April 2, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 97  

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An exploration of Western’s affiliate colleges

By Dan Perry
Gazette Staff

Brescia, Huron and King’s — Western’s affiliate colleges — inhabit a border region, both within and outside of Western — a fact that carries positive and negative ramifications.

“The problem is that there are distinct visions between Western and affiliates — we are smaller liberal arts colleges, with the emphasis on undergraduate teaching. We’re not a research-intensive university,” said King’s University College Principal Gerald Killan.

“The vision at Western — their direction — is controlling the size of undergraduate [programs] and really emphasizing research-intensive graduate programming,” he added.

“Our faculty do research, but they’re keenly invested in their teaching and in teaching excellence,” said Huron University College Principal Ramona Lumpkin.

Greg Moran, Western’s VP-academic and provost, said there are a few areas where the affiliates’ and Western’s directions have historically conflicted.

Moran added that there will naturally be academic friction concerning what schools or approaches should be used to support a discipline, pointing to the independent departments of psychology at King’s and Huron as an example.

“When [friction] happens in a department, it’s resolved by normal collegial process within the department — it’s less possible when it’s an independent department. In most cases, those have been well-resolved.

“It’s an educational family, and we have somewhat different aspirations. Our missions are relatively independent,” Moran added. “Some conflict is inevitable.”

As affiliate colleges have their own executive boards, admit their own students, and hire and retain their own faculty, Lumpkin said there is always a bit of conflict surrounding the issue of autonomy.

“There can be tension; we’re part of the larger whole. We always have a strong measure of autonomy and are part of Western,” she explained. “At times, we have to negotiate that boundary and our relationship to Western.

“Western has its own strategic plan, which takes Western in a direction that’s good for Western. Huron has to be careful we’re not taken in a direction that doesn’t fit our mission,” Lumpkin added.

Academic frictions aside, Moran said on the whole, he can think of no negative aspect to affiliate colleges. “They make [Western] very diverse,” he said. “This allows us to have a greater mix of students with different needs and different inclinations.”

Brescia University College Principal Theresa Topic agreed, saying the partnership is mutually beneficial.

“The Brescia student experience with Western is usually a very satisfactory one. They have access to all services, and have no problem with the ‘double identity’.

“There are always some frictions; right now, the independence of our academic program is under scrutiny. There is room for variability in teaching, in content, in evaluation, and in assignments, but we all work to ensure that we resolve it successfully. And always, the number 1 issue is the students, ensuring that they have an optimum learning experience.”

Because of the focus on teaching, many Western students can be heard saying affiliate students have less rigorous academic standards.

“The Senate and provost make sure the quality of our degrees are first-rate, and we’re held accountable,” Killan said, noting smaller class sizes and access to professors is an advantage.

If there is little difference in academics, then why would a student choose to go to an affiliate college? All three affiliate principals pointed to class size as one of the biggest draws to affiliates.

“Some thrive in the larger, anonymous Western campus, and others prefer a smaller-scale environment with face-to-face contact,” Topic said.

Moran agreed, saying affiliates attract students who want to be in a liberal arts education community, and enjoy the benefits of a research-intensive university.

“My sense of Huron is that it’s more challenging; a faculty member can challenge a smaller class more than a large class — but that’s my bias,” Lumpkin said.

“It always goes back to individual fit; one of the things we say is you have to work hard to get lost at Huron,” she said, adding some students thrive under a faculty member they get to know.

“I think often, main campus students have only a hazy notion of the role of affiliates, or the activities of affiliate students, and I think any sharing of information about the affiliates is of great value,” Topic added.



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