Volume 13, Number 17 May 5, 2006

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Council endorses distance ed., learning centres

Disestablishment of Extension to proceed

By Colleen MacPherson

With fewer than 10 hands raised in opposition, University Council approved three motions April 20 that endorse the establishment of two new campus entities, and pave the way for the disestablishment of the Extension Division by July 1, 2007.

The decisions end months of discussion and debate about the direction the University of Saskatchewan will take with its outreach and engagement activities.  The motions establish a Centre for Continuing and Distance Education (CCDE) and a New Learning Centre as well as disband Extension. The Planning Committee of Council stressed the structural changes flow naturally from that body’s previous approval of both the Integrated Plan and the Foundational Document on Outreach and Engagement.

Speaking on behalf of the committee, Brent Fairbairn said it was time for “conclusive input” from Council, which has “enough information to make an academically rounded decision about them (the motions).”

As set out in the discussion paper accompanying the motions, the CCDE will be responsible for continuing education and lifelong learning (non-degree credit courses, workshops and certificate programs) and coordination of degree-credit course delivery.  The New Learning Centre, to be located in the Library, will focus on supporting the instructional and educational needs of campus.  As the structural changes are made, the activities of Extension will be redistributed to the new entities and to other colleges and units.

In previous meetings and again April 20, Council members raised concerns about the fate of faculty colleagues when Extension is disbanded.  Fairbairn reiterated that Council’s role is to set the academic direction of the institution; personnel matters are dealt with elsewhere.  He repeated President Peter MacKinnon’s public assurance that all Extension staff will be treated with respect, and all applicable provisions in collective agreements will be followed.

One Council member rose to present a tabling motion that would have seen Council delay its decision until September.  Again citing concern about Extension faculty, the member said he felt he was being asked “to vote against my union,” but the tabling motion was defeated.

Another speaker was Bob Cram, acting director of Extension Credit Studies and the interim director of the CCDE, who said approving the motions “may be the beginning of the end of the people’s university.”  He pointed out the University views outreach and engagement as being the responsibility of all colleges and units but questioned the commitment of faculty to that ideal.

“Do you really buy into it?”, he asked.  “Are you going to change your personal practices?  Your personal behaviours, your personal commitment to the outreach and engagement document will tell the real story.  If you’re not fully committed, you should probably vote against this motion.”

Provost Michael Atkinson confirmed the “spirit” of the foundational document is that everyone on campus “needs to attend to their outreach and engagement responsibilities.” But he also pointed out the U of S is already miles ahead of other universities in meeting the needs of its surrounding community.  What it must now do is improve its extension services.

“We wouldn’t have looked at out outreach and engagement as a foundational document if we didn’t think we could do it better.”

After the motions passed, Cram rose again, this time asking Council to formally recognize the contributions made over the years by the division and its staff.  His motion passed with a majority.

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

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