Recently, members of the FIMS Student Council drafted an open letter to the Western University administration in response to the release of Western’s Strategic Plan. Check out what these students had to say about Western’s “new-and-improved” direction, and join the conversation in the comments section below!
The Strategic Plan is a document that sets Western’s vision and principles for years to come. This year, Western began drafting a new strategic plan, “Going Global: Achieving Excellence on the World Stage.” Administration solicited feedback from students and student groups, as well as faculty and administration, starting in July through emails and updates on their website. After reading the document, members of the Faculty of Information and Media Studies Students’ Council (FIMSSC) decided to release a collective statement to the Senate Committee on University Planning (SCUP), speaking as individual students first and council members second, and not reflecting the views of council as a whole. The signing members agree to the letter’s statements, which was drafted in a collaborative writing process. The FIMSSC as a whole then agreed that the letter contains a message that students should engage with and, since members of the students’ council have communicated it to Western administration, that it should be published. In that spirit, council then voted to release the letter to the public in the hopes of fostering an active discussion about its contents, the Strategic Plan, and the direction of Western University. We encourage students to please comment with their opinions and insights, discuss the issues with their friends and colleagues, and begin a dialogue about the direction the Strategic Plan is setting for our university.
Students can access “Going Global: Achieving Excellence on the World Stage” here
Contact your student senators with feedback to be communicated to administration:
Contact members of the FIMSSC:
Contact University President Amit Chakma
The FIMSSC will be hosting a general meeting in early November, where these issues may be raised and acted upon. Please visit fimssc.ca for further details as they emerge.
Members of the Senate Committee on University Planning (SCUP),
According to Western’s new Strategic Plan “Going Global: Achieving Excellence on the World Stage,” gone is the old benchmark of the university’s success, “the best student experience.” Instead it has been replaced by an even more vague and amorphous qualifier: “excellence.” After a careful review of the Strategic Plan draft, the signing members of the Faculty of Information and Media Studies Students’ Council (FIMSSC)—listed below—have concluded that what Western’s administration chooses to define as “excellent” is rather the opposite from our perspective as students. Indeed, in this letter we speak as students first and members of a students’ council second, but with no less urgency. The following points illustrate where we take issue with Western’s new paradigm of “excellence” as written in the Strategic Plan.
I) Section IV: “Taking Charge of our Destiny: The imperative to diversify revenue generation”
Highlighting the dwindling funds the provincial government contributes to its operating costs, the Strategic Plan defines Western’s diverse revenue sources, in part, as “strategic partnerships” with private sector organizations. In section III, article 4, the Fraunhofer Project Centre for Composite Research and the IBM-sponsored Southern Ontario Smart Computing and Innovation Platform are cited as beneficial partnerships that “point the way forward.” In both these cases, it is worth noting that the direction of the research being done at these centres is set by the corporate sponsors. Indeed, the Fraunhofer Project Centre’s stated goal is to “provide assistance to North American industry, solving design and product development challenges” . It would seem that for the foreseeable future, Western’s research priorities will be sold off to the highest bidder and operationalized for the purposes of industry. In effect, corporate, as opposed to academic, interest will guide research. Moreover, there have been documented cases of corporate research sponsors blocking the publishing of controversial findings at the University of California at San Francisco, the University of Toronto, Brown University in Rhode Island, and more . While we are not in a position to recommend a sound alternative beyond strongly advocating for more government funding, we believe that Western should resist this worldwide trend towards the increasingly corporate functioning of university research instead of attempting to be in the vanguard.
II) Section III, Article 2: “Seeking mutual points of advocacy with our unions, employee and student groups”
Here, the Strategic Plan defines Western’s approach to advocacy as being limited to finding “mutual points of advocacy” between groups on campus that will “strengthen the high quality of Western’s teaching and research and increase Western’s profile on the global stage.” This is troubling as the concerns that most often affect students (rising tuition costs, high textbook prices, access to mental health services, etc.) do not necessarily support Western’s brand. As such, Western is not willing to engage with these issues, so long as they undermine the image it wishes to present on the world stage. Indeed, the Code of Student Conduct explicitly prevents students from “[bringing] the University’s good name into disrepute” and “disrupting” University (and University-sponsored) events “by any means whatsoever,” including “written material” . At a time when students peacefully demonstrating have been removed  and Western was given a failing grade on free speech by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms , the Strategic Plan’s stance on advocacy and freedom of speech is unacceptable.
III) Section I, Article 6: “teach transferable knowledge and leadership skills for the real world”
In order to better integrate Western’s programs with employers and the labour market, the Strategic Plan states that all disciplines at Western should take on characteristics of professional degrees that “articulate the knowledge and skills that students will emerge with at the end of their course of study” to employers. While we recognize the value of professional degrees and applicable job skills, especially in today’s market, one size does not fit all in the academy. Many programs whose curricula are not easily operationalized to fit the needs of the labour market may be forced to compromise the integrity of their academic focus. While we are not against professional programs on principle, we question the uncritical adoption of them in programs that do not lend themselves so easily toward commercialization and integration with the job market. This trend is also troubling as it may contribute to a mindset that sees a university degree as a “piece of paper” to be received at the end of four years and with a hefty price tag, and little more. We also question the degree to which this focus on professionalization of degrees fits into Western’s broader agenda of partnering with private industry in research and development.
In conclusion, the members of the FIMSSC whose signatures are listed below hold that the Strategic Plan’s focuses on partnerships with private industry to guide research priorities, an extremely limiting and troubling stance on students’ freedom of speech, and the “professionalization” of degrees across all disciplines to better integrate Western’s programs and graduates with the labour market is deeply concerning. Indeed, the Strategic Plan forecasts greater revenue, financially advantageous industry partnerships, and a sedate student body. Strikingly absent is any concrete focus on academic integrity or students’ well- being in terms of material concerns like tuition costs. “Going Global: Achieving Excellence on the World Stage” reads like an excellent business plan, but falls short in its commitment to students.
Representatives of the FIMSSC:
Jordan Pearson (President)
Steven Wright (VP External)
Taylor Rivers (VP Events)
Alanna Osborne (VP Finance)
Essery Waller (Head Soph)
Chris Ling (OPENWIDE Editor-In-Chief)
Kaely Danahy (MPI Representative)
Carolyn Irwin (MTP Representative)
Richard Sookraj (FIMS/Social Science Senator)
Erin Hofman (Charity Commissioner)
Antoinette Taranets (Chairperson)
Paige Adessi (Street Team Coordinator)
 “The Partnership.” Fraunhofer Project Centre @ Western. Western University, 2013. Web. <http://www.eng.uwo.ca/fraunhofer/background.html>.
 Klein, Naomi. No Logo: Taking aim at the brand bullies. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2000. Pg. 99. Print.
 “Campus Community Police Service – Code ofCode of Student Conduct Student Conduct.”Campus Community Police Service. Western University, 2013. Web. <http://www.uwo.ca/police/codeofstudentconduct.htm>.
 Raycroft, Richard. “Student Activists Removed from O-Week Event by Campus Police.”The Gazette. The Gazette, 5 Sept. 2013. Web. <http:// http://www.westerngazette.ca/ 2013/09/05/student-activists-removed-from-o-week-event-by-campus-police/>.
 Robinson, Lily. “Western, USC fail on free speech.”The Gazette. The Gazette, 26 Sept. 2013. Web. <http://www.westerngazette.ca/2013/09/26/western-usc-fail-on-free-speech/>.