Volume 13, Number 11 February 3, 2006

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Council gives OK to Outreach document

After an almost year-long process of consultation, revisions and contention, University Council overwhelmingly and with no discussion passed the Foundational Document on Outreach and Engagement at its Jan. 26 meeting.

The 34-page paper sets out a new vision aimed at revitalizing the University’s educational links with the wider community – in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan and around the world.

It puts forward a plan to develop new ways for faculty and students across the U of S to get more involved with the community and for the community to become more involved in the University’s academic programs.  This will include: a new emphasis on the growing trend among universities of “service learning”; more community-university research partnerships; working with communities and industry on applying and commercially developing research findings; promoting continuing education in the community, particularly in the professions; and more collaboration with scholars around the world.

Since the introduction of its first draft last March, this foundational document had a sometimes rocky path to completion.  Since the Extension Division has led much of the University’s outreach education initiatives until now, its faculty and staff expressed concern that the plan to spread outreach initiatives to all colleges and departments would mean no single unit would co-ordinate support for extension education, its offerings of non-degree programs to the public would be threatened, and its focus on the pedagogy of distance learning would be lost.

Proponents of the new Outreach and Engagement model countered that, in fact, this kind of extension education has been practised by many other academic units across campus since the U of S was created nearly 100 years ago.  They also said no one central unit was called for to support and co-ordinate all outreach; rather, co-ordination and support should be handled by a combination of existing and new campus offices.  In the document, this includes a Continuing Education Unit, a new President’s Round Table for consultation, a New Learning Centre, and a new Office of University-Community Relations.

Don Harris, chair of the Council Committee on Outreach & Public Service, which led the foundational document through much of its consultation process, told Council his committee felt that by its fourth draft – the one given approval Jan. 26 – the paper had accommodated most of the concerns raised in recent months.

He noted the various drafts were shared with, and drew feedback from many internal and external groups and individuals, including: more than 10 U of S colleges and departments; the graduate and undergraduate student associations; many individual faculty; six Council committees; deans’ council; Extension Division; nine organizations including the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association and the U of S Alumni Association; and six of the University’s regional advisory committees.

“Undoubtedly there are many areas of question, policy and practice (in the foundational document) that remain to be answered,” Harris told Council.  But, he added, “this is a good document.  It does not address every issue or concern … (but) it will continue to be a living document and it is only a beginning.”

The Outreach and Engagement document bases its proposed new University initiatives on principles that the activity “should enrich the academic environment”, should build on existing partnerships and create new ones, should build on unique expertise at the U of S, should pervade the University, and “should be encouraged, rewarded, celebrated and supported through a variety of mechanisms and structures”.

The document allows that some non-degree courses should likely continue to be offered, but they should be linked to strong current degree programs, to the academic missions of units, to professional education at the University, or to faculty research interests.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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