Ernie Barber
Ernie Barber

Updating the plan

Almost six months after the TransformUS program prioritization process was laid to rest and a new set of priorities established, the interim provost and vice-president academic is encouraged by the effort being brought to bear on significant projects for the U of S.

Ernie Barber said the eight priorities outlined last September in fact refocus the institution on the objectives of its third integrated plan (IP3), Promise and Potential.

"This set of initiatives needs to be understood within the framework of what we wanted to do in Promise and Potential. They're all in the plan in various ways," he said, adding a period of leadership transition like the University of Saskatchewan is in at the upper echelons of the organization "is not usually the time to strike off on a new strategic direction."

Since the priorities were announced, a person has been appointed to lead each and Barber is seeing members of the campus community "putting our individual and collective energy into projects with university-wide importance. Our guidance is still IP3. We're demonstrating we can focus and we are modelling distributed leadership, and I'm very pleased with that."

Barber pointed out while he is not in charge of the individual projects, "I still have an eye on them all because I need to make sure the leaders and teams get what they need to accomplish the initiatives."

He went on to highlight the progress made in each of the eight priority areas.

PRIORITY 1: Accelerate the delivery on the commitment to Aboriginal achievement

This priority, lead by Heather Magotiaux, vice-president of advancement and community engagement, "is in some ways too big to call a single initiative." Work is focused on building a representative workforce and a proposal is being made for additional investment in Human Resources and the office of the vice-provost for faculty relations to assist units with activities like developing representative candidate pools, he said. There will also be a pilot project designed to help colleges identify and hire Aboriginal scholars.

"We also need to make a decision about Indigenous Voices," an initiative designed to build awareness and understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing. Funding for the program from the Provost's Committee on Integrated Planning ends this year, he said. Barber is also looking at the Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP), describing its funding as vulnerable. "My role is to make sure this program does not disappear because of changes to external funding."

PRIORITY 2: Continue the restructuring of the College of Medicine

Dr. Preston Smith, dean of medicine, is leading the continuing e_ orts to address a number of issues within the college. Barber said one of the most challenging issues centres around attaining clinical research and clinical teaching faculty members.

PRIORITY 3: Deliver on the promise of inter-professional health education and interdisciplinary health research

The interim provost said additional investments would be made in the Council of Health Science Deans to create positions dedicated to developing programing. This priority is being led by Karen Chad, vice-president of research.

PRIORITY 4: Advance the reorganization and strengthening of graduate studies and support for graduate students

"Before the end of the academic year, we will have signalled to campus what we are doing about the organizational structure of the College of Graduate Studies and Reserach," said Barber. "I think it's fair to say it will not be business as usual but graduate studies will not be reduced to just an academic unit."

Priority leader Adam Baxter Jones, acting dean of the college, will also be releasing a report identifying priority areas for financial support for students. Barber added the recent drive to unionize grad students is a call for the university to pay closer attention to them as employees.

PRIORITY 5: Continue the capital project for the transformation of the library collections, facilities, capital and services

This project is decades old, he said and was originally focused on the Murray Library and Murray Building only. That has changed to include the entire library system and Barber said the project's capital steering committee has resumed meetings. Library Dean Vicki Williamson is leading the initiative.

PRIORITY 6: Complete the reorganization and revitalization of centrally organized teaching and learning activities and functions

Patti McDougall, vice-provost teaching and learning, is managing the reorganization, said Barber. Two of three units in Media Access and Production (eMAP) have been repositioned in Information and Communication Technology, there has been progress on moving non-credit programming from the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education (CCDE) into colleges, and the University Learning Centre will be transferred to the library, a change that Barber said will be seamless for users.

PRIORITY 7: Focus on the creation of inter-disciplinary and cross-college academic programming

"This is devilishly difficult because this university favours academic programming that is uniquely linked to one academic unit," commented Barber. But there were examples of cross-college programs identified in the program prioritization process and Toddi Steelman, priority leader and executive director of the School of Environment and Sustainability, is working with deans to expand the offerings in environmental studies. The goal, Barber said, "is creating opportunities for better outcomes for students with the same resources … (but) we need to walk before we run."

PRIORITY 8: Align administrative services culture to support and facilitate the academic mission

Initially, this realignment was expected to take place in pieces but Barber said it has become apparent it needs to happen across all services and across the campus. Greg Fowler, vice-president of finance and resources, is working with a consultant to assess how services are delivered and develop a new model. Barber added the goal "is to make sure that our central administrative services are college facing" with a how-can-we-help attitude.

After recapping the priority- area efforts, Barber added he senses that "most people are like me—they're proud of this university and that pride is like the pride you have in a child. You want to protect them from harm but you also want them to get better. This process is about putting the effort into being better."
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