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Restructuring at Canada’s military college goes beyond layoffs: president

Changes needed due to low enrolment in some classes and pending retirements.

BY ROSANNA TAMBURRI | JUN 27 2012

Canada’s Royal Military College is undergoing a major restructuring, including faculty reductions and curricular changes, which has some stakeholders lamenting the proposed changes at the 130-year-old storied institution in Kingston, Ontario.

Joel Sokolsky, RMC principal, confirmed that 28 of 189 civilian teaching positions will be eliminated over the next 15 months as a result of federal government budget cuts. Another 25 non-faculty positions will be cut, as will several positions at the RMC Saint-Jean campus in Quebec.

Established in 1876, RMC has always held a unique place in the Canadian higher education system. The school has a dual role: to train students for careers as officers in the Canadian Forces and to offer university degrees in the arts, science and engineering in both official languages. It is Canada’s only federal university; its budget is set by the Department of National Defence and its civilian faculty members are part of the federal public service. RMC also employs about 30 military faculty members who aren’t affected by the proposed changes.

Seven of the 28 faculty positions that are being eliminated at RMC Kingston are vacant and won’t be filled; the rest are expected to be eliminated largely through attrition, Dr. Sokolsky said.

Of the 25 non-academic positions, five are vacant, and some of the remaining personnel may be reassigned to other positions. Letters to affected employees were to have gone out in June, Dr. Sokolsky said, but any required layoffs won’t take effect until September 2013. The staffing cuts were part of broader reductions at the Department of National Defence and other federal government departments.

Even before those announcements, the college had embarked on a review of its curriculum, said Dr. Sokolsky. As a result of that exercise, some degree programs may be phased out or combined with others, although he stressed that no department will be eliminated.

Dr. Sokolsky said the changes are necessary because student enrolment in some classes, particularly senior-level francophone courses, is very low and because of pending retirements. With about 1,000 full-time undergraduate and 300 graduate students, RMC has a low student-to-faculty ratio; its largest class has about 50 students and some upper-level classes have fewer than 15. Curricular changes will be reviewed by several committees comprised largely of faculty, he noted.

The school will also review its core curriculum courses, a blend of liberal arts, science and military education that all cadets must take regardless of their discipline. Those courses may be reduced, he said, a move that is expected to mitigate the teaching load on remaining faculty and reduce the need to hire sessional instructors. RMC will eliminate its Officer Professional Military Education program that provides distance and residential courses to some of the Canadian Forces’ junior officers. Most other distance programs are expected to be retained.

Faculty association and others oppose changes

Faculty members, union representatives and several others said the proposed changes will erode the high quality of education cadets currently receive. “We’re going to have fewer professors teaching larger classes,” said Jean-Marc Noël, RMC physics professor and president of the Canadian Military Colleges Faculty Association. “I think the programs will suffer.”

In an op-ed article in the Globe and Mail, historian Jack Granatstein, an RMC graduate and former member of its board of governors, called the cuts “shortsighted” and said they could compromise the school’s ability to recruit and retain faculty. “But why would good academics retain or accept an RMC appointment, knowing that their jobs will exist at the whim of DND bureaucrats without academic credentials or a few myopic generals trying to save a buck or two?” he wrote.

Dr. Sokolsky rejected the criticism. He said the college will continue to offer most degree programs and its cadets will still receive a broad liberal arts education for which the school is noted. “That’s not going to change,” he said. RMC will continue to enrol about 200 new students a year, still with a low student-to-faculty ratio. Professors, he added, will continue to pursue research programs and be eligible for sabbatical leave just as they are at other universities. “I have no doubts that the quality of education will remain high,” he said.

According to Dr. Noël and several other faculty members who asked not to be named, the cuts raise broader questions about the college’s governance structure and academic traditions such as tenure and academic freedom. “Our major concern is that the university is drifting away from what a university is supposed to be and how universities are governed,” said Dr. Noël. The faculty association has asked the Canadian Association of University Teachers to strike a commission of inquiry to look into the matter. It also wrote Peter Mackay, Defence Minister and RMC chancellor, about its concerns.

But according to Terry Copp, professor emeritus of history at Wilfrid Laurier University and director of the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies, “RMC has always been a kind of quasi-university.” He said that tensions between the college’s academic and military wings have always existed to a greater or lesser degree but have flared in recent years, most recently with the proposed budget cuts.

Dr. Copp noted that the college “particularly over the last 15 years, has become a really interesting liberal arts college with a strong scientific and engineering component with all the appearances of research, academic freedom, de facto tenure and internal academic management. All of that seems to have been threatened by the cuts.”

Yet he pointed out that RMC isn’t the only university to be affected by DND’s spending reductions. The department has also eliminated funding to a network of security and defence forums at universities across the country, including one at Laurier. “Every component of National Defence is being cut,” he said.

When asked about the staffing cuts in the House of Commons, Defence Minister Mr. Mackay said RMC “will continue to provide an array of programs and courses that will ensure that the Canadian Forces will be well served into the future by those young cadets who are doing their studies currently.”

 

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  1. Bill Hurley / June 27, 2012 at 11:57

    The article does not make clear Principal Sokolsky’s rationale for rejecting the position that this latest round of cuts will affect RMC’s ability to attract quality faculty in the future. This is probably because there isn’t one. As Professor Granatstein suggests, these cuts are clear evidence that the government can cut positions at RMC whenever it wants. In the face of these cuts, why would a young PhD from Harvard ever choose RMC — as Principal Sokolsky did some 25 years ago?