Administration, faculty and students discuss what the Maple League is and why Mount Allison is a part of it
“It’s really about bringing the uniqueness of our four institutions together to create an opportunity to support innovation in liberal education, experiential learning opportunities for our students, shared opportunities around teaching,” said President Jean-Paul Boudreau, “and ultimately thinking about how our four universities can help build global citizenship of the future for and through liberal education.”
The Maple League is a consortium of four similar schools in Eastern Canada and Quebec: Mount Allison, Acadia, St. Francis Xavier and Bishop’s. The league was formed in 2013 to benefit both the students and the universities when it comes to learning opportunities, recruitment and administration.
The Maple League aims to help the four universities collaborate and achieve what the individual institutions cannot do alone. “The goal of the Maple League was to bring these similar universities together with a strong focus on liberal education and to help draw attention to these universities,” said Boudreau.
Dr. James Devine, department head of politics and international relations at Mt. A, said that the Maple League shows potential: “It’s building a brand about small, primarily undergraduate institutions, which I think in Canada are a bit of a rarity.”
The Maple League focuses in part on providing opportunities to students. “Ultimately the goal was to [support] our students, focusing on experiential learning, focusing on engagement,” said Boudreau. “For example, we’re doing the Up For Debate event coming up at Bishop’s very soon, we have a student leadership conference at St. FX coming up this year as well and we’re offering courses through this teleconferencing facility that we have on each of our campuses.”
The teleconferencing courses provided through the Maple League allow for a course to be taught to students from all four universities. Last year Dr. Bruce Robertson, head of Mt. A’s classics department, taught a course that students from Bishop’s attended by telepresence. “They were in the classroom from the virtue of being on a screen, and the other way around I was in their classroom by being on their screen.” Since the class was taught at a regularly scheduled time, Roberson said it was more like a classroom experience than an online course.
While occasionally there were some issues with the technology, keeping the energy up with the students from the other schools, and the differences in schedules between the two universities, Robertson said that none of the problems were insurmountable. “People always tend to compare the in-class [experience] to telepresence, but the right way to compare it is [the students from the other schools] are not getting the course at all. Those students wouldn’t have been able to take that class. They were not going to offer it,” said Robertson.
The Maple League provides other unique opportunities for students. “I auditioned for a Ted Talk last year, my first year, for a conference within the Maple League in Quebec,” said Dawson Fraser, a second-year classics student. He said that it was a positive experience and recommended that other students take advantage of the events: “You can meet professors in your discipline from other schools who can become mentors for you later, become references for you later and it’s a good way to stay interconnected with the academic community.”
The Maple League also formed because of the administrative benefits it provides the four institutions. “One facet was around the opportunity for recruitment.… to recruit students into a consortium of universities, hence the Maple League of Universities. And if we can draw students’ attention to the League, then students can say, ‘I’m really interested in the programs at Mount Allison or at Acadia or at Bishop’s or at St. FX,’ ” said Boudreau.
When it comes to dealing with the government, the four schools also work from an advocacy point of view. “When we feel something affects our one individual university, we come together. For example, we recently wrote a letter to a funding agency in Canada on behalf of our four institutions to advocate for change and development and support in some key areas.… Collectively we have a stronger, more powerful voice for our four universities,” said Boudreau.
“People in the University are allergic to all of this kind of branding but I suspect it helps at a federal level to sort of say that we see ourselves as distinct. We don’t see ourselves as the smaller version of [a larger Canadian institution] … We see ourselves as having a kind of identity,” said Robertson.
Robertson said that he likes the idea of the Maple League for the long term but that it’s been difficult to keep up the same level of enthusiasm between the four schools. “It’s had its ups and downs and I think there’s been the sense that maybe Mount Allison has been keener on it as a concept than some of the other places.”
Robertson also said that he thinks the schools haven’t explored all the possibilities yet. “Mount Allison presents itself to students as a small institution but with the same academic rigours as, you know, Western or UBC. If we want that to be true, then I think there are times we need to put ourselves to the test with other people and this is a great chance for that. So I think we should all think about how we’re going to use this resource,” he said.
Boudreau also mentioned that the Maple League would have a new strategy launching soon. “I’d really encourage students at Mount Allison to look out for the Maple League and think about ways to be involved. We welcome student input and we welcome opportunity for feedback and engagement in the Maple League,” he said.