Recap of October 6 Town Hall on SET

Bill Flanagan, Steven Dew, & Rob Munro - 08 October 2020

Following on the Sept 30 town hall on academic restructuring, Rob Munro (Executive Lead, Service Excellence Transformation), Provost Steven Dew, and I hosted a town hall on October 6 about the second branch of U of A for Tomorrow, administrative restructuring. We want to thank the many staff, faculty, and students who joined us and asked questions through Thought Exchange. We had about 1300 people on the livestream with 770 participating in the exchange. 

A recording of the town hall is available to view:

Over these two town halls, we have heard understandable concerns from our community about the impact of budget reductions on the university’s workforce. Living with uncertainty and worry about the future is difficult, and in a post shared on Friday, we have provided more clarity about job losses. The announcement last spring of an approximate total reduction of 1000 full-time equivalent, continuing positions has not changed. As of last fiscal year, 400 positions were lost and over this year and next there will be a further 650. 

Transition and change

At this week’s town hall, we were asked for more details–how layoffs would happen, how people will be transitioned from one position to another, and when changes might begin to happen. There are concerns that workloads will be unsustainable. We agree. This is why we have launched U of A for Tomorrow and why we are creating new, consolidated academic and administrative structures. We cannot continue to do our work as we have done with more than 1000 fewer people. Our goal is to restructure, so that we can continue to serve and support the core teaching, research and service mission of the university effectively and efficiently. We also want to make sure that our staff have rewarding, sustainable roles and clearer career paths in the future.

Today, we are still in the preliminary stages of administrative restructuring, and as we noted at the town hall, there are many details that still need to be worked out before we are able to answer all of your questions. We do not yet have transition plans in place but recognize how crucial this information is to our staff. It is important to note that not all members of staff will change roles, responsibilities, or units, but where there is change, to the greatest extent possible we are committed to migrating existing staff to new positions and will put in processes to support these transitions including retraining. As we have more information to share on this process, we will keep you informed.

Proposed operating framework

As Rob explained at the town hall, we have developed a proposed operating framework that will go before the Board of Governors (BoG) for consideration on Oct 16. To reach this point, we reviewed the full spectrum of operating models that are used at universities across Canada, UK and Australia, from fully centralized models to completely devolved models. Both ends of the spectrums have pros and cons, but a completely centralized model is too much of a culture shift from what we have now, and a completely devolved or decentralized model is too expensive. We expect to land on a more blended model framework based on what we have learned from others and the discussions and consultations we have had so far.

More than 30 one-to-one consultations were held with different stakeholders across the university in the initial scoping stages of the SET program and in the development of the operating framework. The SET team held 31 design workshops with more than 130 leaders of faculties and portfolios. Another round of workshops will be held with these leaders to test and refine the future model. 

We do need to hear more from frontline staff as we move into the detailed planning surrounding the specific processes and services, because they are the ones actually doing the work. Staff input will be critical to making this new structure work.

Consultation update

Below, you will find answers to some of the questions asked about SET at the town hall. Several other new questions about both SET and the Interim Report of the Academic Working Groups are now available on the U of A for Tomorrow FAQ

Over this last week, we have met with six faculties for roundtables where we have had engaged conversations, heard more insightful questions, different ideas for consolidating faculties, and thoughtful analysis of the opportunities and potential pitfalls for both the university as a whole and for specific faculties. Our thanks to everyone who has attended and shared your thoughts. We will ultimately meet with all of the faculties and will be adding roundtable dates to the calendar for staff and faculty in the central units and portfolios.

Thank you all for your continued engagement in U of A for Tomorrow.

Bill Flanagan
President and Vice-Chancellor

Steven Dew
Provost and Vice-President (Academic)

Rob Munro
Executive Lead, Service Excellence Transformation


Questions asked and answered at the SET town hall:

How will people be let go? Will they have to reapply/compete for new adjusted positions?
A transition plan is still in development, so we don’t have all the details on this subject yet. However, we are committed to maintaining our existing workforce as much as possible, following all labour relations processes and collective agreements and ensuring that our staff are as successful as possible in their roles.

At the University of Sydney, a large portion of the support workers were let go and then rehired at a lower rate... Is that a strategy the U of A will use as well?
No, that is not going to be our strategy. In all cases, we will be following our own existing human resource labour administration processes and collective agreements. 

Can you give an example of a service activity that flows through the new model?
For example, an activity such as budgeting would occur within the Finance Centre of Excellence with the faculties having access through their designated Service Partner who will help with the whole budgeting process. There might also be aspects of that going through the transaction hub, such as payroll. 

What are the timelines for centralizing service units?
The main milestone coming up that will determine next steps is the BOG meeting on Oct 16 where we will be taking the proposed operating model framework for the Board’s consideration. Any further steps are contingent upon that approval. In the meantime, we have been working to collect and understand the different processes and activities within the various functional areas, like IT, Finance, etc. From this activity, we will have a better sense of what activities will end up in a transaction hub or a service centre, what remains in the faculties, and the like. We anticipate that there may be some centralization as early as November, but the bulk of the activity will start in January and will be a longer process from that point. We'll prioritize the services we think we can move early on and will continue the restructuring through 2021 and 2022. 

What is going to the Board on Oct 16?
We will be providing a proposed operating model framework as well as a high-level organizational structure for their review. This will include details about each of the different elements within the framework, examples of the activities within them, the potential size of the units as well as some case studies from other organizations that have these systems in place. If approved, details will be shared publicly shortly after the meeting. 

See more U of A for Tomorrow FAQs here »