Recap of June 15 town hall

Bill Flanagan - 17 June 2021

On June 15, we hosted a town hall focused on the university’s operating model and college structure. On the panel with me were Provost Steven Dew, VP (USF) Todd Gilchrist, and the three interim college deans, Greta Cummings (College of Health Sciences), Joe Doucet (College of the Social Sciences and Humanities), and Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell (College of Natural and Applied Sciences).

We were delighted to have more than 1500 people join us via zoom webinar and live stream. Our thanks to everyone who joined us. If you were unable to attend, the recording is available here:


Our purpose on Tuesday was to update the community on the significant progress we’ve made on advancing our University of Alberta for Tomorrow goals and provide details about how the U of A’s new colleges will function. Matina, Joe, and Greta shared information and examples about future college offices and strategic initiatives, including information on the role they will play coordinating and facilitating administrative services at the college level. (For more information on this, please see last week’s blog in which we released the complete picture of the operating model and college structure.) Todd concluded our presentation with a detailed look at the timeline and preparations for the significant transition period that lies ahead for staff.

Q&A

Before and during the town hall, we received several thoughtful and important questions--more than we could answer in the time we had. We’ve included a selection of questions answered in the town hall below. You will also find answers to several questions on the UAT FAQ page. We will continue to update these FAQs over the next week to include as many answers as possible.

Next steps

On July 1, the colleges will formally launch. 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. At the same time, work will move quickly to implement administrative and academic services and offices in the colleges, in alignment with SET and other restructuring activities currently unfolding both across the university and within faculties and units.

At the same time, we have convened a working group to evaluate how we can best reduce the number of academic leadership roles at the U of A. The group’s first meeting will be on June 18, and it should conclude its work by the end of September. We will be sharing more information on the working group next week.

Thank you

All of us want to thank the whole university community for the progress made on UAT. In the face of serious challenges, we have set an ambitious goal of restructuring the university so that we can continue to advance our core mission and position the institution for growth. Thank you for your dedication to the university and your extraordinary willingness to rethink how we do our work. 

Along with Todd, I encourage all faculty and staff to plan and take vacations. As I mentioned at the town hall, I am looking forward to biking the backroads of the Prairies. It will give me a chance to recharge and reflect on what lies ahead. Please do take time to relax and do the things that give you joy. As a start, I urge all of us to avoid scheduling meetings and email on July 2nd to make it easy for those who wish to take an extra vacation day and enjoy the long weekend. 

On behalf of the entire town hall panel, thank you again for joining us. We look forward to more conversations with you in the future.

Bill Flanagan
President and Vice-Chancellor


Questions answered

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 working 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.

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.

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.

Instead of reducing the # 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.

What is happening with the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR)? Will graduate-level student funding remain the same?

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. 

The Edmonton Journal calls this the shrinking of U of A—why do you disagree? What is the message for Edmonton and the broader community?

The U of A has unique opportunities for growth moving forward. Alberta remains one of the youngest demographics in Canada—we are not only capable of growing our enrollment from 40,000 to 50,000 students, but we need to grow our enrollment in order to support Alberta’s population. We will reinvest the associated revenue growth into the U of A’s core teaching and research mission to ensure that these additional students have an outstanding learning experience. With U of A for Tomorrow, we will stabilize our financial situation and then pivot to growth as quickly as possible. Other growth opportunities include repurposing our assets and exploring new online program offerings and micro-credentials. 

Where will the staff and student service centres be located?

As transitions are already unfolding and the U of A is still preparing for a return to campus, it’s likely that parts of the staff and student service centres will initially be delivered online. Eventually, the Staff Service Centre will be located at Enterprise Square – you can read about the renovations currently underway here. The Student Service Centre will have a physical location on North Campus and will initially be housed in the Administration Building until it takes up final residence in the new Dentistry/Pharmacy centre once refurbishment is complete

With ongoing transitions there will likely be job ads posted this summer—what happens if staff are on holidays? And what will career advancement for staff look like within UAT?

To ensure we continue on pace with the implementation of the operating model, career opportunities will continue to be posted throughout the summer. Each position will be posted for a minimum of 5 days. We understand that many of you will be taking vacation this summer when some of these postings will go live, but we still encourage you to take advantage of your holidays. There are some steps you can take to ensure you don’t miss our on postings you are eagerly anticipating:

  • Update your resume and cover letter in advance
  • Check the Position Opportunities Page for upcoming opportunities, and to get a sense for when these job opportunities will move to the careers site
  • If you see that a position is supposed to be posted while you’re away or don’t have access to the Internet, proactively submit your resume to your HR Partner.

One major objective of UAT is to create clearer career paths for opportunities across the U of A, enabling our employees to learn and grow. Historically, such advancement has often been limited to a specific unit on campus. UAT will help to open up opportunities for career advancement across the university. For more information on the upcoming staff transition, please see “SET update: Upcoming milestones and staff transitions”.

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