Vacant positions within Brandon University’s department of biology are affecting its ability to offer courses popular with students, according to department chair Bill Paton.
Two positions currently vacant within the university’s biology department include an associate professor position and a physiology professor position. Although the university is currently seeking a new associate professor, there’s no word yet on whether the physiology professor will be replaced, Paton said.
Budgetary restraints as well as a bigger focus on offering the courses students require for graduation could be why administration has yet to hire a replacement, Paton said.
“If you cut courses, then students can’t get the selection of courses that they would like and they go elsewhere,” he said. “For Brandon University to compete, we have to be attracting students from other parts of Manitoba, including Winnipeg.”
Although physiology courses are popular with students, they aren’t required for graduation, he said, adding the two vacancies have also forced professors to step in to help offer the required courses. Along with physiology courses, an advanced human ecology course was also cancelled this year due to a lack of staff, he said.
“It’s a high-demand course, clearly by students in the pre-medical major, and it has been kind of something different that Brandon has had for many, many years,” he said. “In my experience, if students get disappointed, they tend to go to other universities, and it’s important for Brandon to keep what we can.”
Paton, who joined BU in the fall of 1974, said student enrolment in the department of biology has always been steady. He said he also plans to retire in December and worries how the university will decide to replace his position.
“In submitting these vacant positions, you have to spell out quite specifically all of the aspects of why the position is important,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because I’ve always felt this place has huge potential and the No. 1 thing we do is educate students.”
BU’s vice-president and academic provost Gervan Fearon said when positions open up within a faculty or department, it’s a good opportunity for the university to reflect on how it can help students in the future.
“All departments, not just biology ... look at the courses that students need to complete in to order to be able to complete their degrees and look at the sequencing of those courses to meet student needs,” he said. “We can’t offer every single course, but at the same time we try to be sensitive about the courses that are offered.”
Fearon added BU is currently in the midst of a university-wide academic planning process, which involves consulting with faculties and students across the university.
Members of the academic planning steering committee include students, staff and individuals from the Brandon community, who will be responsible for setting “some of the core academic priorities for the university at large.”
Fearon also couldn’t confirm if all the courses currently being taught in the university’s biology department will be available in the fall.