Dean's Corner

October to December 2013

The academic year has reached the half-way mark. In December, students had their exams and faculty members met the dean and vice dean to review their annual reports. I hope you have all taken advantage of the Christmas holidays to spend time with family and friends, and get some much needed rest. This second quarterly report brings you up to date on several key events in the School and a preview of activities that we shall engage in during 2014.

On November 21, I put on my academic finery at the Fall Convocation and presented MPH and MSc graduates with their parchments and hooded our newly minted PhDs. Altogether, 25 students graduated. It was a moving experience, and I fully share the emotions shown by graduates and their families. 

National Forum

On November 13, some 190 students, faculty and staff gathered at Lister Centre for the National Forum on Public Health Education and Research. Representatives from several Canadian schools and programs also attended. In the morning, invited speakers and panellists discussed the past and future of public health education and research. In the afternoon, some of our faculty members and students presented their work, and throughout the day student posters were on display. The Douglas R. Wilson Award for best posters were presented to Elisa Ahn and Michael Sclegelmilch (MPH), Stephanie Kowal and Linwei Wang (MSc), and Amy Colquhoun and Jacqueline Torti (PhD). Dr. Wilson himself presented the prizes. We thank all those who helped in making the event a success.

The National Forum raises the issue concerning the future of INSIGHTS, the annual scientific day of the School, which in the past has focused on presentations by our own faculty and students. Should it be replaced by a national event with different themes each year, especially in view of the very successful Campus Alberta Students Conference on Health, which the School would very much like to support? A committee will be formed to discuss the whole issue of School-sponsored scientific events.

Faculty Evaluation

A new Faculty Evaluation Committee (FEC) was elected in October. Members are Tania Bubela, Linda Carroll, Jeff Johnson, Dev Menon, Jane Springett, and Paul Veugelers. In addition, Wendy Rodgers continues to serve as a representative of the President’s Review Committee. Penny Lightfoot, chair of the School of Public Health Alumni Chapter, sits as a non-voting member. The current FEC Guidelines were widely considered to be in urgent need of revision to improve clarity and consistency. The FEC decided on a two-stage process: an initial set of revisions were adopted by Faculty Council in December, and a more radical rewriting of the entire guidelines will be undertaken early in 2014.

Throughout December, Vice-Dean Davis and I had the opportunity to meet every faculty member to go over their annual reports. It was particularly important for me as a newcomer to get a full picture of the breadth and depth of our faculty members’ engagement with research, teaching and service. I am truly impressed by the quality of our faculty—and I shall present some statistical data later in this report to support this conclusion.

Budget Situation

As I have previously announced at a Town Hall meeting, the School’s 2014/15 base budget will be reduced by 7% of the $7.5 million in the 2013/14 budget. This translates to $530,582 that we need to cover through cuts. However, there is some relief in that 2% out of the 7% ($151,595) would be “forgiven” if the School can demonstrate a revenue generation plan to recover that amount over a five-year period. In December, the provincial government announced an infusion of $14.4 million to U of A. None of that would be used to reduce the budget cuts of individual faculties, but instead it is earmarked for “strategic” investments. The Provost’s Office will accept proposals for revenue generation that will result in a $2 return for every dollar added to the base budget under this scheme. If the term “revenue generation” appeared twice in this short paragraph, it is because this is the mantra that has been drummed into every dean’s head. This is the new/future way of running universities across Canada, as provincial government grants will account for less and less of the total budget.

Strategic Planning

The budget realities put some urgency in our stalled strategic planning exercise, which we shall re-start in the New Year. I am glad that our executive-in-residence, Aslam Bhatti, will help us in this effort. He has already reviewed and summarized all existing documents. We plan to hold several half-day retreats early in the New Year. We shall quickly confirm/validate our vision, mission, and values, and move on to mapping out some key strategic directions.

Academic Measures

And now, for the quantitative minded, here are some interesting stats. The School continues its trend of steady increase in enrolment since 2007/08, from 161 FLE to 212 in 2012-13. The number of international (visa) students has doubled over six years, accounting for 15% of students.

We do need to streamline our admissions process. We also need to determine and allocate in advance the number of places for the different degree programs and specialization. The increasing number of international students has occurred without any explicit recruitment strategy. Clearly one is needed, including scholarship support.

I am proud to state that research remains strong in our School. Our faculty members brought in over $17 million in research funds from all sources in 2012/13. Note the important contribution of provincial funding for research–in this regard, Alberta continues to be the envy of other provinces.

Among the 18 faculties in U of A, the School of Public Health ranks 5th, behind such power houses as Science; Engineering; Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences; and Medicine and Dentistry.

We need to be constantly alert to new opportunities for strategic initiatives and personnel awards offered by federal and provincial funding agencies. The CIHR funding environment is rapidly changing, with reforms in the operating grants program and the initiation of the Foundation Scheme, which can potentially benefit our School.

In closing, let me wish you all a Happy New Year.  I look forward to working with you all to accomplish various outstanding tasks and to begin actively planning for the continuing growth and development of the School.

Kue Young, Dean