U of A Faculty of Education transitions to new academic structure

Non-departmentalized structure centres student experience, fosters collaboration and connection

Faculty of Education - 29 June 2022

There’s more to the story of the Faculty of Education’s academic restructuring than just the need to adapt to financial challenges among Alberta’s post-secondary institutions.

Before there was University of Alberta for Tomorrow and Service Excellence Transformation, there was Education for the Public Good, the Faculty of Education’s 2019-2024 strategic plan — a vision of a flourishing, diverse and sustainable Faculty that excels, innovates and transforms society through high quality, meaningful teaching, research and service.

Part of this commitment was to review the current organization of four departments and a school in the Faculty with the aim to create efficiencies, improve stewardship of human and financial resources, and strengthen teaching and research synergies across all program areas.

“Separate from the reality of budget cuts, and in the context of our strategic planning process in 2017-2018, faculty and staff expressed the need to break down existing silos in the Faculty,and reorient ourselves to how we work together ” says Dean of Education Dr. Jennifer Tupper.

“Faculty, staff and students expressed a desire to consider different ways of organizing ourselves academically, to explore opportunities for collaboration across the Faculty, program areas and specializations. Academic restructuring presents new and enhanced possibilities for interdisciplinary research and teaching across program areas and specializations.”

But in light of those strategic commitments, mounting budgetary pressures, an academic hiring freeze and significant institutional change, the Faculty of Education could wait no longer to consider academic restructuring. In late 2020, with the extensive consultations around the strategic plan fresh in the Faculty’s collective memory and its core values as a guide, a new round of consultation and feedback with faculty, staff and students commenced with the goal of arriving at a new Faculty structure to ensure the best use of resources in pursuing the core mission of transformative teaching, research and service.

Guided by the concept of mâmawohkamâtowin

At the request of the faculty and staff, draft scenarios for restructuring were put forward by the Dean’s Advisory Council in November 2020, followed by three round-table sessions that drew 200 participants, a support-staff town hall, five drop-in Zoom sessions and breakout discussions at Education Faculty Council. By May, the Faculty community had arrived at the conclusion that academic restructuring was necessary, and that a non-departmentalized structure presented the most sustainable option for fostering connections, strengthening collaborations, and enhancing program delivery.

“Our restructuring vision recognizes that our programs are the lifeblood of the Faculty, and places the undergraduate and graduate student experience at the centre of our decision-making,” Tupper says.

The new structure reflects the Cree concept of mâmawohkamâtowin, says professor of educational policy studies Dr. Evelyn Steinhauer.

“mâmawohkamâtowin can be described as working together collaboratively in all aspects of our being — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual — working as equals with love, kindness and compassion. mâmawohkamâtowin requires us to let go of our egos, keeping in mind that everything we do is for the greater good. It is for the students, and children past, present and future,” Steinhauer says.

Arriving at a shared vision for restructuring and having it proceed through Faculty and institutional approvals was just the start of the work, and much needed to be accomplished by the self-imposed implementation date of July 1, 2022. In December 2021, a steering committee including the Faculty and College Deans and representation from faculty, staff, and students was struck, and working groups focused on governance, administration, leadership and academic communities of practice were empaneled. A special advisor, Dr. Farha Shariff, was appointed to ensure considerations of equity, diversity, inclusivity and decolonization remain at the heart of consultations and decision-making around restructuring. A restructuring website was launched in the spring of 2022 to apprise stakeholders of background information and key decisions, and to invite questions and feedback about the process.

With transition to a non-departmentalized structure on track for July 1, work will continue to roll out new organizational processes, ensure consistent support to staff, faculty and students, seek feedback and refine how the Faculty of Education functions as a unified whole.