Ask SET Anything: All Staff Edition Recap

Todd Gilchrist - 25 November 2021

With the implementation of the new operating model, the university has gone through significant changes recently. To ensure staff continue to have an opportunity to learn more and share feedback during this time of transition, we hosted another Ask SET Anything event on November 5, and opened the floor to questions. We had an impressive turnout with approximately 200 staff joining us for the live Zoom meeting and another 310 watching the livestream. Thank you to everyone who joined the event.

President Bill Flanagan and I were joined by Greta Cummings, Interim College Dean, College of Health Sciences, and Melissa Padfield, Vice-Provost & University Registrar.

For those who were unable to attend the event, a recording is available for viewing:


A sincere thanks to our staff

President Flanagan began the event by acknowledging the significant challenges and difficulties we've all experienced over the last year to address government funding reductions. Staff in particular are on the front lines of a very challenging period of transition and uncertainty, and the President recognized the stresses this has caused in the daily lives for all involved. He offered sincere thanks for all that staff have done, and continue to do, to help the university through these times.

To date, we have balanced our budget in 2020/21 and 2021/22, and have a balanced budget plan for FY 2022/23, in anticipation of a further $54M reduction in provincial funding for 2022/23. President Flanagan provided a short presentation that provided further detail on our progress and vision for one university.

Progress through transition

While we are in the midst of a demanding period of transition, it is important to recognize the progress we've made so far. Retaining our talented staff is key to our success. I'm pleased to say we have made a concerted effort to advance existing staff within the institution, and of the 300 staff we've hired into new roles, just over 80 per cent have been internal hires.

President Flanagan also shared that he had the opportunity to visit the new Student Service Centre earlier this fall, where he met with staff who spoke of the benefits after moving from faculties into the centre. They expressed that they're learning more about the university as a whole and are enjoying being part of a more integrated, cross-university team.

The Shared Services unit is another great example, having hired and trained more than 80 staff over the past six months to launch the Staff Service Centre, HR Services, and begin the transition of Finance Services. Through their new web-based service management tool, more than 24,000 transactions (e-forms and manual forms) have been managed by the Shared Services team since launching in July.

It is thanks to you, our staff across the university, that we are progressing towards our goals and putting in place the systems we need to carry this university forward for years to come. We will continue to share more on our progress in the coming months, so please stay tuned.

Top priorities moving forward

Before moving into the question period of the event, President Flanagan discussed the opportunities he sees for the university's long-term success.

  • Deconsolidation: As part of the Alberta 2030 review, the province indicated that it would move to deconsolidate the U of A's financial statements from the provincial accounts offering the university much greater control over its financial future. President Flanagan continues to advocate for this important change.
  • Enrollment Growth: With Alberta's favourable demographic outlook, including 20-25% growth in high school graduates, the U of A has an opportunity to increase enrolment to 50,000 students in the next three to five years, especially given that U of A applications are up 26% over the last six years.
  • Colleges: The colleges are currently establishing offices to provide common services for their constituent faculties, enabling faculties to remain focused on their respective academic programming and research missions with minimal resources devoted to administration. In addition to college-level services, colleges will also lead in increasing the level of interdisciplinary teaching, education, and research initiatives.
  • U of A Online: Leveraging what has been learned during COVID-19, we are developing a strategic plan to grow our online learning and programs over the next two to three years.
  • Research and Innovation: The opportunities to increase our research impact has never been greater, advancing economic growth and building an inclusive, equitable, just, prosperous, and creative society. Five areas of enormous potential are: biomanufacturing, net zero, plus energy transition, artificial intelligence, agriculture, and Indigenous initiatives & equity, diversity and inclusivity.

UAT website

You may have noticed that the UAT website recently underwent a considerable update. The purpose of the update was twofold, firstly, to reorganize the content to more effectively represent the integration of the two branches of UAT (administrative and academic restructuring) into one operating model and secondly, to better reflect where we currently are in the implementation of the UAT initiative. As your one-stop shop for all information and updates surrounding strategic transformation and restructuring, we encourage you to regularly monitor the website, as well The Quad to stay up to date on emerging information.

Consultation and upcoming events

As we continue with the UAT initiative, we want to ensure that staff have their questions and concerns addressed and learn more about the opportunities in the new model. We will continue to host engagement events including more Ask SET Anything events in the new year, so be sure to check the UAT consultation page for upcoming dates and further details.

Below, you will find answers to some of the questions asked during the Ask SET Anything: All Staff Edition. Stay tuned for more that were submitted to be answered on the FAQ web page.

Todd Gilchrist
Vice-President (University Services and Finance)
Chair, Service Excellence Steering Committee (SESC)



Questions asked and answered

At times, persevering through and navigating the changes from UAT becomes tiring, frustrating, confusing, and even lonely. What advice do you have for employees and leaders who are feeling deep change fatigue?
First, we must all recognize the significant challenges and disruptions we are facing and be kind to each other as we work through these changes. There is a significant road still ahead as we continue to implement the new operating model. It's particularly challenging to see colleagues depart and know that with these departures comes the restructuring required in order to sustain levels of service with significantly fewer people.

Second, university leadership is hearing your concerns and working diligently to identify gaps in the delivery of service as best we can. It is also important that we continue to articulate the vision for the university going forward. The fundamentals of the university remain strong and we have opportunities ahead for growing our teaching and research mission.

With more support positions to be cut in the coming months, how can we reconcile the tension with the addition of new academic positions as we grow our enrolment?
As discussed, we have great aspirations for growth at the university including an ambitious proposal to the government to grow our domestic enrolment by 15 per cent. In order to achieve this, it is essential that we invest in staffing resources to sustain such growth. We cannot grow our student body unless we are thoughtful about the support services needed for a great student experience. Likewise, there is no point in bringing on new faculty and having ambitions for teaching and research without first giving them the support that they need to thrive.

That being said, it's important to note that we are still currently in a period of contraction and have been planning for an anticipated reduction to the 2022/23 budget of $54 million.

With the university's new brand promise, "Leading with Purpose," in mind, what does leading support staff with purpose look like?
We cannot advance our teaching and research mission without our support staff; they are key to fostering an outstanding student experience as well as supporting the teaching and research endeavors of our faculty members. Our ambitions for the university's enrolment are likely the largest and fastest expansion in the history of the university. We recognize that these ambitions for growth cannot succeed, and our students and faculty won't succeed, if we don't invest in the support services that enable them to thrive. So in terms of leading with purpose, our support staff have to be at the centre of that vision for the university.

Can you provide more information as to why support staff are bearing the brunt of the staff cuts during restructuring?
Restructuring our administrative services is where we can achieve the greatest savings by centralizing, which directly impacts our staff. We aim to preserve our core mission of teaching and research, which cannot be done without faculty. And while faculty are fundamental to this mission, we recognize how critical support staff are to achieve it as well and are focused on retaining as many staff as possible. As noted above, of the 300 staff we've hired into new roles, just over 80 per cent have been internal hires.

Losing support staff and their knowledge is creating gaps in our work and many of us are doing more as our colleagues leave or transition to new roles. Can you share the vision for how we make it through this to get to that future state?
As we move into this new operating model, we understand that our staff have been invaluable throughout the process. We can draw confidence from the fact that as a university; we didn't simply do an across-the-board cut, letting the chips fall where they may. Instead, we put thoughtful attention into different streams of work and thought about them in a more nuanced and innovative way. Working with university leaders, we have been identifying gaps, which allows us to do our very best to reallocate resources to help. We have surge capacity when needed and we can manage through those bumps a little better. We are also creating forums for staff on the ground to flag the key areas where gaps exist that have the most critical impact. We thank the staff that are willing to step forward and shine a light on the places that we need to pay more attention to because at this speed, collaboration is essential to get through this together.



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