fraser Student Society

R Calen Walshe PhD Candidate / University of Edinburgh / Cognitive Science (Cogs Alumnus)

Melissa Lee Major: PSYCHOLOGY/Minor: EDUCATION

Darby Olson

Eva Habib BPK

Alec McLeod Cognitive Science Major