TransformUS work begins

Membership of the TransformUS task forces has been announced and the deadline for their reports that will rank all academic and administrative programs at the U of S is set, but exactly how the groups will get from here to there has yet to be determined.

By Kris Foster
"What I told (the task force members) was that all I know for sure is when and how they'll start their work, and when and how they'll end it," said Provost Brett Fairbairn. "Once they get going, they will organize their own work."

The job of the task forces is to set criteria they can then use to review and rank all academic and administration programs across campus with an eye to budgetary changes. Based on their final reports, decisions will be made about whether each program deserves more or less investment, or even if a program or activity should be eliminated.

TransformUS is based on a model detailed in Robert Dickenson's Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance , but Fairbairn pointed out that prioritization processes used by other universities following Dickenson's model have all looked quite different. The two groups will spend three days in March with a facilitator who is familiar with the many variations of the Dickenson model and how they have been used at different universities. The groups will then organize how they want to approach the task and what information or research they require.

Task force members were selected from 227 names submitted in a nomination process. What they all share, said Fairbairn, is a dedication to the university. "They all see the importance of this job and are strongly motivated by the spirit of helping out the university." Area of work, gender and rank within the institution were considered in the selection of members but he noted not every unit is represented. "All members will be asked to take a university-wide perspective."

One of the first questions most of those invited to join a task force asked was about workload. There will be periods of intense work, likely when the prioritization criteria is set and when the actual ranking takes place, he said, but "what we have heard from other universities … is that the task forces can expect to meet for two to six hours every other week with the same amount of time for preparation." No matter the time commitment, "we expect this to be part of their assigned duties. We're not looking to backfill this time."

Exactly how many programs will be evaluated still remains to be seen, said Fairbairn. "I know it's more than tens but my sense is it's less than thousands." A data team has begun compiling information for the task forces and will be available to respond to their requests. The groups will also continue to have access to the facilitator who "brings things that no one inside the University of Saskatchewan could provide."

There is no set schedule for the groups to report on their work; the only firm date is Nov. 30 when their reports must be complete. And Fairbairn is looking for those reports to be "compelling and action oriented. The link between rankings and budget action is really important."

Fairbairn stressed that TransformUS is program prioritization, not unit prioritization, meaning a unit with several programs could see each one ranked quite differently. And prioritization is "not a question of good or bad," he continued; depending on the criteria used by the task forces, even the most efficient program could end up ranked as a low priority for the university.

Visit the TransformUS site for a list of all task force members.