Issues facing the Faculty of Arts
StFX has acknowledged that, over the years, enrollment in the Faculty of Arts and its fifteen different programs has declined.
The Xaverian Weekly reached out to Dean of Arts, Dr. Karen Brebner, however, she was not able to comment.
Dr. Mathias Nilges, the Chair of the Faculty of Arts, gave a presentation to the Students’ Union Council on Sunday, November 6 to outline some issues facing the faculty and proposed resolutions.
He states that the Faculty of Arts is “an underutilized university body” and that this is the main problem the faculty faces. He claims because it is such a diverse entity with its many different programs “it does not have the same kind of simple, unified identity that, say, the Faculty of Business has.”
Because of this, he believes that the Faculty is not on the radar of students as much as it should be. Dr. Nilges insists, however, that the FoA’s diversity is a strength.
When asked what the FoA is doing to resolve some of its challenges, Dr. Nilges’ responds, “we are exploring a range of opportunities for students to become more active and engaged in the FoA.”
Some of these opportunities include a research colloquium for students and faculty, social events during Frosh week, job fairs, alumni events including a database of Art’s alumni, and support for the StFX debate team.
In FoA general meetings, working with a special “working group” a whole host of initiatives have been implemented including, according to Dr. Nilges, “a Faculty of Arts Student Council that we will provide students a strong voice in the planning process of the future of the FoA across the various new initiatives, a new website, and a new Communications Committee that establishes stronger and more efficient communication ties to both students and to faculty in the FoA.”
In terms of the current status of professors within the Arts and if departments are fighting over each other, Dr. Nilges had the following to say, “I am not aware of much infighting in the FoA. There are disagreements at times, but that is normal.”
Nilges notes that the aura is generally positive and that many look forward to moving into the future in a positive tone. He does acknowledge though that this is hard, as departments are always fighting for funding based on student numbers.
“Funding pressures mean that departments are increasingly pitted against each other in the hunt for student numbers. The survival of departments and programs is attached to student numbers,” explains Nilges.
Nilges says that StFX administration tries to keep everything as positive as possible, yet competition between departments is inevitable. He appreciates the fact that departments try their best to cooperate, however. “I am proud that the FoA at StFX is committed to maintaining the future of educational excellence in a climate in which, due to insufficient funding, universities work within the logic of austerity.”
It has been uncovered that Professors do not always show up to FoA meetings. Nilges states that the reasons for this lack of attendance are sometimes complex, but has this to say, “Funding has declined, departments have shrunk (fewer professors), and some departments and programs have been closed down entirely. It is understandable, then, that some may be frustrated or even disillusioned.”
Nilges goes on to say that there is stigma around the value of an Arts degree, and that funding for Arts faculties across the continent have declined, leaving some professors exhausted.
“As a faculty, we are convinced that there is hope, we are committed to not giving up, and we are certain that we can weather this storm as well and, with hard work and new ideas, work toward a better future.”
Nilges states that a diverse liberal arts education is a cornerstone of StFX and the FoA is the center of it.
When asked about the new Mulroney Institute, Nilges had the following to say, “it is no doubt true that better buildings have their advantages, and the fact that the Mulroney Institute makes possible the improvement of research, learning, and educational space for students across departments and programs in the FoA is a very, very good thing. However, I am hesitant to believe that this will improve the situation for all of us.”
Nilges looks forward to the new Institute, yet does not want it to be a distraction from the current work being done to preserve the FoA.
The Xaverian Weekly will provide further updates to the unfolding situation as the Faculty of Arts continues to innovate its structure.