MRU one semester in
by Zoey Duncan
One semester into Mount Royal’s new existence as a university, plenty of changes are underway, and many more are brewing
The school has changed beyond recognition since Ron MacDonald began teaching at Mount Royal. MacDonald, an associate professor of journalism, said when he started 25 years ago the student population of what was then called Mount Royal College was only about 4,000, compared to today’s 13,000. All classes took place in the main building – the only building – and all students were working towards diplomas in their respective fields.
“It should have been a university ten years ago,” said MacDonald.
Today at Mount Royal University, “there is a tremendous amount of activity,” he said. Various faculties are rolling out the courses that they have spent so long creating, new institution-wide learning outcomes are being developed, and research projects are underway throughout the institution.
Some of the changes at the institution are more apparent than others. Those people at the front of the classroom who used to be called instructors are now known as associate or assistant professors, depending on their tenure, said MacDonald.
He said was surprised by how smoothly the transition in titles went compared to the difficulties that faculty at Grant MacEwan University are experiencing following their change to university status last semester.
“This is the kind of thing that people fight duels in the parking lot over,” MacDonald said.
New research is underway within faculties and throughout the school. MacDonald is one of 10 faculty members doing research for the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching & Learning, where the research includes examining how students learn. MacDonald’s research focuses on understanding how journalism students think and practice on their way to becoming journalists.
MacDonald said that the ability to do research and spend time thinking about what he’s teaching was something that was missing before.
Even with a new emphasis on research, there is still a high value placed on the needs of students.
“Definitely the university’s focus is on students and on teaching,” said Erin Delamont, VP Academic for the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University. She said that professors are always expected to maintain a high quality of teaching, and it’s not sufficient for them to do only research. “We’re very unique in that way.”
Other changes include higher costs for courses and new requirements for students who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees.
“It’s really confusing for students, I think,” said Chris Giancarlo, an associate professor of anthropology. Giancarlo, who has taught at MRU for 18 years, said she thinks the new general education requirements add “a lot more stress” for students, on top of worrying about getting value for their money from newly developed courses.
Even with a bit of confusion, general education courses provide an opportunity for students to get a more interdisciplinary education, which Giancarlo said is moving in the right direction.
Giancarlo is a sessional instructor who is on a contract and paid per course. She said that while contracted professors are “totally cheaper” for the institution, they’re not in the best interests of students.
“We’re less versatile for the students than the students would like,” she said, noting that she would like more research opportunities available for students who want to do fieldwork.
Another potential disadvantage of contracted professors, according to Giancarlo, is that their names don’t appear on the course schedule when students are choosing classes.
“You guys (students) are consumers,” she said, including that students should be able to shop around for the best value for their class by reading reviews on ratemyprofessors.com.
Some changes won’t affect present students, but will impact on who will comprise the future student body. Giancarlo said that in her early days of teaching, the priority for students was getting an education that would lead to a good job and wage. Now, students’ goals have changed, and they are enrolling in programs that they’re interested in, and can build their lives around.
“The stigma of us being second choice to U of C has declined,” Giancarlo said.
MacDonald agreed that the quality of education at Mount Royal is becoming apparent to a wider community. “[MRU] has the added advantage of having classrooms that won’t hold more than 35 students,” he said.
Mount Royal’s reputation as a formidable post-secondary option has led to an increase in applications.
“One of the [new] challenges is the grade expectations,” said Delamont. She said that with more applicants for programs, only the students with the highest grades are getting accepted. In some programs, such as the bachelor of business administration (BBA), an average of 72 per cent in high school classes used to suffice, but now students require 82 per cent.
Delamont, who is pursuing a BBA herself, said that within planning committees there is strong focus on the new library.
“It’s really up in the air still,” she said. “[The library is] one of the things we were most nervous about.”
While there is no solid date for the completion of a new library, Delamont said if she had to estimate, she would say it could be open in 2014.
How well is Mount Royal living up to its University status? Have your say online at thereflector.ca.