Volume 13, Number 13 March 10, 2006

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IP report card provides lead-in for planning cycle in 2008

Even as he presented a report card on progress made in the current integrated planning cycle, Michael Atkinson laid the groundwork for a second cycle, including an assurance the process “will not be as challenging, complicated and time consuming as the first.”

In his annual Academic Agenda Address, the Provost and Vice-President Academic said the lessons learned in the first cycle, which ends in 2007, illustrate the need to strive for self-governance in a post-secondary environment he described as “increasingly threatening.” Although the University has “probably bitten off more than we can chew” in the first planning cycle, Atkinson said the Integrated Plan and multi-year budget are “the envy of universities across this country and beyond.”

Atkinson
Atkinson

Speaking in Convocation Hall Feb. 27, Atkinson used a traffic light pattern to score progress on a variety of Integrated Plan initiatives – green lights for projects that are on time and unfolding roughly as expected, amber for those moving slower or in a different direction than expected, and red for those Atkinson said were unlikely to be completed by 2007 or destined to be abandoned.

In the area of strategic initiatives, Atkinson focused his assessment on projects in the health sciences. There was concern this area got too much attention in the plan, he said, because “our CIHR record was not inspiring, our facilities were clearly outmoded, clinicians had little experience with research, and some basic science departments saw their future elsewhere than in Medicine. All the more reason for doing something.”

While expectations for a health sciences council have been scaled back, Atkinson said new health sciences degrees are likely to be in place by 2007, earning it an amber rating. He also praised the progress toward a School of Public Health but added its success will require “an unprecedented willingness on the part of faculty in the health sciences colleges to put aside the familiar” in order to pool resources.

In other academic initiatives, he encouraged colleges to continue to pursue innovative degree combinations. A start has been made with entrepreneurship combinations but he awarded only an amber, adding “this is something that we’ll likely return to in the next planning cycle.”

Science, technology & society
Atkinson chose the new computer engineering program to highlight science, technology and society-focused initiatives, saying it is critical to the future of the College of Engineering and to the employment scene in Saskatchewan. The Aboriginal Education Research Centre was also mentioned, but he expressed cautious optimism the Digital Media Centre in Arts and Science will be finished by July 2007.

Also given amber lights were the Schools of the Environment and Public Policy. The campus community, he said, “must embrace the whole idea of schools as a way of overcoming some self-imposed limitations we have on our academic mission.”

Because a university is “an imposing environment where success does not come automatically,” the plan contains several projects under the banner Supporting Success – using combined resources to support all students and faculty. Of those initiatives, Atkinson had specific praise for increased scholarship support, a major retention study and creation of a Global Commons, all designed to help catch up “after years of underinvestment in the student experience.”

The new Learning Centre got a green light, mainly for faculty and staff efforts to advance teaching and learning on campus. The programs established under the Aboriginal Achievement Model also got green.

Another area that Atkinson said is on track is the cost savings achieved through IP. He mentioned the 10 per cent reduction in the Facilities Management operating budget, although “this kind of change is not without its pain,” he said, referring to the loss of jobs and reduction in service.

Earning a red light was classroom allocation. Because timetables are handled exclusively by departments and colleges, too many classrooms are empty for too many hours of the day, he said. Low enrolment courses are being assessed, “but progress has been modest so far.”

Physical environment
To enrich the physical environment, the Integrated Plan contained an extensive list of building projects. He awarded a green here for projects that have come in under budget and on time, including the Physical Activity Complex, the College Building, the Pulse Crop facility and the Stadium Parkade – “there just are not enough of you parking in it.”

In the category of University practices, Atkinson said the biggest change has come through new student and financial systems. The PAWS portal has met with “uniform praise, except for those times when it crashes”, but Unifi and SiRIUS have not gone as smoothly. “We underestimated the time and effort that is required to implement these systems, but we will get those back on track.”

The “unbelievable” difficulty extracting information from these systems has also hampered the University’s effort to measure progress, said Atkinson, and metrics are important: “In the bitterly competitive arena in which we operation, where Macleans magazine and host of imitators now measure us whether we like it or not, it seems sensible to establish some metrics if we hope to persuade anyone that we take our objectives seriously.”

Having addressed the plan, Atkinson turned to the financial side, offering assurance the structural deficit will be eliminated by 2007. Projections of revenue – including tuition and government support – and expenditures in the multi-year budget get amber for hitting the mark, but changes in government salary patterns have meant higher than expected salary and benefit costs. “Whether we can make the multi-year budget work will depend heavily on the coming provincial budget.”

Summing up his report card, Atkinson said the first planning cycle has pointed out the need for more collaboration all across campus, and the need to move more quickly when “we can get agreement on the direction we wish to go. In particular, obstacles associated with collective bargaining cannot be permitted, on their own, to trump the direction established by collegial processes.”

Next time
Next time – “Yes, we’re going to do this again” – each unit will again prepare an integrated plan, and there will be another University-level plan but 2007-08 will be a transition year from one cycle to the next. Next time, instructions will be “more precise and focused”, and colleges, he said, will be encouraged to seek outside expertise in developing their plans.

May 2008 will see the presentation of a new Integrated Plan and multi-year budget to both the Board and Council.

In closing, Atkinson said the kind of self-governance offered by an integrated planning process is “the source of our liberty, so we bloody well better govern ourselves. Don’t leave it for administrators to do – they don’t have the ability to do it on their own even if they look like they want to. Don’t leave it to your colleagues who will be making the same kinds of calculations you are. Do it for yourself. Do it, or we’ll all regret it.”

The complete text of Atkinson’s address is at www.usask.ca/vpacademic/integrated-planning/communications/feb272006_address.php. Comments on IP, the address and progress can be directed to integrated-planning@usask.ca.


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


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