Burning questions on students’ minds answered: An interview with Provost and VP Academic Dr. Jennifer Lokash

DrJLokash headshot
DrJLokash headshot
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Dr. Jennifer Lokash was appointed interim associate vice-president academic in fall 2022 and provost and vice-president academic pro tempore in March 2023.

Recently the MUSE had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Lokash and ask her some questions that have been on students’ minds.

Drlokash interview
Muse reporter Bruce March seated with Dr. Jennifer Lokash

With increased pressure placed on international students financially, will the university be opening up eligibility for first-year scholarships?

So, we actually have specific scholarships and scholarships for international students, and just to give you a sense, we’ve in the past few years given out approximately $350,000 to incoming international students, undergraduate students, that’s to say nothing of the graduate population, which is much bigger. So, we do have a pretty robust scholarship program for incoming International students.

We’ve increased the amount of those scholarships, they were $4,000, and they are now $6,500. We also offer something called the International Undergraduate Academic Award, and those are for students beyond first year. Last year, the amount of those were about $3,000 per award, I’m not sure what they’re going to be this year, it depends on the pot of money.

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There is also special funding for students at risk, where we have students coming from places like Ukraine, Afghanistan or other countries that are experiencing turmoil.

Following the enactment of the collective agreement with MUNFA, can you provide an update on augmenting tenure track positions?

So when we hire tenure track faculty, we hire them essentially on a contract initially, and then over the years, every year for 6 years, that tenure track faculty member has to submit a file for review. So, there’s this annual review process that happens that looks at their contributions across their three main areas of responsibility which are teaching, research and academic service in community engagement.

So when we say, “How come you’re not hiring tenure track faculty members,” first of all, it’s a whole long process, and we are certainly hiring tenure track faculty members.

There has been a little bit of a lag in hiring after COVID, I think that’s something for us to keep in mind, and it also takes about a year from the time you would post a job to getting that person on the ground so it’s a very long and elaborate process.

With increased immigration levels and newcomers coming to Memorial to study, is the administration open to providing any support, or funding mechanisms?

The Federal and provincial governments provide certain supports in order to help facilitate people coming to Canada, so you know the province plays a role in that.

From the university’s point of view, we provide all kinds of support for new students who may very well become new Canadians. The Internationalization Office has all kinds of advisors, whether their immigration advisors, career advisors, or family advisors; there’s the international student work program- the ISWEP program.

There is lots and lots of additional support that we offer and provide regularly to international students.

Over the last few years, Humanities and Social Sciences has seen a decline in its budget and downsizing. What does this say of the quality of education and long-term competitiveness?

Interestingly you bring up HSS, which is my home faculty, I am originally from the Department of English, which is a large faculty in HSS.

This office, the Provost Office, works with every Dean. So, with the Dean of HSS on their staff component, their faculty component, their staffing plans for the year and we- our main goal is to ensure programs can be delivered effectively, so that’s how decisions around hiring and- you know whether it’s per-course instructors (PCIs) or contracts or tenure-track- that’s what determines those positions, what are the program’s needs.

So, I think you’re right. There has been a reduction probably in the number of elective courses for many programs. We are seeing some cases where it’s taking longer to complete programs because of this sort of- as you say, faculty coming and going. Some have left the university, no one has been terminated from the university, but there certainly have been some resignations and retirements.

So there may be the odd gap in programs, but Deans are empowered to try and fill those gaps with temporary PCIs and contracts when there is not an immediate ability to hire a tenure-track professor.

It may be accurate to say that the faculty is shrinking, but I certainly wouldn’t say there is an intention for the faculty to be smaller, it’s just a kind of a natural evolution really of the hiring cycle.

HSS has communications listed as having a Co-op program, however, that is not the case. Recently there have been some rumors that a co-op program may come to communications. Can you speak on that?

I can speak a little bit to that, actually, because I was head of the Department of English, and English administers the Communications Studies program. There isn’t a co-op program associated with the communications studies program. There is an internship course, and I’m not sure actually, since I left the Department of English, whether or not that course has been offered yet.

So, the course exists, and I think there would be the desire to put that course on- and I’m not sure why the unit hasn’t done that yet, but I wouldn’t say it’s a co-op program perse. I think students need to be advocating for that (the program); that is the type of thing the coordinator of the program, Dr. Dwayne Avery- he’s very tuned into what students want, he created that course in response to what students want, and I know he has the desire to offer that.

It may be a question of resources and having to offer certain other courses, and you know, if that’s not a required one, it may not make it into the rotation just yet. I think that’s a very important part of that program; there’s a lot of potential to strengthen that program.

It was announced that the Student Wellness and Counselling Centre (SWCC) would be losing its accreditation, the administration clarified that the doctoral residency program would remain accredited, but what does this mean for the SWCC at large? Especially given the staffing concerns raised by MUNFA,

That’s a really complex question that you’ve asked because there are a number of different things I just want to unpack there.

So, first of all, just to let you know where the accreditation process is, I just participated in the accreditation for the residency program. I met with the Dean of Students, Donna Hardy Cox and the accreditation team who came in to do a virtual site visit, they were full of praise for the doctoral residency program, and I have every confidence that accreditation will remain in place and we will get those results in October.

The residency program is a program within the counselling center, so when we talk about accreditation, it’s for the program and not the center itself. The counselling center is bigger than the programs that are within it, and it provides services- mental health- and other health services; there are doctors, nurses, and wellness navigators that the SWCC provides.

The SWCC has never been at risk of closing; it is not at risk of losing funding. If anything, we are looking at ways of increasing support for these services, recognizing how absolutely vital they are to student success. So, I think there’s been a little bit of misinformation that’s been out there on this topic.

It certainly got good attention because of this notion that the SWCC might lose its accreditation or have to close down- I mean, we’re talking about different things.

MUNSU recently delivered an engineering petition to the co-op office calling for a few changes to the program. What are your thoughts on this? Does the program need to be changed or updated in any manner?

So, the program has been changed a little bit over the last few months. I met with Jawad and Nick (of MUNSU), the President (Dr. Bose), Octavia (Dean of Engineering) and the Co-op Coordinator. We had a really good meeting about this; we were very happy to hear from the students about what their concerns were. As a result of that, the stipendiary work-terms amount that students are paid increased from $2500 to $3500.

The very, very few research work terms that have been offered in the last year, are kind of the lower end of the salary scale, the stipend was $1500, and now it’s $1750. So, hearing what the students are saying that it’s ‘not enough money,’ we are trying to bump those up a little bit.

Now I can tell you in the last five semesters of offering work terms there have been something close to 1700 work-term placements, and only 4 of those were lower research stipends, the vast majority of work terms have a pay in the range of $5000.

I think most of them are pretty healthy. The ones that have slightly less salaries attached to them or stipends attached to them, the faculty of engineering has heard what students said, the challenges that they’re facing financially, and they’re doing what they can to increase those stipends- I’m happy to see that, as a result of that petition and the meeting that has in fact happened.

So I think it’s also good to know that there is a diversity of work terms. There are lots of companies that are hosting them, but then there are the community work terms which I understand do pay a little bit less, but they are also quite popular amongst some students where they want to do that type of work. I think it’s important to offer a range.

Is there anything you would like to share with students that perhaps we did not cover,  it can be anything at all,

Mostly I just want to say welcome to this new semester and this new year. It’s the first start of a new year in a number of years that has felt somewhat normal.

I was at the matriculation ceremony for incoming students. There were 1400 students, and it was a great, really positive vibe. It’s wonderful to see students on campus, really exciting to see people back on the ground, and as always, this office is delighted to be working with students, happy to work with MUNSU, and GSU and to answer questions that you have.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Dr. Jennifer Lokash for taking the time to speak with The Muse.

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Bruce March
Bruce March is a 4th year student majoring in Political Science and Economics. He is passionate about student issues, public policy and our community at large