Extension issue dominates GAA meeting
By Colleen MacPherson
The proposal to disestablish the Extension Division dominated discussion at the April 10 meeting of the General Academic Assembly (GAA), but not before the president gave a report he described as “a mixture of highlights and concerns.”
Commenting on the increase in the University’s 2006-07 operating grant from the provincial government, Peter MacKinnon told the group the increase “didn’t just happen.” It was the result, he said, of intense discussions with legislators about the needs of the University in the coming year.
The increase is conditional on the University holding tuition to 2004-05 levels, which is what administration will recommend the Board of Governors do when it considers the budget for 2006-07, said MacKinnon. He thanked the government for its generosity, adding the tuition arrangement will likely continue next year.
Turning to federal government relations, the president expressed concerns about the program that pays indirect costs of research. Currently, the U of S recovers 22-23 per cent of those costs, “but a full cost recovery program is very important to us.” Talks with government officials about this issue “have been cordial, but they have been short on commitment.”
The president also touched on student recruitment and retention, suggesting “if you want to lose sleep over anything, this should compete for your attention.” Saskatchewan’s population of university-eligible students is steadily decreasing, he said, and other institutions are recruiting those who remain.
As a result, the U of S has begun taking a systematic approach to recruiting students from elsewhere. “It’s not going to turn the institution on its head,” MacKinnon said, “but it should offer us an opportunity to protect our enrolment base.”
When MacKinnon asked for questions or comments from the GAA, which had not reached quorum by the time the meeting started, most related to the April 20 Council vote to create a Centre for Continuing and Distance Education and a New Learning Centre, and to disband Extension by July 1, 2007.
There were a number of questions and comments about the cost recovery model that will define extension activities and MacKinnon pointed out new funding arrangements have always been part of the two-year-long consultation process on outreach and engagement. Budgetary considerations are important, he said, “but they’re not the only consideration when we consider the future of Extension, or any other unit.”
“I have enormous respect for what Extension has done,” he said, “but that’s a long way from saying it’s how it should continue in the future.”
Some GAA members expressed concern about having to take on extension activities. MacKinnon confirmed that part of the philosophy of the Foundational Document on Outreach and Engagement is responsibility for extension belongs to all units and departments, “but I’m not here saying it becomes the responsibility of each and every member of faculty to do outreach and engagement.” Provost Michael Atkinson added no faculty member would, after the changes, be expected to teach non-credit courses currently offered by Extension.
Asked about the future of Extension faculty and staff, MacKinnon said all provisions in collective agreements would be followed. The human resources plan for moving extension personnel to the new centres and other campus units has not been finalized, but the president assured the GAA “nearly all of the people in Extension will find jobs in these other capacities.”
Lois Jaeck from Languages and Linguistics rose immediately to confirm his statement, saying she was pleased to hear MacKinnon pledge in public that faculty and staff “will, in every case possible, be reallocated in this University.”
“I’m pleased to do that,” he replied.
Because quorum was not reached, the GAA was unable to deal with a motion calling on Council to table the three motions until GAA members were provided with more financial and academic information about the disestablishment of Extension.