Dean of Arts Lynne Phillips discusses the new Arts 2020 plan.
Why does the Faculty of Arts need a strategic plan?
We called it a “success plan” for the Faculty rather than a strategic plan - there is some skepticism about the concept of a strategic plan here. I think that the Faculty needed such a plan for a number of reasons. It gave us some space to talk about and to make explicit our future goals – something that we otherwise seldom discuss. Such a plan doesn’t determine the future, but it helps to guide it; it offers direction for the activities we will be undertaking in the Faculty. As a public document, a Faculty plan also informs the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and indeed the nation, about the teaching, research and public engagement we do and plan to undertake in the future. This step is important not only to update residents about the work of the one and only Faculty of Arts in their province, but to recruit great faculty, students and staff to work with us here in St. John’s. Finally, a strategic plan helps me, as Dean of the Faculty, to make clear to the rest of the university our strengths and our resource needs.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered?
Unlike a number of other Faculties at Memorial, the Faculty of Arts has never had a strategic plan – so just getting used to the idea was a challenge! The other challenge was that there is such great diversity in the Faculty, and finding consensus on the future was not always easy. (There are 16 departments in the humanities and social sciences, 4 interdisciplinary majors and numerous diplomas at the undergraduate level alone.) Also, from the beginning, I made clear that this plan was not just for faculty members, but also for students and staff, and that inclusive inclination added another layer of complexity. Fortunately, there were lots of staff, students and faculty who were really interested in making this project work, so that helped tremendously.
The Faculty of Arts is a big, diverse place with lots of opinionated people – what method did you employ to reach consensus?
We took our time; we took a year! We held separate consultation sessions with faculty, staff, and students, which meant that everyone had a chance to have their say. And listening to what people had to say, and trying to integrate their concerns into the plan, was extremely important. Also, I wrote the first draft, a draft that included all our current strengths – and I made it clear that it was a draft; it was there to be modified. At some point a faculty member said “We don’t need to have this lengthy list of our strengths; we need to focus on what we want to do” and that helped the plan to become a series of actions, rather than a lengthy description of our diverse selves.
Well, there is the clever vision metaphor: 20/20. But also the university has been developing plans during the same time (the enrolment plan, the research plan) with the timeframe of 2020, so it seemed important to place our plans within this timeframe too.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the Faculty of Arts in the next 6 years?
We have a number of challenges. Growing student enrolment in Arts continues to be tricky. Students are attracted to the diversity of excellent programs we offer, but some are convinced that an arts degree will not lead to employment. I don’t think this is true, of course. Arts students acquire essential skills and knowledge important for many organizations, companies or communities – especially those interested in making the world a better place. So our challenge there is to get the word out that arts knowledge and skills are valuable, sought-after skills today. A second challenge is that, although we have very strong researchers in our Faculty, there is a shrinking funding pie for social science and humanities research in Canada. It is important to point out that research funding does not just enable research to be undertaken, it also financially supports students, and our challenge will be to ensure that faculty and students – both graduate and undergraduate - are well-supported to carry out the research we plan to do.
There is an emphasis on reaching out in the plan. Why is this so important?
You don’t need to be here long before you discover that Arts students are everywhere! They are actors, bankers, theatre directors, financial advisors, senior administrative officers, archivists, radio broadcasters, writers – you name it, and you’ll find an arts grad. I think it is important to reach out to all the professions since the people in them often represent how an arts education helped people be who they are today.
Of course the university also has a mandate to meet the needs of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and I think it is our responsibility to reach out to the public to say, ‘these are the great things we are doing – what do you think?’ One of the things we see is that communities do a lot to support our research. We’ve developed a new award to recognize the work of communities in our research. The latest award was given to the Colony of the Avalon, where there has been a wonderful synergy between the community and researchers from the Archaeology department. There are lots of examples of this kind of collaboration throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
How were the fours areas in teaching, research and public engagement in Action 1 arrived at?
After considering what I knew of the research strengths of the faculty, I drafted three clusters that began as research areas – Text, Language and Cultural Identities; Sustainable communities - Past, Present and Future; and Governance, Ethics, Rights and Security. There were strong arguments for a fourth cluster, the North Atlantic in Global perspective, because it encompassed a lot of current research and drew in our publication arm, ISER Books, as well as our archives. We soon realized that these 4 clusters could serve not just as research clusters but as our overall orientation, to all that we do – including teaching and learning and public engagement. My view is that having agreement on these four thematic clusters helps to congeal the Faculty a little more and, hopefully, will spark future collaboration across disciplines.
How can faculty, staff and student assist in the implementation of Arts 2020?
Arts 2020 has been passed by Faculty Council, and we now need an implementation process. Moving forward, it will be important for faculty, staff and students to work together on the Actions. I’d love to hear from anyone in the Faculty interested in facilitating one of the Actions or who just generally wants to participate. I’d also love to hear from people who might want to learn more about this project – alumni, retirees or simply anyone with an interest in Arts at MUN.
The Arts 2020 plan is available here.