The Academic Pillar - Withers Report

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Report of the RMC Board of Governors By the Withers' Study Group
Balanced Excellence Leading Canada's Armed Forces In The New Millenium
4500-240 (ADM (HR-Mil))
24 September 1998

Cross-reference p. 35 of 63 of official printed copy of report

The Study Group believes that the purpose of the academic pillar should be to set the intellectual foundation for service as a commissioned officer. Like other aspects of the RMC experience, it should be designed to foster development in leadership, moral courage and integrity essential to such service.

The academic pillar is the strongest of the four pillars today. It provides for a variety of excellent, highly respected degrees. Recent developments in continuing education and post-graduate studies have been very successful and should be encouraged. They are firsthand examples, not only of the growing requirement for well educated officers, but also of RMC's specific role in this process. Their impact on undergraduate cadets should not be lost. Furthermore, there is every indication that the majority of the faculty is committed to both the institution and the cadet student body. However, two important caveats are in order.

First, the relatively permanent nature of the civilian academic staff versus the transient nature of the military staff means that on occasion military initiatives, which are not welcomed by the academic pillar, are simply "waited out". There is an associated tendency for academics to view Commandants, who rotate too frequently, as merely the nominal head of the institution who must be trained to understand the College from the particular perspective of the faculty.

Second, although the quality of the academic staff remains high, their morale is low. This reflects considerable uncertainty regarding the future of the institution itself and the fact that pay and benefits are below national standards. This raises the spectre of loss of the best faculty. The Study Group believes compromising on the quality of the faculty will irreparably damage the attraction of RMC to high quality potential officer cadets.

All academic degree programs at RMC are of a high standard and adequately challenging. However the engineering program is very demanding in terms of contact hours when the requirements of the other three pillars are factored in. This program may not be optimally structured given the overall objective of the College as a whole. Knowledgeable observers have suggested that the Engineering Faculty may use the interpretation of CEAB accreditation standards to ward off suggestions for change and to enhance its "academic respectability". If this is the case, there may be more flexibility in the engineering accreditation regime than is exploited by RMC.

There have been suggestions made to the effect that a less costly approach to the academic pillar would be to simply have this function done by a civilian university. Alternative Service Delivery (ASD) schemes are currently very popular in government, and no doubt have their place. There is in fact a foreign example of just such an approach in Australia where the University of New South Wales provides the academic pillar for the Australian Military College. The Study Group explored this issue. We are convinced that such a scheme does not work well. Evidence to this effect came from relevant Australian staff as well as knowledgeable Canadians who have looked at this model closely, including RMC's Commandant and Principal.

In the Canadian case it is extremely difficult to see how ASD could be pursued in a manner which would not impact very negatively on the other three pillars at RMC. Such an approach would cripple integration of the pillars. In any event, there is evidence that the cost of hiring another university to do the job would not be appreciably less than RMC's cost, and indeed, would probably be more. Analysis of this issue is contained in "RMC Academic Costs and Civilian University Costs: A Production Function Approach" by economics professor Peter Dunnett. The Study Group finds Professor Dunnett's argument compelling. ASD is not an option in this area of the College's responsibilities.

The large number of resident military post-graduate students are under utilised as role models and as a valuable contribution to undergraduate academic classes as well. They are in fact virtually invisible to the undergraduate cadet. These post-graduate officers range in rank from colonel to captain, come from a large number of MOCs and possess an impressive body of knowledge and relevant experience.

The development of an adequate, militarily relevant "core" curriculum is of absolute critical importance. All RMC graduates must receive a broad, balanced, liberal education; incorporating both the arts and the sciences. A strong foundation in mathematics, physical sciences and computer science, along with the ability to solve problems, reason scientifically and understand the basis of modern technology directly supports the needs of professional military officers in the future.

As far as it goes, the program at RMC incorporates such a core, but it is less than adequate. There are too few courses common to all graduates. Arts electives for science/engineering majors, and science electives for arts majors lack rigor. In part this is the result of the arts and science streams beginning in first year. Thus, arts students in particular come to RMC unable to deal with mathematics and science courses of the required difficulty. Regional differences in educational programs across Canada exacerbate this problem.

The concept of a fully effective "core" curriculum appropriate to a military College is not well understood.

Today's professional military officer must possess a body of knowledge which, taken as a whole, is unique to his or her profession. In addition to a combination of arts and sciences common to all liberal undergraduate education in Canada, there is a body of somewhat esoteric knowledge to be imparted if an officer cadet is to achieve basic level qualification for the profession of arms. In part, the current deficiencies are recognised by senior faculty at RMC and we were told of the desirability of increasing the study of civics, Canadian government, military law, international affairs, transnational culture and social studies. However, beyond this, all cadets should be required to study military history, Canadian military history, military theory and strategy. Furthermore, an exposure to modern science and emerging technology and their impact on all aspects of military affairs is a necessity. Last, but not least, all cadets must be involved in an intensive study of the contemporary theory and practice of leadership (including its ethical component). These professional military subjects are addressed only in a cursory manner today at RMC.

Both West Point Military Academy and Annapolis Naval Academy grant a Bachelor of Science degree in science, engineering or arts. At West Point, of the 40-46 courses required for this degree (depending on the program), 30 courses are "core" curriculum taken by all students. At Annapolis, which grants degrees in 18 academic specialities (arts, science and engineering), First Year is a common curriculum, and Second, Third and Fourth years include a common core curriculum of 14 courses. These are in the areas of history, mathematics, science, engineering and especially leadership. Common leadership courses are taken by everyone each year.

At RMC in First year all cadets take English, Psychology and Calculus. However, the Engineering versions of the English and Psychology courses are designed to have a lighter workload. The Arts version of the calculus course is easier than the Engineering one. In Third and Fourth year all cadets take a one semester course in Organisation and Leadership and Military Professionalism and Ethics respectively. Engineer/Science students take four, one semester arts electives over 2nd, 3rd and 4th years. One of these one semester courses is in Canadian Military History. Arts students take four, one semester science electives over 2nd, 3rd and 4th years. In sum, at most, RMC cadets take a "core" curriculum of five courses over four years, three of these in First year and the other two are only one semester courses.

The Study Group does not believe that RMC should adopt the U.S. model of granting Bachelor of Science degrees only, even if, as described above, the U.S. system allows for the acquisition of a range of high quality degrees in both the arts and sciences. However, we are convinced that the development of a more extensive, rigorous "core" curriculum for all cadets will increase the math and science content in the curriculum in each of the four years. Together with the addition of appropriate leadership and humanities courses this approach will assist in the integration of the four pillars at RMC, respond to the requirements of the CF and enhance the professional development of the RMC graduate.

Consideration of the nature and content of the necessary arts and science courses common to all cadets, and the requirements imposed by the need for an additional militarily core curriculum, suggests the need for a review of each of the academic programs at RMC. Recommendations numbers 9 - 14 reflect the views of the Study Group on the adaptations broadly needed in the academic program. We further concluded that the periodic academic reviews of individual fields of study and courses, which increasingly play an important planning role in all Canadian universities of high quality, were outside of our TOR and outside of our capacity.

However, the external assessment of some programs which occurs from time to time in conjunction with the external accreditation process for professional degrees is not in our view the total process required to satisfy the Board that each program of the College meets its objectives for quality, coherence, effectiveness and integration with other pillars and congruence with the mission of the College.

To this end, we recommend that the Board mandate a continuous process of academic program review to be executed on a recurring cycle not to exceed seven years. This process should utilise internal self study and external peer review and should build on, rather than duplicate reviews which must occur in any event for accreditation purposes. While individual program reviews should be carried out over relatively short time spans, the intention of a long institutional cycle is to avoid significant effects of the reviews themselves on resources and workloads.

The results of these reviews should be reported to the Board. The mission and objectives against which the assessments of quality, coherence, effectiveness, integration and congruence with mission are measured should be those laid down by the Board.

The mission and objectives set out by the Board must be, of necessity, of a general nature. It is an important role of the Senate of the College to elaborate the expression and application of these to programs and disciplines. Draft reports of reviews should be subject to approval by the Senate and can only be submitted to the Board on recommendation of the Senate.

To address these issues in the academic pillar, the Study Group recommends:

Recommendation 9:

Take all appropriate measures to ensure that the highest standards possible are maintained in the academic staff. Comment: This will require reassurance that the institution's well being is not threatened and even that growth is foreseen. Clearly, appropriate measures must be undertaken to ensure that compensation comparable to equivalent academic institutions across Canada is achieved and maintained.

Recommendation 10:

Appoint the Principal of RMC for a term of five years, perhaps renewable once, at the discretion of the Board.

Recommendation 11: Establish a process of academic review.

a. Mandate a continuous process of academic program review to be executed on a recurring cycle not to exceed seven years. Draft reports should be submitted to the Board on recommendation of the Senate;

b. Conduct an academic review of the engineering program at RMC with a view to achieving modest savings in class time. This available course time would be allocated to the improvement necessary in the new "core" curriculum.

Recommendation 12: Employ post-graduate students more effectively in the undergraduate program.

Comment: These students can be employed in team teaching, as teaching assistants and as seminar leaders. To achieve this a more organised, disciplined post-graduate regime will need to be put in place. This should be done by the relevant Deans under the overall co-ordinating authority of the Dean of Graduate Studies. Post-graduate students should be employed on academic or other duties normally for five hours per week.

Recommendation 13: Establish a working group to develop and implement a rigorous militarily relevant "core" curriculum.

The core curriculum should constitute approximately 30% of a typical degree program. Comment: The result will be a selection of mandatory subjects which all cadets will receive in equal measure. The core curriculum will span all four academic years. This curriculum will be progressive in nature, span four years and cover topics such as international affairs, leadership, military history, military theory, information technology, emerging technology and strategy. Mathematics and science subjects must be well represented. The objective is a cohort of graduate officers, all of whom share a common, professional body of knowledge in addition to their specialist degree. A possible list of subjects one might consider in a core curriculum and an indication of where they might fit over four years is at Annex F.

Recommendation 14: Restructure the academic program such that all cadets undertake a first year curriculum well balanced among arts, science and core courses.

In this program first year will consist largely of core courses. Comment: In some cases cadets will take an initial preparatory course to give them the necessary background to succeed in the required core course and allow them ultimately to graduate having achieved the required standard.

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