Sheridan’s president responds to concerns over college transformation

By Tania MacWilliam

Feb. 16, 2012

*Link to original article here

Sheridan is abuzz after an article in the Toronto Star reported the school’s official announcement it intends to transform from a college to a university.

But news of the move has some faculty members worried they may be left out in the cold as the college seeks instructors with MAs and PhDs.

These fears are unfounded according to union head, Jack Urowitz.

“From the union’s point of view, the labour point of view, we kind of like the idea because it’s guaranteeing us enrollment for the next number of years,” said Urowitz, union president for OPSEU local 244 and program coordinator for Sheridan’s Media Fundamentals program. “We’re glad ’cause it means they’re hiring more faculty.”

The biggest concern faculty have is will there be a job for those who don’t have an MA, Urowitz says.

“We don’t know what the future holds but we imagine with all the diploma programs, and the goodwill of management, that there will be.”

Urowitz hopes that Sheridan recognizes the value of industry-trained professionals, who are not necessarily holders of MAs, teaching applied learning programs like cosmetology and tool and die making.

“Sheridan’s reputation, which is one of the reasons why it will probably get to become a university before any other college, is it was built on its diploma and certificate programs,” said Urowitz. “So we don’t want to lose all that.”

When Ontario’s community college system was formed in the 1960s, the promise was that they would serve the communities around them.

“The challenge is to make sure that the college programs don’t suffer,” said Urowitz. “We hope that the college will make sure that we fulfill our role to the community.”

“We don’t want to leave anyone behind.”

Sheridan will continue to offer diploma programming, possibly migrating some diplomas into degrees, says Sheridan’s president, Jeff Zabudsky.

“The world is evolving, but we’ll continue to monitor that and where a certificate makes sense, we’ll do certificates and where diplomas continue to make sense ,we’ll do diplomas,” said Zabudksy, who announced the move officially at last week’s OISE-UT symposium.

Sheridan has no desire to become a theoretical university and will continue providing applied education, says Zabudsky. Which programs will become degrees will be based on industry needs and the evolving nature of the field.

“The reality of what’s happening out in the world now is industries, companies, fields of practice are requiring the bachelor degree as an entry to practice,” said Zabudsky. “That’s what drives the creation of degrees. For us not to respond to that would be doing our students a disservice.”

All in due time
It may seem like Sheridan’s transformation is slow-going, with a five to seven year projection, but the process takes time and isn’t as easy as crossing out “college” and writing in ”university” on letterhead.

Among the steps Sheridan must take before being accredited as a university are meeting the eligibility requirements for Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC) membership and having the government introduce legislation, creating Sheridan University.

To meet the AUCC requirements, 70 per cent of faculty must be full-time employees.

“We have a lot of part-time employees and that’s OK to a certain extent, ’cause you want to keep that opportunity for someone with a unique kind of expertise to come in on a part-time basis to teach,” said Zabudsky.

In addition to being full time, the majority of faculty must be prepared with advanced credentials, either a master’s or PhD.

“I’m happy to say that 72 per cent of Sheridan’s faculty already have their masters degrees and many of them are pursuing PhDs.”

A human resource strategy is being introduced that will help faculty who don’t have their masters degrees upgrade their credentials.

“The college will help pay for it or maybe pay for the whole thing,” said Zabudsky. “We haven’t decided yet.”

“We might create a masters study core right here on campus – bringing in another university partner to deliver it here,” he said.

“We’re going to do lots of things for our faculty to help them get those credentials. We don’t want to leave anyone behind. We love our faculty because they are drawn from industry and we’ll never lose that, but we also want them to have the academic credentials that allows us to be a university.”

Sheridan has already hired 68 faculty this year, 60 of whom already had advanced credentials. They were hired partly to replace professors who have retired and partly to accommodate the growth in student population.

There is still plenty of time for everyone to become prepared and still a place for those without MAs, Zabudsky says.

“This is not happening overnight. It’s a journey. It’s about getting faculty ready, getting them upgrading opportunities. We’re still going to, for the long foreseeable future, have certificates and diplomas within which faculty without advanced credential can teach. This isn’t about people leaving Sheridan, it’s about people coming along on the journey.”


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