At a town hall for students on April 15, the co-chairs of the Academic Program and Support Service Transformation Task Forces responded to a series of thoughtful and insightful questions and comments. At the end of the meeting, students submitted further questions for our consideration.
It is not possible to respond to all of those questions in this space, but we would like to comment on several of the major concerns identified at that meeting and others at which we have been present.
One of the questions posed to us is why the “Dickeson model” of program prioritization was chosen, and whether other strategies were considered for addressing the financial projections which led to the establishment of the TransformUS project. The task forces were not, of course, involved in the selection of the model which is being used. We have been advised that it is the only model of its kind which has been tested by a range of North American universities, and which focuses on aligning budgetary decisions with academic priorities. From the point of view of the task forces, the attractive feature of the process is that it is built on a review of programs and services by a group of people with a wide range of perspectives and experiences in the university community, and that we are encouraged to be as transparent about what we are doing as possible. Alternative strategies – such as across-the-board cutting, targeted cuts based on limited information, or having decisions made by the administrative levels of the university without this kind of review – offer fewer opportunities for the decisions to reflect the views of faculty, staff and students.
It should also be noted that the prioritization process is only one stage of a sequence. After our report is completed at the end of November, the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning will be preparing a set of proposals for change which will be submitted to the usual governance bodies of the university.
Another theme which has emerged in our discussions with students, faculty and senior administrators is whether the process can take sufficient account of the diversity of programs at the University of Saskatchewan, and whether it will present inherent barriers to certain kinds of programs – liberal arts programs, for example, or programs with a significant element of service teaching. As the Academic Program Transformation Task Force goes about preparing the template that will be used to collect information from the academic units responsible for programs, we are doing our best to ensure that we are collecting the critical information that will enable a balanced assessment of every program. A draft template will be “test driven” in several programs so that we can assess whether the template does capture everything we need to know. For this test run, we will be surveying a large undergraduate program with a significant service teaching component, a professional program, a fine arts program, a graduate program from one of the schools and a graduate program from a more traditional academic unit.
Finally, we were asked whether steps have been taken to ensure that the perspective of students is fully reflected both in the deliberations of the task forces and in subsequent decision-making stages. On each task force, an undergraduate and a graduate student have committed themselves to spend the many hours that will be required to participate fully in the work of these groups. We propose to schedule other events for students over the coming months. When it comes to further stages of the process, student representatives on University Council, Senate and Board of Governors, as well as students on the Council committees that consider specific plans or proposals, will reflect the concerns of students in these important decisions.
We are grateful to all of those – students and others – who have taken the time to raise questions and make comments on this process. These opportunities for exchange with the campus community are important to us, and we will be seeking your input as we proceed.