Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Town hall redux

Below is a collection of media from the President's annual spring town hall held yesterday in the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science.


Video (April 20)


Twitter Feed (April 19)


  1. Thank you, President, for again articulating teaching as an institutional priority; the UofA is doing much right in this regard.

    I was disappointed, however, to learn recently that the Vargo Distinguished Teaching Chairs program is being suspended by the Provost's Office on grounds of a shortage of funds. The Vargo Chairs program has been one of the strongest signs that the UofA is willing to reward teaching in some of the same currencies as research. Just as the Canada Research Chairs recognize leading researchers by awarding up to ten years of funding for continued research innovation, the Vargos (explicitly modelled on the CRCs) have provided a handful of UofA faculty with relatively modest budgets for ongoing teaching innovation over a five year (renewable) term.

    This dollars and cents support has been precious to me as a Vargo Chair -- recognition through a 3M, Rutherford, Blizzard, and other awards has been nice, but almost entirely symbolic. When I've told 3Ms at other Canadian universities about the Vargo program they have been wowed at a form of teaching recognition that brings ongoing support, not just sweet words.

    I'll be sorry to see my Vargo wrapped up early, and I'm not sure what to read into the fact that funding shortages are being invoked for the suspension of a field-leading teaching chairs program, even as massive amounts of funding continue to be found for new and continuing research chairs.

    Appreciation and recognition are important currencies at the University. But hard-edged funding choices are at least as important in showing what the University most deeply values.

  2. Can we get the full unedited video/audio posted that includes the questions from the floor? Maybe use a different video service or post a quicktime video if you can't get it into youtube?

  3. Can we get the full unedited video/audio posted that includes the questions from the floor?

    Yes. We will be posting full audio to eCast. Will let you know when it's up. Sorry for the delay.

  4. Full audio is here. A link is also up in the main post.

  5. I agree with that point. On top of what Dr. Kahane suggested, I would also like to see broader recognition of all the wonderful sessional instrutors and faculty across this campus, rather than restricting the recognition to the stars who stand out as outstanding in comparison to their U of A peers (by definition, stars who are few in number). I would call that broader recognition an across-the-board salary increase. To the student who expressed concern about the quality of teaching - the university gets what it pays for.

  6. To clarify my comment above: the first five years of my Vargo will be seen through. In saying the award is being 'wrapped up early' I was referring to the elimination (or perhaps delay?) of the possibility of renewal for a further five years.

    My point was meant to be a broader one, about how and where cuts are implemented in times of restraint, especially as regards the balance between funding for excellence in teaching and in research.

  7. Here is a response from Colleen Skidmore, vice-provost( academic):

    Thank you, David, for your comment regarding the importance of teaching at the University of Alberta, and the Vargo Chair program in particular. The University has an outstanding community of dedicated instructors who are an essential aspect of the student experience at the U of A. This is why the focus on teaching and learning has been renewed and features prominently in the new academic plan, and continues in the vision for the University set out in Dare to Discover. A key and ongoing part of that is finding ways to appropriately acknowledge and foster innovation and excellence in teaching.

    The Vargo Chairs are financed by the Endowment Fund for the Future (EFF). Over the past couple of years, as Endowment payouts were decreased, we have been overdrawing on this fund’s payout to support a number of awards, including the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF), Support for the Advancement of Scholarship (SAS), Distinguished Visiting Speakers, and McCalla professorships. Up until recently, we have been able to do so because of a reserve in the fund.

    However, that reserve is diminishing and the level of spending is not sustainable. Therefore, we decided not to open a competition for new Vargo Chairs over the next three years so as to be able to continue to support current Vargo chair holders until the end of each of their terms and to retain current spending levels for the other awards in 2011-12. Despite the current pressures on the EFF, the University remains committed to acknowledging, celebrating and supporting the high quality and innovative teaching that happens across our campuses everyday.

  8. Thanks for that response. Is there also a committment to providing adequate financial compensation to the hundreds of faculty and sessionals who teach the majority of students and upon whom the success of our undergrad programs depend? Not awards, but salaries? Thanks in advance for your response.

  9. I find it somewhat bothersome that during Dr. Samarasekera's reaffirmation on the University's commitment to teaching she didn't even know the name of the Vice-Provost responsible for a large part of the University's teaching vision. Although Dr. COLLEEN Skidmore is new, it leads me to believe that there's a strong disconnect between what she does and what the University as a whole sees. I'd really look forwards to another blog post from Dr. Skidmore to address what other sorts of projects are managed by the Vice-Provost (Academic).

    Referencing 1:20 of this video:

  10. There is a segment titled "Campus morale" in Dr Samarasekera's presentation but this segment entirely ignores the issues raised in questions regarding the morale posted on this blog by me and two anonymous commentators ( This silence speaks volumes.

  11. Thanks for the comment Anonymous 10:02pm.

    One shouldn't take a momentary memory lapse as anything more than that. It happens to all of us; most of us are lucky that it doesn't happen when we're on camera and in front of a live audience.

    I will take your idea for another post back, though. It's a good idea.

  12. Well said, Piotr. Its interesting how your latest comment on the topic was still ignored.


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