Frequently Asked Questions — Academic Restructuring

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the academic restructuring arm of the University of Alberta for Tomorrow initiative.

Questions from June 15 town hall

*NEW What is happening to the roles of associate deans and associate chairs?

We currently have over 300 professors in academic leadership roles, mostly as associate deans and associate chairs. These are very dedicated and hardworking individuals who are essential to the success of the university. However, their distribution is based on the organizational structure rather than the number of faculty members or students served. With the introduction of the colleges, there is an opportunity to think differently about how we deploy professors into these leadership positions to focus them more on strategic outcomes and reduce the total number needed, thereby increasing our academic capacity.

This has to be worked through carefully, so we are establishing a task group consisting of people from across these different leadership positions to reconsider from first principles what expertise we need and where in the organization they should be located. It should conclude its work by the end of September.

We are in the process of finalizing the membership, with the first meeting scheduled for June 18. We will be sharing more information on the working group next week.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Will senior leadership within faculties other than faculty managers be involved in the types of tasks that will be absorbed by the colleges? It will be beneficial to have frontline workers involved in these discussions as they know best what will work centrally and what needs to stay with departments or faculties.

While the number of academic leaders will decrease through the process outlined above, they will still provide the leadership for academic services and some strategic initiatives. In all areas, academic leaders and faculty are being consulted on how work should/could be redistributed between colleges, faculties, departments, and university.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW How do you plan to include the three stand-alone faculties? What is the role, structure and relationships of stand-alone faculties within the college model?

The role, structure and relationships of stand-alone faculties are mainly unaffected by the introduction of colleges. The colleges are already being purposeful about including each other and the stand-alone faculties in key initiatives.

It is important to note that the Deans' Council remains the primary decision and coordinating body across the institution and strategic forum for academic initiatives and budget discussions. The standalone faculties, as well as every other faculty, remain participants at that table. As well, governance bodies such as GFC are essentially unaffected by the college model.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Who do the faculty deans report to? And what exactly does “first among equals” mean? If faculty deans do not report to the college dean, what is the purpose of a college dean?

The faculty deans continue to report to the provost and remain accountable to the provost for their people, budget and academic programming. “First among equals” means that college deans have the authority to convene the conversation within the college about coordination, collaboration and innovation and provide leadership on joint initiatives established by the Council of Deans. College deans also oversee much of the administration within the college. Faculty and college deans will need to collaborate to ensure administration is managed effectively to support the academic activities. In the event of an impasse, the matter will be brought to the provost for resolution.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Instead of reducing the number of faculties as you initially planned, you've added a layer of administration with the colleges. How is this more efficient?

The college model is intended to achieve the efficiencies of consolidating the faculties into fewer units while retaining the identity of the existing faculties. The decision to preserve the identity of our faculties was a key outcome of the academic restructuring consultations in the fall. To achieve the same efficiencies through the establishment of the colleges, we must change the way faculties and departments function. There must be a consolidation of services and functions at a higher level in the organization. This will be accomplished as the colleges coordinate administrative services, set up education, research, and graduate offices, and bring the leadership of strategic initiatives to the college level. Consolidation at the college level will play a key role in helping us to maintain the quality of services and achieve the $95M in savings needed.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW What is happening with the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR)? Will graduate-level student funding be delivered as now (by FGSR) or change to colleges or other unit?

For now, nothing has changed with respect to FGSR and the services they provide, including the administration of graduate-level student funding within the U of A. FGSR, alongside University of Alberta International, the Registrar’s Office, and the Office of the Dean of Students, are all currently undertaking a visioning process to determine how these offices can best operate within and support our transformed university environment. Once that process is complete, we will discuss how each unit can best interface with the new offices established in the colleges. Until then, the delivery of graduate level funding will not change.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW How will the college academic services offices be funded? Will it come from faculties or from central?

Revenue to fund the college budgets will derive from a charge applied against the college’s constituent faculties. The exact calculation of this charge is yet to be determined, but two approaches are currently being considered: (1) applying a levy at a common rate within the college across faculty base budgets, or (2) applying a levy at a service-by-service level based on drivers of that service from each faculty. The colleges will provide services universally to their constituent faculties; faculties will not be able to opt-in our opt-out of specific services. College budgets will be set early in the annual budget planning cycle to ensure faculties are able to complete their planning with some assurance of what the college levy will be.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW What tools or metrics will be used to measure success and to ensure improvement over time?

A set of simple metrics around financial gains, maintenance of shared services quality and interdisciplinary activities have been developed by the Academic Planning Committee and endorsed by the GFC. The colleges will undertake a more comprehensive strategic planning process this fall with the idea of identifying more specific measures, opportunities, initiatives and outcomes for each college. Along with that plan, the development of clear milestones and metrics is expected. 

It is also important to note that a key element of the new Shared Services unit will be the Continuous Improvement Team, charged with measuring service satisfaction levels and ensuring that shared administrative services and functions meet the needs of the institution efficiently and effectively.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Who will decide how to spend revenues such as the Research Support Funds - academics or non-academic administrators?

There is no change. Academics will continue to make all decisions about core aspects of teaching, learning, and research.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW How will we transition to this new model without causing chaos for our students?

The intention of the operating model is to introduce more clarity for students in terms of  where to go for which service. The front-facing aspects of student services and all other services will not occur abruptly. As partners are put in place, this transition will happen over a year and continue to evolve. Students will still work and interface with central student services and with their faculties. Administration of programs, which are the main home for students, remains in the faculty.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW What are the benefits from a student success point of view?

We are changing to increase resources for teaching and research, and to provide more consistency in both experience and opportunity for all students. Within colleges, students will have increased exposure to other faculties and disciplines and opportunity for more collaboration.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW What is happening to Extension? Where do Extension and continuing education fit in this new operating model?

In summer 2020, the academic programs within Extension were moved into the Faculty of Arts, School of Public Health, Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, Alberta School of Business, Faculty of Education, and Faculty of Science. We are now in the process of changing the status of Extension from faculty to administrative unit. A proposal will go to GFC for recommendation in the fall. Extension’s current role in the provision of a range of continuing and professional education programs has not changed. Indeed, the purpose of these changes is to increase Extension leadership in continuing education, growing their own programs and helping all faculties and units to develop and deliver continuing and professional education programs.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Will the provost and/or the college deans be providing money for hiring and/or training for EDI initiatives at the department level?

A decision like this would be made as part of overall budget planning. Revenue to fund the college budgets will derive from a charge applied against the college’s constituent faculties. The exact calculation of this charge is yet to be determined, but two approaches are currently being considered: (1) applying a levy at a common rate within the college across faculty base budgets, or (2) applying a levy at a service-by-service level based on drivers of that service from each faculty. The colleges will provide services universally to their constituent faculties; faculties will not be able to opt-in our opt-out of specific services. College budgets will be set early in the annual budget planning cycle to ensure faculties are able to complete their planning with some assurance of what the college levy will be.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Will the stakeholders for the strategic planning at the college level include department chairs?

Yes, the strategic planning processes for each of the three colleges will include opportunities for any internal stakeholder member to participate, should they want to do so. This includes department chairs, as well as all other academic and non-academic staff members and students.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW How exactly will joint programming be possible in colleges with professional schools and accreditation processes?

Programming in faculties and professional schools related to accreditation processes will not be affected.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW How are you ensuring you have on-the-ground insights into the real challenges of faculty and ATS who are teaching larger and larger classes, with less and less support? How are you involving the frontline workers, who know best what will work centrally and what needs to stay with departments or faculties?

A main objective of the new operating model is to ensure that we can continue to provide high quality administrative support with fewer dollars and people. To achieve this we must restructure how we currently deliver those services to faculty and ATS who are focused on the core activities of teaching and research. Since launching UAT and SET, hundreds of faculty and staff have been engaged in multiple consultations, developing service catalogues, organizational design, and transition processes to ensure that their needs will be met. Once in place, a key element of the new Shared Services will be the Continuous Improvement Team, charged with measuring service satisfaction levels and ensuring that activities meet the needs of the institution efficiently and effectively.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Are our alternate revenue strategies aggressive enough to cover this over the next 2 to 4 years without having to pass on massive tuition increases to students?

Tuition will continue to increase an average of 7% across all programs for at least one more year. However, we are also committed to increasing student aid, both by dedicating a portion of these increases to U of A financial student supports and by strongly advocating that the provincial government increases its students financial support system. In addition to these strategies, one of the key objectives of UAT is to reduce our per student administrative costs and grow our revenue to ensure that maximum resources are devoted to maintaining a high quality of student experience at an accessible cost to students. We are on target to meeting all of these objectives.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Scale and growth are not magic wands — without robust recruitment of full-time permanent, tenure-track positions. We need both; otherwise it just intensifies work for remaining faculty.

We agree. Enrolment growth will increase revenues that can be invested in renewal of full-time, permanent faculty positions. Growth in both areas must be coordinated and strategic.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Can you give an example of a model where experiential learning and work-integrated learning will be coordinated and managed at the college level?

One example could be the Science Internship Program. Originally set up as a work integrated learning experience for Faculty of Science undergraduate students, the program has recently expanded to combine the ALES internship and Science Internship into one program, available to all BSc students from these two faculties. Additionally, we are piloting with CSJ and Augustana to open the program up to include their BSc students. Currently this is coordinated collaboratively between ALES and Science, but converstains are occurring to explore if it should be administered at the college level.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW Please provide more detail on how the colleges are anticipated to enable interdisciplinary research? It would seem that the colleges will be more like silos.

The current functions, processes, events, etc. that enable multi- and interdisciplinary work today will continue to do so into the future. The colleges will build on this work and improve the scope, processes and structure of interdisciplinary research and academic programming by breaking down barriers to collaboration and partnership both within and across colleges. One of the college deans’ first initiatives will be to lead a strategic planning process within each college to explore and define the opportunities for increased coordination and collaboration. This process will include broad consultations with internal and external stakeholders throughout the fall, with a plan completed by December 2021.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

*NEW There have been many indications that student growth will come from the implementation of new online programs, continuing education, and microcredentials. I have yet to hear, however, about plans related to current staff who have skills and are focused on program development and specifically, educational technology / online learning. Any idea where staff who develop and support educational technology will wind up within the new university structures?

The Centre for Teaching and Learning will remain under the umbrella of the Provost’s Office.

[Updated June 24, 2021]

Colleges

What is the purpose of establishing colleges at the U of A?

The decision to establish three colleges is the outcome of the academic restructuring process begun in June 2020 and approved by General Faculties Council and the Board of Governors in December 2020. These colleges will group 13 of our faculties in a way that will help us achieve significant savings in administrative costs. Of equal importance, these new colleges will coordinate and enhance the university’s ability to enrich teaching, research and community engagement, especially along interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lines. The colleges will enhance the university’s ability to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time, including advancing human health and wellness, science that advances knowledge and improves lives, and building a society with justice, equity and opportunity for all. Although grouped, the faculties within each of the colleges will remain, preserving their unique identity and history, with faculty deans having authority over all academic decisions.

What are the academic visions of each college?

The academic vision for each college will be developed through broad consultation by the  college deans in the coming months. Broadly speaking:

  • The College of Health Sciences will enable a new level of interdisciplinary research and teaching that can advance the whole spectrum of human health and wellness in our local communities and around the world.
  • The College of Natural and Applied Sciences will span the entire range of scientific teaching and research, from pure and fundamental discovery that advances our understanding of the world around us to the direct application of science in a way that can touch and improve all of our lives.
  • Through critical inquiry, the College of Social Sciences and Humanities will expand the boundaries of knowledge and understanding of ourselves and of our society, taking the lead in teaching and research on all dimensions of fostering an inclusive, creative, equitable, just, prosperous, free and democratic society, with opportunity and well-being for all.
When will the colleges be launched?

The new colleges will launch on July 1, 2021. Over the next six months, the college deans will start the planning process to create the new colleges, including developing a strategic plan to foster interdisciplinary teaching and research within and between the three colleges and developing a model for shared administrative services.

How were college deans selected?

President Flanagan and Provost Dew worked with the deans, senior university leaders and the Board Human Resources and Compensation Committee (BHRCC)  to develop a position profile for the new role of college dean. As per the Board’s motion, the college deans were selected from amongst the existing faculty deans based on consultations with each of them.

What are college deans responsible for?

Each college dean is responsible for the administration of the college and will work closely with the Council of Deans on the progress in implementing the new college. Each faculty will continue to be led by a dean who reports to the provost. After 18 months, the president will undertake a review of the college administrative and leadership structure and report to the Board of Governors and GFC. The board will also develop metrics to assess the colleges’ performance, and over the next 12 months, regular reports will be provided to the board and GFC.

How does the role of the college dean differ from faculty dean?

College deans are responsible for high level strategy for the college, building interdisciplinary bridges and major research initiatives and overseeing the management of the shared services for the college. They lead and resource strategic college initiatives, determine cross-faculty priorities, and enhance alignment between faculty goals and strategic college objectives. 

Faculty deans will continue to handle all academic functions, including program curricula, program quality, accreditation, and faculty/individual research initiatives. They control the faculty budget and oversee all matters relating to faculty and instructor appointments and FECs.

Do faculty deans report to college deans?
No. Faculty deans will continue to report to the provost.
Why aren’t departments being considered at this point?

The review of departments will follow and be guided by the reorganization of faculties. At this stage of the process, the Academic Restructuring Working Group (ARWG) is focused on faculty-level reorganization, but to achieve the full benefits of a reorganization, will also need to review department structure (both the number and organization of departments). Over time this will influence the organization of academic programs. It is critical that department reorganization be responsive to specific contextual factors and needs. The ARWG is considering principles to inform department-level considerations, to be discussed with GFC and other governance bodies.

Why isn’t FGSR being considered an academic unit and part of the scenarios? How will connections to FGSR be maintained?

FGSR has not been included in the scenarios because, although it does perform important academic functions, it is a unit that serves the entire institution and cannot be consolidated or grouped together with any other specific faculties. Once we have decided on a new academic structure, we can then consider how best to support graduate students across the institution and integrate FGSR into the new structure.

How will the addition of a new college layer result in cost savings?

As demonstrated in the chart below, UAT has set an ambitious goal for the university, to reduce our administrative costs by $95M while at the same time maintaining a consistent level of high-quality services to our faculty, staff and students. 

The new colleges will play a key role in achieving administrative savings. Due to economies of scale, we know that larger academic units can provide high-quality administrative services at a much lower cost. Without creating larger academic units, we simply could not achieve our targeted savings without serious adverse impacts on teaching and research. 

To successfully achieve savings in leadership costs, we will need to not only reduce the number of leadership positions, but also reduce the amount of leadership work that needs to be done. Economies of scale will decrease the number of leadership positions per faculty member. Elevating academic functions higher into the organizational structure will assist this scaling. Much leadership time is currently taken up by committees that need a representative from each unit. Reducing the number of units directly reduces the size of the committee without creating a workload gap. Finally, some careful reexamination and standardization of our processes should be able to reduce total workload and reduce the bureaucracy of the organization with little negative impact.

Maintaining our commitment to accountability and service excellence, throughout this transformation we will continually monitor and report on levels of service satisfaction with a clear focus on meeting the needs of all our service users, including faculty, staff and students.

spending-on-administrative-supports.png

Given the current fiscal restraints, how is the university going to maintain an inclusive environment that supports and promotes equity, diversity, and inclusion?

The U of A has a strong commitment to EDI, and the academic restructuring process must support and reflect our Strategic Plan for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity. The decision to preserve the identity and autonomy of the Faculty of Native Studies and Campus St. Jean reflects the university’s continuing commitment to Indigenous and French-language teaching, research, and community engagement.

We have also been asked how we will reduce harm to historically marginalized groups as academic leadership positions are reduced. This is an issue that we know we must keep in the foreground. Recent changes to recruitment and appointments policy will aid us there. In addition, the ARWG continues to work with the university’s EDI team and Senior Advisor, Equity and Human Rights to apply an EDI lens to its work and evaluate EDI impacts. We hosted a town hall for equity-seeking groups and established an ad hoc advisory group made up of members of equity seeking groups. We will continue to invite input and engagement throughout our process.

Why are Campus Saint-Jean, Augustana, and Native Studies being retained as stand-alone faculties?

Early in the Academic Restructuring Working Group's consultations, it heard clearly that Campus Saint-Jean, Augustana, and Native Studies each have unique, community-oriented mandates. The ARWG has recommended that consolidating these faculties could compromise their ability to fulfill these mandates.

How will it work?

How will budget allocations to current faculties/departments work in a college model?

The university’s budget model uses a formula that assigns budget to faculties based primarily on their core activity (teaching and research). In addition, faculties may receive funding for special purposes (e.g. where they operate specialized facilities), and receive the revenue they generate through specialized tuition rates (e.g. market modifiers), dedicated fees, revenue-generating activities (e.g. professional education), and donations.

This model will remain in place. Under a college scenario, each faculty would receive an allocation based on the budget model, with a portion allocated to the college to cover the cost of administrative functions and initiatives now delivered at the college level. Each faculty will continue to receive any special program-based tuition revenue and any earmarked donation income.

How do we ensure that smaller faculties retain voice and influence in a larger college?

We recognize that each of our current faculties represents important perspectives, fields of knowledge, and community relationships. Under a college model, faculties remain intact within each college. This means that existing governance structures, such as Faculty Councils, General Faculties Council, and Deans’ Council, will remain in place, and small faculties will continue to have a formal voice. The ARWG is still working through how the internal governance of colleges might work, and how best to preserve the voice of smaller units.

How will the new academic structure encourage interdisciplinarity?

Increasing interdisciplinary collaborations in both programming and research is a key goal of academic restructuring. Bringing together small units within a larger umbrella will remove some organizational barriers to collaboration, and will make it easier to form other structures that bring together educators and researchers from across disciplines — such as cross-disciplinary teams, shared program groups, institutes, or other novel structures. At the same time, the ARWG recognizes that reorganizing our faculties will not accomplish these goals on its own. Any new academic structure will also need to promote new, and sustain current, collaboration that will occur across any new colleges or faculties. In the next phase of the academic restructuring process, we will review opportunities to enhance the effectiveness of cross-disciplinary structures like centres and institutes.

How will academic restructuring impact programs? Will any programs be eliminated?

There will be no immediate impacts on programming. Programs can only be established and eliminated through governance processes, as per the Post-secondary Learning Act. All students entering or currently enrolled in a program will complete that program. We anticipate that academic restructuring will lead to opportunities for greater coordination of programming in the future as well to opportunities for the development of new interdisciplinary, technology-enhanced programming.

How will the implementation of the college model affect students?

While 13 of the faculties have been grouped into three colleges, they will maintain their identity and an individual faculty dean. Degrees will continue to be controlled and associated with the faculty. This high-level institutional restructuring does not affect individual programs and departments. The colleges will support even more interdisciplinarity opportunities for our students.

Some student services will be affected by the transition to the college model; more details will be shared as they become available. The Service Excellence Transformation transition plan provides some information on the planning, approach, and timeline for moving to the new administrative operating model.