Recap of July 8 Town Hall on Academic Restructuring

By Bill Flanagan and Steven Dew

By Bill Flanagan and Steven Dew

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First, we want to thank everyone who participated in yesterday’s town hall on academic restructuring. More than 2,100 people joined us for the livestream, and more than 12,000 people have watched the recording. In addition, 1,000 people participated in our first-ever Thoughtexchange forum, sharing and interacting with more than 800 thoughts.

Your feedback is of great value to us and will help to inform and shape our proposals for academic restructuring.

For those of you who were unable to join us, a recording of the town hall is available here.

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As mentioned during yesterday’s town hall, Academic Restructuring is one of the two components that make up U of A for Tomorrow — the other component being the Service Excellence Transformation (SET), our administrative restructuring initiative. Led by the Academic Restructuring Working Group (ARWG), Academic Restructuring focuses on proposing changes to the organizational structure of the university.

Academic Restructuring is accountable to the university’s main governance bodies: the General Faculties Council and the Board of Governors. Any final proposal will require their approval. While the urgent motivation for pursuing restructuring is financial, there are many long-term benefits to academic reorganization: namely, opportunities for the U of A to be more nimble and collaborative in delivering its core teaching and research mission.

Yesterday we introduced Thoughtexchange as a tool for consulting our U of A community, and we were very pleased with the responses and comments that emerged. Thoughtexchange uses machine learning and AI to sort comments and present each participant with a representative sample. Participants need to rate no more than 30 comments before Thoughtexchange is able to rank the top thoughts of the whole group of participants.

Here are some of the top-rated questions and concerns that surfaced during the town hall, and the answers we provided:

1) Why are there no support staff included on the ARWG?

Because ARWG is focused on the academic side of restructuring, its membership is composed primarily of academic leaders and faculty members. But support staff also hold an important perspective, and we encourage them to contribute to the process through Thoughtexchange, town halls, email, and the University of Alberta for Tomorrow question form. This feedback will be shared with the ARWG, and will help to inform their final proposal. Support staff representatives also hold key roles on the governance bodies that will ultimately approve a restructuring proposal.

2) What are the criteria for determining faculty mergers or reorganizations?

The ARWG is early in its activity, but we started with a set of principles derived from For the Public GoodFor the Public Good as our guiding blueprint. We will discuss criteria in detail as we work through viable scenarios, but at this point we can speak to two factors: the first factor is the financial imperatives we face, and our need for greater efficiency. The second factor is EDI: we want to ensure that any final proposal is consistent with and continues to advance our institutional commitments to EDI.

3) When restructuring the operations of faculties to combine them together, how many job losses are expected, and what types of jobs?

We spend most of our revenue on salaries, so the actual number of job losses will ultimately be determined by the magnitude of budget cuts. The objective of Academic Restructuring and SET is to ensure that the team we do have is doing the right work in the right way to effectively support the academic mission.

4) The speed through which academic restructuring will take place is alarming and resultantly, very stressful.

We are moving very quickly. This is not an ideal situation: the aggressive timeline and the magnitude of the changes stem from the $110 million reduction in our Campus Alberta Grant this year, with anticipated annual reductions of $53 million in each of the two subsequent years. Despite the tight timeline, we are committed to a meaningful and frequent consultation process. We do not make changes of this magnitude easily, and we do not discount the anxiety that these changes produce.

5) What is the approach for determining which faculties/units will be grouped together?

We are exploring a spectrum of faculty scenarios and studying organizational models at other institutions, and plan to develop a few viable scenarios to bring forward for further discussion. These early scenarios will help us identify some of the tough questions that we will need to wrestle with, and the key data and information that should feed into our decisions. All of this work will be guided by the ARWG’s principles, and we will provide further updates on methodology in the weeks and months ahead.

We have now opened a second forum on academic restructuring that will remain open until July 15. We encourage everyone in the university community and beyond to share their thoughts and engage in the conversation on academic restructuring:

Participate in the Thoughtexchange forum here

We will share what we learn from this exchange, and provide answers and reflections in response. This exchange will help develop a prioritized list of ideas to help guide the work of the ARWG.

We will continue to update the FAQ section of the U of A for Tomorrow website with questions posed through Thoughtexchange. As a reminder, you can also submit questions and comments about U of A for Tomorrow at any time using this form.

Along with Vice-president (Finance and Administration) Gitta Kulczycki, we will be hosting another town hall on SET and how we deliver academic support services next week. We invite everyone to join us:

Town Hall on Service Excellence Transformation (SET)
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
11 am — noon

We will once again be using Thoughtexchange to engage with you, and the town hall will be livestreamed and accessible through the homepage.

Thank you again for your critical engagement with this transformation. We look forward to seeing your responses and hearing your thoughts at the next town hall on July 15. We are likewise committed to engaging with and responding to your feedback, and will continue to post updates on The Quad and the U of A for Tomorrow website throughout this process.

Bill Flanagan, President and Vice-chancellor
Steven Dew, Provost and Vice-president (Academic)