VP, Academic Jon Driver helping REM 660 grad students map and sample a clam garden on Calvert Island during an experiential learning project last summer.

We must be accountable

October 25, 2012
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Message from the VP, Academic

Many people are worried about the growing level of criticism of universities that seems to have accelerated since the onset of the recession. Governments reference the importance of an educated population largely in terms of economic growth and looming gaps in the supply of labour.

Commentators in various media, as well students and recent graduates, point to the failure of the post-secondary system to educate students for jobs. Some business leaders echo this sentiment, reporting that students don’t have the skills required for 21st century work. Within the academy, studies have questioned the value of traditional educational methods and called for reforms that reflect the reality of contemporary students’ lives.

Internet access to massive amounts of information and “free” educational programs has sparked suggestions that autonomous institutions could be replaced by corporately driven webbased credentialing services that would create alternatives to traditional multi-year integrated programs of study, immersion and engagement.

We have seen parallel criticism of the role of research in universities, with return on investment, industry spin-offs, and bibliometric indicators such as the h-index touted as the only valid measures of success.

A common thread of many of these critiques is that universities are old-fashioned, inaccessible, expensive institutions that don’t meet the needs of their students and undertake research that is not useful to those that fund it.

I believe research universities must define their mission clearly and articulate the long-term value of a well-educated population for the broad well being of communities. Instructors who are also researchers can demonstrate to students through their own experience the difficulty of understanding complex phenomena in all fields. Exposure to evidence-based research is a necessary counter to a world where leaders across the political spectrum rely increasingly on political and religious ideology to set policy and make decisions.

“Accountability” is an ugly word to many who work in an educational setting. But if we don’t define what we wish to achieve, and if we don’t assess how well we are doing and act on that information, then our mission and the assessment of our performance will be imposed on us. SFU’s recently released mission and vision set a clear direction for us. Now we have to show that we’re on the right track.

In this publication we are highlighting some of the steps we are taking to be more accountable and some of the initiatives that demonstrate that we are capable of analyzing our performance and acting on that information.

Jon Driver VP, Academic , and Provost

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