On Feb. 27, University Council defeated a non-confidence motion in TransformUS put forth by English professor Len Findlay.
Although the motion was defeated in a 42-18 vote, Findlay believes the discussion served to create dialogue and highlight surrounding various issues surrounding TransformUS.
TransformUS is a program prioritization process, adopted by the University of Saskatchewan, responsible for cutting the $44.5 million deficit projected for 2015–16 to approximately $25 million. The process had two taskforces — one for academic programs and one for support services — to determine which programs should receive more or less funding, remain as they are, be reorganized for efficiency or be completely cut.
One of the main concerns Findlay voiced regarding TransformUS is the model on which it is based — the Dickeson model — and that it was not created specifically for the U of S.
“The biggest failing is modelling on the work of Robert Dickeson and his templates,” Findlay said.
Another issue he brought forth is how the Dickeson model ignores the variety and interconnectivity of programs offered at U of S and instead divides and compartmentalizes them.
“To simply isolate and apply these arbitrary measures, which are driven by notions of cost rather than academic quality, is a fundamental distortion of what we know and how we go about adding to and challenging what we know,” Findlay said.
Dan LeBlanc, co-president of the Socialist Students’ Association, also finds issue with the adoption of a model that was not created or tailored specifically for the U of S.
“It was a model developed by Dickeson for for-profit universities in America that was not substantially changed before it was dropped on top of the U of S,” he said.
LeBlanc said the blanket nature of the model, which applies the same methodology to all programs, is a cause for error in the taskforce reports.
“Medicine and the Native Law Centre at the U of S are very different programs … To judge them along the same criteria is to lack an understanding of what it is that each program does,” he said.
Findlay sees student voices as integral to creating positive change at the university and believes students should have a say in directing their education. He said that the initial intention to exclude students from TransformUS was a serious point of concern for him.
“Students need to listen to the leadership critically, see where their own issues and interests are in this and say, ‘What about us?’” he said. “If you value students, have them on board from the start and listen to them.”
The lack of students’ voices in the TransformUS process was one of the driving forces behind University Students’ Council’s non-confidence motion passed at the Jan. 16 meeting. Some members of University Council were also concerned about student consultation, which inspired Findlay’s motion of non-confidence.
LeBlanc likewise takes issue with the lack of student involvement and sees it as a fundamental flaw of TransformUS. He said there is a lack of understanding in regards to TransformUS amongst students but believes this doesn’t have to do so much with apathy on the part of students as it is a symptom of already overloaded schedules and a lack of regard for the student opinion.
“Students quite accurately think that they’ve not been consulted and they have little voice” in TransformUS, he said. “Even if they do become involved or knowledgeable on it, it only gives them knowledge of what will happen to them and not knowledge so that they can affect the process.”
LeBlanc noted that many of the TransformUS documents were released at an inopportune time for students which did not allow students the opportunity to work through them. The taskforce reports were released during the final exam period on Dec. 9, 2013 and were long documents. The academic taskforce report was 133 pages long while the support services report came in at 95 pages.
“The document was very large and cumbersome, well over 100 pages. I think it was a disincentive for students to [read] it,” LeBlanc said.
With the motion of non-confidence defeated, Provost and Vice-President Academic Brett Fairbairn believes the experience can be learned from moving forward
“We know that there are concerns, I heard that in the debate. We know that our processes aren’t perfect so we’re very mindful of all those things but I think what I also heard was the dominant theme that University Council wants to work with the university to find solutions and I’m really pleased with that,” Fairbairn said to News Talk 650 CKOM after the Feb. 27 University Council meeting.