FAR on Institutional Quality Assurance Process (IQAP) - Results from the History Programme (2013)

As you are aware, the RMC History Programme recently underwent an IQAP review. What follows is an overview of the Programme Review process, the findings of the External Review Committee (ERC), and the Departmental response to the specific recommendations. The ERC Report has been discussed in detail with members of the History Department. In general, we are pleased with the report and concur with its recommendations 

Overview of Programme Review Process:

The Department Self-Study, completed in the fall of 2012, was compiled and written by four faculty members (James Kenny, Randall Wakelam, Roch Legault, Kevin Brushett).  As part of the Self-Study process, a draft of the report was circulated to all Department members and discussed at a departmental meeting.  All faculty members were in accord with the Self-Study report.

The ERC consisted of Dr. Talbot Imlay, Département d’histoire, Université Laval and Dr. Rachid Beguenane, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Royal Military College of Canada.  During the site visit, which took place on 13-14 February 2013, the ERC met with senior administrators (including the Principal and Deans of Arts and Continuing Studies), the Department Head, the Chair of War Studies, the Chair of Military and Strategic Studies, faculty members, and students.  The ERC subsequently produced a Report based on the Self-Study and site visit.  The report was circulated to department members and discussed at a departmental meeting.        

Significant Strengths of the Programme:

The ERC identified a number of departmental strengths, including its well-defined programme, its high standards, excellent syllabi, and creativity of faculty members.  It also noted that several faculty members are internationally and nationally recognized scholars. We are particularly pleased that the student response to the programme was overwhelmingly positive, if not enthusiastic.   Students enjoyed their classes, appreciated the availability of professors (sometimes after hours), and felt that the program equipped them well with skills for future careers.  The ERC noted that: “On the whole, the department’s staff seem genuinely committed to helping students…. This reflects a departmental culture that deserves praise.” (9)

Moreover, the reviewers applauded the smaller class sizes at RMC, something which “greatly facilitates the learning process.”  Indeed, the ERC noted that: ‘It would be difficult to exaggerate the benefits of this small class size format, which is a distinctive feature of the History Department and one which is undoubtedly the envy of academics in other Canadian universities.” (6)

The reviewers also identified the Department’s research and teaching expertise in the fields of military, strategic, and diplomatic history as an area of high or exceptional achievement. (21)

The History Department is committed to nourishing and building on these strengths.

Opportunities for Programme Improvement:

The ERC identified a number of areas of concern or which required improvement. The most significant of these concern the narrowing of areas of research/teaching expertise within the Department and a numerical imbalance between those faculty members capable of teaching in French and those capable of teaching in English.  This state of affairs is the product of both the recent staff reductions due to Workforce Adjustment and the lack of departmental input in establishing hiring priorities over the past decade. 

Below please find a table outlining the various issues raised by the ERC and the History Department’s proposed action or response.  The issues are discussed in the order that they appear in the ERC.

Curriculum – Recommendations/ Comments Action/Response
1. The geographic and temporal focus of the department’s curriculum is narrowing and should be broadened.  The curriculum is focused on Canada and, to a lesser extent, the US and western Europe. This is in “opposition to ongoing developments in the larger discipline of history. (p.8) This narrowing reflects the fact that the department has had little input into the selection of new hires (thus, departmental priorities have not been adequately considered).  It has been aggravated by the fact that all four of the faculty members who are departing as a result of WFA are specialists in non-North American fields.  In the short-term, the Department will seek to redress this problem through the hiring of limited term sabbaticant replacements who have non-North American expertise. In the medium-term, the Department will prioritize the hiring of a specialist in a non-North American field.  
2. Greater effort to eliminate course conflicts for courses delivered in French. (pp. 9-10) Short-term: The History Department timetable representative will endeavour to eliminate, to the extent possible, conflicts between 300 and 400 level courses delivered in French.
Medium-Term: the History department will prioritize the hiring of a faculty member who can teach courses in French.  Increased course offerings in French will reduce these problems.
Teaching and Assessment Recommendations/ Comments Action/Response
3. Faculty members be encouraged to experiment with alternative assessment strategies. (p.10) The Department, with the support of the Dean, emphasizes pedagogical development/ experimentation.
Resources: Recommendations/Comments Action/Response
4. The History Department needs to redress the Canadian- and western-centric orientation of the program. The ERC notes that “the geographical and temporal focus of the department is narrow, and will be even more so following the upcoming staff departure [as a result of WFA].”(8) The ERC further observes: “This orientation does not reflect ongoing trends in the field of history, it does not reflect the complex reality of the world today and it arguably does not reflect the challenges that military officers will likely [encounter] in the future.” (21)    See Response to #1 above.

The Department will prioritize the appointment of a non-North American specialist.
5. Numerical imbalance between Francophone and Anglophone faculty.  As a result of WFA, the number of faculty members who teach in French exclusively has declined from six (6) to four (4) over the past two years. The impact is that Francophone undergraduate History students have fewer electives than do their Anglophone counterparts.(p.5)         With the current teaching complement, the History Department can meet its core teaching obligations and offer only 8 electives in French each year.  This is the bare minimum that can be offered in order to ensure that students can obtain their History degree in French (taking into account timetable conflicts that inevitably arise and which prevent students from taking a particular elective.)  Even so, this means that Francophone students will continue to have less choice in their programme than do their Anglophone counterparts.   While this may be workable in the short-term, it is essential that the Department be able to hire someone capable of teaching in French.     
6. To promote collegiality and cooperation, it would be preferable if all faculty had offices in the same building.  This has been impossible due to space limitations in Massey Library.  There are currently three members of the Department who have offices elsewhere.  After the WFA process is complete, it might be possible to move some to Massey.  However, it should also be noted that because some faculty are involved in the administration of the War Studies Programme it is necessary that they be located in Cavalry House.
7. The ERC highlighted faculty concerns regarding existing library resources.  Of particular concern, was lack of library space and resources to store and catalogue its holdings; the cancellation of subscriptions to electronic journals; and lack of French language library resources.   Plans are ongoing for a renovation of Massey Library; this might alleviate space problems.  Senior administrators at RMC are currently in discussions with DND and PWGSC to resolve the situation.     
8. That the tasks of the Undergraduate Chair be clearly defined and that s/he be given a one course relief. The Head and Undergraduate Chair will work to clearly define tasks associated with this position.  There are no plans to give the Undergrad Chair course relief.  There is no precedent for this in other departments.  It is viewed as part of the faculty member’s 20% administrative service; the Head takes this into account when assigning other responsibilities. 
9. In response to concerns raised by some faculty members, the ERC recommends that the administrative workload be shared as equally as possible. The Head endeavours to distribute administrative responsibilities as equitably as possible, taking into account the amount of time required for specific administrative and committee tasks.
Quality Indicators: Recommendations/Comments Action/ Response
10. Student surveys be augmented with individual course evaluations on an occasional basis in order to help members improve their teaching.   This is a possibility but would have to be done on a voluntary basis by individual instructors.
11. The Department should assess and chart research productivity, (publications and grants) over a 5-year period. The Department will take such an approach for future Self- Studies.  However, it is also relevant to note that the Dean of Arts has introduced a personalized long-term plan for faculty members.  Likewise, the Commandant has an annual report which captures all publications, presentations, and research grants on an annual basis and which could be easily collated for future self-studies.
12. The ERC highlighted the importance of small internal grants, such as the Academic Research Program (ARP), at a time when competition for major grants is “increasingly stiff.” The ARP programme is in the process of being reformulated and restructured by the Canadian Defence Academy.  The History Department believes adamantly that it is crucial that academics within RMC (or from other recognized universities) be responsible for the evaluation of research applications to the revised ARP programme and that this programme be open to all research subjects.
  13. Fostering an institutional culture that encourages research “More than anything, it is active engagement in research that makes an academic department a dynamic and stimulating place to be.  It invigorates its members and students, it invigorates teaching and learning, and it fosters a culture of excellence, all of which are essential.” (14) The History Department is in wholehearted agreement with this observation.  It should be noted that research productivity is evaluated on an annual basis (through the Faculty Assessment Review) and the Department, supported by funds from the Dean and the Principal, encourages scholarly interactions with external scholars through the Military History Symposium, the Thompson Lecture, and periodic guest lectures.  This past year the Dean of Arts also made available a small amount of money to aid researchers complete their SSHRCC applications.
14. Offer more lecture courses.  This observation was in response to faculty comments that there are too many senior seminar courses. (14) The History Department accepts this observation and is actively trying to increase the number of lecture courses.
15. The History Department should have more input in the appointment of Military Faculty. P. 15 Academic departments have this input now. They can reject Military Faculty candidates if they do not have proper qualifications.
16. The History Department should have more input in the hiring process.  Over the past decade the department has had little input in the identification of hiring needs or in the selection process.  The ERC commented that “it is remarkable how little say the Department as a collective has in who will be hired and in what areas.” (20) The Department shares this concern.  In the future, the Department will identify its hiring needs/priorities and, once funding for a position is available, will be actively involved in the selection of a candidate.  This is the normal practice in most university History Departments and is one which the current Dean of Arts supports.

Prepared for: L. McDonough, PhD, Dean of Arts
Prepared by: J. Kenny, PhD, Head, History
Re: Response to the IQAP External Review Committee’s Report
Date: 15 November 2013

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