Rumour Mill

With uncertainty and change it is understandable that questions may arise and rumours may occur. In this section we address some of the questions and rumours we have been hearing. If you have any additional questions, or if you wish to share new rumours with us, please send them to the Operating Budget Adjustments Steering Committee.

I’ve heard that no other U15 university is doing program prioritization.
Most universities in the West and Ontario are looking at, or are committed to some form of prioritization; we don't have current information about Quebec universities).
I’ve heard that Guelph did not implement their prioritization results.
This is false. They are doing so through their budgets and planning process—prioritization outcomes helped shape their budget allocations and units will be responsible to implement the new allocations.
I’ve heard that Dickeson specifies the use of 10 criteria.
This is false. Dickeson recommends each university define their own criteria. To assist the process, he provides a list of all criteria he has seen used by universities, grouped under 10 headings. Our task forces reviewed the list and decided to use all of them. Only the academic task force used all of the criteria—the support service task force only used 6.
I’ve heard that the Dickeson model specifies the use of quintiles.
This is false. Dickeson does publicize this approach as one possibility, but he also gives samples of universities that used very different approaches. Our university chose to use quintiles as a way to force distribution, making distinctions between the highest and lowest priority programs. This is similar to our four categories for SPR. 
I’ve heard that the Dickeson process means that 20% of programs are to be eliminated; Dickeson amounts to a "rank and yank” approach; the Dickeson process categorizes 60% of things as things that can be cut or that are disposable.
This is false. Our university is not looking for 20% savings—by design, not all the things in quintile 5 will be eliminated. Some may be; others may be reorganized or reducedor maintained as they currently exist.  Quintile 5 does mean that the university will look first and hard at these areas for savings. The categorization in Quintile 5 is only a recommendation by the task forces—additional analysis and discussion will all feed into the final decisions.
I’ve heard that program prioritization damages reputation and morale of programs categorized in lower quintiles.
This may be true, especially if people overlook that the categorizations are recommendations only, and that they are about priority not quality. Any open discussion of budget priorities will have this drawback. Negative impacts of these kinds could be minimized by a nontransparent process, but our university did not choose that route. This concern may be partially mitigated by a clear implementation process that does not draw on for too long.
I’ve heard that program prioritization categorizes some programs as being of low quality.
This is only partially accurate. While quality was among the criteria considered by the task forces, other data and review processes, as well as additional analysis are considered in determining the overall budget priority of a program.
I've heard that program prioritization did not consider quality.
This is false. Information regarding the quality of programs was among the criteria considered by the task forces.
I’ve heard that program prioritization is not collegial; it is not peer review.
TransformUS was driven by task forces that consisted overwhelmingly of faculty, and their members were nominated in an open process. No administrator above the rank of department head sat on either task force.  The task forces were collegial—just as University Council committees are collegial; just as college and university tenure committees are collegial. Faculty are each other's peers in the general sense of the term.  We did not ask faculty members from other universities to be involved, primarily because budget decisions are our own to make, and because that kind of process would be impractical. 
I’ve heard that faculty at the U of S are opposed to TransformUS.
Some are, and signed an open letter to this effect.University Council, on February 27, 2014, voted 42-18 against a motion of nonconfidence in TransformUS. University Council consists primarily of elected faculty members, and is the university's authoritative governing body on academic matters. The council majority, clearly indicated support for the process to continue with the understanding that academic decisions, as always, will go through council for approval(i.e., through the normal processes for academic decisions).
I've heard that students oppose TransformUS.
The USSU's University Students' Council passed a motion of nonconfidence in the process, citing a lack of involvement of student-union executives in the process. Also, the Arts and Science Student Union conveyed a motion of "dissastisfaction" with student involvement, but were unwilling to express nonconfidence. The Graduate Students' Association, by contrast, signalled its continuing support of TransformUS, seeing it as an alternative to steep, non-principles-based tuition-fee increases. The university president and VPs continue to have regular monthly meetings with student leaders as well as special meetings with them specifically to discuss student views on TransformUS.
I've heard that people whose programs are in Quintile 5 may as well not even come to work because their jobs will be cut.
The prioritizations in the TransormUS Task Force reports are recommendations only. No decisions have been made. Anyone with concerns regarding their program or job should speak to their manager or supervisor before making assumptions or taking any such actions.  Assistance and support is available for employees through our Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Access to support, as well as online information and help is available through Human Resources as well as through Wellness and Safety Resources online at working.usask.ca.
I've heard faculty have been offered an early retirement package. I thought the university wasn't going to offer across-the-board, voluntary early retirement packages?
Retirement initiatives have been negotiated and ratified for members of the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association. These are targeted initiatives with a limited number available, an application and approval process. Details are available on the Office of the Provost and Vice-President Academic website.
I've heard that the College of Education and the College of Engineering will be eliminated as the University of Regina has both these colleges with better programming.

In 2013/14, the university will be undertaking a program prioritization initiative entitled TransformUS to review all programs and services supported by the operating budget simultaneously and equally against stated criteria. Based on results, decisions may be made to invest resources, make no changes, or eliminate or reduce programs or activities which rank as having lower priority according to the decided criteria. Decisions will be made and announced in Spring 2014. For more information on TransformUS, please visit transformus.usask.ca.

As for the duplication of programs with the University of Regina, in the 1990s, there were two provincial government sponsored commissions which reviewed the ‘duplication’ of program offerings at the two universities. These commissions concluded that there was a need for two universities within the province with different mandates. For a population of over 1 million people, we have fewer universities than the Maritime provinces with an equivalent population base. While it is true that there are many programs that are provided through both the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina, the criteria for deletion of programs would be discussed openly with the University Council. No decisions have been made at this time about the elimination of duplicate programs.

I've heard that approximately 50% of colleges did not participate in workforce planning.
All colleges and administrative units will participate in workforce planning. In the long-term, workforce planning will become an ongoing and regular part of each unit's planning - to ensure we have the workforce to meet our needs now and in the future. For the latest update on workforce planning, including a list of colleges and units who have participated to date, please read the August 6, 2013 memo from Associate Vice-President, Human Resources Barb Daigle.
I’ve heard that people are being marched off campus by security.

Employees who are given notice have a career transition consultant available to them immediately to support them in privately and safely working through the emotion of the news. This may include walking with the employee off campus if this is requested. Campus Safety officers are not involved unless there is a safety or security threat.

I've heard that the recent agreement for faculty salary increases of 1% will have an impact on the projected deficit?

The amount that the university spends on salary and compensation is a product of the number of people we employ and the value of the collectively bargained contracts. There is no accurate way to predict with any absolute certainty what those settlements will be over a multi-year period. Our financial modeling is based on our best predictions. If a settlement is negotiated that is higher than the best prediction, then the deficit will increase. If the settlement is lower than the predicted value, the deficit will be reduced. The predicted number is a budget figure only. The forecasted deficit will adjust as real values replace predicted values for all manner of things, including salary settlements.

I've heard that in some cases administration/management are using these layoffs as a way to get rid of employees who they don't like or who they don't get along with.

The critical factor in determining whether to eliminate a position, is about the work - is it still a priority? can it be done differently? can we stop doing it and still meet our goals and priorities? Workforce planning is a framework to support leaders in making workforce decisions strategically, about the work they require to meet their goals and priorities and those of the university. While leaders continuously evaluate the work that is required to meet priorities, it is also important that employees continually evaluate the contributions they are making to the unit and the university's priorities and to an overall positive work environment. There are times when these two considerations may appear to collide, but the bottom line is whether or not the unit can continue on without the contributions of that position.

I’ve heard that Human Resources has made a formal request to reclassify approximately 500 ASPA positions to CUPE in order to save on salary and benefit expenses and that the remaining positions will be reclassified at a later date, eliminating ASPA altogether.

Only members of a union can "eliminate" a union — the technical term for this is "decertification" which is governed by the Trade Union Act. The university and its unions work together by agreement and because of the legal obligation to do so, to clarify jurisdiction, as it relates to who is in (or out of) scope of each union, and if in scope, then in which union. It has and continues to be important to all parties to address issues, provide clarity and to ensure compliance with the Trade Union Act.

The facts to date include:

  • Issues of clarity around jurisdiction come up regularly in the course of business at the university. What is different over the past several years is a more comprehensive effort on the part of the unions and the university together to clarify jurisdiction by more accurately defining each employee group.
  • In 2009, the university and USFA signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) and worked together to bring approximately 30 positions into the USFA bargaining unit.
  • CUPE 1975, ASPA and the university also worked together through a MOA to address long-standing issues of jurisdiction. With the assistance of a mediator, the parties agreed to move approximately 100 positions into the exempt employee group in 2011.
  • Since this phase did not resolve all questions of clarity for all positions put forward, the parties agreed to go before the Labour Board for a decision as provided for in the MOA, which is now pending.

The university is committed to collaboration with all of its bargaining units in ensuring clarity of jurisdiction and compliance with the Trade Union Act.

I’ve heard that if the College of Medicine does not pass accreditation, it will close or possibly be cut through TransformUs. AND/OR There is really no chance the College of Medicine will be cut as it goes through TransformUS.

Through TransformUS, all programs and support services will be prioritized, including all programs and services based out of the College of Medicine. Two task forces will be responsible for prioritizing all programs and services, with a report due to the president no later than November 30, 2013. Following receipt of the prioritization report from the task forces, there will be a formal process for its review by University Council and the Board of Governors. Based on this discussion, the Provost's Committee on Integrated Planning (PCIP), on behalf of the university's leadership, will develop an action plan and implementation timetable to begin no later than May 1, 2014.

I’ve heard that the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus will be sold to a private investor.
Operations have been suspended at the Kenderdine campus at Emma Lake for the next three years. No other decisions have been made.
I’ve heard that layoffs occurred in my department and management was not aware of these layoffs until the morning they happened.
Only those who are part of the decision or who need to know are made aware in advance of a job elimination. The principle is that the employee, as much as possible, should be the first to know that their job has been eliminated. It is therefore possible and in most cases, preferable, that senior administrators are not aware until after the layoffs occur. Comments on specific individuals will not be made in any public way, but inquiries may be referred to the leader of the area in question.
I’ve heard that the U of S has a $44.5 million deficit now.
This rumour is false. Please refer to the About Univeristy Finances page for more information.
I’ve heard that if my unit starts early with layoffs, we might have to do more layoffs again later.

As the university moves forward with workforce planning we may identify a need for further adjustments within some units.

I’ve heard that some departments are going to hold off on workforce planning so they won't have to do any layoffs.

Every academic and administrative unit on campus will participate in workforce planning and most will have to reduce their workforce this year.

I’ve heard that arts programs are going to bear the brunt of the adjustments.

The university is taking a "no stone left unturned" approach to budget adjustment. Every academic and administrative program and service will be considered. Decisions will be made based on the strategic priorities of the university.

I've heard the WCVM library will be closing and the resources will either be moved to storage or to the Natural Sciences library.

As part of the university's capital project (the University Library Transformation Project, Phase III) and in the context of increased use of electronic resources and less reliance on print materials, the University Library is examining the distribution and storage options for its print collections into the future. As part of this process the collections across the library system, including the Veterinary Medicine Library, are being reviewed. Concurrently, discussions are underway to envision the future of the University Library system in a digital age – what services and learning spaces are needed for students and faculty. As of February 2013 there is no decision to close the Veterinary Medicine Library.

I've heard students won't be able to finish their program if it is cut.

The university will ensure all students currently enrolled in programs are given the opportunity to complete these programs within a reasonable time frame.

I've heard some areas are hiring more people than they recently laid off.

There is no hiring freeze, so it is conceivable that any large area of campus could be hiring to fill vacancies that are not related to the unit where job loss occurred.

I’ve heard Human Resources cuts off access to email as soon as an employee is laid off.

Human Resources does not have access to individual email accounts. University email addresses are the property of the university. Email access is available to employees while they are employed at the university. The removal of access to computer accounts and email immediately upon termination or layoff is in place to protect the privacy of individuals as well as the security and reputation of the university. For additional details, please see the university’s Electronic Mail Policy.

I've heard the $44.5 million deficit is a ruse.

The university has well-developed tools for making projections, ones we have been using for nearly a decade. Projections are based on significant environmental scanning and in consultation with economists, both on and off campus. All financial assumptions have been announced publicly and are posted online to ensure opportunities for scrutiny and comment. There has been no inflation of financial assumptions and the projections to date are not a worst-case scenario. Anyone who has reason to believe that revenues have been projected too low or costs too high has a responsibility to come forward with such information. The university’s Multi-Year Budget Framework is available online.

I've heard that the last time the university took $10 million from academic programs for pension challenges, it was not used for that purpose and was not returned.

There are three points to address this question.  

First, pensions remain one pressure in the operating budget, but now there are also others. In 2008 the university had to find $10 million in the budget as a prudent allowance to accommodate pensions, declining investment income and shortfalls in endowed funds like scholarships. Now $10 million has come to pass in projected pension payments alone, and there are also new pressures like reduced growth in grants, required expenditures for deferred maintenance and growth in core costs.

Second, the university does not adjust budgets by taking cash from programs, but generally by reducing growth. The 2008-10 budget adjustments did not produce pools of cash or large surpluses, but rather prevented deficits from occurring. There is nothing to return to anyone; there is simply $10 million less deficit than there would have been.

Third, it is not accurate to say that $10 million was taken from academic programs. All units including administrative ones received cuts in 2008-10; the cuts in administrative units were proportionately slightly greater than in academic units. Academic units do make up the majority of the operating budget and bore a nearly proportional share of the $10 million; however most cuts within academic units were to administrative costs and functions, not to faculty positions or academic programs.

I've heard the university is not doing enough to get funding increased from the provincial government.

The university forcefully presents the case for investment in higher education and for the societal, economic, and cultural benefits that result. We will always do so.  The current environment for university funding is difficult not only in Saskatchewan, but across Canada and throughout North America and beyond. With 2% economic increases plus targeted funding, government funding of universities in Saskatchewan is stronger than in any other jurisdiction. While we can wish for governments everywhere to support higher education more strongly, it is not prudent to plan on the basis of larger increases. To do so would court a true financial crisis. It is important for everyone to recognize that the funding environment for higher education has changed. We will need to pursue all revenue sources diligently, not only government grant funding; and manage all costs effectively; both are important parts of what it will mean to remain a financially sustainable university in this environment.

I've heard early retirement is not an option even for employees who have significant years of service.

As is always the case, retirement may be an option for some employees. Retirement discussions can and should occur when appropriate between employees and their supervisors. Across-the-board early retirement packages do not allow for strategic reduction of the workforce as the packages are available to all, including those who may be contributing in priority areas where a vacancy would need to be replaced. Retirement options are considered for employees who are eligible and affected by job loss during this time.

The university's planning tools mean we can look ahead and make the changes that are right for the university's mission, not those that are expedient or least expensive in the short term. In workforce planning, we look to reorganize and reduce the workforce in ways that will deliver results in priority areas on a long-term, ongoing basis. Any measure that more or less randomly knocks holes in our complement - whether it be a hiring freeze or voluntary early retirements - would leave us with more inefficient structures that would hamper our teaching and research missions. Our university has been down that kind of path before and many of those who remember those years are committed to a more strategic approach even if it is harder in the short term.

I've heard a reduced pace of recruitment would reduce costs.

There are two points to address this question. Recruitment is an essential part of institutional energy and renewal; we want a diverse faculty and staff complement and are proud of the promising new and youthful members of our community. But also, a reduced pace of recruitment would not reduce costs—it would increase them; or it would mean fewer people and positions to do the work.

I've heard cuts can’t be strategic if they are done before program prioritization occurs.

There will be multiple projects that will bring our budget back into balance and TransformUs is only one of these. At the November town hall we mentioned that the two biggest projects now are workforce planning, which is underway, and TransformUs, which will take a year to develop in preparation for actions in 2014. Workforce planning means the reorganization and reduction of staff complements to do non-academic work in different ways. Administrative and academic leaders are now engaged in making these changes. The budget savings from workforce planning will improve the university's situation in 2012/13 and 2013/14, which gives us time to wait for changes from TransformUS that will generally be later. Both projects and others besides will be needed to prevent the $44.5M deficit otherwise projected for 2016.

It is worth noting that while academic programs will be directly considered in TransformUs, support (administrative) programs and services will also be directly considered in at least three ways. First, TransformUs will look at support (administrative) services and programs in addition to academic ones. Second, workforce planning affects administrative complements in all units. Third, several process-improvement projects in areas like purchasing and travel will improve administrative efficiencies that cut across multiple units.

I've heard we are going to be asked to do even more work through TransformUS without any relief from other expectations during this time.

This question needs to be addressed at the level of each college and each department in the university. At the university-wide level, graduate program review has been put on hold for 2013 as one way to allow units time to participate in TransformUS. Also, implementation of the commitments in the Third Integrated Plan has been divided up and staged so that mostly smaller initiatives will be pursued this year. Other activities and expenditures will be deferred to make room for TransformUS activities. Further suggestions are welcome and all university leaders are encouraged to think along similar lines.

I've heard It is not prudent to continue to innovate when times are tough.

Our university's experience in the 1980s-90s, and other universities' experiences since that time, indicates how important it is to keep doing new initiatives even during difficult times. In fact, history shows that even though resources are more plentiful in good times, institutions innovate more in tough times and this is very important to their later success. We don't want to miss once-in-a-generation opportunities just because they happen to occur when finances are tight. Moreover, the new things towards which we are building give purpose and direction to both expenditure reductions and revenue increases—it is important to stay focused on the things we have agreed together, through our planning process, are our priorities.  With all this said, every investment is especially valuable and needs to be assessed for measurable results when resources are so precious. This principle applies to continuing investment in existing initiatives as well as to incremental investment in new activities.

I’ve heard that jobs will be lost and I’m worried about mine.

This is a time of uncertainty for many. We know jobs will be lost and that decisions will be made throughout the next four years with some areas ready to make changes sooner than others. All colleges and administrative units are participating in workforce planning to ensure that our workforce is aligned with the most important priorities. We know that we will have to stop doing some important and valuable work in order to focus on our priorities.

I’ve heard that 200-400 positions will be cut.

Because of the size of the challenge we face, we are certain that jobs will be lost. There is no specific target of positions to be cut. Workforce planning is a way to help colleges and units make these decisions in a strategic way. Decisions will be made throughout the next four years and beyond, with some areas ready to make decisions sooner than others.

I’ve heard there will be forced staff reductions by unit, with a minimum number cut from each union.

The university is not considering “across-the-board” cuts. Workforce planning is helping colleges and units evaluate their staffing in a strategic way—ensuring our workforce is aligned to deliver on the university’s priorities. Reductions will not be based on a specific number per unit or by the union to which the employee(s) belong, if any.

I’ve heard that because I’m a new employee my position will be cut first as I’m new to the union.

Decisions will be made based on building a workforce that can help the university achieve its strategic priorities, regardless of when you joined the university.

I’ve heard only front-line positions will be cut and management and senior administration will stay the same.

Workforce planning is guiding all colleges and administrative units across campus in aligning the workforce with the university’s priorities. This includes all positions at all levels of the university.

I’ve heard my salary will be reduced.

Collectively bargained employment contracts and individual contracts with employees will be honoured until legally changed through the appropriate, legal negotiations.

I’ve heard we are going to be expected to do more with less.

Our goal is not to do more with less, but to become more focused on the priorities we have determined together in our Third Integrated Plan. Our expectation is that the University of Saskatchewan will become an institution that does fewer things and does them more simply. With deliberate and strategic choices, we will be stronger in what we do and direct our available resources to our priorities. Improved efficiencies in areas such as procurement and research administration systems will ensure we have the appropriate infrastructures in place to effectively support priorities.

I’ve heard there will be 20% reductions to operating allocations for all units.

Across-the-board cuts are not being considered. In order to achieve our vision to become one of the most distinguished universities in Canada and the world, we must prioritize more clearly based on our mandate of teaching and research, and strengthen our focus and resources on the areas we have identified together as most important. This will require investment in some areas and reductions in others.

I’ve heard there will be no support provided to the colleges/units through the change process.

Support for change will be provided in various ways and differently based on roles and effect. Transition assistance is always available for all employees as needed through change processes; change leadership development will be provided to ensure our leaders can effectively lead us through change; and the appropriate support will be provided to individuals when jobs are lost.

I’ve heard we will be held accountable to actions set out in Promise and Potential without the budgeted resources required to do so.

Promise and Potential sets out the university’s goals and plans for the third planning cycle (2012-2016). It is supported by the Academic Priorities Fund (APF), which represents less than 1% of the total operating budget funding of the university, and by the resources available in the colleges, schools and administrative units, which comprise the other 99% of the university’s resources. The challenge and the opportunity here is to better align all of our resources (human, financial, facilities, technology, etc) with our most important priorities. To do this, we will also have to stop doing some things that are important and valuable. Each planning cycle we have set ambitious goals for ourselves. Each planning cycle has moved us closer toward our goals. In this planning cycle, while we will be challenged to achieve our goals, we are determined to make progress toward them.

I’ve heard my department is going to be cut.

Decisions will happen over the course of the next four years, with some areas ready to make changes sooner than others. Those directly affected by this kind of decision will be informed through the appropriate channels as soon as possible.

I’ve heard my program will be eliminated because it is offered at the U of R.

In the 1990s, there were two provincial government sponsored commissions which reviewed the ‘duplication’ of program offerings at the two universities. These commissions concluded that there was a need for two universities within the province with different mandates. For a population of over 1 million people, we have fewer universities than the Maritime provinces with an equivalent population base. While it is true that there are many programs that are provided through both the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina, the criteria for deletion of programs would be discussed openly with the University Council. No decisions have been made at this time about the elimination of duplicate programs.

I’ve heard this is all a hoax orchestrated by central administration and there is no deficit.

The current and projected deficits are most definitely not a “hoax”. Based on an annual 2% increase to our provincial operating grant, we expect a gap between our expenses and revenues totaling $44.5 million per year by 2016. Simply put, our operating expenses are growing at a higher rate than our operating revenues. With limitations on our operating funding, expenses must be reduced. This is a projection based on the most up-to-date, publicly available information.

I’ve heard this is a central administration issue.

Focusing our resources is a challenge and an opportunity shared by the entire university community and it will take the collective effort of everyone to find sustainable solutions. It is a misconception that growth in administrative positions has only occurred in the central university; rather, a recent study tabled in university council demonstrates that administrative growth has also occurred to a significant level in the colleges and schools.

I’ve heard cuts will not be strategic and focus on easy fixes.

This is not true. The university is specifically taking a longer-term, strategic approach to focus resources to 2016 and beyond. As an example, an easy fix would be across-the-board cuts, but this would not be strategic and not sustainable in the longer term. The university has opted to take a multi-year, multi-pronged strategy to address the operating budget deficit, guided by principles and the priorities identified in Promise and Potential. The strategy will consider academic and administrative activities, with both centralized and decentralized actions. The long-term scope of the deficit will be reduced through strategic choices and permanent reductions early on, but no single action will be sufficient to rectify the projected deficit.

I’ve heard contingency funds can be used to solve the deficit.

Use of contingency funds is a short-term solution that will not solve the deficit. Each college and unit has a contingency fund, or money set aside, similar to a savings account. The university itself also has a contingency fund, called the university reserve. These are one-time funds, but we have a projected structural deficit. In other words, we have an annual funding problem whereby our annual expenses exceed our annual revenues. Much like if you spent more money than you put in your chequing account every month. Contingencies are only a potential source of funding when it comes time to one-time investments in change.

I’ve heard contingency funds will be limited to the same amount every year.

No long term decisions have been made with regards to policies associated with contingency funds in the future.

I’ve heard debt will be passed on to students in the form of tuition increases.

Tuition increases have not and will not be used to deal with operating deficits. Our Board of Governors sets tuition based on three principles: (1) comparability, (2) affordability and accessibility, and (3) enabling quality. For over a decade now, the University of Saskatchewan has not balanced its budget on the basis of tuition increases. Further, students at the University of Saskatchewan continue to pay some of the lowest tuitions when compared to the U15 peer group.