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New academic plan to put UTSC at forefront of higher education


by Kurt Kleiner

UTSC will create six new academic departments and revamp its curriculum under a new academic plan approved this summer after an eighteen month consultative process.

The plan will adapt course offerings in response to evolving student demands, at the same time it builds the capacity to serve a projected increase in undergraduate student enrolment.  A major goal of the new plan is to keep UTSC in the forefront of cutting edge pedagogy and scholarship, says Rick Halpern, UTSC dean and vice-principal.

“We’re exploring new areas of scholarship that will make a University of Toronto Scarborough degree even more exciting,” Halpern says. “UTSC is operating on the frontiers of scholarship.”

The new academic plan is in line with the strategic planning process begun by UTSC Principal Franco Vaccarino in 2008. That plan laid out a number of strategies for dealing with the major expansion UTSC is undergoing at a time when technological innovation, commercialization and globalization are changing the economy and society and placing new demands on universities.

One of the more visible products of the plan is the creation of six new academic departments. The Department of Humanities and the Department of Social Sciences will sub-divide into the departments of Arts, Culture & Media; Anthropology; Human Geography; Historical & Cultural Studies; Political Science; and Sociology.

Two extra-departmental units are also created under the plan: French & Linguistics' and a Centre for Critical Development Studies which will be the new home to International Development Studies.

The new departments and units come on the heels of the creation in 2010 of the departments of English and Philosophy, which were spun out of the Department of the Humanities.

The departmental reorganization is just one part of a broader change in course offerings, which will see an emphasis on new and emerging areas of scholarship at the undergraduate level, and an expansion of graduate studies on the Scarborough campus. The plan also seeks to expand UTSC’s strength in experiential education.

Biological Sciences in 2010 began offering a specialists degree in Biodiversity, Ecology & Evolution. This year Physical and Environmental Sciences and the new Department of Political Science is developing a new major in environmental studies. Computer & Mathematical Sciences is considering a program in computational finance. Health studies will be moved to the Department of Anthropology and will be revamped, with potential programs such as health information and global health.

Among the new graduate programs either recently begun or being planned are a tri-campus Ph.D. in clinical psychology; a professional masters in brain imaging; a Ph.D. in environmental science; and a masters degree in climate change impact assessment.

UTSC’s 40 co-op programs in the arts, sciences, management and business already put the campus at the forefront of experiential learning. Under the plan, new initiatives are expanding experiential learning even further. For instance, the biology department is building ties with the Toronto Zoo; Visual & Performing Arts is working with galleries and theatres; the English department is giving students experience at open-mic events and on blogs.

Supporting these new initiatives are an increasing number of faculty – about 30 new hires this year alone, Halpern says – as well as new facilities such as the recently completed Instructional Centre.

In combination with the strategic plan, Halpern says that the new academic plan will help position UTSC in the forefront of Canadian university education. “We intend to help shape the discourse around the place and purpose of the 21st century university,” he says.

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