Atkinson calls on depts. to put 4-6% of budgets to new U of S priorities
Vice-President Academic & Provost Michael Atkinson brought a strong message to the University community in his annual Academic Agenda speech, delivered March 5 to more than 250 people in Place Riel Theatre.
In effect, he said, if the U of S is serious about setting new priorities and competing nationally and internationally in its areas of strength, it must put its money where its mouth is.
Atkinson, who is leading development of a U of S ‘integrated planning’ process, said a new, more effective campus-wide approach to planning will mean not only better co-ordination of planning and better alignment of college and department goals with President Peter MacKinnon’s soon-to-be-announced new Strategic Directions for the University. It will mean that colleges and departments must put some of their funds into a general pool, to be used for major new University-level priorities.
He said colleges and departments will be asked to set aside from four to six per cent of their budgets for this purpose.
To date, Atkinson said, planning at the U of S has largely been “disjointed incrementalism” – being short-term and not supporting enduring goals.
Yet, he said, planning “at best is about – not control – but alignment and affirming our values”. The literature on planning, and consultations with other Canadian universities, have told U of S leaders that effective planning must be “comprehensive, consultative, set specific goals, have a multi-year timeframe, involve a reallocation of funds, be based on existing plans, and have a strong communications plan.”
Atkinson said the tight annual funding for the University is a challenge, “but we need to take more ownership of the situation ourselves”, and find a way within the annual $200-million operating budget (about $130 million from the provincial government and $70 million from tuition) to ensure that new priorities like increasing the number of graduate students will happen.
He called for establishment of an “Academic Priorities Fund” where four to six per cent of each unit’s budget is set aside, and a University-level group representing Council, the Board of Governors, and the administration determines its use, in pursuit of major Strategic Directions.
He said college and unit plans will have an impact on the new directions, and while some may be threatened by his suggestions, others will see “an opportunity to get their priorities on the table. “Transparency and openness will be the key” to making the new planning model work.