At the Nov. 8 Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Legislative Council meeting, AUS Vice-President (VP) Internal Rebecca Scarra put forth a motion to establish a Quebec Studies Students’ Association (QSSA) in order to facilitate negotiations between the AUS and the Quebec Studies program administrators at McGill. This, among other measures, part of an effect made to increase student retention in the program, which was at risk of being cut earlier this year due to low enrollment rates.
The Quebec Studies minor program provides an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Quebec history, culture, and society. The minor program continues to be one of the smallest at McGill, with fewer than 20 students currently enrolled. The low enrollment rates resulted in the removal of the major program in 2016, according to Professor Eric Bélanger, the director of the Quebec Studies Program.
“The numbers were simply not high enough to justify the major program,” Bélanger said. “So, we decided to focus on developing the minor program instead.”
Due to provincial budget cuts over the past few years, the Faculty of Arts was forced to terminate 50 courses in the 2014-2015 academic year alone. According to AUS VP Academic Madeline Wilson, enrollment is the primary measure that determines a program’s viability. Programs with low enrollment are placed under review by the faculty in order to determine concrete strategies to increase enrollment. If there is no increase in enrollment over a certain period of time, these programs are cut from the Faculty of Arts. The North American Studies program is currently being phased out for this reason.
“In the case of the Quebec Studies Program, the program was placed under review a few years ago,” Wilson said. “As enrollment did not increase, the [Faculty of Arts] decided to cut the major program. However, the minor has recently been removed from review because [its] enrollment has increased.”
Despite the increase, the Quebec Studies minor is struggling to maintain its current enrollment. Olivia Kurajian, President of the QSSA, hopes that establishing a student association will make the program more visible to Arts students.
“It’s our goal to attract enough people to the department to reinstate the major program,” Kurajian said.
Under Quebec law, all departments are guaranteed a student association to represent their interests in student government. Following the approval of the motion to establish the QSSA, AUS Council formed an executive committee comprised of a President, a VP External, a VP Events, and a VP Finance. These positions are currently held by Olivia Kurajian, Mary-Jane Roy, Sarah Dery, and Veronique Leblanc, respectively. Since the QSSA’s founding, the executives have been planning events for the Winter 2018 semester, including a trip to Quebec City.
In addition to the QSSA events, the Quebec Studies Program has implemented hands-on learning opportunities in an effort to increase student retention. In collaboration with the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE), many Quebec Studies courses offer a community engagement option, which connects students to local organizations that offer internships and volunteer opportunities, thereby integrating students into Quebec society.
“[The community engagement option] also caters to different types of learners,” Kurajian said. “You have the chance to understand the nuances of what you are learning about through hands-on experiences. There’s also something to be said about being a smaller program. [It] allows you to explore the material in a way that simply isn’t possible in a larger program.”