Friday, December 12, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin - Dec 12

This week opened with a Monday meeting with the deputy minister of the Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education in which we extended a dialogue begun earlier this fall. I continued to stress that sustainable funding for our university—and Alberta’s post-secondary sector more generally—is essential to maintaining the quality, depth, and range of education and research that the province needs. That evening, I had the pleasure of welcoming the Chinese ambassador to Canada and his delegation, who were on campus for a visit.

On Wednesday, the Board of Governors met. The focus of the agenda was the review and approval of 2015-2016 tuition and other program fees, approvals that occur each year at this time. As is legislated by the provincial government, the board approved a tuition increase of 2.2 per cent for next year. In addition, I was pleased to announce after the board meeting that Olive Yonge has been appointed interim provost and vice-president (academic) per the board’s approval.

While presenting a report to the board on Senate activities and priorities for the year, Chancellor Ralph Young noted that the U of A’s United Way campaign has thus far fallen short of its goal. As the university’s honorary chair of the campus United Way campaign, he was concerned that we have only reached 60 per cent of our campaign goal of $575,000. Although campaign activities on campus ended a little over a month ago, the chancellor reminded the board that the campaign remains open until December 31 and donations can still be made online. As you know, the U of A—through faculty, staff, and students—has a long and outstanding history of supporting the United Way, largely, I believe, because we know that the United Way supports so many organizations that not only provide critical assistance to those in need, but also provide services that many young people need to develop their full academic and personal potential. Please consider making a pledge if you haven’t already done so.

I would also like to highlight another great initiative nearing its close. Today is the last day that faculty, staff, alumni, and students can join in the “Share the Cheer” program led by UAI. Through this program, international U of A students are paired with faculty, staff, and alumni who generously open their homes over the holidays and share their families’ traditions over an evening. This is the third year of this program, each year more successful than the last. My thanks to all for participating and welcoming students into your homes. Please visit the Share the Cheer website if you would like to sign up for this year’s festivities.

Until next Friday,


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Call for 2015 Community Connections Award Nominations

At this time of year, we often find ourselves thinking about our communities and the countless ways that we connect to one another. University of Alberta events such as “Share the Cheer” and initiatives such as “Unwind Your Mind” remind us of the importance of reaching out to those around us. Through terrific activities such as the SU’s annual Christmas Party for Kids and the Devonian Garden’s Luminaria, we can see how members of the U of A are able to brighten the holiday experience for our most valued partners: the community.

While we’re all in a reflective and celebratory mood, I’d like to invite you to consider your nominations for this year’s Community Connections Awards. Now entering their third year, the Community Connections Awards provide us with an opportunity to honour the relationships that have strengthened the U of A’s connection to the people of Alberta. Nominees should have substantial experience in community service, and might participate in activities such as public speaking, volunteer work, and school visits.  They may be scholars whose research has led to significant, positive change in our communities, or whose work has reinforced the bond between our university and its communities.

Community Connections Awards include:

  • Community Scholar Award for an individual or team of academic staff members who not only excel in their scholarship, but also readily and frequently bring that scholarship into the community, showing how their work affects people’s lives. This award is open to faculty members, sessional and contract instructors. 

  • Community Leader Award for an individual or team of employees, post-doctoral fellows, or students who have made a valuable contribution to bridging the university’s commitment to learning, discovery and citizenship with the community. This award is open to non-academic staff, students and post-doctoral fellows.

  • UAlberta Advocate Award for an individual or group who are not students, current faculty or staff members, but who give their time, expertise, and passion to advance the U of A and post-secondary education in our community.

Nominations for the 2015 Community Connections awards are now open and will be accepted until noon on Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. To find a nomination form and to learn more about past winners, please visit the Community Connection Awards website.

Thank you,

Debra Pozega Osburn
Vice-President (University Relations)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Appointment of Interim Provost and Vice-President (Academic)

I am pleased to announce that Dr. Olive Yonge has been appointed Interim Provost and Vice-President (Academic) for the period of December 10, 2014 to June 30, 2015. My thanks to Olive for quickly and effectively assuming the responsibilities of Acting Provost on November 17th and agreeing to continue in this critical leadership role as Interim Provost while a search for a new provost is undertaken. 

In addition to her recent contributions as Deputy Provost, a role she has held since February 1, 2014, Olive served as Vice-Provost (Academic Programs) from 2005 to 2010. During that term, she led a number of initiatives such as merging technological and academic support for teaching through the establishment of the Centre for Teaching and Learning. She raised awareness of the Bologna Accord and led in formulating the pandemic plan. Olive also served as Chair of Campus Alberta Quality Council. 

Well-known to our community for her strong commitment to students, Olive has taught psychiatric mental health nursing, interdisciplinary courses, and developed courses in the area of teaching and learning. Her nationally-funded program of research is in the area of how students learn about their profession through practice in the field setting. She has received numerous teaching awards, including the national 3M Teaching Fellowship and the Vargo Teaching Chair. Her ability to work collaboratively with all sectors of the university has been a touchstone of her leadership within the Provost’s Office over the last several months. With her outstanding record of administrative and academic achievements, the Provost’s Office will be very well managed during this current period of transition.

Please join me in congratulating Olive!

Indira Samarasekera
President and Vice-Chancellor

Friday, December 5, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin--Dec 5

This week marked the end of classes for fall term, and after a few weeks of managing some significant changes, this was a relatively routine week in my schedule. I continued to seek advice on the appointment of both the interim provost and interim dean of medicine and dentistry. As I announced earlier this week, I am delighted that Lorne Tyrrell has agreed to step into the position of acting dean in FOMD until the end of January.

I am also pleased to note that yesterday the federal government announced the official launch of the first round of competition for grants from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. Established in the February 2014 federal budget, this major research fund is a visionary investment that will help universities such as the University of Alberta—and Canada’s post-secondary sector more generally—to promote and strengthen areas of research excellence in which we have the proven capacity to lead on the global level. Since February, we have been working in collaboration with both the U15 and AUCC to help the federal government shape the program’s design and implementation. As well, here at home, Vice-President Lorne Babiuk has been working with the deans and associate deans (research) to ensure that the U of A would be well prepared to meet the deadlines and submission requirements of the first round of competition. We anticipated that timelines would be tight and wanted to be ready. Indeed, the initial notice of intent is due February 2, 2015 (full proposal on March 2); we are ready now to review and evaluate the potential success of six internal proposals. According to guidelines published yesterday, each university can be the lead institution on only one proposal per competition, although we can be a partner in others. The next round of competition will follow shortly, with a deadline of August 31 for the notice of intent and full proposal on October 30, 2015.

Another announcement of note also came out yesterday, this one from the Conference Board of Canada. They announced that Carl Amrhein, former provost, will become Distinguished Research Chair, effective July 1, 2015. This will be a five-year secondment from the U of A, which will take effect when his secondment to Alberta Health Services is completed at the end of June. In his role as Distinguished Research Chair, he will continue his work investigating trends in global higher education, in particular the interdependence between Canada’s education and immigration policies in areas of international education and research.

I’d like to wish students the best of luck as they begin heading into exams tomorrow and urge them to take advantage of the supports offered by “Unwind Your Mind.” And my thanks to all faculty, instructors, teaching and lab assistants, and librarians across the university for your efforts in making this term a rich and rewarding learning experience for our students.

Until next Friday,


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Acting-Dean named for Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Lorne Tyrrell has agreed to serve as Acting Dean, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry for the period of December 15, 2014 to January 31, 2015. At that time an Interim Dean will be appointed.

Lorne Tyrrell is Professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and founder and Scientific Director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology. He has served the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry as dean (1994-2004), chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology (1986-1994), and head of the Division of Infectious Diseases.

In addition to his extensive administrative experience, Lorne has an exceptional research record which includes the discovery and development of Lamivudine, the first antiviral therapy for hepatitis B, and more recently, the co-development of animal models used in hepatitis C research. He has been awarded numerous accolades for his research and contribution to medical teaching and research, including the University Cup, the J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research and the Prix Galien of Canada (1998). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, an Officer of the Order of Canada (2002), and he was named to the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2000. Lorne has received the Canadian Medical Association's F.N.G. Starr Award (2004) and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2011. He has been chair of the Gairdner Foundation Board of Directors since 2009.

With Lorne’s outstanding record of administrative and academic achievements, we are confident that the faculty and the university community will experience a smooth transition into the new year.

We would like to thank everyone who contributed advice concerning this appointment.

Indira Samarasekera
President and Vice-Chancellor
Olive Yonge
Acting Provost

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Share the Cheer –Host international students for holiday dinner

As the holiday season approaches, I write to you today about a tremendous opportunity for goodwill and giving within our university community.

For the third year in a row, University of Alberta International is inviting all faculty, staff and alumni to participate in the Share the Cheer – Host of the Holiday initiative.  The program gives faculty, staff and alumni the opportunity to host international students for holiday dinner during the festive season, anytime between December 20, 2014 and January 25, 2015. It’s a wonderful chance to share your traditions, learn about each other’s cultures, and give our international students a personal, genuine connection when their family and friends are far away. Last year, we matched 137 international students with 54 hosts. We’re hoping to increase our numbers even more.

Last December, I was able to host four students from China for an afternoon of Christmas decorating and dinner. Initially the students, most of them very new to the U of A and to Canada, were a little shy and reserved—it was clear that they had never before decorated a Christmas tree and had never participated in any Christmas celebrations. But as they strung lights on the tree, donned decorations on its branches and placed the numerous decorative items that I have accumulated over the years in and around our living room, the students developed great enthusiasm and worked very happily with each other and with the other guests. I was baffled at their speed, dexterity and creativity, and so delighted with the truly intercultural Christmas decorations which stayed with us through the festive season.  

It was an inspiring afternoon of chatting, laughing, sharing stories, listening to live guitar music performed by another Chinese student, and snacking on traditional candies and cakes from my home country of Germany. University of Alberta International staff members have heard so many other happy stories of get-togethers and celebrations with our international students that have filled us with deep gratitude to all the hosts!

 I have again signed-up to host some students this holiday season, and I invite you to do the same (each host must invite a minimum of two students). It will give you a remarkable glimpse into our international student community, enhance their student experience and remind you of the importance of our work in helping shape their futures.  I can assure you it’s truly a heart-warming experience—and we could all use a little heart-warming after last week’s wintery weather. I encourage you to open your hearts, to open your homes, and to Share the Cheer! Registration is open until December 12.

Britt Baron
Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President (International)

Friday, November 28, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin--Nov 28

The week began with the second meeting of General Faculties Council for this academic term. Because members of the senior team and I had heard from faculty members and administrators that there was mounting concern regarding the possibility of the university adopting a new budget model, I used my opening comments at GFC to clarify the situation. I would like to share that information here as well.

Let me begin by noting that, although a number of related activities are in motion, it is important not to conflate them. First, let me address an upcoming change related to merit and negotiated across-the-board salary increases (ATB), also known as cost-of-living allowance (COLA). As you know, planning for next year’s budget begins far in advance of its implementation. Thus, the provost and deans have been discussing how to manage the 2015–2016 budget for several months already—these discussions have included proposals for revenue generation, formulae for sharing any new incoming revenue, and transferring responsibility for merit and ATB to faculties. This latter point was proposed largely to simplify administrative processes.

Let me explain: Each year, central administration distributes a base budget to faculties that includes funds to pay for compensation obligations in addition to other programming costs. Any further merit or ATB increases have, up to this point, been the responsibility of central administration. Currently, we then cut faculties and large administrative units in order to pay for them. By transferring responsibility for merit and ATB directly to faculties, we eliminate this back-and-forth administrative process. The transfer of responsibility from central to faculties has, as I mentioned, been in the planning stage for months, and this week at Deans’ Council, the deans, VPs, and acting provost agreed to proceed as planned. Responsibility for ATB and merit will thus be transferred to faculties beginning with the 2015–2016 budget cycle.

Second, as many of you will know, the provost and deans have also been working to identify and begin attracting new sources of revenue to ensure that we can sustain our academic priorities in a period in which public funding of universities is falling across the globe. This work is ongoing.

Third, there is the question of developing a new resource management/budget model for the university. When former provost Carl Amrhein returned from his leave last spring, he urged senior leadership to begin investigating alternative models that could help us simplify and clarify how we manage our resources in our highly decentralized environment and also foster and reward revenue generation within faculties and units. So, as I mentioned in my October 24 weekly bulletin, an exploration and consultation process was launched with the agreement of the deans, under the joint leadership of the Provost’s Office and VP (Finance and Administration). Many members of faculty and administration are involved, and I’d like to thank them for taking on this challenging assignment. (Information about the working teams and their objectives will be posted by mid-December on Change@UAlberta.)

Let me be clear about the purpose of this process. It does not mean that a decision has been made to adopt a new resource management/budget model. It means that we are looking into the advantages and disadvantages of doing so in light of the realities of the U of A’s particular budgetary situation and academic priorities. Any decision to adopt a new model will not occur before the arrival of incoming president David Turpin. In my conversations with him this week, he indicated that we should proceed with our exploration, and upon his arrival in July, he and his leadership team will review the findings and consult with the community to determine whether or not moving ahead would be the right choice for the U of A. There will be numerous means and opportunities for you to provide feedback and input.

In closing, I would also like to assure you that, even as we consider how best to manage and steward our resources, I am still primarily engaged in advocacy efforts to ensure that the U of A—indeed all of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions—receive the strong public investment we need to provide the quality of education and research that Albertans need and expect.

Until next Friday,


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Student support services: Together we help each other

We are approaching the end of the term, exams and final papers are upon you, and the days are getting shorter. We all know this can be a stressful time of the year, for students as well as faculty and staff. Compounding this usual stress is the tragic loss of students in the past weeks. My thoughts and heart go out to those most directly affected, but I think all of us are feeling the sadness of losing members of our U of A family.

My first and foremost priority is always the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. If you are struggling, I urge you to reach out to your friends and family, or the many support services available to you on and off campus. Whether you’re looking for help with your classwork or exams, have concerns on a health matter, or could just use some support in dealing with life right now, there are people and services available to help.

On campus, students can access a variety of services:

  • Student Success Centre: Here, caring staff offer help for students to deal with everything from final exams to final papers through individual appointments, workshops, and other resources. They are here to support your academic success.
  • University Wellness Services:
    • Health Clinic – Located on the second floor of SUB, this clinic is primarily drop-in and provides a wide variety of professional, friendly, and compassionate medical services to students and staff.
    • Counselling and Clinical Services – This service offers individual counselling, as well as a series of drop-in workshops on a number of topics, and online resources including an audio relaxation series.
    • Sexual Assault Centre – Trained staff provide a safe and compassionate place on campus where unconditional support, confidentiality, respect, and advocacy are available for those affected by sexual violence.
    • Campus Pharmacy – Located in the Bookstore in SUB, this full-service pharmacy provides convenient and professional services to the U of A community.
  • Community Social Work Team: This approachable and knowledgeable team can be a great place for students to start with questions or concerns. Their primary focus is on helping students become connected to each other, the campus community, and resources both on and off campus.
  • Peer Support Centre: Provided by the Students’ Union, the Peer Support Centre provides information, referrals, crisis intervention, and a completely confidential place to talk.
  • Residence Services: If you live in residence, remember that your RA can be a support and can help you find other support services you might need. You can also check your residence’s web page for more information.
  • Aboriginal Student Services Centre: ASSC honours the indigenous world view of education as a continuous ceremony of learning by respecting and supporting the voices and spirit of the Aboriginal community at the U of A. Students have access to advising, Elder services, and a smudge room.
  • International Student Services: The staff in ISS are committed to helping international students adjust to life in Canada and providing a supportive environment for international students studying at the U of A.
  • Helping Individuals at Risk: If you are concerned that someone you know may be at risk of harming themselves, you can contact the co-ordinator at the Helping Individuals at Risk office for support and guidance.

As it does each year as we near the end of term, the Office of the Dean of Students also has a wide range of activities planned for the coming weeks. Unwind Your Mind is co-ordinated by the Healthy Campus Unit in partnership with U of A Libraries and other U of A student services. The program will bring healthy snacks, free fitness classes, mental health resource stations, and wisdom corners to libraries. This team also brings in our Furry Friends—trained animals certified in pet-assisted therapy—to visit campus thanks to our partnership with Chimo Animal Assisted Wellness and Learning Society.

Of course, students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from this kind of support. Staff and faculty have access to the University Wellness Centre and the University Employee and Family Assistance Program, and a variety of supports from counselling to coaching to financial planning assistance.

As anyone who has ever used these services will tell you, they are professional, caring, and confidential. They have helped many people on campus, and if you're having a hard time, they can help you as well. At the very least, reach out to a friend or colleague. Together we can help each other.

—Olive Yonge,
Acting Provost and Vice-President (Academic)

Dean Review, Faculty of Arts – Call for Consultation

Dr. Lesley Cormack’s current term as Dean, Faculty of Arts will end on June 30, 2015, and she has indicated she will seek a second term in office. In accordance with University regulations, a Dean Review Committee has been established. The Committee membership is listed below.
As its first action, the Review Committee calls for your advice and opinion on the state of the Faculty under the leadership of the current Dean.

Specifically, the Committee is interested in the following:

1) Leadership – demonstrates a high level of integrity and commitment to University and its values, inspires a shared vision of the Faculty, leads academic planning process, communicates the Faculty vision, develops a strong team of faculty and staff, provides strong leadership within a shared-governance structure, builds trust through openness and transparency while making difficult decisions needed to move Faculty forward;

2) Research and Scholarly Activity – sound intellectual leadership, promotes excellence and integrity in research and scholarly activity, works to support research funding, collaboration and productivity;

3) Advocacy – builds effective relationships, promotes/advocates for Faculty to broad spectrum of constituents, including University community and other community leaders, agencies and key institutions regionally, nationally and internationally;

4) Teaching and Learning – leads academic planning process and supports curriculum development, promotes excellence and integrity and fosters a climate that encourages faculty and staff to identify and pursue excellence, works to build strategic recruitment/retention plans;

5) Faculty and Staff Relations – Plans/prioritizes human resource needs for Faculty; establishes strategies to compete for high-caliber faculty and staff; is responsible for appointments, recommendations for tenure and promotion and annual merit increments; is fair and follows effective, transparent processes, builds environment of collegiality;

6) Administration – ensures compliance with University policies, demonstrates financial acumen and ensures fiscal responsibility in working with budgets, funds, and financial processes;

7) External Relations and Advancement – builds national and international linkages, pro-actively looks for new challenges and funding sources, attracts resources to the Faculty from government, philanthropy and other programs, works with advancement professionals, leads Faculty’s fund development activities.

8) Other matters.

Should you wish to offer comment on the above, please use the online Consultation Form. To facilitate the Committee’s work, please submit your comments by Monday, January 5, 2015.
Submissions from non-tenured faculty, administrative and support staff, and students may be sent with a request that comments be passed to the Committee anonymously. Requests of anonymity will be granted on condition that the individual identifies him- or herself in the Consultation Form. Submissions from tenured faculty will be attributed to the contributor.
Your views are important to us and I encourage you to share your thoughts with the Committee.
Thank you for your assistance.

Olive Yonge
Acting Provost and Vice-President (Academic)

Committee Membership:  Dean Review, Faculty of Arts

Olive Yonge, Chair
Acting Provost and Vice-President (Academic)

Walter Dixon, Vice-Chair
Associate Vice-President (Research)

Joanna Harrington
Associate Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research

Beau Coleman
Associate Professor, Drama

Roger Graves
Professor, English and Film Studies

Robert Lederer
Associate Professor, Art and Design

GFC Member
No Nominee

Rick Szostak
Professor, Economics

Guillaume Tardif
Associate Professor, Music

Pamela Willoughby
Professor and Chair, Anthropology

Dylan Hanwell
Undergraduate Student

Erin Borden
Undergraduate Student

Justin Leifso
PhD Student, Political Science

Heather Cook
Graduate Advisor & Research Coordinator, Anthropology

Julie Brown
Assistant Chair/Administration, Drama

Kelly MacFarlane
Faculty Lecturer, History and Classics


Susan Buchsdruecker
Faculty Relations Officer, Office of the Provost and Vice-President (Academic)
Phone: 780-492-7813

Faiza Billo
Faculty Relations Assistant, Office of the Provost and Vice-President (Academic)
Phone: 780-248-1047

Friday, November 21, 2014

President Samarasekera's Weekly Bulletin--Nov 21

I expect that many of you would agree with me that it has been an eventful week. It began last Friday with the announcement of the new president, David Turpin. As I said at the announcement, I have worked with David on the national scene and believe that the Board of Governors has entrusted the future of the University of Alberta to an individual with exceptional skills and experience as a leader, researcher, and university administrator. Few people have such extensive experience, from being department head to dean to president. I was delighted to host David, his wife Suromitra Sanatani, and a few guests in my home on Friday evening, where we launched the first of many conversations I know we’ll have over the coming months.

The university has entered a period of major transition, but we are well prepared. Debra Pozega Osburn (VP, University Relations) has been working with a committee comprised of a diverse group of faculty, staff, students, board and senate members, community leaders, and alumni, to prepare for the new president and to help ensure his successful introduction into our community. At our dinner, David reiterated his desire to begin listening and learning about the U of A.

With Carl Amrhein’s resignation of his role as provost and vice-president (academic) and immediate secondment to Alberta Health Services as its official administrator, which was announced on Monday, I quickly began consulting with members of the senior leadership team on the appointment of an interim provost and will launch a formal search for a new provost and VP (academic) next week. In the meantime, Olive Yonge has graciously agreed to take on the responsibilities of acting provost until the interim appointment can be made. In the New Year, I expect that a search committee for the new provost will be convened. I will be consulting with David Turpin throughout the process as he will be responsible for bringing the process to conclusion and making the final selection. 

On Tuesday, following the announcement of Doug Miller’s decision to accept a new position at the New York Medical College, I also began to seek advice from members of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry on the appointment of an interim dean. I hope to have a person named by mid-December.
In the midst of all of this change, I was renewed by two days of convocation ceremonies Tuesday and Wednesday. Congratulating students on the stage of the Jubilee Auditorium, I was reminded that no matter how things change, the most important work of the university continues, and that our graduates leave this institution well prepared and inspired because of the dedicated efforts of faculty and staff. One of this fall’s honorary degree recipients noted how much his teachers had inspired and shaped him, and I could see how that message resonated in the faces of the graduates in the audience. As always, I was moved by the three ceremonies.

Finally, let me end with a note of thanks to the staff in Faculties and Operations who have strung several trees in quad with lights. The lights (all energy-efficient LED bulbs) are a beautiful addition to campus during the darkness of winter. Thank you!

Until next Friday,