Change in store for grad studies

The committee charged with reviewing the operations of the College of Graduate Studies and Research (CGSR) has recommended numerous changes to restructure graduate studies at the U of S.

The committee has reached a consensus and is ready for consultation with campus community and various governing bodies to begin, explained U of S President Ilene Busch-Vishniac, adding that the committee's interim report was developed in consultation with CGSR and the Graduate Students' Association.

"The most surprising thing about the review is that, in spite of what seemed to be a strong consensus for change, we haven't yet changed," said Busch-Vishniac. "People have been complaining about this since I walked in the door. I have yet to hear someone defend our current model yet it took putting a group together to enact this change.

"We came to agreement pretty quickly that the model we have now seems to be a model that is anachronistic," continued the president. "Most, if not all, of our peers have chosen to transition from a separate college to more of an administrative unit with a focus on advocacy of graduate students and facilitation of programs."

The report recommends moving to a more typical model as opposed to the current college structure, and determining what services should be centralized versus decentralized.

For graduate students, she said, the changes mean they "should feel that they are more at home in the graduate studies unit we end up with because that unit is really being tasked to focus on the needs that those students have."

Grad student supervisors, she continued, will see more authority given locally than in the past, and that may significantly speed up some processes, particularly in the student's home college or department.

Another significant change for supervisors will be how they are appointed.

"Under the current structure, when faculty are hired they cannot supervise graduate students until approved by CGSR. We hire people and do a thorough review of their credentials and capabilities. Then they have to spend a significant amount of time doing another review before they are made part of the CGSR's faculty and therefore allowed to supervise graduate students. This has the effect of putting our terrific new faculty significantly behind their peers because they have to sit on their thumbs waiting for CGSR approval. They can't even write grant applications."

As for staff in CGSR, how the proposed changes will affect them is not yet clear.

"A lot of the functions they currently do in the college, like admissions, financial aid, committee assignments, setting up defenses and the like, are in fact administrative. It is likely that a significant number of those (functions) will remain. But what should be handled centrally (in a unit) versus locally (in the college or department) as well as what ought to be uniform and what ought to be flexible are important discussions we need to have."

A review of CGSR was also part of TransformUS, the program prioritization process, and Busch-Vishniac said the committee's recommendations align quite well with the suggestions in the TransformUS reports.

Following the consultation process, which the president said has no particular timeline attached to it, a larger group will be formed to create more specific recommendations and determine the details to consider during implementation.

One aspect of the change Busch-Vishniac is clear about is the leader of the new unit.

"Even though every school I know in Canada has changed from a college to an administrative unit, every school I know in Canada still has a faculty member leading the unit," she said. "We're talking about how it should function as an administrative unit; we're not talking about going out and hiring someone without academic credentials."

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