By Andy Veilleux
There are several ways for the president of a Canadian university to gauge their school’s performance against their peers. There are KPIs, the Maclean’s rankings, the Gourman Report, and, of course, the Globe and Mail’s Canadian University Report.Laurentian University president Dominic Giroux finds the Globe and Mail’s Canadian University Report to be the most user-friendly of the bunch.
When asked about the importance of the surveys and various rankings to students, Giroux is clear.
“I’m sure it’s an important source of information for students, but I know from experience, that it’s not the only factor,” he says.
Giroux feels the Report is valuable to him as the president of Laurentian.
“To me, it’s mostly a tool for self-improvement,” he says. “The information provided enables authentic conversations with faculty, staff and students on how we can improve things.”
Giroux believes conversations about the rankings are the most valuable way to get the maximum value from them.
“We’re far from perfect, but it’s about creating those conversations to understand what can and should be done, and trying to fix it,” he says.
Giroux pays close attention to the survey results, but also listens to individual student concerns he is approached with.
“We had first-year students who were not doing as well in their senior years,” Giroux says. “We’ve expanded the first-year experience office into the student success office as a result of that.”
Giroux also pointed out the way orientation at Laurentian University has changed.
“This year we brought in 10 orientation sessions, because typically students come for the starting point in May, but they’re not really at the University yet.”
He says the change was well received, and many parents appreciated it.
Giroux says the University must focus on certain aspects to improve on from the rankings, as they can’t realistically work on everything at once.
“The long survey has about 40 or 50 questions, so we can’t realistically try to improve on all of them,” Giroux says.
Giroux is quick to point out the ranking fluctuations the survey generally goes through year-by-year.
“I noticed in this year’s results, at least with universities of similar size, no university improved in overall satisfaction, most went down,” Giroux says.
Laurentian has held their own in the rankings this year, according to Giroux.
“From last year, Laurentian had improved on seven indicators, stayed the same on ten, and went down on one,” he says.
Giroux believes there are three key examples of the random shifts in the survey.
“We were doing particularly well on library, athletics, and residence, but this year we’ve slipped a bit in those,” he says. “They haven’t changed much, and that’s why we need a better understanding of trends.”
Giroux admitted some grades send a clearer message than others. The worst grade Laurentian received was on their food services, in which they received a D.
“When you have a D, like in food services, you need to improve,” Giroux says. “You can do all the analysis you want, but a D is a D.”
Giroux is correct in claiming all of the small universities suffered a loss in the rankings on average. Laurentian dropped in overall student satisfaction from B to B-, but they were not alone. In 2009, nine universities had an A- or better grade. In 2010, only four universities held onto their A- or better grade. While only one university had a B- grade in 2009, three universities had a B- grade in 2010. The B- ranks Laurentian in a three-way tie with two University of Toronto campuses (Scarborough and Mississauga) for last place among small universities.
This article appears in the Nov. 11th issue of Lambda Newspaper.