Shifts in faculty availability are creating gaps in what courses will be offered, as well as opportunities for students to find mentors who have expertise in their desired fields of study. Since the summer of 2016, there have been a number of changes in tutor availability. Among other changes, I-Chant Chiang was promoted from a faculty position to to Executive Vice President. Jamie Kemp was hired as a full-time faculty member. James Byrne was elected as CAO, and will not be teaching. Sarah Mayes-Tang will be taking a year of academic leave. And Megan Bulloch, Ryan Derby-Talbot, Negar Elmieh, Colin Bates and Tamara Trafton are all going on sabbatical. Though visiting tutors will be brought in to supplement gaps, there will be no permanent faculty to take their place as of now.
Some students are already feeling the impact of these changes. Calli Tucker, a second-year student who is interested in pursuing clinical psychiatry, behavioral psychology and neurological biochemistry, said “it is important for me to have a mentor that is knowledgeable in my chosen field of study and [can] teach me how to go further.” Like many students in similar situations, Tucker has been limited by the lack of discipline-specific academic support available to them.
Jack Gralla, a third-year student who is in the process of changing his Question, has also experienced difficulties when trying to find classes that fit his academic interests. He is considering changing his Question—which currently incorporates the fields of engineering, neuroscience, design, electrical engineering, and applied mechanics—to be more focused on security studies, in order to ensure that his Keystone is relevant to the field of a specific faculty member.
Many students we spoke with anticipated that they would not find specific support related to their Questions, and instead have had to supplement their academic pursuits through other means. For students who are able to go on exchange or do internships, such as Marielle Rosky, these experiences fill critical gaps in the Quest curriculum. “No class at Quest, with the exception of Feminist Arts Practices, has directly referenced my Keystone,” Rosky said. Although she has been able to go ahead with her original Keystone proposal, Rosky stressed that Quest’s academic inflexibility made the process extremely challenging. “I really want Quest to know that my Keystone exists in spite of Quest,” she said. “In every way, Quest has made my Keystone hard to do.”
Rosky ultimately took an alternative approach to achieving her academic goals while at Quest: going on exchange to fill in the gaps that existed for her in Quest’s curriculum. Exchange gave Rosky access to classes, materials and spaces that are inaccessible at Quest. However, as she pointed out, exchange is not always a practical or realistic option for students. “It’s ridiculous that one must go abroad to get that space, because going abroad is a privilege. You should not have to go abroad to have the tools to make your Keystone stronger,” she said.
Rosky’s experience of the Keystone process is reflective of many students who haven’t been able to have specific support for their Question. When school support systems fail them, some students have found academic support from student-led groups.
James Byrne, Quest’s Chief Academic Officer, offered his perspective on the current state of the faculty at Quest. “When we think about [hiring],” Byrne said, “we want to think about the areas we’re already strong in.” At the same time, he added, “there are always going to be areas where we have less people than we would like.”
In the upcoming year, Byrne hopes to look for visiting tutors in fields of study not currently covered by any faculty members. The faculty is hoping to find two teaching fellows in the social sciences next year. Though this may be helpful to students going into their second and third years, fourth year students going into Keystone are left with the daunting prospect of having no guaranteed support for their Keystone initiatives. Byrne stated that he is aware that there is a high demand for tutors within certain disciplines. However, he said, the school tries to approach hiring “a little more holistically than just ‘we definitely want this specific thing.’”
In terms of hiring based on student interest, Byrne mentioned that it is important to consider that students are shaped by the curriculum as much as the curriculum is shaped by students. “If we have the courses available,” he said, “students might take an interest in some, and that might shape their Question.” Hiring, according to Byrne, is not directly informed by students’ Questions or Keystones, but is based around other university goals. “We think…what’s our mission? What are our values? What does that suggest about where we should be going in terms of finding faculty?” he added.
In any case, some students are unimpressed by what they see as the university’s failure to accommodate their specific interests. Many expressed that they have seriously considered leaving at least once over the course of their Quest career. Nonetheless, many stay and push for what they need from Quest. In some ways, fighting for their education provides an experience that is challenging but equally as valuable as the convenience of having a prescribed path through education. In talking to students, it became clear that the experience of identifying and fighting for resources is part of what they consider valuable about this education.