Reflections on Academic Restructuring Feedback

Bill Flanagan and Steven Dew reflect on some of the major themes that emerged from conversations on academic restructuring.

16 July 2020

We want to thank everyone for the tremendous engagement and feedback that we have received on Academic Restructuring over the past week. More than 2000 people participated in the two thought exchanges in the past week, providing highly valuable feedback to us. We know that this is an initiative that matters deeply to all members of the university community. Your thoughtful insights, questions, and considerations are key. We are committed to taking your input to our working groups and incorporating it into the proposals that are being explored. We look forward to continuing this consultation throughout the duration of our strategic restructuring, and to sharing further details with you as soon as they become available.

Today, we want to reflect on some of the major themes that emerged from our conversations on academic restructuring last week:

  • The U of A for Tomorrow process, and the Academic Restructuring Working Group composition
  • Uncertainty over faculty restructuring
  • Job losses
  • Safeguarding the student experience

U of A for Tomorrow Process

One of the highest-rated thoughts that emerged reads: “I feel we are being asked to comment on a big, black box. Clearly decisions are in the works, but we don’t know what they are. Please give us something concrete to comment on.”

The questions and ideas we are asking for feedback on at this stage are necessarily broad and open-ended. We need a better sense of the priorities, concerns, challenges, and opportunities that matter most to our community. Though the process of restructuring must move quickly, we are still in the beginning phase. We will continue to consult with you as we develop more concrete proposals, and seek your feedback at multiple stages.

A number of people have expressed concern about how the UAT process is considering international models of restructuring. We have looked abroad because the magnitude and pace of change required have not been experienced by any Canadian university in recent times. We are looking to Australian and UK models for their experiences in improving both efficiency and service effectiveness through restructuring, not for their labour relations approaches or international recruitment strategies.

In response to the concerns about the membership of the advisory groups working on the University of Alberta for Tomorrow, we are working on ways to better include staff and faculty perspectives. For example, we are in the early stages of establishing a staff advisory group. The group will include staff representatives from faculties and academic support units. We are exploring using the same group for input on both initiatives. We are still working out the details and will provide more information soon. As we start to make decisions about changes, we will be distributing regular surveys through email as another way of gathering feedback.

Faculty Restructuring

There are several questions about the criteria being used to determine faculty restructuring. We want to reiterate: no decisions about faculty restructuring have yet been made. The Academic Restructuring Working Group is early in the process of modelling and assessing different scenarios, taking into account the feedback given in venues like our town halls.

The possible scenarios will be presented in fall 2020 for feedback in a variety of venues. We are also regularly engaging with the General Faculties Council and Board of Governors, who will have ultimate approval of the proposal. The final proposal must advance the best interests of the university, further enrich our ability to serve our community, and reflect the university’s ongoing commitment to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in all that we do.

Academic restructuring focuses specifically on the organizational structure of the faculties, not on the specific programming being offered. It will eventually be up to each unit and department to decide if and how to evolve the programs that they offer. This is not an exercise in cutting programs, but in redefining the units that deliver those programs.

Job Losses

As we said last week, we do not make changes of this magnitude easily and we recognize the anxiety and concern that these changes produce. However, most of the U of A’s budget is used to pay its employees. The significant cuts to our budget through the Campus Alberta Grant means that there will inevitably be a reduction in jobs. Contractual obligations prevent cuts and layoffs in certain areas and for certain roles. While we do not yet know for certain how many and which jobs will be affected, we understand that the fear of job loss is very stressful for the entire university community.

The Student Experience

We’ve heard from students, faculty and staff alike that protecting the quality of education and educational experience — and access to student supports — is absolutely essential. We agree. An outstanding educational experience is core to our mission and our priorities in this restructuring.

Next Steps

Next week, on July 23, we will delve into feedback from the July 15 town hall on Service Excellence Transformation (SET) and the ongoing Thoughtexchange discussion — and we encourage you to add your voice to this conversation. In the meantime, you can learn more about SET on the U of A for Tomorrow website.

Thank you again for your continued engagement in the U of A for Tomorrow process.

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


You can also view the data reports from each Thoughtexchange forum here:

Report: July 8 — What are your thoughts and questions about academic restructuring?

Report: July 8–15 — What are the most important opportunities and challenges of academic restructuring?

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