Academic program draft template

On Thursday May 23 the task force sponsored a town hall event at which we presented the draft version of the template that we will be using to gather information about the academic programs we will be reviewing. This was our first opportunity to engage members of the university community in discussion of this document.

This week, we are posting the draft template on our website and inviting questions and comments about it. The academic units responsible for the five programs selected to be used as a test sample will be also be asked to comment on whether the template is clear and comprehensive. As the template will be finalized in mid-June for circulation to all of the units responsible for academic programs, we are asking that any feedback about the template be conveyed to us before June 7. This may be done by using the co-chair e-mail at transformus.apt@usask.ca or by posting a comment on the web page at www.transformus.usask.ca.

Accompanying the templates when they are sent to units for completion will be two other documents. One of these is a worksheet that can be used to assist in the process of calculating what resources and costs should be attributed to individual programs. This worksheet will include centrally-produced university data concerning a number of factors. The use of this university data will ensure that the information base the task force is using is as consistent as possible across programs.

The other document that will accompany the template is a guide to its completion. A copy of this guide is also now available on the website. The guide is designed to articulate the expectations of the task force in relation to specific questions, and to provide advice about how the questions may apply to programs with different characteristics.

APT draft template guide
APT draft template

15 thoughts on “Academic program draft template

  1. University is about educating hardworking students. Canceling programs that might not be essential in generating revenues, but too increase our international standing and attractiveness is highly important, after all international students only come to respected universities.
    If the committee looks at the programs than they should not exclude some because in their personal view it is “the right thing to do”.
    As a hard working student I do not wish to pay even more for other students or programs that do not perform as they should.
    I have a responsibility for my family, or my academic achievements, so why must I pay more for others that truthfully do not work as hard as I do, or even fail in their responsibilities as students or departments?

  2. I fully agree with Will. Science is a complex organism that for centuries has improved through self-evaluation from within this organism. An abundance of examples are known for the fact that the attempt of influencing a complex system from the outside by crude measures generates chaos, almost never leads to the intended optimization and is usually counterproductive. In business, lots of even big companies with a long tradition were thrown into serious problems and even went bankrupt after such attempts. The same has been observed in the education system.

    The fact that the TransformUS current template does little to measure the importance of service teaching is symptomatic for the difficulties of understanding a complex system. Or is this turning a blind eye intentional? Academically, it is not justified at all, and it is very detrimental for departments with a large component of service teaching, which also produces high revenue! It has been the practise of this university that this revenue is not given back to these departments, even though some of them are notoriously underfunded (and now might face even further reductions).

    Traditionally, the best way of evaluating Science has been through peer-review, that is, by the true experts from the same science. There is almost no component of peer-review in TransformUS. I am not surprised. The peer-reviews of my department in the past, which usually recommended higher funding, had no impact anyway. Even low cost, high revenue departments now face the danger of being punished for debts that were incurred by others.

    Well, we should have seen it coming. The following sentence from the “Message from the APT co-chairs” tells us: “This may involve decisions to scale down or eliminate programs which have made important contributions and which are making effective use
    of their resources. Our task is to provide an indication of where existing programs fit in terms of university priorities as stated over time through the planning process and in other ways.” Make no mistake: these priorities are supported by less people on campus than you may think. Their existence and contents is due to a silent majority of scientists who are too busy with teaching and research to care for what they saw as a fashion that simply has to be tolerated. Now it backfires on us. Academically, it makes no sense at all to terminate flourishing and cost-efficient programs only because they do not fit into these “priorities”. It only reduces the diversity in what our university can offer to science and the community.

    It seems all but forgotten what the word “university” actually means. It comes from “universal”, meaning a universal coverage of our culture and knowledge. For centuries, the mandate of universities was the preservation of culture and the procurement and propagation of knowledge. The two words “culture” and “knowledge” are conspicuously absent from our university “priorities”. The academic freedom was an important principle, and wherever it was violated, this had very adverse consequences or was a symptom of a distorted political system. In every good university it was understood that administration was there to support the main body of the university, professors and students, and not to boss them around. Academic self-government was a system used in the best universitites around the world. The departure from these high goods will serve neither science nor society.

    The old and obvious experience that a scientist (and in general a worker) is most productive when he or she is happy, not stressed out, and supported by the administration, seems to be all but forgotten. Instead, the atmosphere is poisoned by inappropriate evaluation systems (and by those who believe they know how to make a complex system more efficient by micromanaging it). The outcome is decreasing productivity and disgruntled scientists and workers. It is well known that this can even lead to an increase of health problems, which causes additional costs; no wonder that the EAP has been recommended to us in connection with TransformUS. It may be true that some inefficient programs of the system will be “terminated” as a result of the evaluations, but at the same time, many productive members will be discouraged and harmed because of the unfairness of the imbalanced evaluation methods that do not capture the complexity and the mandate for diversity. This will serve neither science nor society.

    In recent months we have seen some deplorable effects of the debt craze that has captured our university: departments being deprived of their department offices, professors being kicked out on short notice from their offices, secretaries being literally arrested from their offices because they are fired. Measures that do little to save money, but a lot to make more and more people lose their faith in our university which years ago really appeared to have a great potential.

    I recommend the “Story of the ant” for viewing:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejw9Coycfcw

  3. Where are the old posts? Did you delete them because they were too critical? You are sending the wrong message, but probably there is some truth in that message. For your utterances, you keep an archive. Why not for the posts on this blog page?

  4. The process so far is so bereft of logic and meaning, it feels like the “Theatre of the Absurd”. The following are factual statements (yes, they can be put to the test in laboratories) that are entirely antithetical to and unequivocally incompatible with TransformUS.

    1. “The whole is more than the sum of the parts.”

    It is baffling that after six decades from the seminar work of Murray Gell-Mann and Francis Low on scaling transformations, five decades from the work of Leo Kadanoff on block-spins, and four decades from the work of Kenneth Wilson on the renormalization group, people still think that measuring the parts (“programs” in this case) tells you something about the whole. The “whole is more than the sum of the parts” because in emergent phenomena, correlations are infinite. No local measurement, no matter how accurate, and no list of criteria, no matter how long, will tell you anything. Instead of treating the university as emerging from the interaction and interdependence of very many parts, departments are now split into “programs” within “programs”, each of which will be measured independently. The scientific approach is exactly the opposite of the reductionist approach of TransformUS a la Dickeson.

    2. “In problem solving, diversity is more important than specialized skills and abilities.” In other words, if we become less diverse, we will effectively be less intelligent.

    This has proven to be the case again and again in history. I will give an example. In the second world war, the British recruited thousands of people from all walks of life (linguists, social scientists, chess players, polyglots, mathematicians …) in Bletchley park to crack the German code, which they did. This was one of the decisive factors that lead to the defeat of the Nazis. The group was so diverse it was nicknamed “the Golf, Cheese and Chess Society”. Now why so many different people? Because a diverse group of problem solvers collectively has an advantage over a single problem solver. If the university truly wants to be a leader in research that has a positive impact by solving real-world problems, it should strengthen diversity rather than eliminate it through “program prioritization”.
    Since U15 is the benchmark nowadays, it might be a sobering exercise to quantify the diversity in the U15 (say using Shannon information entropy), and to compare it to the diversity in our university, before and after implementing the recommendations of the task forces. This is an exercise which a first year Calculus student can do. TransformUS will decrease diversity, and hence renders us less competent at solving new problems.

    3. “Diversity and some redundancy leads to adaptability and robustness.”

    This has been proven to be the case in very many biological systems. Instead of creating a dynamic university that will adapt to change, overcome challenges to higher education, and serve people in the province in the future, TransformUS will lead to a highly specialized and “efficient” university based on contingent priorities in IP3. Those priorities might easily change in the near future, and the university might not be able to adapt to that change (in the language of biology, it will risk extinction). Transforming the university based on IP3 is painfully shortsighted.

    Will TransformUS lead to a better university? I am not certain, but for the sake of our students and people in this province, I very much hope I am wrong.

  5. It seems that the committee has not decided whether it is evaluating programs or departments. A department may host several programs, and a program may span several departments. Questions relating to students properly belong to programs, whereas questions about faculty, research activity etc. cannot usually be ascribed to a program.

    It would make sense to design two templates, one for the programs, and one for the departments. As it stands, the review is of academic programs, which only represent about 30% of the university’s academic activities.

    There is no sensible way to assess service courses in the current template, even though there are questions relating to service. Service courses are given by one department (a cost item) to benefit a program hosted by another department. Although a “service component” is indicated in Criterion 3, there is no way that the impact of a department on other programs can be measured.

    Tri-Council research revenue, grants and contracts are not awarded to an academic program. They are awarded to a faculty member or a research team. Trying to ascribe this revenue to an academic program is a futile exercise.

    • Diogenes said: “It would make sense to design two templates, one for the programs, and one for the departments. As it stands, the review is of academic programs, which only represent about 30% of the university’s academic activities.”
      ——————————————————————————–
      True, but a lot of academic programs are associated with (sometimes several) departments. Suppose there are two templates, one for academic programs and one for departments, and the final recommendation is to decrease the resources for the department and increase resources for a program in the department. How does one resolve such a contradiction in resource allocation?

      • This would be a contradiction which the task force must be wary of. But it also must be acknowledged that programs as such don’t own many “resources”. Given our departmental structure, the only way to increase the resources to a program is to increase the resources to a department participating in that program. I suppose it would be within the jurisdiction to stipulate that these resources be devoted to the specific program and not to other departmental activities.

  6. What has become clear over the past 2 months is that the Academic Program Transformation Task Force has no clear idea of how to assist Interdisciplinary Programs in completing the templates. These programs, by their very nature, draw on human, monetary and physical resources across several departments and Divisions, and sometimes several colleges. How then are these programs to proportion inputs (e.g. salaries for support staff and faculty) to the academic programs or address issues related to program quality based on outputs (e.g. faculty research productivity and grantsmanship) into the tables presented in the templates? Think about my home department that contributes to or has administrative oversight for the following Interdisciplinary Programs: BA in Regional & Urban Planning, BASc in Environment & Society, BSc in Environmental Earth Sciences, BA in International Studies, and BA in Northern Studies. If we accept the literal interpretation of the “Bible” (Dickeson’s book) as the Task Forces are compelled to do, then my department will be facing the task of completing 19 separate templates. I do sincerely hope that the Task Force can bring a degree of clarity re: template completion to those interdisciplinary program chairs who will have responsibility for undertaking this task.

  7. Agree with Garnet. Where is reference to the province? An essential element of this review must be demonstrable benefits to province or relevance to provincial priorities/needs.

  8. The University of Saskatchewan is a provincially funded institution. As such, the university should provide demonstrable and concrete benefits to the province. I find little if anything in the draft template that refers to this, and I am disappointed by this. The words “province” or “provincial” do not appear in the draft, and “Saskatchewan” only appears twice, both times in association with “University of”. This makes it seem that the task force is focussed only on what happens on this campus, and not enough on how any changes brought about by TransformUS might impact the province.

    • Dream on. Commitment to the community is a lip service at our university. There are languages in this province that are important heritage. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian program has been cut years ago. And a second important language has been harmed by administrative measures (that did not improve anything), despite heavy protests from students and the community. I see it coming that it will be killed by TransformUS.

  9. I still believe that the external demand category needs more attention. The university serves a purpose in the larger community, as do its programs, and we need to make sure that the current review doesn’t result in anything that is really needed by the community being lost. It isn’t only a matter of demand in statistical terms; we need to be clear that a program’s demand needs to be identified in terms of the importance of need. A program that graduates only a few people a year may in fact be just as essential as one that graduates dozens or hundreds. Therefore, the External Demand category on the template needs to be more thoughtfully and fully developed.

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