Blog posts over the summer

I have received many questions recently regarding the blog and specifically about why there has been a significant reduction in updates provided over the past few weeks. I want you all to know that I have decided to stop posting to the blog over the summer months. Given recent changes in university leadership, and given the work the acting-provost, interim president and I are doing over the summer to meet with our senior leaders to determine next steps and actions, it is time to step back a bit from this blog. I will look forward to engaging with the campus community in the fall.


$32 million: Progress made in operating budget adjustments

As the university’s financial team reviews 2013-14 results, they have also been calculating progress made towards closing the projected gap between our annual expenses and revenues. Based on actions taken in 2012-13 and 13-14, about $32 million in permanent budget adjustments has been achieved through a combination of measures, with about $12.5 million remaining, based on our original projections, to be achieved through either additional net revenue or expense reductions, or a combination.

Savings in the first two years of operating budget adjustments (2012-13 and 13-14) are a result of:

  • Workforce planning actions: $9.8 million
  • Projected net savings from the incentive plan for retirement for faculty, after strategic faculty reinvestment : $7.6 million
  • Changes to our investment strategy and increased reliance on investment revenues in our operating budget: $6.6 million
  • Changes in institutional practices and other initiatives, such as two up one down (temperature control) and non-salary cuts: $8 million

Given the progress that has been made to date, changes in university leadership and the concerns raised about the pace of the change process, university leaders are taking some time over the summer to determine next steps. The president and vice-presidents will spend this time working with deans, executive directors, associate vice-presidents and unit leaders to assess which actions will proceed right away and which require further discussion or consultation. More information on next steps will be provided in the fall.

In the meantime, I will be using the blog over the summer to continue the discussion on financial sustainability, to accept feedback, and to provide information. If there is a topic you would like to hear about, please let me know.

Although the past few years have been challenging, and change is never easy, the university has achieved real progress due to the hard work of many on our university campus. I want to thank you for your patience as we determine what more is needed to ensure the ongoing financial sustainability and renewal of our university.


The university’s financial planning and reporting process

In both June 2012 and 2013, we presented preliminary year end results and the upcoming year’s detailed operating budget to the campus community. Staff in our Financial Services Division and the office of Institutional Planning and Assessment are working through our current financial position to be able to provide this annual update to the campus community in the near future. In advance of its release I thought it would be a great time to go over the elements that make up our key financial planning and reporting processes, so you are better informed of the role each plays.

The university’s detailed operating budget, which represents about 50% of the consolidated budget, outlines the operating revenue we expect to bring in and the operating expenses we are planning for in the upcoming year. Our budget year runs from May 1, 2014 to April 2015. Our budgeted revenue is based on an approximate 2% increase in our provincial operating grant (announced in March), along with projections for tuition/enrolment and investment income. Our budgeted expenses are approximately 75% personnel, along with additional targeted expenses, utilities, etc. This information is expected to be shared later this month.

The annual financial report looks back to the most recent year (in our case, May 1, 2013 to April 30, 2014), including what we actually achieved in respect to our 2013-14 detailed operating budget. In spring 2013, we released a detailed operating budget for 2013-14 indicating a $3 million budgeted deficit based on plans to continue with budget cuts. At this time we are confident that, between operating budget adjustment actions taken to date and favorable actual results primarily driven by investment income, we will achieve a surplus for 2013-14. Although we have preliminary year end information, the official audited results will be available in the early fall.

The operations forecast represents the university’s funding request to the Government of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Advanced Education. This document is prepared and submitted each summer in advance of the provincial budget announcement in March of the following year. This document is key in outlining our priorities to government and the resources needed to fund these priorities. We expect to share the 2015-16 operations forecast with the campus community this summer.

At the beginning of each planning cycle (the current cycle is 2012-2017), a multi-year operating budget framework is developed to support the university’s integrated plan. This framework is based on a number of key planning parameters, such as assumptions for the operating grant from the province, the level of tuition rates and student enrolment, salaries and benefits costs, and a number of other costs such as the operation of new facilities, utility rate increases, software and systems upgrades, and compliance costs associated with legal and regulatory changes. This framework is currently being reviewed to determine the progress made since its last release in 2012, allowing us to update our projected gap between revenue and expenses by 2017. This review is scheduled to be completed by fall 2014.

We are currently reviewing our progress against our original $44.5M operating budget adjustments target. The results of this review will be released shortly.

Links to the most current versions of each of the documents listed above can be found on the “Resources” tab at I encourage you to use this blog to ask any questions you have regarding these financial documents—it’s important for each of us to understand the role these tools play in our work towards financial sustainability.

Please continue to visit this blog and the finances website for updates on our finances in the coming weeks.


Moving forward

As some of you have noticed as indicated by comments on the blog and others I have seen on social media, the blog has been quiet for the past two weeks. Despite rumours you may have heard to the contrary, the events of the past two weeks required a significant investment in time that resulted in this gap.

As you will all know, the past few weeks have been an especially challenging time for our university and those who care about it, and we expect this to continue into the near future. I don’t want to gloss over these challenges, but I also feel there has been enough communicated in the past few weeks that I don’t need to reiterate what has already been said, only that I am committed to seeing our university move forward in a positive way.

I want to acknowledge that my friend and colleague, Brett Fairbairn, who up until last week was my co-sponsor in operating budget adjustments, will no longer be involved in TransformUS and other operating budget adjustment initiatives after stepping away from his role as provost and vice-president academic. Continue reading

Projects in the College of Arts and Science

The following is a guest blog post by Peter Stoicheff, dean of the College of Arts and Science.

The TransformUS projects assigned to Arts and Science ask that it focus its attention on some challenging and pertinent issues. Targeted cost savings are currently not attached to the projects but successfully addressing the issues should lead to greater student demand, and to greater sustainability of programs and resources, than currently exist. Discussion among and consultation with faculty and students and staff whose programs and units are involved in the projects are just beginning, and will continue through the project leaders to assist in making any decisions. And students enrolled in programs that might be affected or changed will have the opportunity to finish their programs. Continue reading

Clarifying the library project

In response to recent questions and concerns regarding the TransformUS project associated with reconfiguring university libraries, and specifically with regard to concerns with the Law Library, we wanted to share and give our support to the following joint statement from the Sanjeev Anand, dean of law and Vicki Williamson, dean of the library. Brett and Greg  

What is proposed in the University Library’s consolidation of print collections and services project is the latest stage in a decade-long transformation that has involved a shift from providing space for books to providing space for students.

The reconfiguration of campus libraries will further consolidate print collections and services. In the project the Law Library is not slated as one of the three-full service libraries. This has led some to conclude that the Law Library will be closed, there will be no library services, etc. What is proposed is a reconfiguration within resources available or that is, being fiscally prudent. Continue reading

Transformation of the University Library

The following is a guest blog post by Ken Ladd, acting dean in the University Library.

The changes currently proposed for the U of S library are the latest stage in a decade-long transformation that has involved a shift from providing space for books to providing space for students.

The First Integrated Plan (2003-2007) proposed the “establishment of an Academic Skills Centre which will consolidate, perhaps in the Main Library, units like the Writing Centre, Math Help Centre, IT Ready, and Library Instruction and Information.” Further in the document it has a complete section on ”A New Learning Centre” that would most likely be in the Library. This is, of course, the Learning Commons and the University Learning Centre, both of which have been a huge success. The ground floor of the Murray Library has group study rooms, a variety of seating for groups and individuals, adaptive technology room for students with disabilities, self-check units for signing out materials, some computer stations, and a café. The first floor is a space with the University Learning Centre, library reference assistance, IT help, a wide array of computer stations, a collaborative learning lab, and a very vibrant atmosphere. These changes were the result of the University Library Transformation Project Phases 1 and 2 and occurred over a few years (2006-2009). To accomplish this transformation we placed some materials in storage and made the decision that we would not keep the print versions of the electronic journals held in JSTOR (a digital library). Continue reading

Where are the details?

In the past few days, this is the question we’ve been asked most frequently—where are the details in the action plan?

We believe there are some significant details in the action plan released to the campus community this week. There will be a reduction in our senior administration (23%) and by the end of 2014 two administrative units (Centre for Continuing and Distance Education and eMAP) will be closed. We will be seeking the disestablishment of the College of Graduate Studies and Research and changes so that two other academic units will no longer be standalone entities (School of Public Health and College of Dentistry). In addition, we are looking to merge a number of small departments. We have committed to reorganize services to best support our students and faculty. We have outlined the principles to make reinvestments in specific priority areas beginning in 2015-16.

At 30 pages the plan in fact exceeds the level of detail that PCIP was aiming for and committed to over the past months. In an organization like a university, this is what an action plan looks like. Continue reading

TransformUS action plan

To our campus community,

We want to begin by acknowledging how challenging the past two years have been for our campus community as the university has taken steps toward financial sustainability, and even more so in the past 16 months as we have undertaken TransformUS. We know there are big expectations in terms of the action plan developed by the provost’s committee on integrated planning (PCIP) in consultation and coordination with our deans, executive directors, associate vice-presidents and unit leaders. We hope you will see the work of our TransformUS task forces, feedback from the campus community, and conversations with leaders, students and governing bodies reflected in the action plan we are sharing with you today.

The action plan is characterized within four themes – simplify and amalgamate structures, focus on core mission, share services by working together across unit boundaries, and allocate resources to priority programs and services. There is a bias toward action in this plan: we are seeking to advance the university decisively rather than through small, incremental steps. As you read the plan, it is important to remember that TransformUS is not only about short-term cost reduction. It is about effective use of our resources, minimizing future costs and ensuring that our resources are focused behind our priorities. Continue reading

Theme: Share services – work together across unit boundaries

In previous blogs we have written about shared services and the recent presentation by the Education Advisory Board about the challenges with costs and effectiveness of support services in American universities. The presentation also outlined the progress made in shared services implementations in a small but growing number of universities in the United States.

One of the four themes in the TransformUS action plan will be to develop and implement a new design for our administrative and support services, a design that is fashioned on a shared services model, where services will be performed where it is most effective and efficient to do so, either in colleges and units, clusters or centrally. Shared services requires that each functional service be vertically integrated and services be provided seamlessly across all of the university’s functional areas.
Why do we want to create a new design of our support services? And why is shared services being proposed as a solution to improve university services and make them more scalable and efficient? This blog will provide some of the background and the rationale developed over time that has led us to propose development and implementation of a shared services model. Continue reading