Thursday, March 28, 2013

Working Lunch Brown Bag Forum on April 5, 2013

My thanks to all of you for your ideas, concerns, and suggestions regarding the provincial government's letter of expectation. The discussion thus far has been very interesting and thoughtful. Please continue to send your comments through to April 7 at midnight, when we will begin to compile and organize the various threads of advice.

I would also like to ask the community’s input on another front. In addition to providing feedback on the letter of expectation, we have been asked to be prepared to discuss UAlberta’s three top institutional strengths and the role they could play in the future direction of Campus Alberta. This is an opportunity to us to highlight the University of Alberta’s flagship role and I would like to hear your thoughts on how best to demonstrate our leadership.

On April 5, 2013, all interested faculty, staff, and students are invited to join me for a Working Lunch Brown Bag Forum to begin to consolidate the community’s main areas of feedback.

Working Lunch Brown Bag Forum
Friday, April 5, 2013
12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
L1-490 ECHA (Edmonton Clinic Health Academy)


All employees and students are welcome. Please feel free to bring and eat your lunch while we work. The event will be live-streamed. More details to follow.

If you are unable to attend, please continue to visit Change@UAlberta to submit your ideas, comments, and constructive feedback.

Martin Ferguson-Pell
Acting Vice-Provost and Vice-President (Academic)

23 comments:

  1. I would like to thank the administration for its consistent and thoughtful engagement with the campus community on these difficult issues.

    I would also like to ask a question -- one that's unrelated to the mandate letters, and that hearkens back to the budget crisis that was the subject of the previous town hall.

    I think the administration has done a good job of explaining the concept of "vertical cuts," and I fully understand that it is imperative that this option for addressing the budget shortfall be on the table.

    It is perhaps unavoidable, then, that many staff (and even faculty members) are left to feel anxious about their future and their livelihood. Speaking as one of those people, I think that my anxiety would be reduced if I could have some sense of the time-horizon at play here.

    It's a difficult and no doubt naive question. But I think many of us would be reassured if could someone let us know: if vertical cuts are on their way, by what date will the last of them be announced? By what time will we know our fates, and that of our programs? Are we talking about a year? More?

    Sometimes it's easier, psychologically and emotionally, to make it through stormy seas when you have some sense of the location of the other shore.

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    1. This is a good and fair question. We will provide an answer as soon as we have more information about process and timelines. Keep in mind that some, indeed many, of these decisions will also occur at the department, faculty and unit level and that you may be able to receive guidance on these questions from your immediate supervisor. However, we will do our best to keep you as informed as possible as things become more clear.

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  2. Could you please clarify what you mean by "UAlberta’s three top institutional strengths"? Do you mean qualities such as excellence in research, both fundamental and applied, or our educational philosophy and how it helps prepare students for success? Or do you mean which fields are strongest - Medicine vs Arts vs Engineering vs Science?

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  3. Our top 3 institutional strengths: (1) curiosity-driven research into subjects ranging from Shakespearean theatre to petroleum refining, that both helps to answer questions about the nature and function of the world (natural and social) around us and also feeds into our classrooms, where we; (2) offer broad-based undergraduate education in diverse subjects such as Greek mythology and biochemistry that then inspires critical thinking skills in our students along with the desire for life-long learning; and (3) all of which is made possible by the fact that we have overall the highest quality, best-trained, and most internationally recognized faculty members in Alberta.

    We are an excellent institution. And we need to fight for it. Here's hoping the long weekend will help to rejuvenate us to fight the good fight and protect the integrity of our institution.

    (crossposted from Whither)

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  4. I think the current situation is due to a massive PR failure. The government thinks that by cutting and gutting the Universities, in particular Arts and Basic Science, it can get approval from ordinary Alberta citizens. Marta and Henry do not just think we are wasting their taxpayer's money, they think the University's employees are even having a great time doing so. While they do see some benefit from teaching engineering or MDs, they just cannot follow how one would possibly want to study flies, the emergence of new slang words in English or ancient Greek novels. How are we reacting to this? Not well. Every group within the University is pointing fingers to another that they have to pay the price for this fundamental lack of communication to the people of Alberta about the value of what we do. I realize the president has given interviews to the Globe and Mail, but too bad, Martha and Henry don't read this elitist newspaper.
    In other parts of the world, Universities are able to communicate their benefits much better than here. They usually organize Open Doors events, where the locals can come and see labs and drama classes. In Alberta, however, distances are long and no one from Lloydminster will show up for these. Unfortunately for the UofA, not even something like this has ever been done during the past decade.
    My suggestion is to become pro-active and get out of the ivory tower. Instead of cutting travel expenses, let's reassign them. I propose to set up "University Daze" this summer all over the northern province to showcase what ordinary professors and students are doing. Rent a hotel meeting room in Grande Prairie, Slave Lake, or Vermillion and organize an event with select speakers, posters (including presenters) and personal interaction between us and the people from these places. Now, you might interject, farmers and welders will not show up for these. While this may be true, the people who DO show up know some of these and will spread the word, as long as we do a good job advertising beforehand and then showcasing our valuable work at the event(s). What types of topics and research should be covered? I would say essentially anything that could be interesting to the general public, not necessarily the big stars, who do not have time for such initiatives anyway. Posters or presentations should have easy to understand content and should not require months of preparation. In my opinion, 5-6 such events would go a long way convincing the public to get in touch with their MPs to tell them how valuable the UofA (and other Universities and colleges) really are for this province.

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    1. This is one of the better ideas I have seen floating around this site, and it even comes with a plan of execution. I would greatly appreciate seeing this happen, regardless of whether it helps us immediately - in the long term it can only benefit.
      My modification - rather a continuing extension if you will - is that each of the colleges and Universities affected by the cuts and letter of expectation should offer a few of these showcases.
      A problem we are having is thinking that we (U of A) are of most importance since we are the flagship campus of the province. We aren't looking at the larger picture, so to speak - our perceived importance should not be declared by ignoring the importance of other institutions regardless of our international ranking. By having each college and University present their broad-reaching talents we show that Alberta as a whole is an attractive province to learn in; one institution that is already supporting all the researchers it can handle in a particular field can pass along an incoming researcher - with research that is no less important - to another institution in Alberta which can fund them. The point is that the incoming researchers stay so they can collaborate instead of losing them to other provinces. This is what Campus Alberta should be (partially) about, not placing Engineering here or Dentistry there. I don't mean to say don't compete within the Campus Alberta umbrella - that would be foolish and the various institutions would lose their international edge - just make sure that the minor bickering is eclipsed in the end by overall forward-looking behaviour.
      The result of this cohesive behaviour, but not degradative of institutional individuality, is that the public can see we are working for education in Alberta as a whole. It reinforces how beneficial the various institutions are while simultaneously increasing the collective - and individual - international academic standing.

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    2. The University of Alberta's three top institutional strengths are: innovative staff of all occupations; up to date spaces plus facilities; and a central, physical location in the province. All of these three factors are self explanatory when it arrives at demonstrating why the U of A should be a key contributor to and the main influencer of the Campus Alberta model as a whole entity to this government.

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    3. Mods: Is this on IdeaScale? I could not find it.

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    4. Hi. Thanks for the question. They were added as separate ideas, that way people can pick an choose the ones they like. One is called "central location" "innovative staff". However I do think I missed adding "excellent facilities". Thanks for pointing this out. Please feel free add this idea to IdeaScale.

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  5. UAlberta’s three top institutional strengths:

    1. The top students academically in the province
    2. The top professors academically in the province
    3. The most experienced administrative leadership of a complex university system in the province

    To sum:
    Campus Alberta must be led by the experienced academic and administrative leadership of the University of Alberta who already have the experience of running a university of internationally-recognized, rigorous research and teaching of the province's most academically gifted Canadian and international students.
    The new Campus Alberta is a 25-year vision that takes dedicated, experienced staff to run. We have a goldmine of experienced administrators and faculty here at the University of Alberta to turn that vision into a reality.
    The government needs to get out of the business of running Campus Alberta and eCampus Alberta - their vision changes too often with every new elected or appointed official and the government staff of those initiatives do not have the experience required for running a large, complex institution.
    Take your most qualified academic and administrative resources at the University of Alberta and give them the authority and the financial backing to create and run a new Campus Alberta that includes pedagogical rigor in all levels of learning - from the PhD to the technical certificate.

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    1. I love the U of A, but what makes you think we have the top academics in the province? From what I hear, all of the other colleges and universities in Alberta also have great students and profs.

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  6. On March 24 Colloquy wrote: "We continue to investigate software options that will help to facilitate the online discussion and hope to have that available sometime this week."

    How's that going?

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  7. What is happening with renaissance committee, is this committee a moot point now? Do they have any concrete ideas in this time of crisis? Should it continue?

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  8. If we have been asked for the top three picks, then so has every other institution. Top three for King's with 700 students, Olds College, MRU, etc. There is no kind of parity or consideration of scale in such an exercise. Therefore, I think it would be a mistake to identify specific disciplines or academic areas in response to this request. Within "campus Alberta," the strength of U of A is its unique "capstone" role (to coin a phrase) providing a high-value high-choice research-intensive education to the students of Alberta, both the direct entrants and the many who transfer in. Excellent grad degrees, fundamental and applied research, and density of international linkages would be the next three. These are what we (and U of C) have and the rest of the system does not to the same degree. All of our faculties contribute to this -- the breadth is the main asset and selling point we have, I believe.

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  9. Eliminate RSO, HR and AICT and contract those services to private companies.

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    1. Great. Like that's saving money. (But of course commercialization and efficiency are often at odds...)

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    2. Sounds like Anonymous at 9:36 P.M. needs a lucrative contract themselves in order to have a job and some work to do. It is a known fact (which has been proven repeatedly by various studies and practice) that subcontracting costs more money to implement than having in house, on site support services. Units which support the infrastructure of the University are crucial to its daily operation. Like the NASA motto states: "The University works because we do!"

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    3. Right...get rid of the folks that come to our classrooms to help us when something isn't working, usually saving a class. Replace them with a number of new-hired contractors, with no in-depth knowledge of how all of this old and new stuff is put together, and no commitment to the University, instead to thier employer. They will likely be young, inexperienced, and paid pitifully. Further, there will likely be only a few of them, to "save money". They may be assigned other work around campus, by their employer, to 'fill their day'. So, when you call from a classroom with an immediate problem, fight throught the Help Desk 'on-hold', and finally get to a human, you will then be told 'no one can assist you right now...all techs are currently engaged.' And if we in the instructional staff complain, we will be told that the new reality is: one can no longer expect the previous level of service in our new reality. And THAT'S how a 'Top 20' University operates....(note sarcasm....)

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    4. Further to Anon April 5, 13:44 hrs:

      Here is a direct quote from a disgruntled instructor, found in a trouble ticket:
      "This was not resolved while I was teaching. I had to teach on one side of the lab with my students on the other., which was far from ideal. I was calling because I needed immediate assistance and it finally got delivered to the people whose offices are right outside the [lab] hours after I was finished.

      Further, the person kept me on the phone wasting precious class time, trying to figure out what the problem might be instead of transfering the question directly to some one who could solve it.

      In the past, when I have needed help, my call went directly to the people outside the ECHA labs and they responded in minutes. I assumed that the call was going to the help desk because there was no one there [the depot] in the summer. I understand, though, that they were there but the call now goes to the central help desk, where people clearly don't know anything about the ECHA labs. How is that better? This is incomprehensibly bad service and a huge waste of time and a stunning drop in service quality from your previous system."

      How should we answer this?

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  10. The original posting from Central indicated that this event would be live-streamed. Please supply URL as promised.

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    1. Thanks for pointing this out. Our mistake, sorry. The link was included in the initial draft of today's (IdeaScale) blog post, but was inadvertently deleted before posting.
      The video is still available for you to watch on the Change@UAlberta site under Campus Forums.
      http://change.ualberta.ca/discussion/campus-forum

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  11. I don't want to offend anyone with this post but I did want to mention a certain larger demographic at this university. In my own experience, and in talking with others at the university, there seem to be many people in their early to mid sixties that have been at the university for 25 or 30 years. I would imagine that most of these people have their full pensions locked up and I know, first hand, of people in this demographic that have been offered retirement packages and turned them down. I know that every individual has their own personal and financial reasons for making these decisions but I do think that it's unfortunate that more of these individuals can't or won't choose the option of retirement at a time like this.

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    1. I'd have to agree. Unfortunately, (I believe) the UofA doesn't have mandatory retirement and are not planning to offer early retirement packages.
      OBN.

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