Faculty of Arts Academic Restructuring Initiative - Phase One

Fall 2020 Large Group Consultations

Here are the upcoming consultations for Faculty Restructuring (ARWG), Administrative restructuring (SET), and Department Restructuring (FAARI).

The President and Provost Roundtable with the Faculty of Arts

The President and Provost will be hosting a Roundtable with the Faculty of Arts where all are invited to ask questions, provide feedback, and suggest ideas and alternatives to the three scenarios presented through Faculty Restructuring and to Administrative Restructuring (the System Excellence Transformation) initiatives.

Wednesday, October 14
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

To register:

Alumni Town Hall on UAT

Wednesday, Oct. 20
7:00 p.m. 

Registration and details are here.


The following is intended to provide background on the process of academic restructuring underway at the University of Alberta; address the principles, objectives, and key considerations for academic restructuring in the Faculty of Arts; and outline the process.

The goal of the academic restructuring initiative is, at bottom, to reimagine the administrative homes of our academic programs and faculty members.

What is ‘Academic Restructuring’?

The structures and infrastructures that make our work possible go hand-in-hand with the University’s core mission of teaching and research. The process of academic restructuring that is currently underway at the University of Alberta involves reimagining the academic structures (Faculties, Schools, Departments, etc.) that house our academic programs. Restructuring will impact: 

  • the academic and administrative cultures that shape teaching, service, research and creative undertakings, and work lives;
  • the structure and scope of academic leadership such as Deans, Chairs, Associate Chairs, Directors, etc., and the committees and councils that oversee academic programs; and
  • administrative support structures, including the staff that provide key supports to academic programs, assist academic leaders, and serve faculty members and students.

Academic restructuring is not the restructuring of our programs (majors, minors, certificates, curricula).

Context: The University of Alberta for Tomorrow

As a part of President Bill Flanagan’s University of Alberta for Tomorrow initiative and under the leadership of Provost Steve Dew, the Academic Restructuring Working Group (ARWG) is currently exploring scenarios for reconfiguring UAlberta’s Faculties. Starting in October, ARWG will turn its sights to Departments, Centres, and Institutes. The Provost’s goal is to have the core of this restructuring approved for implementation as of July 1, 2021. Simultaneous to ARWG, the Service Excellence Transformation (SET) is exploring how administrative processes can be more efficient, streamlined, and avoid duplication while also providing important and knowledgeable service to Faculties, Departments, Centres, and Institutes. The administrative organizational structure is expected to be developed and approved for implementation by the end of 2020. These two initiatives are linked and are driven by budget constraints and sustainability needs.

Academic Restructuring in the Faculty of Arts

Informed by the priorities and decisions of ARWG and SET, the Faculty of Arts Academic Restructuring Initiative (FAARI) must be guided by the histories, cultures, and values that make up who we are in Arts, and driven by the creativity of our community. The key is to imagine new academic structures that are compatible with the University of Alberta for Tomorrow, but with the Faculty’s goals and ambitions front and centre.

FAARI intends to productively reimagine how we organize ourselves for teaching, research, service, and administration in order to:

  • reduce the number of academic units (departments) within the Faculty;
  • rethink the configuration of the Faculty’s strategic leadership;
  • identify areas of leadership and administrative functions where strategic specialization or diversification of roles would better serve our students, programs, and research and creative enterprises; and
  • foster collaboration and interdisciplinarity while opening spaces for the forging of new connections toward new futures.
Why Now? And Why So Fast?

We must be proactive in order to intervene productively when ARWG focuses on Departments, Centres, and Institutes. This work will also better inform SET regarding our administrative service needs in the future. Engaging in the process of reimagining the Faculty of Arts’ academic structures now will:

  • provide the Faculty greater certainty and control over our destiny by developing the scope and nature of the change in ways that align with the guiding principles of University of Alberta for Tomorrow but are informed by Faculty of Arts needs on the ground;
  • allow for consultation with members of our immediate community (faculty, staff, and students);
  • give us the maximum time to proactively imagine innovations that maintain the integrity of our programs while reducing negative consequences for our people, instead of reactively responding to a set of given parameters or cuts; and
  • prepare leaders within the Faculty to offer informed and productive feedback on decisions of ARWG where our visions might not align.

We recognize that engaging in this process is difficult. Rethinking the structure of the Faculty of Arts is a major undertaking in the best of times; calling on our people to be open and creative in the middle of a pandemic, fiscal restraint, and budget-driven institutional change is asking a lot. Supporting our people by being mindful of their emotional, psychological, and material well-being throughout this process matters.

There also remain many unknowns. We do not have details about central plans to merge some Faculties or distribute programs, nor do we know the model central will adopt for the University’s administrative organizational structure. We also do not know the provincial government’s plan for reassessing all Alberta post-secondary institutions. But by pursuing conversations now and in advance of these decisions, we are better able to recalibrate and respond nimbly along the way in a manner informed in advance by our Arts community.

Guiding Principles

Arts leaders and all members of the Arts community must commit to the following:

  • ensuring the process of reimagining our academic structure is inclusive, transparent, and empowering;
  • supporting the Arts community through what is, by definition, an angst-ridden process;
  • maintaining commitment to collegial academic governance, not only in process but also in outcome (i.e. when it comes to the scope of academic leadership);
  • retaining as many talented staff as possible;
  • making decisions that are informed not only by a top-down understanding of the Faculty’s existing structure but also a bottom-up understanding of the concrete work people do in programs and the existing realities of units;
  • maintaining the excellence and integrity of academic programs; and
  • ensuring that in process, outcome, and implementation, academic restructuring in the Faculty of Arts is undertaken with attention to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Objectives & Considerations

The University of Alberta for Tomorrow initiative aims to create an institution capable of thriving in a context of reduced public investment in post-secondary education. Central to this aim is ARWG’s focus on reducing the number of Faculties in the university, and the number of departments or academic units in Faculties. While all of UAlberta’s existing Faculties have been impacted by budget cuts and no area of the university will escape the consequences of future cuts, including job losses, the Faculty of Arts already provides cost-effective teaching, research and creative activity, and administration.

The key objectives are to imagine a Faculty with fewer entities that house our academic programs and faculty members. This should produce the economies of scale that allow for positive academic leadership and administrative reforms while creating space for and reducing barriers to interdisciplinarity and collaboration.

1. Reduce the number of academic units delivering Faculty of Arts’ academic programs and service teaching

The Faculty of Arts currently has 15 Departments and one non-departmental unit administering academic programs. The number of programs in each vary, with some housing one program identical to department name and with others housing multiple programs, including service teaching that may be unrelated to program curricula. The Faculty is also loosely organized into three Divisions – Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. There need not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Any approach will demand a clear set of organizing principles and criteria by which we establish what constitutes a unit, including also an awareness of unique differences such as in program delivery models or community relationships and endowments.

  • Our task is to imagine a structure not rooted in the simple amalgamation of existing departments or units. Instead we must think through new avenues for structuring the Faculty while maintaining program-level autonomy, sustainability, and visibility to continue to attract students, retain and attract talented new faculty and staff, and succeed in grants.
2. Reduce the number of administrative course releases, thereby reallocating investment in teaching, research, and creative activity

As the Faculty of Arts moves to fewer academic units, innovations in the structure of academic leadership and governance are required. We must avoid creating a new layer of ‘middle management’ with associated course releases and heavy service expectations. Instead, we want to think creatively about both existing and new leadership roles that will share the burden of administrative workload, with one goal being more faculty members focused on teaching responsibilities and pursuing research and creative activity that is the core mission of the university. Any changes or additions must ideally result in overall fewer faculty members with administrative course releases, with manageable duties specific to program needs allocated as part of a faculty member’s contractual 20% (one day per week) in service responsibilities.

  • Our task is to reduce and rethink the scope and structure of academic leadership while maintaining workload equity, managing the pressures and inequities of unseen labour (i.e. by women and BIPOC faculty), and addressing recognition for major service obligations; it also means ensuring control is given to those on the ground in our academic programs.
3. Produce economies of scale that allow for enhanced specialization of administrative roles and improved support for excellence in teaching and research, while managing workloads and continuing to make full use of the Faculty of Arts’ strong administrative staff team

Supporting our academic programs, faculty, and students means supporting an appropriate number of front-line Arts-specific staff in academic units. Moving to fewer and larger academic units will allow for the rethinking of administrative supports from a perspective that is consistent with the SET initiative’s focus on less duplication and greater specialization. While at the central level, academic restructuring and the restructuring of administrative supports are running parallel, their goals are intertwined. Academic restructuring must build off of an understanding that we can drive toward ‘specialization’ and ‘centralization’ while also supporting staff on the ground to do important value-added work. Above all else, structures must be maintained where people doing the work have the necessary disciplinary or program-level expertise.

  • Our task is to rethink administrative and support processes and areas or lines of responsibility by identifying ways of sharing expertise, including pooling functions and reducing duplication, while also maintaining existing roles and strategically finding new ones in order to serve needs across the Faculty in ways that add value and retain as many of our staff as possible.
4. Create space for innovation and collaboration, especially with regard to interdisciplinarity

As we consider how to organize ourselves differently, we must develop a scenario that fosters interdisciplinarity and keeps alive connections within and across units while forging new ones. We must also identify and remove the structural and administrative barriers to interdisciplinary teaching, research, and creative activity.

  • Our task is to address the real need for cohesive and clear disciplinary identity while also finding the structural and administrative openness that places interdisciplinarity at the centre of Faculty of Arts activity.

These considerations are merely a starting point, and there are many more ideas, visions, and risks yet to be addressed. Reimagining how we are organized will present real challenges. These challenges will include challenges of imagination, but also challenges to our sense of self and intellectual identity or, for staff, challenges associated with the fear of job losses. In confronting these challenges, we must understand the positive potential of structural change.


The responsibility for leading the Faculty of Arts Academic Restructuring Initiative rests with the Dean, acting on the advice of the Dean’s Executive Council (DEC) and Chairs Council; the final proposal for the structure of our Faculty must be approved at a meeting of Arts Faculty Council (AFC) before being submitted to an appropriate committee of General Faculties Council (GFC) for final approval by GFC and the Board of Governors. 

FAARI will unfold in three overlapping phases scheduled in response to ARWG’s timeline:

  1. collaborative consultation for the generation of ideas and identification of risks;
  2. the development of scenarios for feedback based on the visions arising from consultation; and
  3. arriving at and approving a proposal, this process timed to include engagement with ARWG recommendations.
1. Consultation & Collaboration (Timeline: late August–early October)

Consultations and the generation of ideas from across the Faculty of Arts at the outset and throughout the process is essential to its success. Imagining a differently configured Faculty means we could have entities with relatively clear disciplinary boundaries or ones that bring related programs and disciplines together in new relationships; entities that coordinate and oversee related, but functionally separate units and programs, or even more operationally independent units that are entrenched in the Faculty; we could have Departments, Schools, Divisions, or Colleges, or some combination thereof. Imagining a different structure for strategic academic leadership in Arts might include the consolidation and streamlining of current administrative roles and workloads within our units along with the creation of different roles. Imagining how we might invest differently in our already efficient organization of administrative staff might include the necessary reduction of some roles with the addition of others uniquely suited to our people. Imagining better and stronger structural and administrative approaches to interdisciplinarity might lead to exciting new ‘pathways’ for students doing an Arts BA or unique combinations for graduate training; it might inspire connections within and across units that are driven by the changing nature of faculty and student interest or by the pursuit of those big questions or ‘wicked problems’ facing us in the 21st century. There are no foregone conclusions; what is needed is the creativity of the Arts community.

The first phase of FAARI, therefore, focuses on deliberative dialogue and multifaceted consultation to support innovative thinking, encourage active participation, and allow for productive exchanges of views with faculty, staff, and students. This will include:

  • Information Town Hall, led by the Dean on Wednesday, September 9 at 11:00 a.m. MST
    Zoom meeting registration link: https://ualberta-ca.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_1l4Yd7PER6W2FOG5xnUv7Q
  • Department-based discussions led by Chairs and department leaders with stakeholders (at Departmental Councils, in small groups, across specific programs, with students and staff, etc.)
  • Non-departmental forums with different stakeholder groups (students, faculty, staff) that reach across the Faculty led by Dean and/or Vice-Dean
  • Individual input
To assist the consultation process, members of DEC and Chairs’ Council developed a set of useful questions to generate discussion and inspire reflection.
2. Scenario Planning & Feedback (Timeline: late September–early November)

Based on phase one consultations, DEC and Chairs’ Council will sketch a few scenarios for a restructured Faculty of Arts. These scenarios will be shared electronically and discussed in a range of consultative forums to be held in October and into November, and fine-tuned according to the potential progression or outcomes of the University of Alberta for Tomorrow’s ARWG and SET initiatives. The specific plans for this phase along with the type and reach of the venues for feedback will be developed as the first consultation phase comes to an end.

3. Proposal to be put before AFC (Timeline: TBD)

Based on the feedback from the scenarios and the decisions of and/or input from ARWG, DEC and Chairs’ Council will develop a proposal to be put before the Arts community at AFC. The timing will depend, in part, on Governance processes set in motion by ARWG. A detailed proposal must be shared far enough in advance to allow for active consideration and necessary refinements prior to any AFC meeting at which a decision would be taken.