Interdisciplinary programs

Comments about interdisciplinary programs have constituted a common theme in the discussion of the TransformUS task force reports. We’ve heard from you that interdisciplinary programs are an important part of the university and more specifically we’ve heard:

  • You chose the U of S because of interdisciplinary programs
  • The U of S will be weakened if interdisciplinary programs are eliminated
  • Interdisciplinary programs are needed in order to answer complex questions faced by society
  • Interdisciplinary programs fit well with the university’s goals to foster excellence and enhance the student experience
  • They are important to the “fabric, culture and innovation of the university”

We have also noted comments that it was difficult to accurately represent interdisciplinary programs in the templates. Some have expressed concern this led to low rankings. However, we would note that not all interdisciplinary programs were categorized in low quintiles. The task force placed some among the highest-priority programs in the university today. Continue reading

How Academic Decisions Are Made

This is a re-post of a letter sent out to members of the GAA on January 21, 2014

In sharing the following, it is our intention to clarify a number of matters regarding university governance that have come up in recent weeks, including the role of University Council in academic decision-making and the university’s finances.

Through comments at recent town halls and various other channels, it is apparent that the processes for academic decision-making are not well understood. Multifaceted and challenging decisions will come before us and our governing bodies beginning this spring and extending into the next few years. It is imperative that we, the academic community, fully understand academic decision-making in our current context.

At the U of S, governance is the shared responsibility of:

  • academic staff through University Council and the General Academic Assembly;
  • community through University Senate and public opinion and input; and
  • administration through accountability to the Board of Governors.

Our tricameral governance structure (made up of the Board of Governors, University Council, and Senate) distinguishes the University of Saskatchewan from bicameral models in most other U15 universities and from hierarchical governance models in the private sector and in other public sector organizations. Our structures provide for a considerable degree of self-governance by faculty, students, and academic administrators through University Council while also providing for public accountability. Continue reading

Administrative Staff Growth: An Organizational Design Perspective

In prior blogs we have provided information regarding growth in staff employment and discussed reasons for this growth. A common challenge at universities across North America is the issue of growth in the administrative staff complement as services, programs and centers continue to be created to support the learning needs of students and the teaching and research missions of universities. It has occurred to us that the reasons for this growth may be a symptom of a broader challenge confronting universities related to their organizational structure.

The need to consider our support services organizational structure was evident to us when we decided to make organizational design one of the seven main focus areas within our budget adjustment initiatives. This initiative became much more relevant based on the recommendations of the Support Services TransformUS Task Force, which made recommendations to consider our support services structure and the coordination of many of our support services. Continue reading

Seven reasons for staffing: Some good, some not

Several people have drawn attention (on this blog and elsewhere) to how the number of staff in the university has grown over the years. We agree that care must be taken to limit non-academic jobs and ensure the nature of these positions clearly support the university’s essential missions of learning and discovery.

But there has not been much discussion about why there are more and more non-academic jobs. Thinking about why is helpful to understanding how universities work. It may help guide us to know how to ensure staffing is limited to what is necessary.

We have been thinking about such matters for some time. The two of us work with leaders, budgets, faculty, staff, students, and units from one end of the campus to the other, and we talk regularly with our counterparts from other universities. We have developed a series of experience-based perspectives we would like to share. So far we have identified seven kinds of reasons for increased staffing in recent years, many or all of which likely apply to our own university. In no particular order, these are:

  1. Changing needs, priorities and technology
  2. Prestige and self-sufficiency
  3. Imitation
  4. More complex teaching and research functions
  5. Specialization
  6. Regulatory requirements
  7. Revenue generating positions Continue reading

Administrative and Support Staff Growth: Some Comments

Since we began to request ideas for cost savings, our community has expressed concern about the number of non-academic staff and the growth in staff positions throughout the university. As important as many of our non-academic jobs are in supporting our mission, it is critical to ensure we are being efficient in our hiring decisions, as each non-academic position requires resources that could reduce our costs or be allocated for faculty positions engaged directly in our teaching and research mission.

Off the top, let us say that we know everyone at the university works very hard. Every job does important work and contributes to our mission. The question is why are there more and more non-academic jobs? And with fewer resources available to us, is having fewer people working harder the only answer?

Yesterday we posted information from Alex Usher’s blog comparing the ratio of our non-academic staff costs to academic staff costs, which shows we are in the middle among our comparators. These comparisons were made prior to our workforce planning efforts, which reduced our administrative and support staff costs further. Even with these results, we recognize that we still have much more to do, and this begins with ensuring we present more detailed information on our staff numbers and the types of positions at the university. In October 2012, a report was presented at University Council in response to an inquiry about changes over time to faculty and staff numbers at the university. In addition, last spring we launched a page on that is devoted to understanding our workforce. Continue reading

Compensation ratios

As noted in a pair of comments on our blog earlier this week, higher-education consultant Alex Usher compiled statistics to show that the ratio of academic to administrative compensation expenditures decreased gradually in Canadian universities over 30 years, while being largely stable over the last 10. We asked Troy Harkot, director of institutional effectiveness at the U of S, to recreate Alex’s calculations for the U of S and our U15 peers. The results are as follows:

























































U15 Average



In upcoming posts, we will look at U of S statistical changes over time, and reflect on some of the driving forces behind these changes.

Brett and Greg

Note: Academic and non-academic salary figures represented in thousands of dollars


  • 2011-2012 CAUBO Financial Report for Universities and Colleges
  • (Section 3.2 – Expenditures by Fund, rows 1 and 3)

The New Normal

Below is a thought to start your day from Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates and editor-in-chief of Global Higher Education Strategy Monitor.

The New Normal

Happy New Year!  Did everyone have a great vacation?

The highlight of my vacation was going to Argentina and stumbling upon the world’s most unfortunately-named university in a suburb of Buenos Aires, named “Morón”.  It’s called – wait for it – Unversidad de Morón.  Seriously, their international marketing people must have the most difficult jobs in higher ed.

Anyhow, I wanted to start the year by talking about what was a hopeful development from last fall – the Government of New Brunswick’s decision to pre-announce university funding increases for the next two years.  Instead of waiting for provincial budget-time to make an announcement (which, quite honestly, is far too late for institutions needing to do serious planning), the government pre-announced not one but two(!) years’ worth of future increases: 2% for 2014-15, and another 2% for 2015-16.  And they also told institutions they could raise domestic undergraduate tuition by 3% for each of the next two years.  Assuming no big increase in domestic or international student numbers, that means the university can count on overall budget increases of around 2.33%. Continue reading