Friday, April 10, 2009

Medieval Studies program at Queen's University facing suspension

The Medieval Studies program at Queen's University in Canada is one of 40 programs that could be suspended and stop accepting new students.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Queen's faces a 20% cut to its budget, one of many post-secondary institutions in Canada that has seen a significant loss in revenues as a result of the economic recession. On March 26th the Faculty announced that one proposal they are considering is "to suspend admissions to the degree types that have had fewer than 25 students enrolled over the past several years, and explore ways to restructure the offerings so as to be more efficient." The Medieval Studies program usually has between six and a dozen students enrolled in any given year.

Other programs facing suspension include German, Spanish, Statistics, Computing and Chemistry. The statement from Queen's University that all of these programs could be suspended "unless they can be restructured to be sustainable, given current resources. This will require rethinking what courses are required, who would teach them, and when they would be offered."

Scott-Morgan Straker, Faculty Coordinator for the Medieval Studies program, explained in an interview with that he hopes this program will survive any cuts, and notes some of its special circumstances:

"The Medieval Studies program does not run any of its own courses: it relies entirely on courses that the participating departments (English, History, Classics, and Philosophy) are already committed to providing for their own concentrators. It therefore costs the Faculty nothing in terms of additional resources, so no monetary savings could result from its suspension. The only program costs that I'm aware of are my time (when I offer advice and assistance to students in the program) and very occasionally that of the Undergraduate Chairs of the participating departments (if they need to intervene to get students into the courses that they need).

"The Dean of Arts and Sciences states that the impulse behind reducing the number of degrees offered by the Faculty is the desire to promote efficiency. It seems to me that Medieval Studies already embodies that kind of efficiency, because it allows students to recombine course offerings that are already there, in order to do something (namely, to focus on a historical period in an interdisciplinary way) that they wouldn't otherwise be permitted to do. I have represented the program to the Dean in this light, so I hope my input has some influence on the decision that ultimately gets made."

Last month, students and faculty at Queen's University held a rally on their campus to protest the proposal. Alistair MacLean, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science said, "“I fully understand why people are upset about it. Some programs are under threat...Queen’s students are very engaged and passionate about what they’re doing. I don’t disagree with their aims. I have limited resources. I have the job to try to make it happen.”

Dr. Straker noted that the high demands and low profile of the medieval studies program make it difficult for them to attract students, but for those students in the program they are united by "their uncommon love for the period and its culture, history, and languages, and their commitment to their studies. There is no paradigmatic medieval studies student: they all come to the field under different influences, and bring different skills and interests to their work. I believe that they've all found something valuable in the Medieval Studies program, so I'm determined to keep it alive for the small number of students to whom it appeals."