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University Council members to debate non-confidence in Administration

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Article: Michael Chmielewski – Editor-in-chief [Interim]

Council meeting called to debate motion started by petition:

The University of Regina Council has secured a “Special Meeting of the University of Regina Council” according to an email sent out to the U of R Faculty and Staff on Aug 16th, 2013.

The Council needed 50 signatures on a petition to secure the meeting.  The meeting’s purpose will be to debate “the attached motion, to wit, that The University of Regina Council resolves that the following question shall be put to the members of the University of Regina Council by a secret ballot to close ten days hence, and that all members of Council shall be informed of the result:”

“The University of Regina Council has lost confidence in the President and the Vice-President (Academic).”

The University of Regina Act establishes the University Council: “Council consists of the University’s president, vice-presidents, university secretary, registrar, librarian, assistant librarians, and the deans, directors, professors, associate professors, assistant professors, full-time lecturers, special-lecturers and instructors employed by the University or its federated colleges, and a number of students.”

In a document attached to the email entitled “Petition for Special Meeting_Non-Confidence Motion,” the rationale is stated as follows: “University Council has lost confidence in the President and the Vice-President (Academic) because they have harmed the university’s academic mission, and pursued instead its diminishment relative to university administration; because, by refusing to produce a complete budget, the President and Vice-President (Academic) have obstructed University Council’s efforts to safeguard the academic mission; and because, by presiding over the mismanagement of public and private donors’ funds, they have done grave harm to the University’s reputation.” [Emphasis original].

The Carillon tried contacting many professors to comment on the petition. Most refused to grant an interview outright, some citing job security.

There will allegedly be a meeting of the University Council that will take place on Friday, September 27 at 2:00 pm. In an email sent to Council members from Vianne Timmons, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the U of R on August 28th, Timmons wrote that “While the University Secretary has not yet formally received the petition, I believe it is important to address the issues raised within it.  For this reason, I am calling a meeting of Council that will take place Friday, September 27 at 2:00 p.m.  I will be meeting with the Agenda Committee of Council to formalize the agenda which will be issued in early September.”

“Further information regarding location and other meeting details will be included in that agenda.”

…and I didn’t just circle that for the photo. /Kyle Leitch
…and I didn’t just circle that for the photo. /Kyle Leitch

Many issues are raised within the distributed petition. In a section entitled “1. Harm to the Academic Mission,” it says there has been a practice of “increasing the number of administrative positions while decreasing the number of academic positions continues a trend that has been in place at the University of Regina since at least 2001.”

These “units gained or lost positions as follows:”

Administrative:

1.      External Relations: +12.4 (80% increase)

2.      Facilities Management: +50.6 (38% increase)

3.      Human Resources: +15.6 (98% increase)

4.      Information Services: +22.1 (46% increase)

5.      UR International: +13.1 (1300% increase)

Academic:

6.         Arts: -14.9 (14% decrease)

7.        Fine Arts: -3.9 (11% decrease)

8.        Library: -3.3 (18% decrease)

9.        L’Institut français: -7.4 (85% decrease)

10.       Science: -0.3 (0.4% decrease)

The petition does not mention in this same way the increase in academic positions in Business Administration, Nursing, and Engineering, amongst others.

From 2001-2012, “the net increase in full-time equivalent non-academic positions university wide was 221” whereas “the net increase in full-time equivalent academic positions university-wide was 22.1” and only 2.2 of this 22.1 were faculty.

From 2006-2012,  “the net increase in academic positions university-wide was 5.4” while “the net increase in non-academic positions university-wide was 97.3.”

The petition then attacks the administration further: “The President and the Vice-President (Academic) neither stopped this long-term trend nor reversed it. On the contrary, they endorsed and extended it.”

Furthermore, “the cumulative effects of this decades-long trend of increasing the number of non-academic positions and units while decreasing the number of academic positions include increased cost of the university, increased tuition fees, and diminished ability to carry out our university’s academic mission.”

President Timmons told The Carillon “they have numbers here that are longer than my tenure. I came in 2008.” She continued saying, “this is about my tenure. I’ve done five years here. When I came, there was a 15 percent decrease in student enrolment; we’ve recaptured that and more. Eleven per cent of the student population self-declares as aboriginal.”

“I will admit, absolutely, we’ve invested in administrative positions, but the majority of administrative positions that have been invested in my time have been in student support. That, to me, is a great investment.”

Timmons pointed out the need for more administrative staff.

“I will not apologize; when I came [to the University] we ranked the lowest in Maclean’s in supports for student services.”

The University of Regina now ranks number 17 for student services among Canadian Universities on the Maclean’s online rankings, most recently dated to 2011. This ranking is calculated by the percentage of budget. New programs like UR Guarantee contribute to this higher ranking.

A second part of the distributed petition called “2. Obstruction of Council,” accused Timmons and the Vice-President (Academic) of “denying Council’s requests for full and detailed budget data” and have thus “obstructed Council in its duly enacted role as the ‘senior legislative body on academic matters.’”

When asked if a complete budget has been produced, Timmons said, “Absolutely.”

“If you look at our website, our budget is fully visible there. We have a committee of council called AGPEA that is made up of faculty who has been given every bit of budget information they ask, and they represent council.  They’re a committee of council. So, I’m not sure why this small group of faculty is saying that. No one has come to my office and said I can’t get on the website, I can’t read the Board of Governors budget information. If there’s a problem of accessibility, I need to know.”

AGPEA stands for Advisory Group on Planning, Evaluation and Allocation.  According to the U of R’s website, it is defined as “the consultative nexus of institutional planning, program and unit evaluation, and resource allocation.  In carrying out its responsibilities, AGPEA will be guided by the University’s vision, mission, and goals as approved and set out in the institutional strategic plan.”

In the May 23rd AGPEA meeting minutes, under Appendix 1, there is a copy of an email that Timmons sent out to the “University community” with the subject line reading “Board of Governors approves balanced budget.”

“Today [May 7th], the 2013-2013 operating budget of $187 million was approved by the University of Regina’s Board of Governors… As a new step in the budget process this year, the [AGPEA], a committee of Executive of Council, provided detailed feedback on all reinvestment and capital requests.”

“Specific budget allocations for the budget areas will be provided to managers in mid-to-late May. Full details of the comprehensive budget plan, as well as a summary of the alignment of the budget with the University’s Strategic Plan, will be available in the coming days at: http://www.uregina.ca/orp/budget.shtml.”

Indeed, at this link, one can find the 20-page “Comprehensive Budget Plan For 2013-2014.”

Nathan Sgrazzutti, President of the University of Regina’s Students’ Union, was skeptical of the petition, saying that it “is going to do nothing for an organization or for this school as a whole except for cause trouble and friction between the faculty and the administration.”

The third and final section is called “3. Financial Mismanagement.

The section starts out by saying “These questions of transparency and public trust have become ever more urgent in the wake of recent reports of fiscal mismanagement of funds and accounts entrusted to the supervision of the University administration.” The petition is, of course, referring to the one million dollar donor fund that the University Administration used to “cover overspending in the Faculty of Engineering,” which amounted to around 1.3 million.  Without the “dubious,” as the petition says, use of these funds, the Faculty of Engineering would be in extreme dire straights: according to the Discovery Project – Update of April 2012, this overspending was due to the former Dean of Engineering, Paitoon Tontiwachwuthikul, in his research accounts.

The document concludes by saying that a “university houses and promotes the ideals of intellectual enquiry. That is its purpose and its value. Honesty, openness and transparency in pursuit of truth, knowledge and understanding are its hallmarks. They are the measures of its work. These measures apply equally to its faculty and its administrators. On that score, this President and this Vice-President (Academic) have failed. They have harmed our University and its reputation.”

“We cannot risk further damage.”

“I don’t want one of our faculty out there losing confidence in the administration.” Said Timmons. She went on, saying, “I have removed a vice-president position and an associate vice-president position, we’re very lean in administration.”

“I have to think a lot about how to explain to the faculty that the university is very good shape comparatively to others across this country, and that message isn’t out there. I need to work harder on getting that positive message out there.”

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