TransformUS receives motion of non-confidence from students’ council

USSU President Max FineDay questioned University President Ilene Busch-Vishniac about why student groups aren’t being involved in the  TransformUS consultation phase at the Jan. 15 town hall meeting. A day later, FineDay put forward a motion of non-confidence in the TransformUS process.

USSU President Max FineDay questioned University President Ilene Busch-Vishniac about why student groups aren’t being involved in the TransformUS consultation phase at the Jan. 15 town hall meeting. A day later, FineDay put forward a motion of non-confidence in the TransformUS process.

The University Students’ Council unanimously voted in favour of a motion of non-confidence in the TransformUS process after the university’s lax consultation with students became an issue at the Jan. 15 town hall meeting.

University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union President Max FineDay made the motion at the Jan. 16 meeting where council deliberated over four points: that student groups are not being consulted, that the consultation timeline is inadequate for students, that there is no student representation on the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning and that students have expressed concern as to the implementation of the taskforce reports.

“I think this is another example where the university has done a really good job at making students feel powerless,” said FineDay in an interview following the USC meeting.

The issue of student consultation has continued for over a year with students fighting to have their voices heard, beginning last January when students stormed a University Council meeting in order to receive two representatives on each of the TransformUS taskforces.

Student consultation and engagement remained an issue at the Jan. 15 town hall. Although the meeting was held exclusively for students to voice their concerns, attendance was low — ranging from 20 to 30 students.

Indigenous Students’ Council president Terri Favel critiqued the town hall for being scheduled at an inconvenient time for students — over noon hour on a Wednesday, when many students have class.

U of S President Ilene Busch-Vishniac said the town hall was planned at the best possible time of the week when there are fewest classes scheduled.

Though the town hall seems to point toward a lack of student interest in TransformUS, FineDay said low student engagement is a result of poor planning on administration’s part.

“I think there’s an opinion there that apathy is raging on our campus and students will just roll over and go with the flow on TransformUS and obviously that’s not the case,” he said.

Questioning the university’s efforts in engaging with students, FineDay asked Busch-Vishniac why student unions and constituencies have not been directly consulted by university administration. Busch-Vishniac had opened the town hall with an address that outlined the consultation phase which includes 33 individual meetings with the university’s senior leaders.

“The point of TransformUS is financial,” Busch-Vishniac said. “Financial responsibility is the responsibility distributed to the deans, to the [associate vice-presidents] and therefore we are meeting with each and every one of them… so that we make sure that we are specifically tasking the people with financial authority to be thinking long and hard and clearly about how we will resolve what is truly a financial issue.”

Busch-Vishniac continued on to say that there have been students present as members of University Council and on the Board of Governors throughout TransformUS. She also said that there has been consultation with students, as seen at the town halls.

“We are consulting. We are asking for your comments,” Busch-Vishniac said. “We will continue to do that but the USSU does not have financial authority to make the changes. So we are meeting with the people who will be tasked with implementing changes and we believe that is appropriate.”

FineDay said that he was taken aback by Busch-Vishniac’s response that students have no financial responsibility within the university.

“Students have invested their dollars in this university by paying huge amounts of tuition,” he said. “It is shocking to me that administration, that the president of the university would say that we have no financial skin in this institution.”

The USC’s critique of the consultation phase timeline arises from the fact that the taskforce reports were released in the middle of final exams — Dec. 9, 2013 — and students were given three weeks following exams to read and interpret the reports before the town hall mid-January.

“For one, we’re hoping the consultation phase will be changed to include the voices of students,” FineDay said. “I’ve heard from a lot of students that [the timeline] wasn’t adequate, that that wasn’t enough time. They haven’t felt that it was conducive to the student schedule.”

However, Busch-Vishniac said that the consultation phase will not be extended and that there will not be any more town halls planned.

“The reality is that if we don’t move quickly, the cuts we would have to make could be deeper and we would rather avoid doing that,” Busch-Vishniac said. “This specific consultation phase, during which we are asking people to comment on TransformUS reports, will not be extended.”

However, she said that students will still be involved after the consultation phase is complete, through their roles on University Council, the Board of Governors and the Senate.

To ensure that student concerns will be taken into account during decision making, the USC would like to see student representation on the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning.

“Students are completely left out of this process,” FineDay said. “I think a lot of students are fed up and they’re looking for more than tokenism now. They’re looking for a real seat at the table and more than one student.”

Similarly, the lack of information given to students regarding the implementation process has posed a concern to some, lending to the fourth point of the motion of non-confidence in the TransformUS process.

FineDay said that students are unaware of the decision-making power that PCIP has and that it does not have to follow through the regular governance processes.

“I think that was a huge concern. We would hate for some negative decision to come out of PCIP that would take away services for students or negatively impact students in a big way,” FineDay said.

Uncertainty with the TransformUS process moving forward is a concern for both the USC and students. Alex Keen, representative for the Edward’s School of Business on USC, wrote via email to the Sheaf that many students he talked to in his college felt as though their opinions would have little impact on TransformUS.

“This highlights a problem that exists not just in Transform US but in the overall feeling that students have when dealing with the university,” Keen wrote. “If the university wants students to feel that their feedback is valued and heard, then it needs to demonstrate that it is willing to not just listen, but also act upon student opinion.”

In order to ensure that student voices are being heard, the USSU gathered feedback from councillors at the USC meeting and will be sending in their own report to university administration.

FineDay also urges students to send their opinions and concerns in by responding to the TransformUS blog, tweeting or writing letters to the university. He said he has asked those constituency presidents to talk to their members and gather feedback themselves even though the university has made no request for their responses.

“These reports are not set in stone,” FineDay said. “If all the recommendations went through with TransformUS we’d lose a lot of unique programs… We need students in all disciplines to come together.”


Photo: Andrew Mareschal

  • M

    This is deeply upsetting. Just because the USSU doesn’t have any financial authority, doesn’t mean that the group they represent, namely the students, should have no say in the planning comittee. Although TransformUS is financial, there is NO justification for not having a student representitive on the comittee because it directly affects the students! Another frustrating fact is that as a student, I don’t feel as though there’s anything I can do (As pointed out in the article). I thought to myself, hmm how could I go about supporting the USSU. I’ve already sent in my thoughts regarding the process, and there’s no “protesting” so to speak that I can think of doing. I’m not personally affected. Almost all of the programs in my department are in Q2, but MANY of my friends are in Q5 currently, and I’m concerned for the quality of their education post-TransformUS. Are they going to be sitting in a room with a professor doing a readings class? What about labs? I’m not okay with this.

  • Shannon Carnahan

    Finally! Ive felt absolutely powerless, watching as the transform US committee hacked away at all of the programs and departments that I loved and feel passionately about. I, and most of the students I know, feel like staying at the u of s is a mistake, if you want a quality education you have to go out of province, and there is no hope for this university. There needs to be strong student input. We pay for the university with our tuitions and our massive student loan debts. Inviting students to sit in on meetings foes not mean that they will listen to or care about what we have to say. A vote of no confidence gives the sense that maybe we won’t have to abandon the sinking ship of the u of s just yet.
    Also, I would love to know why the president of the university has such a large budget to redecorate her house if she is so concerned about university finances.

  • Devin Ens

    Kudos, Mr. FineDay. I’ve been at the UofS on and off since 1998, and I can think of almost no instances of the USSU actually contradicting senior admin, which has always made me wonder what the word “Union” in “UofS Students’ Union” is supposed to mean. Perhaps next we can work up the confidence to hold strikes and other forms of resistance against senior admin’s plans. No student or faculty member is under any obligation to lie down and accept the direction that a bunch of middle-managers and would-be CEOs who couldn’t cut it in the private sector want to steer this ACADEMIC institution in. The future of a university should be decided by scholars, not profiteers. After all, it’s at the administrative level that we are the most bloated. I challenge anyone to find me another university with this ratio of administrators (Deans, Vice-Deans, Assistant-Vice Deans, a three-part governance structure, etc) and governance to actual teaching staff and students. There aren’t many.

    • Devin Ens

      What’s happened at the UofS is that a clique has hijacked our tuition money and tax money to create unnecessary positions for each other with absurd wages so that they can form an aristocracy. That’s all it is: a publicly subsidised aristocracy. And one in which private interests play too large a role.

    • Devin Ens

      Does whoever is thumbing this down care to explain how we ended up in a financial rut with the highest operating budget in the country, or why admin has grown many times the pace of the student body while the size of faculty has remained constant? Or why the VP Finances refuses to provide any information to back up admin’s claims about our financial situation and what percentage of our money goes to what? It’s all well and good to say you don’t like a complaint, but better if you have an actual response.

  • k

    Why doesnt the USSU start a petition and get every student to sign it. Place it in upper place riel so everyone can see it and sign it. I bet many students arent even aware of the issue. If nothing works, maybe we can start a protest infront of her palace then she might reconsider. Or maybe hunger strike…

  • Z

    We should have a good old-fashioned protest. I’d be curious to see what the president of the university would say if a news crew was asking her why her students are so irritated with her.

    • Devin Ens

      1) They are scared to death of bad publicity here. The threat of bad press has been used to win concessions before. Stories for another day. Thing is,
      2) by generally treating students and profs as an inconvenience, and “consultation” processes as ceremonial exercises that won’t actually factor into any decision-making (you may have heard about the kerfuffle a few years back when the University decided to ignore the choice of a college’s hiring committee and hired someone else), the Executive Administration of this institution has forced us into hardball tactics. Why would we be satisfied with “consultation” when they have already proven that their use of that word just means, “Let stakeholders talk, and then do what we were going to do anyway”?
      3) Don’t count on fair coverage. The Star Phoenix is said to lean sympathetically towards admin, but I can’t verify that, it’s just what people say. Then again, some people always say that the media is biased against whatever wing they’re not.
      4) Protest what? One has to name an issue or demand before setting out. Options include the authoritarian undertone of the President’s reference to those who make the financial decisions (an example of someone answering a question about moral authority with a fact about formal authority, which is not what is at question), some of the specific cuts (programs, positions–many students are having a harder time figuring out what courses they need due to cuts to departmental positions that took care of advising, for one of many examples), the direction of the university itself (do these cuts reflect a favouring of particular research directions? What do we think of the provincial university being geared toward certain programs, forcing all the people wanting to study, for example, Fine Arts out of the province?), the power structure itself? Reading up on the University Act would help determine what expectations are even possible within the defined mandate of the university.
      It may turn out that cuts to some programs or to positions affecting the quality of education steer the university away from its legislated mandate:
      “The primary role of the university is to provide post-secondary instruction and research in the humanities, sciences, social sciences and other areas of human intellectual, cultural, social and physical development.”
      http://www.qp.gov.sk.ca/documents/English/Statutes/Statutes/U6-1.pdf

  • Former USASK student

    Good to see the USSU standing up for students. Previous executives have Ben absolutely disgraceful in this regard, from the Place Riel renovations to tuition hikes to budget cuts, they mostly just sided with admin. Finally there’s a USSU president who properly understands his role.

  • broomgrass

    So what exactly does it mean that USC unanimously voted in favour of a motion of non-confidence? Is it just a symbolic move, or does it actually hold some power in university structure? I’m unfamiliar with what the USC’s role/power/responsibilities actually are (my bad?).

  • Dustin McNichol

    There’s a Facebook group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/249139125251812/ which has been started in order to oppose the TransformUS process and organize against it. Feel free to join!!

    • J

      I’m with you.. and no offense intended– but the University Council announced the TransformUS process one year ago, today. Jan 24, 2013.

      I’m sure some good can still be done, so thanks for that, but opposing and organizing against TransformUS is about a year behind schedule.

  • Moi

    I have to disagree with what everyone is saying here. Cuts need to be made, it’s a fact, and we’re certainly not the only Canadian university in this position.

    The U of S has made every effort to include both staff and students in the evaluation process.I know that I have received countless emails and announcements regarding TransformUs, I’ve been provided with clear information on where to voice my concerns or suggestions. If anyone doesn’t feel involved in the process, it’s because they haven’t made the effort to participate.

    There has been a lot of judgement of the work the university has done so far with this, but no one here seems to have any better idea of what to do. That money has got to come from somewhere, and I for one would rather see it come from well thought out program re-evaluations and staff cuts than a huge rise in tuition.

    • jimbo

      Totally agree with you.

    • Devin Ens

      No one has any idea? Find me another university with a comparably bloated administration. Have you read the latest MacLean’s rankings? We’ve got the highest operating budget of any unversity in our category, yet we have the lowest outcomes in most areas. I call baloney. Other universities have administrative bloat, but not to this extent. In the last thirty years, admin has grown at least ten times the rate of the student population. There’s no excuse for that.

      As for the token consultation process, why would anyone have any faith that they are actually being listened to? What is the UofS track record on taking the advice of committees, never mind polls?

      Want a proposal? Here’s several: Cut admin in half. Cut Senior admin salaries. Cancel merely aesthetic projects. Stop wasting money on advertising to make the UofS look better than it is. None of these involve compromising scholarship.

    • Devin Ens

      More proposals can be inferred from the waste mentioned in the following. Problem is, most of us are being kept in the dark about what the actual numbers are and where the money is going. http://www.thestarphoenix.com/opinion/op-ed/distanced+from+noble+ideal/9424521/story.html

    • TheEducated

      This is exactly it. So many students who have no knowledge or experience of running a business are opposed to the TransformUS simply because they have a personal connection to it.

      The people against transformUS: Shortsighted people. Profs and admin who stand to lose their jobs, as well as their colleagues. Students and their colleagues in programs facing cuts.

      The people supporting TransformUS:
      People who realize money doesnt grow off trees. Shall we all pay another $1200 in tuituion in 1 year to cover a 40m deficit? No thanks. Should we cut programs that are offered at other Canadian universities but just keep costing us money? YES PLEASE.

      Guess what, oversized admin for small programs will be cut with transform us; ergo more efficient spending.

      The bottom line: Let the business professionals do what they do and fully read documents before starting revolts. They said in the reports this isn’t final, so let’s wait until they actually even have the axe for the chopping block rather than just costing our university even more money.

    • Devin Ens

      The “business professionals” you would like us to trust got us into this mess in the first place despite being the university with the highest operating budget in the country. Excuse us if we are inclined to question the competence of your “business professionals.” An “oversized admin for small programs”? Like what? As it is, profs are doing work that properly belongs to secretaries. I do not think the problem is in academic programs.

      As for your faith in the fairness of the process, you should consider Dr. Howe’s experience of it: “I resigned from the Academic Task Force of TransformUS at the end of
      October. It had become clear that the biases in Dickeson’s methodology
      were not going to be corrected. It would have been professionally
      unethical for an economist to continue in those circumstances:
      economists study how to rationally make difficult choices and
      TransformUS isn’t how it is done.” http://www.usaskfaculty.ca/2014/01/20/transformus-even-worse-than-predicted/

    • Donna

      Like the business professionals in the US who caused the need for a bank bail-out and the subprime crisis?

      Your apparent faith in the so-called “business professionals” is touching but has no evidence to support it. It was “business professionals” that created this apparent deficit and claimed pensions as a surprise cost even though pensions are easily planned for and anticipated by any half competent financial manager.

      Also, I am rather puzzled that you seem to think small programs have a lot of administration as there is not evidence to support this claim.