U of R sees changes to operations
In July 2009, the University of Regina’s Board of Governors adopted a strategic plan titled mâmawohkamâtowin: Our Work, Our People, Our Communities. Three years after it was implemented, students, staff and administration are beginning to see and feel the implications and effects of the strategic plan – and not everyone is happy.
At a public forum held last Monday, Oct. 29, faculty, staff and students were “invited” to voice their concerns and dismay at the many changes being made in the name of mâmawohkamâtowin and the overall repercussions that these changes will have on the quality of post-secondary education at the U of R. Only 6 students made up the congregation of close to 80 attendees at the public forum. When asked why so few students were aware of the meeting, and why there had been no advertising of the event, U of R President, Vianne Timmons, stated that an email should have gone out informing the university community of the forum. No email was sent out to students.
Mâmawohkamâtowin is a Cree word meaning “co-operation; working together towards a common goal.” Using this as the basis for building a flourishing campus, the strategic plan aims to outline and resolve several key areas that the University of Regina needs to improve. For instance, the plan outlines the need to build the institution’s reputation for teaching, learning and research excellence, improvement and investment in sustainability, effective and efficient administrative and employee management, and academic reviews of the various departments and faculties on campus.
Addressing the attendees at the public forum, President Timmons opened the event by alluding to the financial and resource constraints that the U of R is facing, and the limitations that this has had on the growth of the university.
“Canada’s post-secondary sector aims to serve an increasing number of people from a broad perspective of backgrounds, while its resources are ever more constrained,” she began. “I think this is a challenge we have throughout Canada, and at home here at the University of Regina. We’re working hard to advocate with government, to work with donors to try to get more investment in the University of Regina. At the same time, we’re trying hard to accommodate the needs of our students, provide relevant programming, and meet the challenge of the provincial and national job market.”
After several years of decreased enrollments at the U of R, 2004 to 2009 being a period of minimum enrollment, student numbers “have increased [considerably], with more than 13,000 students – the highest total in the University’s history – now registered at the University and its three federated collages,” the Strategic Plan reads.
Thomas Chase, U of R Provost and Vice-President of Academic, added to this, saying that “We’ve dipped pretty substantially after 2004, and we’ve now recovered that ground and exceeded it. And in future years, we need to pay, as I say, much more attention to the appropriate range of programs and getting students into those programs, and retaining them to graduation.”
President Timmons continued on her remarks, explaining that budget cuts to the U of R have had, and will continue to have consequence on the staff, faculty, programs and students at the University.
“Even though we’ve been continuing to grow, it’s been a tough year last year …We cut 3.4 million dollars in our budget. Our undergraduate tuition increased by 4 or 9 per cent depending on the program, and the graduate tuition by 9 per cent. We had to eliminate 25 faculty and staff positions, and they were done primarily through attrition, but there were a few in the admin side,” said Timmons.
With about 18 months left for the full implementation of the strategic plan, Timmons noted that most of the plan’s suggestions are well under way.
“As you know, the strategic plan for teaching and learning is well under way, and I think coming to [acceptance in] council in December. Your academic program review is ongoing … and our research strategic plan has been accepted and moving forward. Sustainability, in our [strategic plan] is highlighted, and we have the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability looking at a number of environmental initiatives and broader questions of institutional sustainability, and will be making recommendations to me as we go forward.”
“Even though we’ve been continuing to grow, it’s been a tough year last year…We cut 3.4 million dollars in our budget. Our undergraduate tuition increased by 4 or 9 per cent depending on the program…and the graduate tuition by 9 per cent. We had to eliminate 25 faculty and staff positions, and they were done primarily through attrition, but there were a few in the admin side.” – Vianne Timmons
But perhaps the most challenging and criticized portion of the strategic plan is the academic review, which has many faculties and students worried about the future of the programs offered at the U of R, and the fate of some of the university’s departments.
Chase, who has been heading the academic review portion of the strategic plan, stated that while some programs at the university are flourishing – such as the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, a new program in Health Administration, growth in Kinesiology and Health Studies, innovations “in geology to serve mining, [and] innovations in engineering” – other areas and programs are “a little bit more stretched, or stressed.” One of the faculties that will be facing possible “implications over the next couple of years, from what we’re led to expect from the budget,” stated Chase, is the English department on campus.
According to the academic review, “in order to succeed, the University must be selective in the programs it offers, [and] determine how our array of program offerings should be altered to respond to the needs and interests of current and prospective students. This process is ultimately designed to help the University focus limited resources in a way that increases our program quality, our reputation, and our long-term institutional sustainability.”
At the public forum, Chase elaborated on this controversial position, telling the audience that the university has become “increasingly sensitive to demand and enrollment, [and] if the government contribution, in real terms, is contracting, we need to pay more attention to the array of programs that students want and need, and to getting students into these programs.”
With such program and faculty changes in effect, or near approval, Chase stressed that the university cannot be “all things to all people,” and that changes to certain areas, such as the Department of English, are inevitable.
Many questions remain unanswered by the university’s Board of Governors, especially questions regarding the changes taking place in the academic review. Students and staff continue to be on edge about the consequences of such changes, and the futures of their faculties and programs.
In an effort to provide an open dialogue and answer some of these pressing questions, the University has organized an academic program review forum to be held on Wednesday Nov. 14 at 9:30 a.m. in the Education Auditorium. The Carillon highly encourages all students to make it to this forum if possible.
Photo courtesy esask.uregina.ca