Academic Restructuring Follow-up: Town Hall & GFC

Bill Flanagan & Steven Dew - 01 October 2020

We want to thank all of the faculty, staff, and students who joined in two important consultations on U of A for Tomorrow which occurred this week, first at General Faculties Council on September 28, and second, at yesterday’s town hall. At both, the focus was on the Interim Report of the Academic Restructuring Working Group. A recording of the town hall is available to view.

We heard about the essential need for genuine consultation that allows for deep engagement—and we saw evidence of that already occurring in the questions that were asked. These reflected a serious engagement with the interim report and the three scenarios presented for feedback. 

The comments and questions that are coming in through our online feedback form and email are similar. Questions like these will be critical as we refine our analysis and thinking through the process of developing a final proposal that will go for recommendation by General Faculties Council and approval by the Board of Governors in early December. Please continue to contribute your feedback here.

Continuing consultation

Over the next several weeks, we will be consulting frequently. There are five town halls planned, including one for alumni. Provost Steven Dew, Rob Munro (Executive Lead, Service Excellence Transformation), and I will be hosting roundtables for faculty, staff, and students in faculties throughout October and early November. While town halls and thought exchanges enable communication on a large scale—the Sept 30 town hall drew more than 2000 viewers and nearly 1000 participants in the thought exchange—smaller roundtables will allow for that deeper reflection that many have rightly pointed out is necessary. 

We will also continue to bring U of A for Tomorrow planning to numerous committees and stakeholders, including the Staff Advisory Team, Deans’ Council, Chairs’ Council, SU, and GSA, as well as GFC and the Board, and key governance sub-committees such as the Academic Planning Committee and the Council of Student Affairs. As president, I am also committed to working closely with NASA and AASUA executives to ensure that the impact on staff and faculty is fully considered in the process.

Key questions

At GFC on Monday, we were asked several questions about the academic restructuring scenarios, many of which have frequently come up in online and email feedback as well. Some of these relate to the cost saving estimates in the report--how they are calculated and how they can be achieved, especially if we move to a divisional model with executive deans. You can find preliminary answers to these questions in the PowerPoint presentation from yesterday’s town hall. More detailed analysis still needs to be done and will be shared with the community as the process continues and the proposals are refined based on what we hear.

At this stage, it is critical to note that restructuring cannot be about simply reducing positions and thereby shifting even greater workloads onto fewer people. We must instead rethink how and what we do and create new academic and operating models that will enable us to sustain our ability to deliver our core mission of excellence in teaching, research, and community engagement.   

Impact on positions

The top questions we heard through the town hall thought exchange focused on potential job losses and the impact on support staff. There is no doubt that our support and administrative staff play essential roles in our university and the loss of even some of our colleagues and their positions in our units, departments, and faculties is very difficult to face. To deal with our current financial challenge, layoffs have been occurring across the university over the last many months. 

As a result of government funding reductions in 2019/20 and 2020/21, last spring we announced an anticipated reduction of at least 1000 full time equivalent continuing positions through layoffs, attrition, and retirements. At fiscal year end on March 31, 2020, approximately 400 of these 1000 positions had been lost. 

We understand the high level of concern about additional job reductions and we want to provide as much clarity as we can on what we anticipate will happen the rest of this year and in the future. 

By the end of this fiscal year, we expect a further reduction of approximately 325 positions. We do not yet know with certainty how many additional job losses we may face in 2021/22, but current budget assumptions project that we will need to reduce by approximately another 325 positions. This will mean a total job reduction of 1050-1100 positions as a result of the government funding reductions. The goal of restructuring is to reorganize our work so we make these reductions wisely, achieve financial stability, and retain as many of our highly skilled, highly valued people as possible.

Approximate position reductions
Fiscal Year Approximate position reductions (full-time continuing)
2019/20 400
2020/21 325
2021/22 325
Total 1050

Upcoming Town Hall: Oct 6, 2020

We know that there is great interest in knowing more about how the two branches of U of A for Tomorrow—academic and administrative restructuring—will come together. To answer this and other questions about administrative restructuring, Rob Munro, Executive Lead, Service Excellence Transformation, will join us for a town hall on Oct 6 at 11 am. Please come to learn more about the SET progress to-date, upcoming activities and important timelines. Again your questions and feedback will be critical. If you would like to submit a question prior to the town hall, please do so here or at uat@ualberta.ca.

We will continue to address other questions in the FAQ on the U of A for Tomorrow website. If you wish to contribute to the thought exchange launched during the town hall, please do; it will remain open until the end of today (Thursday, Oct 1). You can find it here.

Thank You

As a final note, we would like to offer a special note of farewell to Gitta Kulczycki, Vice-President (Finance and Administration) who departed earlier this week to take up a new role at Dalhousie University. Over the last four years, Gitta has played an instrumental role in preparing the U of A to face our current challenges and she has worked tirelessly over the last several months to ensure SET is well-established and ready to meet the tight timelines before us. She has been an exceptional colleague and we will miss her. Martin Coutts will serve as Acting Vice-President (Finance & Administration) until Todd Gilchrist, our new VP (F&A) arrives on October 26.

Thank you for your continued engagement with U of A for Tomorrow. We look forward to continuing our community’s discussions at faculty roundtables and the town hall next week.

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