What is on our minds as we read the TransformUS taskforce reports?

What is on our minds as we read the TransformUS taskforce reports?

Members of senior admin are dedicated to the good of the whole university.  That’s what always is and must be forefront in our thinking.

We are dedicated to change and improvement.  We believe in a university that is continually changing, in intentional ways, and striving to become better in all that the university does.  We know this sometimes means stopping doing some things.

So because of those personal and professional commitments, we are very interested in the taskforce recommendations.  We are looking to consider them seriously, and our bias is towards action.

Right now, though, our job is to listen.  We have made no decisions and our thinking is open.  By February we will be starting work on an action plan, and by that time we will want a sense of solid ideas for ways that the university can reduce or redirect resources among programs and services while advancing its vision and goals.

The taskforce reports represent the better part of a year’s intense work by dozens of our finest faculty and staff.  We deeply respect that and are thankful for the way they have got the discussion started.

Brett and Greg

6 thoughts on “What is on our minds as we read the TransformUS taskforce reports?

  1. As a student in a WGST class this term, I am saddened to hear that the program as a whole may be phased out. I firmly believe that the subject matter covered in the courses is so relevant to the everyday lives of students. I think that the ideas focused on in this subject help build global citizens out of the enrolled students. So many people can benefit from this program. As an individual, I am considering taking more WGST classes due to my incredibly positive experience with the program. My point is that WGST should NOT be phased out!

  2. At the heart of it all seems to be a statement in a planning document that was written more than a decade ago:

    “We will, and must, make decisive judgments about our institutional
    priorities and follow up on these decisions by shifting resources from areas of lowest
    priority (even though these may still represent valuable intellectual and instructional
    activities) to fields of greatest need and opportunity.”

    TransformUS seems to be the “follow-up” part of this statement.

    First, is it really irrelevant whether a program has intellectual or instructional value, as long as it does not align with predetermined priorities?

    (There is at least one “elite” program in quintile 5 that has negligible cost compared to other programs and that has been attracting some of the best students in this university. Is eliminating such programs that are already cost effective really what the university wants, and is that the same thing as what our students and people in this province want?)

    Second, is the ongoing prioritization process in the future a repeated application of a “programmatic contraction mapping” that will lead to a “fixed point” where the university is perfectly and rigidly aligned with predetrmined priorities and has a few undergraduate programs, of the order of magnitude of 10?

    Third, will the priorities in the ongoing prioritization process in the future be assessed periodically in case new opportunities arise, or is it simply a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    • Thank you, Brett, for answering my question about periodic program prioritization process (P^4) in the University Council meeting today. I suppose the answer to the third question above is that the priorities are most likely rigid, since all of “our eggs will be in one basket” .
      You also said in one of your replies on this page that the quality of a program is only one factor. Unfortunately, academic merit counted very little on the templates, and this little part was judged by non-experts. Even this small (though it should not be small for an institution that aims for excellence) part could have been judged by peers, and their assessment could have been entered as input data to be used by the prioritization committee. I come back to this point because today a faculty member on University Council who was also a task force member made the claim that TransformUS is “scientific” and “quantitative”. I find such claims preposterous, since a result is scientific only if it can be independently reproduced, tested and verified. TransformUS was a judgement call, and the recommendations of the same task forces could have been different had they been given more complete data, used different templates, or were given more time to discuss and reflect on the ranking of programs. Furthermore, it is not quantitative because no precise mathematical formula was used. Such claims, especially in an academic institution, speak volumes about the danger and folly of committing the fallacy of appeal to inappropriate authority.

  3. I think it is very commendable that the administration is engaging in an honest discussion with the university community, and that it is keeping an open mind.

    A lot of concerns have been communicated by members of the university community for little less than a year now. These concerns were unfortunately confirmed by the reports of the task forces.

    It is not only about cutting costs. It is about reaching “judgments” in a scientific manner based on evidence. I completely agree, the task forces were formed by the “finest faculty and staff”. However, this does not logically imply that their recommendations are correct, since they are not a panel of experts in most of the fields/programs they assessed. It has been made clear since April 2013 that the process is a judgement call rather than a quantitative one, perhaps due to the complexity of the task. However, even if one concedes that a judgement call needs to be made out of purely pragmatic reasons, I think it needs to be made in a peer-review manner for it to withstand scrutiny and be justifiable. This is especially important, since one of the stated three purposes of TransformUS is to ”help us learn prioritization as an ongoing way of thinking and operating”. We really need to get it right the first time if this is the way things will operate in the future.

    • If a university consisted entirely of (say) physics departments, I can see how peer review by physicists could allocate funding among them. But if it contains physics, philosophy, and physiotherapy departments, I don’t see how disciplinary peer review by itself can divide funding among them. University budgeting is always about comparing apples and oranges. Quality (how good an apple it is, or how good an orange) is only one factor – we also have to decide whether we want more apples or more oranges.

      • But who is “we” making the decisions whether we want more good apples or more good oranges? The administration, the students, the people of this province, the faculty?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.