Academic Agenda Addresses
The Academic Agenda — Not Enough Change?
March 6, 2001
Mike Harris doesn’t send too many subtle messages, but when he put his first cabinet together, he sent a message to everyone in the education arena by appointing as his Minister of Education, Mr. John Snobolen, a man whom the newspapers delighted in explaining, had not completed high school. And in one of the first embarrassing episodes Mr. Harris’s government had to endure, this same Minister was caught on video suggesting to bureaucrats that change depended on crisis and that if no crisis was available, serious thought should be given to creating one. As it transpired, Mr. Harris soon solved that problem by creating a crisis himself when he removed $400 million from the budgets of post-secondary institutions in the Province. You need a crisis to stimulate change? Here you go.
The crisis Mr. Harris provided, and the one that other governments across the country have provided (not all of them I hasten to say sharing Mr. Harris’s ideological predilections) is the crisis of public funding of public universities. In many ways, the crisis predated the 1990s and premiers like Mr. Harris were simply driving the point home. Since the 1980s the role of provincial treasuries as supporters of public education has been on the steep decline [operating revenue per student in constant 1992 dollars]. In 1987, the revenue budget of the University of Saskatchewan looked like this [figure 1 - total revenue year 1987]. By 2000, it looked quite different [figure 2 total revenue year 2000]. The proportion of the University’s budget derived from the provincial grant has declined significantly while external research funding has grown, as have student tuitions. In 1980 a degree student was supported at the level of $10,300, expressed in 1992 dollars [operating grant per FTE student and tuition]. That support dropped to a low of $6900 in 1997-98 and has recovered a bit to $7400 in 2000-01 (inflation adjusted using SK CPI annualized, all items).
Nothing, in my opinion, has reshaped the recent history of the public university more than this shift in financing. And because it has occurred at a time in which demand for university education continues to grow, this withdrawal of public support represents a frontal attack on academic quality [quote from Don Drummond]. In a recent commentary on the comparative tax advantage of the United States versus Canada, Don Drummond, the TD Banks’ chief economist made this observation about higher education: "Nor should we think that tax relief is the only avenue by which governments can enhance economic growth. In this era of the knowledge-based economy, the United States has used its relative fiscal advantage to increase government spending per student in higher education 20% since 1980, while Canada has cut per-student spending by 30%."
To maintain quality, all Canadian universities must now seek private sources of support.
Response has been both creative and, to some degree, corporate:
- Partnerships (CLS)
- Tuition increases
- Alternative revenue sources (Coke)
- Mission statements
- Strategic planning
- Internal restructuring (Windsor)
- Student as client
Much of this reaction is premised on demonstrating a higher regard than we have had in the past for what people want from us. For a long time, we’ve enjoyed the freedom to explain to people, especially students, what they need. To a large degree we still have that freedom, but now we have to pay much more attention than ever before to what people–our students, their parents, the taxpayers, and governments–want. This is extraordinarily disconcerting for some of us.
I don’t intend to pass judgments on these changes. What I want to say is that they are just the beginning. The idea that with the return of public prosperity comes some kind of reprieve from the agonizing process of change is, I’m sorry to say, a pipe dream. The change is just beginning.
Since coming to the University of Saskatchewan, I have encountered several schools of thought on the topic of change.
- The Change is Bad School. From this perspective our university, and most others, are changing, but not for the good. We are, in fact, on a long slide, which will culminate in our landing in the dustbin of history. This fate awaits us mostly because the status of the institution as a source of independent advice and knowledge is being systematically undermined and hard won privileges are being eroded. From this perspective most of the responses itemized above (partnerships, tuition increases, alternative revenue sources, mission statements, strategic planning, internal restructuring, and student as client) constitute an encroachment on our independence and an ill-disguised attack on traditional arrangements such as tenure. Increased reliance on external funds, the idea of partnerships, and the pressure to commercialize the outcomes of research, all mark the end of the university as we know it. Academic administrators, from this perspective, tend to be either confused bunglers or running dogs.
- The Change is Illusory School. Then there are those who believe that there is nothing new under the sun and that most of the change we are witnessing is really a recycling of old ideas. This perspective is captured in the expression, "If you wait long enough you will see it all," and most subscribers to this school have been around for quite a while. Some of them are aware, of course, that like changes in fashion, nothing comes around again in exactly the same way. But whether it’s the same idea, or a variation on the same theme, the point is that we aren’t really changing, we’re just spinning. Administrators, in this view, are necessary to keep the paper flowing. They may have to be humored, but they only become dangerous when they start to take themselves seriously.
- The Change is Good, But I Don’t Have to Change School. Members of this school frequently subscribe to the view that we are trying to do too much at the University of Saskatchewan. We are all things to all people and we need to cut somewhere. We should cut programs or even colleges. That would free up resources to put faculty, for example, where we really need them, typically in my area or in an area closely associated with mine. However, there are a host of reasons why we can’t cut what I’m involved in, whether it’s my department or my college. This is a version of the pop psychologist formula: "I’m Okay, You’re Okay". In this version it’s "I’m Okay, You’re Not Okay". Academic leadership, from this perspective, consists of finding the weak spots in research, the curriculum, or student demand, and lopping them off.
- The Change is Good, But Not This Way School. In this school of thought, process is paramount. For change to be effective it must have support at all levels and in all quarters of the University, and it would be best if this support were evident before the word "change" is even mentioned. The worst type of change, say critics from this school, is "top-down" change. What we need is change that is initiated from the bottom and percolates upward, so that nothing happens that does not have the predetermined support of all. In this view academic administrators should be good listeners and have good timing. Leadership is not about challenging the status quo; it is about being patient. Very patient.
- The Change is Good, But Not This Kind of Change School. Members of this school want something to happen, but they want it to be relatively painless. Changes that involve expanding the budget and adding more resources are most welcome. Those that involve "winners" and "losers" and "redistribution" are to be avoided. In this school of thought a premium is placed on making sure that everyone grows, or shrinks, together. Change that involves different units adopting different strategies is dangerous, mostly because it fragments the institution and gives rise to internal jealousies and bickering. Academic leaders should concentrate on telling governments that we need more money. And if they succeed in raising money from sources other than government, or in unconventional ways, then there had better be either an explanation of how everyone will benefit, or an assurance that it’s not going to cost anything.
There may be more schools on the subject of change at the university; I’m not sure. I don’t want to ridicule those who subscribe to one or more of these, because I have subscribed to all of them at some point, sometimes more than one at a time. And I still have a residual affection for the "Not this Kind of Change School." Who doesn’t want more resources as a means to change?
But I am no longer a serious subscriber to any of these schools of thought, or any others that even hint at the possibility that change–serious internal shifts in the way we conduct ourselves–is avoidable. Change is the norm because we don’t exist in a vacuum; we exist in a changing environment. Change is not even manageable, I would argue, unless we are somehow in the process of leading it [quote].
Unfortunately, there are very few examples of universities as institutions leading the change process. Inside our disciplines we are change leaders. We pioneer new ways of asking questions, we challenge accepted wisdom, and amass evidence that undermines consensus. But in our lives inside the university – our organizational structures, our working arrangements, and our academic schedules – we are, I believe, reluctant innovators. In fact, I believe that at the moment the most important changes that have occurred in the past twenty years, including the one I began with, the withdrawal of public financial support, have originated from outside the institution.
[Change Driven from Outside the Universities] Consider first, the e-learning revolution. While many of us have begun using technology enhanced learning in our classes, the real technological changes have been taking place in on-line learning and most of the action comes from new, competitor institutions. The net is presenting us with a rich set of pedagogical possibilities, but in our classes, there is little evidence that we have significantly changed our approach to student learning.
Closer to home, we are moving to a new basis for funding of our students. It is based on an amalgam of models used in different jurisdictions and will reward or penalize us based on our activity. This is a change directed by government. And while we agree with the need to change, we are coping; we are not in charge.
We are also coping with the return of the federal government into the funding of post-secondary institutions. No one knows better than the University of Saskatchewan just how hard it is to change processes, like the Canada Research Chairs program, that involves all of the universities in the country. The federal government determined what the CFI and Research Chairs programs would look like and nothing the universities have suggested has resulted in substantial change to the original direction.
Consider as well that increasingly our work is being evaluated externally using externally imposed standards. On the student front, the best example is Maclean’s. Who would have thought that a decade or so after Maclean’s launched their infamous survey, we would be devoting so much effort to interpreting, deflecting, and changing the results. But Maclean’s is the tip of the iceberg. In other jurisdictions, like Alberta, employers are being polled and asked how well prepared university graduates are and how they are managing their jobs. Funding to the universities is now influenced by the answers. On the research front, our Tri-council funding levels are now matters of public record.
The Canada Research Chairs program means that everyone knows, or can easily find out, just which universities are major players and which ones are marginal. We are evaluating more, the indicators are focused on hard data, and all of this is much more transparent. There is no place to hide.
It is often said that complex organizations like universities are almost paralyzed in the face of radical changes in the environment. The schools of thought outlined above are all powerful drags on our ability to adapt, let alone lead, the change process. In markets, the pursuit of self-interest may lead to optimal outcomes, assuming a significant degree of political stability, because coordination is achieved relatively efficiently. In complex organizations like universities, outmoded knowledge and habit overwhelm our ability to adapt in an efficient manner.
Self-interest in complex organizations does not lead to smooth adaptation as it does in the marketplace, it leads to resistance and stagnation. Complex organizations must be coordinated to be effective but the demands of coordination often overburden our capacity to respond.
We find it especially difficult to practice radical change strategies such as Peter Drucker’s idea of Organized Abandonment [Peter Drucker: Organized Abandonment]. According to Drucker, if we intend to lead change we should put "every product, every service, every process, every market, every distribution channel, every customer and end-use, on trial for its life." Although I’m sure it was written with the corporate agenda in mind, it applies to publicly funded bodies too. This admonition is a variation on the familiar zero-base budget strategy. What we need to do, he says, is ask the question: "If we were not already doing this, then, knowing what we know now, would we get into it?"
If the answer is no, then get out of it. Phase it out, abandon it altogether. If it looks like it’s dying, it’s dead. According to Drucker, we should be holding regular abandonment meetings and deciding on what we are going to stop doing and how we will go about withdrawing from it.
The fact is, we don’t do this and neither do most big organizations, whether they are public institutions or private ones. When the Japanese car manufacturers took over 30 per cent of the American domestic market in the 1970s, the big loser was GM. But instead of abandoning Oldsmobile and Buick, the cars that took the biggest hit, GM fidgeted with model designs, rebates and other gimmicks. It has taken them over 20 years to abandon the Olds, and they’ve only just done it. So, we shouldn’t beat up on ourselves too much when it comes to our programs, our college structure, and our student services, none of which has changed significantly until recently.
The good news is that complex organizations actually have survived and prospered in rapidly changing environments. In spite of the much vaunted return to market based solutions to economic and social problems, as Herbert Simon has observed, we don’t live in a market economy, we live in an organization economy.
[Herbert Simon quote] The vast bulk of our economic activity takes place within organizations, not in markets. So, complex organizations do accommodate change and even lead it, albeit with differing degrees of success.
How can we be successful? There are three broad strategies that we are, and should be, pursuing [Three Strategies for Success]. The first is to take greater account of that changing environment: learn more about it, and reach out to control it wherever we can. That is happening, although probably not fast enough. Like most complex organizations, universities are coming to recognize that their domain extends far beyond the institutional boundaries.
Conventional barriers, such as those between ourselves and industry, ourselves and the K-12 system, and ourselves and other universities, are going to come down whether we like it or not.
One strong clue that this is happening, and that our strategic reach is extending beyond the Greystone walls, lies in the shifting role of the President of the University. Once an internal leader, our President, and the President of most institutions like ours, has become an ambassador, interlocutor, symbol and interpreter of the university. These so-called boundary-spanning activities are essential to survival. They involve establishing long term partnerships with those who "supply" us with the resources to operate, including the school system, the chief supplier of our students, and the government, still our major financial supporter.
Key to these developments is the need to understand this environment more effectively than we have in the past. The Student Outcomes Survey sponsored recently by the Planning Committee is an example of this kind of information gathering that we need to do. The Math Department’s efforts to devise a means by which high school math teachers can achieve better results is another. If we are going to lead change we need to look beyond the institution. No planning activities should take place apart from this straightforward dictum.
The second strategy involves lowering the cost of coordination. This requires that we incorporate what is called "near-decomposability" into our organization design. Near-decomposable systems are those in which the constituent units can change or evolve more or less independent of one another. The idea is to partition activity in such a way that coordination requirements are high within units, but low outside of them. Herbert Simon uses the example of the evolution of organs within the body.
If increases in organ effectiveness can be isolated, and if they contribute to the organism’s overall efficiency, then "natural selection will home in rapidly on the favorable changes." The heart can be redesigned without having to redesign the lungs.
But if you don’t have near-decomposability, if there is a high level of interdependency among the functioning units, then nothing can change without everything else having to change as well. This arrangement is not congenial to adaptability. And because most complex systems do not evolve, but are designed, there is always the possibility that we will try to control everything by increasing coordination requirements where they should be minimized [Farcus cartoon].
Most effective organizations have figured this out. They don’t merely decentralize, that is delegate tasks to constituent units and coordinate from the centre. Research has found that all that does is produce an increased information flow back and forth towards the centre. In effective organizations, changes are permitted and encouraged without central direction and without heavy coordination requirements. The centre holds certain strategic decisions to itself, mostly decisions about people, about how new money will be spent, about the overall division of labour, and about the long term positioning of the institution in its environment. The rest, and that’s most of the innovation in practice, is vested in the constituent units.
The corporate sector has been moving in this direction, that is toward federalized arrangements, for some time. Interestingly enough, universities are ahead of them: to a large degree we are organized in a federated manner already. Colleges make a lot of independent decisions, particularly decisions regarding staffing and curriculum. And these are key decisions. The future of the institution depends on whom we hire, and that is a job that is entrusted to departments and colleges.
The administration does not review and pronounce on every decision the way that Walter Murray used to. It can’t be done that way anymore, and it shouldn’t be done that way.
That said, we still insist on some heavy central controls, at least on paper. We do not permit colleges or departments to quickly abandon programs or rearrange departments without going to the central governing councils of the University for approval. The good news is that Council has not blocked these kinds of changes. We have amalgamated departments in Veterinary Medicine, Education, Agriculture and Dentistry without any protests from Council. And, speaking of Dentistry, when that College moved from a five- to a four-year program and completely restructured in a radical way its tuition, Council moved quickly to endorse the change. My point is not that central bodies, and I include in this the "administration," make a point of halting change, only that we have to continue to respect changes when they occur at the College and unit level. The central administration should be concerned far less with controls and much more with strategy. In sum, Colleges should be able to innovate without having to ask permission.
The third strategy for increasing the rate of change is to promote a sense of shared identity [Three Strategies for Success]. That means getting people to think beyond their own immediate circumstance, beyond their department, and beyond their College.
It means challenging the entitlement logic that we often employ in assessing the prospect of change. By entitlement logic, I mean the presumption that you and your unit deserve to continue to receive the resources you’ve received in the past. A variation on this theme is that any additional resources we might be fortunate enough to receive should be shared on the basis of whomever contributed the most to getting them. If we use this logic as the sole basis on which to make decisions, we will constantly reinvent ourselves. This might be tolerable if the status quo was an enviable place to be. Unfortunately, it isn’t. A strong identification with the university’s goals is a good thing, but an excessive identification with existing organizational practices is not. This is what slows down adaptability.
The point is not that the University should invent new programs all the time, invest in them and forget about what it is that we’re already doing. We simply can’t afford to do that. The point is to focus on the future as a shared one.
I’ve said this before: complex organizations work best when there are high levels of social capital, that is dense networks of reciprocal obligation and mutual accomplishment [Yogi Berra quote]. Remember what Yogi Berra said: "If you don’t go to somebody’s funeral, they won’t come to yours."
People have to interact with the university at a broad level for this kind of identification to develop. That’s why we should support interdisciplinary programs and institutes, and build our buildings in ways that will put people from different backgrounds into common areas. Council and committees need our support. Not only do innovations like "virtual colleges" create synergies, they provide a sense of identity from which we all benefit. The same goes for projects like the Canadian Light Source. Whether or not you are directly involved in this project, rest assured that its success or failure will have a big effect on you. It may be an indirect effect, but it will be powerful just the same.
I believe that the university is moving steadily in the directions I have just outlined. If I’m right, then changes at this University should begin to pick up speed. There is some evidence that this is happening. Let me share with you the present state of our planning processes [Overview of Planning Activities]. This slide suggests that the world began in 1998 with A Framework for Planning.
We all know that is not true. However, it is useful to see just how much planning activity has taken place since that time. The "academic" planning activity is captured in the green and blue lines. These will be familiar to most of you. They involve the institution’s academic future, its enrolments, curriculum and research.
The orange lines reflect a small part of the planning that has been going on in offices we think of as service providers: financial services, facilities management, human resources and so on. No one serves, however, without thinking through their mission, their values and their priorities.
Developments here must be closely connected to each other, but they must also be integrated with academic planning. To date, I think it’s fair to say that this hasn’t happened. That’s because, as I said earlier, the costs of coordination are high. And if coordination is a requirement, one in which we are probably underinvesting, then change will be painfully slow.
As this slide indicates, our intention is to draw our various planning activities together in an integrated plan. Key to the success of that effort will be to establish academic priorities at the centre of the process. We should acknowledge, by the way, that those who have planned so far have done so largely without firm direction on these matters. The Framework for Planning is a start, but you can see that to make this work, much more planning of a detailed character must be done.
One of the biggest of "details" is the enrolment plan. It represents an effort to lead change and it illustrates, I think, the demands that change places on us. An enrolment plan is a framework of expectations and targets aimed at establishing the size and composition of the student body and the experience that students should expect at the University [Enrolment Planning is …]. It is intended to direct both academic and resource decisions at the level of departments, colleges and administrative units.
Having such a plan would, in itself, be a change, but the point here is that enrolment plans are intended to anticipate changes in the environment and to chart a course of change for the university that is more than simply a series of short term reactions. The idea is to position the institution by making strategic choices.
In the case of the enrolment plan, positioning means recognizing key elements of the demographic environment including the changing labour market. On the demand side of the equation, we know that the proportion of the labour force with a post-secondary education has been rising steadily. In Saskatchewan in1990, 35 percent of the labour force had attended a post-secondary institution; by 1999 this had increased to 43.5 percent. If this trend continues [figure 3 — proportion of the Saskatchewan Labour Force…], and a recent study commissioned by the Department of Post-Secondary Education and Skills Training suggests that it will, there will be a steady increase in the demand for post-secondary graduates in the order of an additional 5,440 per year for the next 15 years. Combine this with increases in the labour force itself as the economy grows, and the need to replace existing graduates, and you get an annual demand for approximately 12,400 graduates per year until about 2013 [Annual Demand for Post-Secondary Graduates]. Note, by the way, that the need increases during this time frame, with the biggest growth expected in the latter part of the period.
On the supply side, the next eight years will see an increase at the national level in the 18-24 year age group, but there will be significant regional variations in the growth of this population [Canada’s Youth Population (18-24) Projections to 2010]. The Atlantic provinces and Quebec experience declines, some sharper than others, while Alberta, BC and Ontario experience growth, with growth in Ontario complicated by the so-called double cohort. The Ontario case is worth looking at more closely [Potential for 88,900 more Students by 2010], not just to see the impact of that group of students, but to note the assumption of increased participation rates.
In the case of Saskatchewan, the supply of these 18-24 year olds is estimated to be stable, but like all other provinces we will see that supply decline after 2010 when we experience, at the universities, the results of the baby bust of the late 1980s and 1990s. Meanwhile, the Aboriginal population will increase [Saskatchewan, with the largest proportion…]. Back in 1993 this University’s Academic Planning and Priorities Committee estimated an overall decline of about 6 percent in the 15-24 age group by 2010. But the Aboriginal share of this smaller population will increase by 70 percent. Estimates vary depending on assumptions, but all agree that the Aboriginal share of the province’s population will increase.
In short, we should expect a growing demand for more graduates in general, with a focus in particular areas. We’ve already seen this in Nursing and Medicine and we are going to see it in Computer Science and Education. At the same time, the supply of our traditional age group is not going to grow and, after 2010 will decline.
Participation rates will have to increase markedly to close the gap, and the Department expects this to happen. Assuming we will not modify dramatically our commitment to accessibility, it seems unlikely that we can, or should, plan on shrinking the overall size of the institution in the next ten years. By the same token, we cannot expect to grow the way that, for example, the University of Calgary will grow, that is to about 40,000 by 2025.
Meanwhile, the University of Saskatchewan has its own issues, particularly in the area of graduate education where we have been losing ground. In 1991 approximately 110 PhD students began their course of study; by 2000 the number had declined to 56. In 1991, 500 students entered graduate programs at the University of Saskatchewan; in 2000, we admitted 365. We are losing ground.
Compared with other universities in the so-called "medical-doctoral" category we have the highest ratio of undergraduates to graduate students, approximately one graduate student for every 7.7 undergraduates [According to AUCC …]. This compares to a national ratio of one graduate to 4.36 undergraduates. If we do nothing to arrest this trend, we will soon be de facto out of this "medical-doctoral" group. And we will be leaving it at a time when the demand for highly qualified personnel, particularly those who are doctorally prepared, is growing.
The Enrolment Plan, which will be released in about two months, will suggest that we move to increase graduate enrolment by 700 students – 500 Masters students, 200 PhDs – in 10 years. Such an increase would put us close to, but under, the average of the larger universities in Western Canada, but nowhere near the national average.
To reach even this target will mean, in concrete terms, that by 2011 we are back to the 1991 level, enrolling 110 new PhD students every year [Graduate Enrolment Growth]. Of course, the actual pattern of enrolment can take a number of forms and we will need to decide on how much of this increase should take place in traditional research programs and how much should be course-based professional preparation. What we cannot do is ignore this issue any longer.
We also cannot ignore the degree to which our undergraduate enrolments depend on Saskatchewan students. At the moment, about 92% of our non-international undergraduates are from the province of Saskatchewan [Of the current student population …]. If we are going to meet the demand for university graduates that the Province is projecting, then in selected programs we will have to look for new students beyond our borders.
Looking beyond our borders also means paying attention to international students. The University of Saskatchewan has a relatively high proportion of international students at the undergraduate level –approximately 4 percent in 2000. International student enrolment has doubled in the past two years and we are now near the top when compared with similar universities [According to 1998 data …]. We need to establish a global target and ask ourselves how much variation should occur in individual Colleges. We are already at the top in graduate student enrolment of international students.
Demand on the part of these students will grow, and for some Colleges, it will make sense to take advantage of differential fees to target these students for purposes of increasing graduate enrolments. There will be a world-wide explosion that countries without our educational maturity won’t be able to handle.
Obviously, there are financial impacts to all of these decisions. Growing our graduate student numbers while holding the rest of the university constant overall, will generate an entitlement of over eight million dollars of additional funding from the province. But entitlement is not money in the bank. We may find ourselves with more graduate students but no interest, or ability, on the part of the province to fund them. What we will need to do is establish some common ground whereby both our institutional needs and the province’s labor market needs are met.
It is unlikely that we can press our case for additional resources without taking a close look at the resources we presently have. Right now those resources are heavily concentrated at the undergraduate level.
To maintain the high level of quality we have established in undergraduate education, while increasing our capacity to train graduate students as part of our effort to improve research productivity will require changes in many of our standard operating procedures. Here are some possibilities: [Increasing our Capacity]
- Formally incorporate graduate teaching and supervision into assigned duties.
- Create equitable workloads by making differential teaching, research and administrative assignments.
- At the College or Departmental level sign memorandums of understanding with all faculty that clearly outline expectations over a three-year period.
- Cut back on the number of courses offered at the undergraduate level, by combining and/or eliminating sections, setting minimum enrolment requirements before courses are offered, and removing courses that do not fit into the learning plan.
- Use Systematic Program Review to remove programs of study that are weak or under subscribed.
- Develop a new Tuition Revenue Sharing model that rewards both levels and changes in graduate enrolments.
- Target replacement appointments to departments and programs that can increase both research productivity and graduate supervision.
- Increase graduate student support, particularly support for graduate teaching fellows.
- Improve the teaching capability of graduate students using the Gwenna Moss Teaching and Learning Centre.
The good news is there is virtually nothing stopping us from doing any of this. There are no legal or serious financial impediments that I can detect. But no Enrolment Plan will work unless we take these and other kinds of actions that support the overall goals of the Plan. Which means that no plan will work unless it finds concrete expression at the College level.
I indicated earlier that one of the obstacles to change is the cost of coordination. Each College must devise its own way of contributing to the goals of the Enrolment Plan. Again, Colleges are not the same and they cannot be expected to meet the University’s goals in the same way.
Last year, I said that we owed our students more experiential learning, but there is no need to insist on doing this in a singular, preordained way.
All of the Colleges will have to develop Strategic Plans that explain how they intend to help us meet enrolment targets and improve the quality of the undergraduate learning experience.
And there will be some need for coordination and direction: [Coordination and Direction]
- Student Evaluations: It is time to require that all courses that we offer be evaluated every time they are offered. There is much more to evaluation than student surveys, but no one dedicated to enhancing the student experience can afford to ignore the need for systematic, public evaluation of teaching competence.
- Unclassified Students: This is the second largest college at the University of Saskatchewan, but as far as I can determine we use it as a registration category of convenience. If we want students to enroll in a general program without a specific area of study, then let’s create that option and manage enrolments in it, rather than use it as a residual category. Let’s be strategic.
- Common Year One: It is also time to look at a Common Year One, a set of courses and experiences that would provide solid grounding for success no matter what program students subsequently entered. Plainly this would require increased coordination, but it may help us rationalize our first year teaching and it would certainly force us to ask: what is first year for?
- Residences: At the moment we run our residences on a business model alone. Enrolment management means that we use our residences strategically to achieve our enrolment goals. For example, if we are going to increase graduate enrolment, we have to be sensitive to the special needs of graduate students, including housing and child care.
Change is possible, but it does mean that we have to understand and recognize how the environment is shifting, provide as much independence as we can to academic units to meet shared goals in their own ways, and invest in collaborative teaching and research programs.
This talk was subtitled: Not Enough Change? And the answer? Well, you would be correct if you left thinking that my message is that there has been lots of change, but not enough of the type that we need, namely change that we lead. I realize that change is painful and even dangerous.
I also realize that in our rush to adapt, respond and lead it is always possible that we will forget our roots and lose touch with our values. For those who worry about this–and I worry about it so you’re not alone–let me suggest that you ask yourself whether the changes you see are enhancing our ability to serve society by maintaining an independent understanding of ourselves and our world. It is this independence, the sense of no vested interest in the outcomes of our work that is critical to our place in the world.
I put it to you that most of the change that originates from outside of the institution compromises our independence in some measure or another. Some of this is acceptable: I am not opposed to changes that require us to be more accountable or more competitive. Other changes, particularly the withdrawal of public funding, have compromised us to the core. Eventually we have to push back with changes of our own. I’ve spoken today about some of them. I’m sure you have ideas for others. I look forward to hearing them.
For further information, contact Amber McCuaig at (306) 966-8484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.