Updated: Mar 24, 2022
This quarter there has been noticeable buzz around the Maple League, both externally and closer to home. Whether it is the grouping of these four universities in HESA reports, showing up in Ken Steele’s presentations on pandemic innovations, or mentions in PSE future reports, the Maple League has become a shorthand for a particular model of undergraduate education. The Maple League is also a term that is increasingly mentioned internally – in hallways and board rooms, in committee meetings and benchmarking exercises.
And yet, what does this now-familiar term mean and how does it circulate in our diverse communities?
Mikhail Bakhtin, an influential philosopher of linguistics, argues that language “lies on the borderline between oneself and the other. The word in language is half someone else's.” He goes on to say “it is not, after all, out of a dictionary that the speaker gets his [sic] words, but rather it exists in other people's mouths, in other people's contexts, serving other people's intentions: it is from there that one must take the word, and make it one's own.”
Unpacking what the “Maple League” means within various communities and to diverse audiences is a tricky exercise and in many ways an impossible endeavour. And yet, a clear and shared understanding of what the Maple League is, and equally what it is NOT, is necessary as we move into the next phase of creativity and innovation.
What is the Maple League?
In its most fundamental form, the Maple League is a belief that together we can be better together when we collaborate on high-quality undergraduate education. The consortium, therefore, is a vision, which is critically hopeful (and disruptive to long-standing attitudes of competition that pit universities against one another).
But how do you anchor an idea into practice?
The Maple League is made up of the following “practical” parts:
A bank account at Bishop’s University
Canadian and US Trademarks for the name “Maple League”
An incorporation certificate for “The Maple League of Universities”
A website and social media accounts
A high-level MOU that acknowledges that, in principle, a 3-credit course recognized at one university is valued as a 3-credit course at all four universities (with the acknowledgement that there are several steps of approval, vetting, and consent at the faculty, departmental, divisional, and registrar levels in compliance with collective agreements and calendars)
What is the Maple League NOT?
This consortium is sometimes referred to with monolithic connotations: “the Maple League thinks this” or “the Maple League wants to do that.” However,
The ML is not a business or a start-up (though it is very entrepreneurial); it is NOT a not-for-profit nor is it a foundation (it does not, for example, have its own bank account); nor is it an institute or think tank (though the consortium is active in research and design)
The Maple League has no employees. Consultants lead various portfolios and are compensated through external funding and/or from the operating budget
There is no agreement or MOU about the Maple League as a consortium
The Maple League is not a degree-granting organization (it does not run courses or programs independently, nor does it fund courses)
But, one might wonder, how does the consortium operate?
The Maple League has a robust governance and oversight structure:
The Maple League Presidents Council (MLPC) meets monthly as a board of directors: they contribute to and approve strategic visions, review progress and deliverables of the strategic plan
The Vice Presidents Academic Council (VPAC) meeting monthly and oversee three signature initiatives: Maple League shared courses, the OLTC program (funded through BHER), and the VMLTLC (including the micro-certificate in teaching and learning)
Reporting happens monthly, quarterly, and annually to both internal stakeholders (the MLPC and the VPAC, the Board of Governors, three ML committees, 16 ML Communities of practice) and external partners (BHER, CEWIL, CSJ, and other funding agencies like McConnell Foundation and the Jarislowsky Foundation)
Detailed financial transaction reports are submitted to the MLPC quarterly and annually (the latter in an AGM where the annual budget is approved)
There is a governance map (included in monthly reports, and in this Q2 report)
How is it funded?
The consortium is funded through an annual membership fee
o 50% of the operating budget funds the following: ED honorarium, part-time admin support, student fellows, website and other costs, events and travel;
o the other 50% is redistributed to faculty and staff in the ML for research, teaching innovation, professional development, and travel
The Maple League has also received external funding from the McConnell Foundation, BHER, CEWIL, Canada Summer Jobs, ICTC, and indirectly through the Jarislowsky Fund (supporting the work of Dr. Riddell as Jarislowsky Chair), RBC Futures, and other national funding agencies.
So perhaps a better question is: who is the Maple League?
The Maple League is animated by active membership in a broad range of collaborative clusters
o Three Committees: Research, Academic, and Teaching and Learning
o 16 Communities of Practice (see Appendix A)
The Maple League is steered by four consultants on fixed-term contracts:
Dr. Jessica Riddell is the Executive Director and is paid an honorarium for ~two days/week (her full-time job is as a Full Professor in the English Department and Jarislowsky Chair of Undergraduate Teaching Excellence at Bishop’s University)
Lauren Boultbee, Lead on Advancement, Communications, and Project Management (her consultant fees are funded 50% by the ML and 50% by BHER)
Matthew Dunleavy, Student Experience Lead (his consultant fees are funded 100% by BHER)
Neil Silcox, Faculty Excellence Lead (consultant fees funded 100% by residual ML budget from 2020-2021 through unspent funds from MLTLC and MLAC)
Most importantly, though, every member of the four universities IS the Maple League. In order to initiate change, we need to deconstruct the narrative of a “monolithic institution” and understand that power – through a Foucauldian lens – is dispersed, local, “embodied and enacted rather than possessed, discursive rather than purely coercive, and constitutes agents rather than being deployed by them” (Gaventa 2003, 1).
According to Foucault, we are the system, so when we talk about the Maple League, we are, in fact, talking about ourselves. So let’s focus on the story we want to tell.
~ Dr. Jessica Riddell, Executive Director, Maple League of Universities