As Vice-Provost, Students, at U of T, David Farrar focused on removing barriers between curricular and non-curricular learning - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 8 | Aug 9, 2007
Q & A with David Farrar
Incoming Provost and Vice President, Academic
UBC and the University of Toronto share some key attributes, including large size, commuter campuses, and research intensity. What are the challenges and the rewards of the student experience at such universities?
First of all, there isn’t one student experience; each student has his or her own unique experience. The opportunities for students at large, research-intensive universities are many and varied. In addition to a broad array of challenging programs in current fields, there is also the opportunity to work with the world’s best scholars on interesting research areas, and access to outstanding research facilities and libraries.
Both universities have large student bodies that reflect Canada’s diversity. Students at both universities encounter the other students, staff and faculty from very different backgrounds; that diversity strengthens the inside-the-classroom experience and stretches their minds outside of the classroom. This creates a rich environment where students can push the limits of their abilities and learn to deal with challenging and important questions.
The challenge is that many students do not find their place in these large universities and never reap the benefits of studying at an internationally ranked university. There is a need to create pathways or roadmaps to help these students connect with the university.
What were you able to do during your tenure as Deputy Provost and Vice-Provost, Students, to improve the student learning experience?
During my time as Vice-Provost, Students, the University of Toronto’s first priority was to improve the student experience. I focused on removing barriers between curricular and co-curricular learning. While I initiated important changes to the student life programs, many members of the University community contributed to these initiatives. The number of international exchange opportunities for students increased significantly. We started two new co-curricular programs, the Centre for Community Partnerships and the Multifaith Centre, providing students with community and inter-disciplinary opportunities that support a stimulating learning environment.
In the area of space improvements, I am very proud of the Chemistry Courtyard Garden that I started working on as the Chair of the Chemistry Department; it was completed during my term in the Provost’s Office. We opened two new daycare facilities, the Early Learning Centre and the Charles Street daycare, while I was Vice-Provost, Students. These centres greatly increased the affordable and accessible childcare spaces for student parents. I was active in supporting anti-racism, LGBTQ initiatives, assessment initiatives, and U of T’s student portal project.
Some people think the reward structure for research invariably disadvantages teaching. What are your views on this?
I view research and teaching as mutually supportive. The structures that reward outstanding teaching and scholarship will grow naturally if the university community equally values both. UBC’s stated goal to attain the same excellence in providing a world-class education that it has attained in research is an important step forward. My desire to join UBC started with the University’s many initiatives aimed at improving the teaching and learning experience, and I look forward to being actively involved in this area.
What was the single-most effective teaching improvement program / initiative with which you were involved? Why was it successful?
I became very involved in improving the teaching and learning environment in U of T’s Chemistry Department during my term as Undergraduate Associate Chair. The three areas I focused on were curriculum reform, the balance between teaching and research, and improving the laboratory experience including major space enhancements.
The combination of a renewed approach to the subject material, our best research-active faculty working with teaching faculty who focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning, and great space, has resulted in first-year chemistry receiving very high course evaluations by students. The chemistry programs that build on the first-year experience also have been renewed and these programs now attract record numbers of students. Outstanding departments start with exceptional undergraduate programs that attract the very best students and provide the foundation for internationally recognized scholarship.