From the Principal
When I became Principal last July, I said that I would take a year to listen closely to members of Bishop’s different constituencies before establishing my priorities. After an interesting and challenging year, I have identified four areas of interest. They are not rigid, nor are they radical, but they are important to the future of our University.
Governance is a prominent topic on our campus, as it is at most universities and in boardrooms across the country. There is, however, confusion about what it means. Governance embodies social architecture. I use an analogy of a ship when explaining governance. Who is the most influential person on a ship? The captain, the chief engineer or the cook? The answer is none of the above. The most influential person is the naval architect. Everyone on the ship acts within the parameters set by the naval architect, who decides in advance the type of ship they will be working on and how it will be navigated.
Governance is also about looking to the future. Educators today must play the role of naval architects who will design the ship that will carry our children through the 21st century. To do this, we need be clear about our mission and decide how best to accomplish that mission. The process requires collegiality and compromise, just as every institution is the result of compromises among its constituents. We will revisit and reestablish – or perhaps simply reaffirm – how we will coordinate our resources in order to fulfil our mission.
The issue of finance continues to affect higher education across Canada. At Bishop’s, expenses exceed revenues. I call this a structural deficit. We are not running a deficit because people on campus are spending more than they should. We have a structural deficit because our traditional revenue base (tuition, government transfers and ancillary enterprise profits) does not allow us to meet our mounting contractual obligations.
The situation is compounded by the fact that Quebec universities have, for a considerable time, been underfunded by $375 million a year. Bishop’s represents 1% of the higher education budget in Quebec, so year after year we face a shortage of $3.75 million in our operating budget. In fact, the MEQ (Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec) has agreed that this amount represents a valid estimate of Quebec’s annual shortfall in funding of higher education.
Universities – and everyone who believes in the importance of higher education – must lobby the government and make the public aware that we cannot sustain this chronic underfunding.
We should not, however, believe additional government funding will solve all our financial issues. We need to explore opportunities for revenue generation and revenue diversification, while being mindful of the importance of maintaining academic standards at Bishop’s. Some areas to consider are the privatization of international student fees, diversification of ancillary enterprises and growth of language training programmes and summer camps.
To be successful in the future, Bishop’s must provide a value added learning experience to students who are not looking only for learning content but also for learning context. They are looking for academic learning and also for experiences to complement their time in the classroom. We will build on the past hallmarks of the “Bishop’s Experience” to ensure that all students engage in a high level of extracurricular activities to complement their classroom education.
Our relationship with the wider community is vital, as part of the role Bishop’s plays in the social and economic health of our community: regionally, nationally and globally.
What will Bishop’s do to contribute to the sustainable development and prosperity of our region? We have much to offer, not only to the economic prosperity of our community, but to its cultural and intellectual prosperity. What will our role be in developing Lennoxville into a vibrant university town and in establishing Sherbrooke as the “cité universitaire” in Quebec and Canada? Now, more than ever, we must think beyond the arches of the Quad.
These four areas will help shape Bishop’s priorities and strategic plan for the coming years. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that we excel at providing an undergraduate education. Our strategic plan, therefore, will not call for radical change. But we must be clear, thoughtful and outspoken about our vision and our mission.
In February 2005, alumni, faculty, staff and students were invited to complete an on-line survey that had three main purposes:
1. Branding: to gain perspectives on the reputation, strengths and weaknesses of Bishop’s University.
2. Strategic Planning: to elicit opinions and ideas to help shape strategic priorities.
3. Capital Campaign: to identify opportunities and strategies for a next major campaign.
Participation in the survey: Alumni 17%; Faculty 53%; Staff 54%; Students 40%.
As a follow-up to the survey, Principal Poupart and Chancellor Griffin met with groups of alumni in Toronto, Montreal and Lennoxville. Twelve meetings were also held on campus to give faculty and staff an opportunity to hear about the survey results as well as express their views on Bishop’s. Some observations follow:
Size: Small was the adjective chosen most often by participants (88%) and, in discussing reputation, a vast majority affirmed that a small and intimate learning environment characterize Bishop’s. Discussions ensued about the meaning of small, and every group decided the crucial aspects of small are modest class sizes and close interaction with faculty. Any further increase in students must be accompanied by hiring new faculty, preferably full-time professors. Individuals on campus noted that significant growth in numbers will also require additional staff resources and, in all likelihood, physical renovation and expansion on campus as well. Graduates stressed that small is better.
Liberal Education: The word “liberal” ranked 10 of 49 in a list of adjectives associated with Bishop’s reputation, yet there is no consensus on the definition of a “liberal” or, as a term used interchangeably, “liberal arts” education. All agreed that liberal education has not been well-branded or promoted in Canada, but it is highly valued for developing well-educated and well-rounded individuals. As one staff member put it, “a liberal education gives students the foundation for their lives.” Others touted flexible programs and inter-disciplinary opportunities as the basis of a liberal education.
Purpose of an undergraduate degree: the top three choices were the same for faculty, staff and students and confirm their belief in the value of a liberal or liberal arts education (however it’s defined) in that abstract benefits take precedence over practical ones. Preparing for a specific career, for instance, ranked last according to alumni, faculty and staff and second to last for students.
Some suggested we promote Bishop's as offering “a liberal education plus some specialties” to encompass our strong programs such as Business and Education.
The Bishop’s Experience: Our current marketing material uses the term “Bishop’s Experience,” but what does it mean? Many graduates think we need to do a better job of defining the experience. Others commented that it can be hard to define a perception. Many spoke of the changing student values, leading to a more “enlightened” and diverse campus. With change comes the challenge to adapt – for instance, to improve facilities for recreation and athletics, designate space for student lounges, create a learning commons in the Library, and establish locations and events that are non-alcoholic.
Many individuals equate a liberal education/experience with leadership. They believe small universities develop leaders because of the ease with which students can get involved in a variety of activities. Somehow we should link small and intimate to leadership development as a way to promote Bishop’s.
The well-rounded experience is clearly important to stakeholders, and many claim it to be the greatest strength of Bishop’s. Comments during sessions included: “The Bishop’s Experience is 24/7,” “whatever you want to do, you can do it at Bishop’s,” “Bishop’s teaches students about values and relationships,” and “being small contributes to social development.”
Taking the discussion a step further, some observed: “Small is beautiful, but quality has to be priority number one.” “We should be about more than environment; we need to be an incubator for success.” “Place a premium on getting involved to ensure every student gains a well-rounded experience.”
Capital Campaign as a topic came up near the end of the sessions. On campus it was clear there will be no shortage of projects for which departments will submit funding requests. Everyone agreed we need to articulate the direction of Bishop’s in a strategic plan, albeit a fluid one, to ensure all funding requests support and advance our plan.
The five most preferred funding priorities (grouping all respondents) were the Library 57%; Academic programmes 44%; Academic Scholarships 43%; Need-based bursaries 40%; Equipment upgrade 34%.
New Senate Sub-committee
A new Senate Subcommittee - Defining and Promoting Bishop's University - was established at the April meeting of Senate. The mandate of the committee, in consultation with the campus community, is to better define our mission, liberal education and how we position the University in the future. Below is a copy of the proposal sent to Principal Poupart to strike the committee. Two meetings took place over the summer; however, much of the work will occur in the fall semester as the committee hopes to table recommendations in early January.
The committee consists of:
Dr. Glen Wickens (Humanities) Chairperson
Professor Cathy Beauchamp (Education)
Dr. Andrea Drumheller (Social Sciences)
Mr. Evan Hughes (SRC)
Mr. David McBride (Public Relations) Secretary
Dr. Jonathan Rittenhouse (VP Academic)
Professor Bill Robson (Williams School of Business)
Mr. Hans Rouleau (Liaison)
Dr. Walter Stephan (Natural Sciences and Mathematics)
TBD - SRC Academic VP
DATE: March 1, 2005
TO: Dr. R. Poupart, Principal & Chair of Senate
FROM: David McBride, University Advancement Officer
Glen Wickens, English Department Chair
RE: Positioning Bishop's for Success
Canadian universities operate in an increasingly competitive environment - for students, for faculty, for funds. To perform successfully in this environment Bishop's must project a unique identity which will generate enthusiastic support across all constituencies, both internally and externally.
Universities across Canada are beginning to follow the lead of our American neighbors by embarking on branding exercises. At their best, such exercises sharpen the image of the University in the public eye and generate enthusiasm and energy internally. At their worst, these are seen as cynical efforts by administrators to copy private sector marketing traditions. To be successful, branding exercises must have the deep support of the professoriate. This is perhaps true everywhere; it is certainly true at Bishop's.
Bishop's has loyal alumni in advertising and marketing firms who have agreed to assist the University in the development of a brand or public image. Before we can use these resources effectively, however, we suggest that it is essential that we agree on the key elements of our identity and engage the professoriate as we do so.
To do this effectively, we suggest the creation of a Task Force named by Senate whose mandate would be to review the following issues. The commentary generated by this exercise could then serve to animate further debate and discussion when professional experts engage with us in a more formal branding exercise.
A liberal education
Both our mission statement and our viewbook focus heavily on the term liberal education. What does it mean? Many on campus interchange the terms liberal education and liberal arts. If there is confusion on campus as to the term then there is surely confusion among prospective students and their parents. Throughout the 90's we believed "liberal education" differentiated Bishop's from other universities. A quick search of numerous Canadian universities will reveal that they too offer a "liberal education". Should the word "liberal¨ continue to be used prominently in our marketing material?
A liberal education at Bishop's: what do we believe we mean when we speak of this?
Do we indeed provide a liberal education? What does an examination of our offerings, both academic and extra-curricular, suggest in this respect? Are there areas where our policies and practices clearly differentiate us from our peers in this respect or is "liberal education" simply a convenient proxy for a good undergraduate education? If so, should we shift our language and talk instead about offering an outstanding undergraduate experience?
Our mission statement
The Bishop's mission statement in its current form was first drafted in 1989, adopted in 1994. Our mission, in many ways, is our promise. It describes our commitment to students and our expectations of faculty. Does it need rejuvenation? Is our mission still relevant to what we offer today? Are there changes that should be made? Should we expand on the mission statement to include goals and values?
Clarifying the mission and outlining goals and values can be a worthwhile process - both internally and externally. Virtually every organization, both public and private, has gone through this process. For the internal community these documents can be used for new employee initiation, and can clearly articulate what the Bishop's experience represents and how it is promoted externally. To prospective students and faculty, these documents will provide a better understanding of Bishop's and establish realistic expectations.
Our unique qualities
Our priority is to attract and retain top students and faculty. Prospective students and their families are savvy consumers. Attracting new faculty has become more difficult than ever. Saying Bishop's is small and personal is not enough - other universities describe themselves the same way. We should define:
- Our core strengths
- Our unique programmes or approaches to education
It is crucial that we define ourselves as accountable for the promises we make and that we set the indicators by which our accountability will be measured. To do this we need to define:
- The value added features of a Bishop's education
- The measurable indicators (graduate school admission/placement, as an example)
- The unique "Bishop's advantage" for our students and graduates
Once there is agreement about the issues raised above we must examine what is most "sellable¨ and how should we use this information to promote the University both internally and to our various external markets. We will need to:
- Agree upon key messages
- Define our "brand"
- Develop constant statements/comments/quotes to be used
- Create a tagline
Proposed Task Force
A task force should be created by Senate to include:
- A majority of academics, with representation from the administrative sector (particularly those involved in recruitment and retention of faculty), as well as support staff (particularly those involved in recruitment of students) and alumni.
It should be understood that the Task Force would seek input from all departments across the University to ensure a collaborative and transparent process.
"Group of Seven" meet at Bishop's
Invitations to attend a forum on campus were extended to the Presidents/Principals of six universities (Acadia University, King’s College (NS), Mt. Allison University, St. Francis Xavier University, St. Thomas University and Trent University) with a similar profile to Bishop’s: small, residential, with a strong commitment to undergraduate, liberal education. Each of the institutions happily accepted Dr. Poupart's invitation. Also invited as a special guest and speaker was Debra Humphreys, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communication for the American Association of Colleges & Universities. The aim was to discuss commonalities and differences among the institutions and decide if there might be any synergies of mutual benefit to explore.
To encourage open discussion the agenda was purposely kept flexible. A number of topics emerged, such as:
• Is the way our small universities deliver a liberal education any different than that of larger universities? The question was not about quality but marketing: are we in fact as different as our marketing materials imply?
• Is the concept of liberal education understood inside/outside the world of academe? Is there indeed a renewed interest in the value of liberal education as opposed to vocational/career training – and if so what should our institutions do to encourage it?
• Collective Research: how is each institution evaluating its success in meeting students’ expectations and in providing a liberal education? Perhaps our institutions could work to collect similar empirical data (National Survey of Student Engagement was one suggestion).
• Are there specific groups that should be targeted to promote the notion of liberal education in residential schools? For example, immigrant populations?
• To what level do we incorporate civic engagement into our curriculums?
• As a nation what does Canada need – and in what way can our institutions help service those needs?
There appeared to be consensus around the idea that although in many ways we are similar, and competitive, collectively we could help each other become better – and ultimately strengthen the understanding and the role of small, primarily undergraduate, residential universities in Canada.
As a result, there was much discussion around what the future purpose of the collective would be, and the parameters to be included in the group. The group agrees there are four main areas of interest to all institutions involved:
1. Recruitment / Marketing
3. Engaged/Community Learning
4. Sensitization of organizations and other universities
The group decided to continue informal discussions to move this project forward, calling themselves "The Working Group on the Advancement of Liberal Education". The membership, for the time being, will be these seven universities but others might be added in the future.