Council of Deans on Undergraduate Education

PDAD&C #2, 2001-2002

M E M O R A N D U M

TO:   Principals, Deans, Academic Directors and Chairs
FROM:   Robert J. Birgeneau, President
Adel Sedra, Vice-President and Provost
DATE:   July 3, 2001
RE:   Council of Deans on Undergraduate Education

We are pleased to announce the establishment of the Council of Deans on Undergraduate Education.

Below in this document is set out the background, terms of reference and membership of the Council. We look forward to working with the members of the Council and with all of you in continuing to improve the quality of the undergraduate educational experience at the University of Toronto.

Council of Deans on Undergraduate Education

In his installation address, President Robert Birgeneau highlighted a commitment to the enhancement of undergraduate education at the University of Toronto as a major objective of his presidency. Toward this end, he stated his intention to establish a Council on Undergraduate Education to advise on action to be taken in this regard.

President Birgeneau's initiative reinforces a key academic priority of the University of Toronto. The University's great potential to offer excellent undergraduate education derives from several fundamental strengths. First, as a research-intensive university, with concomitant strength in graduate and professional education, it provides what is arguably the most positive environment for undergraduate education. In 1994, the Provost's White Paper on University Objectives stated the University's high aspirations for the quality of education it can offer to its undergraduate students in this regard as follows:

The University of Toronto offers an undergraduate student experience different than that offered by a small liberal arts college. We offer the opportunity for exposure to faculty who are operating at the leading edge of their disciplines, and to a comprehensive range of disciplinary and professional areas of study. We need to ensure that we are fully exploiting our potential in this respect. Our scholarly strengths are not fully tapped unless students are engaged in the excitement of intellectual inquiry; and our diversity is mere miscellany unless students experience, within a coherent course of study, the variety of perspectives and the synergy that a broadly-based university allows. Our program formats and our facilities need to foster that experience.

Second, the great diversity of the undergraduate student body and the location of the University in a richly multi-cultural metropolitan context constitutes a great resource. To quote from the planning framework document for the second phase of White Paper planning, Raising Our Sights:

The University of Toronto is also well placed to be a leader in a context in which the face of the North American university is changing. A key feature of the campus environment at the University of Toronto is the rich multi-cultural diversity of our student body and of the surrounding urban and suburban context. Indeed, this diversity is arguably greater at the University of Toronto and its immediate environment than is the case for any of our peers among the major North American public research universities. The dynamic that has transformed the multi-cultural make-up of the University over the past few decades will continue into the next century. On campus, these changes are most apparent among our students; but with the wave of faculty appointments that will occur in the next decade, they will come to characterize the faculty as well. Celebrating and continuing to foster the vibrancy and diversity of the University community must be central to what we do -- it is a large part of what makes us attractive as a place to do exciting scholarly work.

This diversity is in itself an important facet of the undergraduate educational environment, in which students exchange across a wide variety of perspectives and life experiences, and it also provides a rich context for educational programming. Engagement with the Greater Toronto community, moreover, opens a wide range of possibilities for learning beyond the formal curriculum. The University of Toronto offers a unique environment within which students can acquire the "inter-cultural competence" that will increasingly be demanded of those who assume leadership roles in the twenty-first century.

The Raising Our Sights planning process reinforced the emphasis on undergraduate education and established the improvement of the educational experience as one of three key priorities. The University has made some important strides toward realizing these objectives - such as the adoption of the 20-credit format as the sole vehicle for completing B.A. and B.Sc. degrees on the St. George campus as an integral part of an on-going curriculum reform. Nonetheless, the fiscal challenges of the 1990s greatly hampered the University's ability to match its performance to its ambitions in undergraduate education.

It is time to intensify our efforts in this area. New discoveries and the development of new ways of understanding are driving the dramatic expansion of knowledge across all fields of inquiry at a pace which is, if anything, increasing - and the implications of these changes for undergraduate education in the twenty-first century must be addressed at the University of Toronto just as they are being addressed at other major universities around the world. Furthermore, the demographic, technological and fiscal environment of the University is changing in ways that create both challenges and opportunities for its capacity to offer an excellent undergraduate liberal education. Demographically, the University faces both the challenge and the opportunity presented by the need to respond to a dramatic projected increase in demand for university places, especially in the Greater Toronto Area, over the next decade. Developments in information technology provide opportunities to enhance the campus-based educational experience, even as the rapidity of change raises important strategic and managerial issues.

The implications of changes in the fiscal environment also need to be addressed. The period of severe budget reductions appears to have passed. However, public policy has been to target incremental revenues toward areas of technology and commerce. Most recently, provincial funding increases have been almost entirely tied to growth in enrolment. The challenge for the University is to manage this growth in a way that strengthens and enriches the full breadth of the liberal educational curriculum.

 


Terms of Reference -- Background:

The Council is established as an on-going body to review evidence and make recommendations in the areas related to the enhancement of the educational experience of students in first-entry undergraduate programs, as a complement and support to efforts at the divisional level. Over time, it will address the following issue areas:

  1. Scope and components of a liberal education:

    Across Canada, and indeed around the world, universities are addressing the question of the appropriate content of the undergraduate curriculum in the 21st century. Is there a core, in terms of types of content and/or modes of inquiry, that is essential to the undergraduate curriculum? Is there a fundamental level of cultural and scientific literacy, capacity for critical inquiry and moral choice, and ability to be effective within an information-intensive and increasingly globalized environment, that we expect of an educated person? To some extent, these questions can be addressed at the level of particular academic divisions, especially those with a broad disciplinary sweep. But these issues also need to be addressed from a perspective that spans academic divisions to take in the full sweep of our undergraduate offerings.

    In addressing these issues, we need to keep front and centre the fact that we are a research-intensive university. The fundamental linkage of teaching and research, which has been central to the academic planning process at the University of Toronto, must be the bedrock upon which the undergraduate curriculum is built. Similarly, we should look for ways of articulating programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels as appropriate. The recently-developed Jeffrey Skoll Program leading to both a BASc. and an MBA is an excellent example of such articulation; and there are undoubtedly other fields in which combined bachelor/master's program could be developed.

    Curriculum reform is being addressed at the divisional level, and the Council should draw upon and support, not supplant these efforts. The curricula in Arts and Science and in Applied Science and Engineering exhibit very different balances of flexibility and choice on the one hand and program coherence on the other. In Arts and Science, since the curriculum reform of the late 1960s that eliminated the distinction between the structured "Honours" program and the "General" program, a heavy weight has been placed on flexibility and choice. Over time, the curriculum has been modified to re-introduce some required program structure. The curriculum in Applied Science and Engineering, on the other hand, is highly structured, and has drawn some criticism from external reviewers for its degree of inflexibility, and for the practice of having non-engineering disciplines taught by engineering faculty, rather than exposing students to professors in other Faculties. Both Faculties have established working groups to address these and related issues.

    Raising Our Sights suggested the possibility of a number of program innovations, such as introducing certain selective program streams, on the model of the program in Engineering Science. It noted that such programs, which "are typically characterized by a demanding and relatively comprehensive curriculum, very high admission standards, and relatively small cohorts of students ... offer an educational experience that, while not intended for all students, can offer challenging and exciting programs for those who choose them." No such proposals were forthcoming in the academic planning process at the divisional level, however; and it is appropriate to raise this possibility again in this new forum.

    Accordingly, the Council will:

    1. investigate best practice in curriculum development in liberal and undergraduate professional education in research universities, with an emphasis on:
      • the balance and depth of exposure to the humanities, social sciences and sciences
      • the integration of teaching and research at the undergraduate level
      • the articulation of undergraduate and graduate programming, including the development of combined bachelor/master's programs
      • flexibility as consistent with program coherence
      • specific models, such as selective programs
    2. identify areas for potential innovation in the curriculum at the University of Toronto in the above respects.
  2. Inter-disciplinary and cross-divisional programming:

    Inter-disciplinary programming has been attempted at the University of Toronto with varying degrees of success. The Division of the Environment in Arts and Science and the Division of Environmental Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, for example, are cross-departmental vehicles that build interdisciplinary programs on strong disciplinary departmental bases within each Faculty, as well as building bridges to other Faculties. The University of Toronto at Mississauga and the University of Toronto at Scarborough each have differently structured inter-disciplinary divisions, and have sought to find distinctive inter-disciplinary niches while maintaining a core set of discipline-based programs. There is a growing number of examples of inter-disciplinary programming that crosses Faculty boundaries at the first-entry undergraduate level, such as Architectural Studies, Commerce, Health Studies, Human Biology and other Life Science programs, Geological Engineering, and Metals and Materials Science. But still more can be done in this regard, particularly given the University's of strong record of developing collaborative and combined programs at the second-entry professional and graduate levels.

    Some consideration has been given to developing combined BSc/BASc. and BA/BASc. programs, and this possibility should be pursued with vigour. Another model that has been implemented at some other universities is that of a common first year curriculum, establishing a fundamental base from which students may then proceed to more specialized programs of study. This model has the advantage of building in certain key components to the undergraduate program, and providing some time for reflection before students commit to choices with significant career implications.

    Accordingly, the Council will:

    1. investigate best practice in inter-disciplinary and cross-divisional curriculum development in research universities
    2. identify and evaluate areas for potential innovation in the curriculum at the University of Toronto in this regard, such as:
      • the development of joint degree programs crossing Faculty boundaries
      • a first year curriculum framework common to all first-entry programs
  3. International experience:

    In fostering the inter-cultural competence of our students, international experience can be invaluable. The University has made considerable progress in recent years in facilitating programs of study aboard. Yet it is still the case that only a small fraction of our undergraduate students participate in study abroad or even international field courses. Much more could be done in this regard, to build such components into the overall framework of the undergraduate curriculum.

    Accordingly, the Council will:

    1. investigate best practice in the provision of international experience within the context of the undergraduate curriculum in research universities
    2. make recommendations aimed at enhancing and increasing participation in programs of international experience for undergraduate students at the University of Toronto
  4. Rewarding excellence in undergraduate teaching:

    In all divisions of the University with undergraduate programs, undergraduate teaching is one of the most important facets of each faculty member's role. The Provost's planning documents have consistently emphasized the importance of fostering and rewarding excellence in undergraduate education. A Teaching Development Initiative has recently been instituted to support teaching development services across the University. The quality of teaching is a key factor in tenure, promotion and annual merit evaluations of faculty. Most divisions have programs of award recognition for outstanding teachers; and on a University-wide basis, the Northrop Frye Awards recognize distinction in linking teaching and research. Developing other University-wide mechanisms for supporting and recognizing excellence can serve to highlight and reinforce the emphasis that the University places on undergraduate teaching.

    Accordingly, the Council will:

    1. review models for recognizing excellence in undergraduate teaching at research universities.
    2. make recommendations regarding University-wide mechanisms for rewarding excellence in undergraduate teaching at the University of Toronto
  5. Mode of delivery:

    Largely as a result of fiscal constraint, the University of Toronto over the course of the 1990s experienced a reduction in the proportion of undergraduate classes taught by tenured/tenure-stream faculty, and an increase in undergraduate class sizes. These are matters of significant concern; and these trends must be reversed.

    The potential of instructional technology also needs to be more fully explored. It holds the promise of substantially enhancing the educational experience as part of the design of modes of delivery aimed at ensuring that students have access to research-oriented faculty in contexts that allow for full engagement and exchange.

    Accordingly, the Council will:

    1. investigate trends in the proportion of classes, by level, taught by tenured/tenure-stream faculty
    2. investigate trends in the distribution of class sizes, by program level.
    3. make recommendations re (a) and (b).
    4. take account of the recommendations of the Task Force on Technology-Assisted Education, chaired by Vice-President Sheldon Levy, and consider ways to facilitate their implementation.
    5. monitor progress in extending the availability of smart classroom technology
  6. Co-curricular activities:

    The full undergraduate educational experience goes well beyond the formal curriculum. As Raising Our Sights put it, "There is ... a plethora of ... activities, organized through the Faculty of Physical Education and Health, Hart House, colleges, faculties and student groups that rounds out the campus experience. The intramural team, the campus theatrical production, and the student club all provide important loci of community."

    Furthermore, there is much more that we can do in encouraging student engagement with the broader community. Colleges, departments and faculties can facilitate opportunities for students to take advantage of the wide range of cultural and social activities in the metropolitan area. Even more importantly, opportunities for student volunteerism and outreach to the community should be fostered, as emphasized by the President in his installation address. Activities organized by Hart House related to the homeless, and outreach to designated high schools by students at Victoria College and New College are promising examples of initiatives in this regard.

    Accordingly, the Council will:

    1. identify areas in which co-curricular activities can be strengthened
    2. make recommendations as to action to be taken at the University level to support and encourage colleges, faculties and departments in the development of co-curricular activities
  7. Supporting Student Success:

    Student success has a number of dimensions: intellectual growth and maturation, development of skills in particular fields of inquiry, and graduation into roles of further engagement with society. The undergraduate experience should foster each of these dimensions. If the University is to support students in these respects, we must become more self-conscious about how well it is performing this role. One of the tasks of the Council will therefore be to review evidence of support for student success on an ongoing basis, and to consider how that support can be improved.

    The diversity of the student body, as noted above, constitutes an enormous resource for enriching the undergraduate experience. It nonetheless also poses challenges. In particular, we need to take account of the fact that for a large proportion of our undergraduate students English is a second language, and to design our mechanisms of academic support accordingly.

    The fact that the University of Toronto draws its undergraduate student population heavily from the GTA also presents both opportunities and challenges. It means that we draw upon one of the most diverse population bases in the world. But it also means that many of our students live off-campus, many at a considerable distance in their parental homes. Even as we increase the number of residence spaces with the goal of housing at least 25 percent of our undergraduate students in residence, it will remain the case that the substantial majority of our students will continue to commute to campus. The support we provide to students living off-campus, and the opportunities we provide for them to be fully engaged in campus life, deserve careful attention.

    Evidence related to some dimensions of student success, such as graduation rates and employment rates, is now collected routinely by universities in Ontario and elsewhere. In the case of graduation rates (the proportion of students graduating within an expected time frame), the University of Toronto is comparable to peer public research universities in North America; but our rates are lower than those of several Ontario universities with a focus on undergraduate liberal education. Graduation rates also vary greatly within the University of Toronto, by faculty, college and campus.

    Graduation and employment rates are both summary and incomplete measures of undergraduate student success. Other measures, such as progression to further study and self assessments of intellectual growth as reported through survey instruments, are possible, and some are being developed in other institutions.

    Accordingly, the Council will:

    1. identify measures of student success, drawing upon currently available information such as graduation rates as well as information to be gathered through surveys and other methods
    2. review measures of student success across faculties, programs, colleges and campuses at the University of Toronto
    3. investigate factors related to student success, including:
      • entering averages
      • program of study
      • full-time vs part-time status; engagement in employment
      • residence vs off-campus living arrangements
      • level and type (merit- vs need-based; in-course vs admission; multi-year) of financial support
      • student advising
      • academic skills support
    4. on the basis of this review, recommend steps to support student success, including the most effective locus for various forms of support, whether at the college, departmental, faculty or University level.
  8. Implications of reform of Ontario high school curriculum:

    The reduction of the length of the Ontario high school curriculum from five years to four years presents particular challenges for Ontario universities. Although a four-year high school curriculum is the norm in most other jurisdictions, it is not the basis upon which the university curriculum in Ontario has been established. The University of Toronto, like most other Ontario universities, draws the overwhelming proportion of its first-entry undergraduate students from Ontario high schools. The intention of high school curriculum reform in Ontario has been to ensure that the four-year curriculum provides an equal or better preparation for university study as did its predecessor. This intention has not yet been tested, however. The greatest challenge for the University of Toronto is likely to be in the years 2003 and immediately thereafter, in which graduates of both five- and four-year curricula will be entering the University simultaneously, with somewhat different preparation.

    Accordingly, the Council will:

    1. consult with colleagues who have been engaged in advising on the development of the new Ontario high school curriculum
    2. review the experience of universities in other jurisdictions that have implemented high school curriculum reform
    3. make recommendations, particularly with regard to the first-year University curriculum, to address any problems associated with Ontario high school curriculum reform.
  9. Related Issues:

    Most of the issues identified above intersect in important ways with issues that are being considered by other standing or special committees within the University - issues such as student recruitment, enrolment expansion, programming across the three campuses, and the role of the St. George colleges. From time to time, the Council may identify particular dimensions of these intersecting issues that require the Council's attention.

    Accordingly, the Council may:

    • From time to time, identify other issues related to its mandate that require the Council's attention.

Council of Deans on Undergraduate Education
Summary Terms of Reference

The Council is established as an on-going body to review evidence and make recommendations in the areas related to the enhancement of the educational experience of students in first-entry undergraduate programs, as a complement and support to efforts at the divisional level. Over time, it will address the following issue areas:

  1. Scope and components of a liberal education:

    The Council will:

    1. investigate best practice in curriculum development in liberal and undergraduate professional education in research universities, with an emphasis on:
      • the balance and depth of exposure to the humanities, social sciences and sciences
      • the integration of teaching and research at the undergraduate level
      • the articulation of undergraduate and graduate programming
      • flexibility as consistent with program coherence
      • specific models, such as selective programs
    2. identify areas for potential innovation in the curriculum at the University of Toronto in the above respects.
  2. Inter-disciplinary and cross-divisional program development:

    The Council will:

    1. investigate best practice in inter-disciplinary and cross-divisional curriculum development in research universities
    2. identify and evaluate areas for potential innovation in the curriculum at the University of Toronto in this regard, such as:
      • the development of joint degree programs crossing faculty boundaries
      • a first year curriculum framework common to all first-entry programs
  3. International experience:

    The Council will:

    1. investigate best practice in the provision of international experience within the context of the undergraduate curriculum in research universities
    2. make recommendations aimed at enhancing and increasing participation in programs of international experience for undergraduate students at the University of Toronto
  4. Rewarding excellence in undergraduate teaching:

    The Council will:

    1. review models for recognizing excellence in undergraduate teaching at research universities.
    2. make recommendations regarding University-wide mechanisms for rewarding excellence in undergraduate teaching at the University of Toronto
  5. Mode of delivery:

    The Council will:

    1. investigate trends in the proportion of classes, by level, taught by tenured/tenure-stream faculty
    2. investigate trends in the distribution of class sizes, by program level
    3. take account of the recommendations of the Task Force on Technology-Assisted Education, chaired by Vice-President Sheldon Levy
    4. make recommendations re (a) and (b).
  6. Co-curricular activities:

    The Council will:

    1. identify areas in which co-curricular activities can be strengthened
    2. make recommendations as to action to be taken at the University level to support and encourage colleges, faculties and departments in the development of co-curricular activities
  7. Supporting Student Success:

    The Council will:

    1. identify measures of student success, drawing upon currently available information such as graduation rates as well as information to be gathered through surveys and other methods
    2. review measures of student success across faculties, programs, colleges and campuses at the University of Toronto
    3. investigate factors related to student success, including:
      • entering averages
      • program of study
      • full-time vs part-time status; engagement in employment
      • residence vs off-campus living arrangements
      • level and type (merit- vs need-based; in-course vs admission; multi-y ear) of financial support
      • student advising
      • academic skills support
    4. on the basis of this review, recommend steps to support student success, including the most effective locus for various forms of support, whether at the college, departmental, faculty or University level.
  8. Implications of reform of Ontario high school curriculum:

    The Council will:

    1. consult with colleagues who have been engaged in advising on the development of the new Ontario high school curriculum
    2. review the experience of universities in other jurisdictions that have implemented high school curriculum reform
    3. make recommendations, particularly with regard to the first-year University curriculum, to address any problems associated with Ontario high school curriculum reform.
  9. Related Issues:

    The Council may from time to time identify other issues related to its mandate that require the Council's attention.


Council of Deans on Undergraduate Education
Membership

Robert Birgeneau, President (Co-Chair)

Adel Sedra, Vice-President and Provost (Co-Chair)

Carl Amrhein, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Science

David Beach, Dean, Faculty of Music

Tas Venetsanopoulos, Dean, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering

Bruce Kidd, Dean, Faculty of Physical Education and Health

Bob McNutt, Principal, University of Toronto at Mississauga

Carole Moore, Chief Librarian

Ian Orchard, Vice-Provost, Students

Paul Thompson, Principal and Dean, University of Toronto at Scarborough

Carolyn Tuohy, Vice-President (Policy Development) and Associate Provost

Principal of Principals, TBA