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FAQs: Undergraduate Students

For new students and students currently enrolled in undergraduate programs

Updated September 20, 2010

These FAQs have been prepared to answer questions we are hearing from undergraduate students re: proposals in the academic plan and the possible impact of those proposals on their programs. It is not meant to suggest that the proposals as written will be implemented. All of the proposals are currently being discussed and debated and this consultation is expected to continue.

  1. What is the academic plan?
  2. What are the next steps?
  3. Why should an undergraduate student care about the academic plan?
  4. How would the academic plan benefit undergraduate students?
  5. What are some of the larger structural changes proposed in the academic plan?
  6. What if I am in an undergraduate program in one of the academic units proposed for change?
  7. Would any undergrad programs be changed?
  8. I’d like to sign up for a Big-Ideas course — when would they be available?
  9. When would the changes proposed in the academic plan go into effect?
  10. Why go through all this if it’s just about administrative structures?
  11. What was the process/consultation in putting the plan together?
  12. Were students consulted?
  13. To learn more:



  1. What is the academic plan?
    Over the past year, the Faculty of Arts & Science has reviewed its academic direction, its offerings, and its structures. This academic planning process was undertaken as part of U of T’s normal process whereby each division completes a plan in the second year of a dean’s term. The full academic plan, with its recommendations and reasons, is available online.

  2. What are the next steps?
    Over the coming academic year (2010-11), the Faculty of Arts & Science Dean’s Office will be consulting and seeking input from members of the Arts & Science community through town hall meetings, meetings with department members and other forums. As part of the consultation process, revisions may be made to the recommendations contained in the academic plan and alternate proposals will be discussed and considered.

  3. Why should an undergraduate student care about the academic plan?
    Improving the academic experience for students is one of the most important motivations for this planning exercise. Results from the National Survey of Student Engagement and direct feedback from our students have made it clear that there is room for improvement in particular areas. The goal is to focus our efforts and our resources across the Faculty on our highest priorities: to improve the academic experience for both our undergraduate and graduate students.

  4. How would the academic plan benefit undergraduate students?
    We have spent the past few years renewing our curriculum for the benefit of our students. It is now time to incorporate these efforts into an overall plan for the Faculty for the coming years.
    Specific examples of the areas in which we would invest include:
    • increase the number and range of opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in research and create more experiential and small-group learning opportunities
    • new first-year programs in the colleges to assist students in their transition to university life and to foster a sense of community
    • enhanced registrarial support in the colleges to provide better counselling and support
    • new interdisciplinary ‘Big Ideas’ courses for first-year students. These theme courses would be team-taught by our best professors from the humanities, social sciences and sciences and supplemented by smaller group discussions in tutorials, labs or research sessions run by specially trained graduate students
    • continued funding for curriculum renewal initiatives such as the Curriculum Renewal Initiatives Fund, which supports curricular innovations, Writing for Tutorial Assistants, English Language Learning and first-year advising

    In order to get the resources necessary to do this, we are considering how to achieve savings in overhead that we can redirect to improving the student experience.

  5. What are some of the larger structural changes proposed in the academic plan?
    The academic plan proposes that graduate centres and institutes work in closer partnership with related undergraduate programs and become more engaged in undergraduate teaching and research activity in keeping with the University of Toronto’s long-term vision. The plan proposes bringing together a number of faculty members working in the area of earth sciences into a Department of Earth Sciences. The plan also proposes that a number of language, literature and culture departments be brought together within a School. The academic plan document gives the details, the context and the reasoning for these recommendations, which will be considered during the consultation process.

  6. What if I am in an undergraduate program in one of the academic units proposed for change?
    The recommendations in the academic plan with respect to academic units are just that — recommendations from a planning committee. We are now in the process of consultation, through meetings and other forums including town halls. Any structural changes that may come about are dependent on the outcome of these discussions. Indeed, several constructive alternative models and suggestions have been proposed and will continue to be explored.

    Regardless of any administrative changes that may result from the academic plan, most students would experience little or no disruption at all. In some cases, programs would simply be “housed” in a different unit but the programs would remain unchanged. 

  7. Would any undergrad programs be changed?
    The academic plan itself doe not propose changes to undergraduate programs but as the changes related to the Faculty’s ongoing curriculum review continue, we expect that some programs may be revised to reflect the changing nature of teaching and research in an area. All students currently enrolled in a program would able to complete the program in which they are enrolled, or they might choose to join a new program.

    Creating, changing and discontinuing undergraduate programs of study is part of the normal business of the Faculty’s academic units. Last spring, for example, a separate initiative brought to Arts & Science Council asked all academic units to look over their array of program offerings to see if their current arrangement needs to be adjusted to ensure students have a set of clear, meaningful and attractive choices.

  8. I’d like to sign up for a Big-Ideas course when would they be available?
    The academic plan recommends that consultations begin this year to develop proposals for implementation. It takes time to prepare multidisciplinary, full-year courses and integrate them into existing programs. The proposed courses would require approval through the normal Arts & Science process. Pending approval, Big-Ideas courses may be available for students in the 2011-12 academic year.

  9. When would the changes proposed in the academic plan go into effect?
    This depends on the consultation process. Some proposed changes could be implemented more quickly than others and some would take longer depending on the result of consultations and deliberations with academic units, staff and students. 

  10. Why go through all this if it’s just about administrative structures?
    There is much more to the academic plan than just structural change, but it takes a great deal of time, energy and resources to run a Faculty with many units, programs and people. If the pieces don’t fit together very well, it takes even more. An efficient set of structures better enables the Faculty to focus attention and resources, improving what we do well and innovating where we want to do better.

  11. What was the process/consultation in putting the plan together?
    In September 2009, all academic units in the Faculty of Arts & Science were asked to scrutinize their current activities and their ideas for the future, to identify their priorities in the context of current resources, and to propose feasible plans for addressing those priorities. Each unit was asked to consult broadly with their faculty, staff, students and other relevant interests in developing their plan. The process was also informed by a 2008 external review of the Faculty, by Towards 2030 that lays out UofT’s key objectives, and by the Dean’s Faculty-wide priorities in Academic Planning in the Faculty of Arts & Science 2009-2014, Context and Directions. All these documents are available online.

    Units submitted their plans in December 2009 to a Strategic Planning Committee consisting of academic leaders from the Dean’s Office, the colleges, humanities, social sciences and sciences. The Committee developed its recommendations over the course of hundreds of hours of evaluation and deliberation, and presented them in the academic plan.

    Now that the academic year has begun, consultation is moving into higher gear with public town halls and consultation meetings. Some of the recommendations in the academic plan may change in light of feedback and planning during this stage of consultation.

  12. Were students consulted?
    Yes. Students were consulted and will continue to be consulted at various stages of the planning process. Academic units were responsible for ensuring meaningful consultation was part of developing their individual plans. In addition, the Arts & Science Students’ Union made its own submission on behalf of the students it represents and addressed the Strategic Planning Committee in person. A notice explaining the academic plan was sent to all students, and students were invited to submit their input directly to the Dean. Since the academic plan became public in July, the dean and members of the Dean’s Office have met extensively with students, as well as with ASSU. These meetings continue and there will be further opportunities for consultation during town hall meetings in fall 2010.

  13. To learn more:
    Read the full academic plan, with its recommendations and reasons.
    Students are welcome to attend the two town hall meetings scheduled for September.
    Both will take place in OISE Auditorium, 252 Bloor Street West, and will be held at the following times: Thursday, Sept 23, 4-6 p.m. and Monday, September 27, 4-6 p.m.