Theme: Focus on core mission

A while back we wrote that we have seen a number of patterns and similarities as we have conversed with deans and unit leaders about how the TransformUS task force recommendations roll up at the college or unit level. Among the kinds of actions suggested by the task force reports, the ones that seem to be widespread or material at the university level fall under a few headings. One of these we wrote about previously is the idea of simplification and amalgamation of structures.

Another grouping of possible projects and actions is those related to tightening the university’s focus on its core mission.

Every organization has a core mission. For universities, this mission is about learning and discovery at an advanced level: about teaching, about students, about research and scholarly and artistic work and their impacts in communities. Our mission distinguishes us from other organizations that are not universities – say, from school boards, hospitals and businesses. The way we pursue our mission – our values, vision and priorities – distinguishes us from other universities.

So it is very logical that when resources are short, we consider concentrating them on the things that are most core or most distinctive to what we as an organization contribute to society. The TransformUS support services task force advanced this perspective in various ways in their report. They noted that the primacy of the teaching and research missions means we should streamline administrative operations and ensure administrative units and services are focused on the needs of students and of faculty. They also suggested that various activities – for example, outreach functions – be reviewed with respect to their centrality to what the university does.

The thought process with respect to mission focus is not black-and-white, not that things are all in or all out. Rather, it is like concentric circles with university learning and discovery at the core. Some other functions are essential: we need buildings, we need learning supports for students, and so on. In an era of limited resources, we need to reassess carefully what may be peripheral, and we need to make sure that everything in which the university invests is efficiently organized and clearly focused on the academic mission.

Brett and Greg

12 thoughts on “Theme: Focus on core mission

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  6. Dear colleagues,

    I had the opportunity to share my concerns about our commitment to outreach activities as we moved forward with the implementation of the TransformUS Action Plan at a Town Hall in January, 2014. It appears that my concerns were well founded if I am correctly interpreting the text that reads “…outreach functions – be reviewed with respect to their centrality to what the university does.” Do I take this to mean that programs like Ecology Camps, USCAD, the programming that supports Saskatoon Seniors Continued Learning, and on-line course delivery that provides access to U of S courses to thousands of students in rural and northern Saskatchewan – programs that I and my family members have engaged with since arriving in Saskatoon 22 years ago – are now being targeted for substantial budget reductions and/or elimination from our program offerings? The loss of these opportunities that introduce youth to wonders of the natural world, that support the life-long learning of senior citizens, among them alumni and alumnae of the U of S, that support access to post-secondary education for aboriginal and rural communities across our province will be felt deeply amongst the communities of learners that benefited from these services.

    • Alex: It is my recollection that kids’ camps were assigned very high rankings in the Support Services task force report. The ranking of other outreach programs seems less encouraging.

      • Good morning Kevin,

        Thank you for this prompt reply. I do trust that children’s programming will be retained as part of the university’s commitment to community outreach and engagement. These programs complement and extend the learning experiences available to youth in our community. The SSCL program is an equally valuable service that we presently support and the responses to the Support Services Task Force Report from program participants speaks volumes about the value of retaining this program. I have taught in the SSCL program and can honestly state that I have never worked with a more enthusiastic group of learners in my almost 30 year career as a course instructor. I am genuinely concerned about our capacity as an institution to support the present array of distributed learning course offerings. The programs that my present teaching and administrative responsibilities support rely on student access to on-line courses to support their learning goals. Access to these resources is absolutely essential for students in the Northern Administrative District of our province to pursue post-secondary education.

  7. I remain concerned that the U of S is ignoring its original charter, which is to focus on Saskatchewan people, places, concerns, problems, and solutions. The titantic force to be ‘international’ and ‘global’ runs the real risk of leaving SK people behind as ‘not important enough’. Sask should not be a lip service idea during provincial budget deliberations. It should be breath, life everyday. We are a provincial university. If we use our collective energy to make SK the best place to be, people will want to come here, learn from us, and take that knowledge home to make their home place better.

    The U of S needs more pride in, and scholarly investment in, Saskatchewan.

    • Merle, thank you for your comment. I remain committed, as I know the university is, to a model of engaged scholarship and engaged teaching/learning. There are many fine initiatives of this type across the campus, and they help characterize our university. I do not agree that the original mission of the university was “to focus on Saskatchewan people, places, concerns, problems, and solutions,” at least not if these are narrowly understood. The founding president foresaw the U of S taking an honoured place among the best universities. I think we still have a similar vision, but at the same time the provincial postsecondary landscape has changed drastically – for example, we are no longer the only institution in the province. Our focus needs to be on the university’s central mission, learning and discovery, and the unique contributions our university can make to Saskatchewan and the world. In an era of constrained resources, it is responsible for us to focus on the things a research-intensive, medical-doctoral university can uniquely do within a wider postsecondary sector.

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