UAT Update: Three New Colleges

Bill Flanagan - 14 January 2021

On December 11, 2020, in a historic decision, the Board of Governors adopted the recommendation of General Faculties Council (GFC) to establish three new colleges effective July 1, 2021. 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 deepen and diversify 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.

The establishment of these three colleges enjoyed the broad support of both GFC and the board. This remarkable achievement demonstrated the university community’s ability to work together over a very tight time frame to develop highly innovative solutions to our immediate financial challenges and, at the same time, advance interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teaching and research. 

New Colleges

The new College of Health Sciences will bring together the combined strength of all our health sciences faculties, including medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, public health, rehabilitation medicine, and kinesiology, sport, and recreation. This new college will include a total of over 750 faculty members and 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students, enabling 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 new College of Natural and Applied Sciences will bring together the combined strength of our faculties of science, engineering, agricultural, life and environmental sciences. This new College will include a total of over 600 faculty members and 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students, spanning 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.

The new College of Social Sciences and Humanities will bring together the combined strength of our faculties of arts, education, business and law. This new college will represent a total of 500 faculty members and 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Through critical inquiry, this new college will expand the boundaries of knowledge and understanding of ourselves and of our society. From the creative arts and the humanities to education, law and business, this college can take 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. 

The three colleges will also work closely together, fostering and building on the ongoing interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teaching and research among faculties that crosses all three colleges. 

At the same time, as we create these new colleges, we have preserved the unique mission of each of our community-focused faculties, including the Campus Saint-Jean, Augustana and the Faculty of Native Studies. They will remain as autonomous faculties to preserve and enhance their connections to key communities and partners and, at the same time, will be meaningfully and thoughtfully integrated into the larger vision for the University of Alberta for Tomorrow. Each will have an important role in collaborating with all three colleges, including the health sciences, natural and applied sciences and social sciences and the humanities, each enriching the other. 

As the only French-language university-degree program west of Manitoba, Campus Saint-Jean is a crossroads of a unique academic, linguistic and cultural life and will continue to enrich the teaching and research mission of the university. Providing high-quality teaching in an intimate, residence-based setting in Camrose, Augustana provides a distinctive liberal arts undergraduate experience as a valued part of the university’s offerings. Producing graduates with respect for Indigenous knowledges and educated in Indigenous histories and contemporary issues, the Faculty of Native Studies plays a key role in advancing the university’s core commitment to advancing Indigenous teaching and research. As autonomous faculties, each can continue to fulfil its unique community mission and at the same time contribute meaningfully to the three new colleges and the larger university mission and vision. 

Management Structure

Although both GFC and the board expressed broad support for the creation of the colleges, it is important to acknowledge that there was less agreement about the management structure for the new colleges. Rather than introducing a college dean to head the new college, GFC recommended that the colleges be led instead by a collegial council composed of the deans of the college. On the other hand, the board was generally of the view that the new colleges required a more explicit leadership and accountability framework to ensure that the university would meet its budget requirements.

Board Decision 

In a creative compromise, the board approved a model whereby the college will be led by “a collegial Council of Deans” and “each college will be implemented by a college dean, seconded from and by the existing deans.” The college dean will be “responsible for the administration of the college” and will work closely with and regularly report to 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 “shall 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, monthly reports will be provided to the board and GFC.

It is important to note that this compromise motion drew broad support from the board, including a cross-section of various university community stakeholders on the board. 

Some members of the university community have reached out to me to let me know that they are disappointed with my decision to recuse myself from debate and voting on the motions before the board. They have expressed the view that I had an overriding obligation to represent and support the GFC position during the board meeting and “exercise every power of persuasion to bring the Board into agreement with the recommendations of GFC.” 

With respect, I sincerely disagree and I would like to share my thinking on the matter. I serve not only as chair of GFC, but I also serve as president, appointed by the board and reporting to the board. As president and in my capacity reporting to the board, it is my responsibility to provide the board with my best possible advice regarding what I believe to be in the best interests of the university. 

I also serve as an ex officio member of the board. In that capacity, I am under a fiduciary duty as a board member to exercise my independent judgement and act in what I believe to be the best interests of the university. Having taught corporate law for over 25 years, I am well familiar with the legal content of this fiduciary duty, and I take the matter very seriously. This fiduciary duty applies equally to board members of a for-profit or not-for-profit organization, including the University of Alberta. This fiduciary duty requires that all board members, including those appointed to represent various stakeholder groups, must exercise at all times their independent judgement as to what they believe to be in the best interests of the university, even if that might be at odds with the views of the members of their stakeholder group. It would be inconsistent with my fiduciary obligation to the university to advance a position at the board that I do not believe to be in the best interests of the university. 

Finally, in my role as chair of GFC, as I stated at the outset of the GFC meeting on December 7, 2020, my primary responsibility is to chair the meeting to the best of my ability and ensure that any decisions taken reflect the will of GFC and that all GFC members have a full and fair opportunity to participate in that decision making process. Consistent with the GFC Procedural Rules, the “Chair will not participate actively in debate regarding a motion before GFC” and will vote “only in the instance of a tie.” The procedural rules thereby require me to refrain from speaking to the substance of the motions, and I did so refrain at the December 7, 2020 meeting. 

In short, my role requires that I wear three hats: chair of GFC, president and board member. Although this hopefully will only rarely occur, occasionally these roles may come into conflict and I believe they did so in this case. As chair of GFC, it was my obligation to chair the GFC meeting in an impartial manner, bring forward GFC’s recommendations to the board and outline to the board, as best I could, the reasons in support of GFC’s recommendations. I did so in my opening remarks at the December 11, 2020, board meeting. As president and a board member, it is also my obligation to use my independent judgement and provide the best advice that I can to the board on what I believe to be in the best interests of the university. I also did so in my opening remarks at the December 11, 2020, board meeting. In my view, because there was a potential conflict between my role as chair of GFC and my role as president and board member, I recused myself from any further debate on the matter at the board and recused myself from voting on the motion. 

I recognize and respect that many have sincere and strongly held views concerning the different approaches taken by GFC and the board on the management structure of the new colleges. I also recognize that one of my key responsibilities as president is to build, to the best of my ability, a productive working relationship with the Board of Governors and GFC. I will continue to do all that I can to meet and advance this responsibility. 

However, it is also important to acknowledge that s. 26 of the Post-Secondary Learning Act provides that all the powers of GFC are “subject to the authority of the board.” S. 26(l) further provides that GFC has the authority to make recommendations to the board on “the establishment of faculties, schools, departments, chairs and programs of study” and, under s. 26(o), to make recommendations on “any other matters considered by GFC to be of interest to the university.” Pursuant to that authority, GFC’s three recommendations were brought forward to the board for its consideration at the December 11, 2020 meeting. Although I cannot speak for the board, I know that the board took very seriously all of GFC’s recommendations. I believe that the board did the best it could to carefully consider GFC’s third recommendation on the management structure and, while accepting most of it, the board decided that the recommendation needed to be adjusted to ensure that the university can meet its budget targets fully and on time. 

I would like to thank the many members of the university community, including all GFC members, who engaged deeply in the academic restructuring discussions. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as we continue the process of academic and administrative restructuring, with the view to building the best possible future for the University of Alberta. 

New College Deans

Following on the board’s decision and working closely with the provost, 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, I am delighted to announce that three of our existing deans have agreed to take on the new role of college dean. 

Effective July 1, 2021, Greta Cummings will take on the new role of Interim College Dean of the College of Health Sciences, Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell as Interim College Dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences, and Joseph Doucet as Interim College Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities. 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. As provided in the board motion, the new colleges will be in place by July 1, 2021. We will shortly announce who will be taking on the position of Acting Dean effective July 1, 2021 of the Faculty of Nursing, the Faculty of Science and the Alberta School of Business. 

I want to express my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to our three colleagues who have agreed to take on this challenging and important role. I also want to thank all the deans and other senior leaders for their thoughtful and constructive engagement in developing this new role. I look forward to working together with the new college deans and all members of the university community to ensure that the colleges succeed in achieving administrative and financial savings and, at the same time, succeed in fostering and deepening the university’s longstanding commitment to interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teaching and research.

Bill Flanagan
President and Vice-Chancellor



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