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Do students really know what TransformUS is?

By in Features/News

TransformUS was one of the most talked about issues at the University of Saskatchewan in 2013. Students stormed a University Council meeting, questioned senior administration and waited a year to see the fate of their programs.

All of this talk and action, but what do students really know about TransformUS?

The Sheaf spoke with 48 students from various colleges and programs and a mere nine students said they had heard of TransformUS. Less than a handful of the students that knew what TransformUS was said they had concerns about the end results of program prioritization or questions about the process.

TransformUS InfoGraph

Following the release of the TransformUS taskforce reports on Dec. 9, 2013, students at the U of S frantically checked to see if their program might be axed. However, few have been left wondering not only about the future of their programs, but of the inner workings of the university and how TransformUS works.

First-year nutrition student Janessa Mann said she followed the TransformUS updates until the taskforce reports were released and she saw that her program did not fall into the fourth or fifth quintiles (there are five classifications for academic programs ranging from being a candidate for enhanced resources to being cut).

“Our college wasn’t really as affected so we’re not really urged to read it,” Mann said. “So far I haven’t heard any reasons to be concerned.”

Similarly, Garrison Zellar, Codi Munro and Ben Sartison each only read the portion of the academic taskforce report that detailed into which quintile their degree fell into.

“My program’s not getting cut, so I’m happy,” Munro said, adding later that after checking which quintile her program fell into she did not continue reading the academic program taskforce report.

Zellar, Munro and Sartison are each in their third year of a degree in economics, history and linguistics, respectively.

Arts and science student Robyn, who chose to withhold their last name, said they were concerned about students’ lack of awareness and knowledge of TransformUS.

“I feel like if it wasn’t your college that was directly affected then people don’t really hear because they’re really focused on their self,” Robyn said. “I don’t think anybody really knows how exactly it is going to affect them yet, but many just don’t care.”

Since the program prioritization plan was announced on Jan. 11, 2013, it has been under fire with criticisms from a minority of students — notably that they were being excluded from the taskforces. The TransformUS taskforces would evaluate the university’s academic programs and support services and then submit their recommendations as to which programs should be cut or receive more or less funding to the university president.

At the Jan. 24 University Council meeting, Neatby-Timlin Theatre in the Arts Building was packed full of students and faculty members who debated whether or not students should be allowed on the taskforces. After an hour and a half of deliberations, University Council members voted to allow one undergraduate and one graduate student on each of the taskforces.

However, following the creation of the taskforces, there has been little word from the student body as they waited for the taskforces to assess all of the university’s academic programs and support services and submit their reports on Nov. 30.

The much anticipated reports were released to the campus community on Dec. 9, detailing not only the scores for each program and service at the U of S but also outlining each task force’s criteria and general observations.

Third-year engineering student Jeff Glasel said he has not read the taskforce reports, but is aware they were released and is wondering when the university will begin making cuts and how students can be involved in the process.

From Dec. 9, 2013 to Jan. 31, 2014, the consultation phase of the TransformUS process will be taking place. University administration is asking for the campus community to submit their feedback online and will host three town halls in January to answer questions and receive feedback. The first two town halls, on Jan. 8 and 9, will be held in Convocation Hall and are open to the general public while the third, held on Jan. 15 in the Grad Student Commons, will be exclusively for students.

U of S Vice-President of Finance and Resources Greg Fowler said the consultation period is a time for the university to gauge the campus community’s responses to the TransformUS recommendations before moving on to creating an implementation plan.

Glasel said he was skeptical of the extent to which student voices would be heard despite there being a town hall held solely for them to air their concerns and ask questions.

“They have all these times when you can ask questions and speak your mind, but I feel sort of not able to have a lot of power or a lot of say,” Glasel said.

Fowler said the consultation period’s main goal is to have the voices of worried students heard and the possibility that students will go unheard is the driving force behind the town halls.

“One of the things that is very important for us is the voice of the students,” he said. “It’s not a question of whether or not they will be heard. I don’t think that is the concern here and that is why we wanted to have the one town hall that’s just for the students: so we can listen and they would not be overpowered by any other groups like faculty or staff.”

Glasel said he was also curious as to how closely the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning will follow the recommendations from the taskforces.

“If [the taskforce reports] are just suggestions, how likely is the university to implement these suggestions,” Glasel said, adding he would like to know more about the decision making process that will lead up to the university choosing which programs get cut, receive more funding or are unaffected.

In response to Glasel’s question, Fowler said that the results from the consultation phase may overrule the taskforce’s reports.

“What we’re doing right now is going through a period of consultation so it isn’t a question of how closely [the deciding bodies] will follow [the taskforce reports], it’s a question of the consultation period, listening to the community, listening to our deans and unit leaders and listening to the students to determine what their thoughts are on what the recommendations were,” Fowler said. “There may be times where we would not proceed with areas where the recommendations were to proceed.”

“It’s more about becoming as informed as we can and making sure that we have all of the information available to us.”

Once the consultation phase comes to an end the university will follow its regular governance model, having the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning give their recommendations to the Board of Governors and University Council to approve and put into action.

The concern students have brought up at town halls and at University Student Council meetings was the main point Glasel wanted an answer to: whether or not students will be able to finish their degree should their program be cut.

“The biggest question for me is how are they dealing with the students that are in their third year, fourth year and are about to graduate,” Glasel said.

Fowler assured students that they will all have the opportunity to complete their degree and that the university will follow the same method it always uses when phasing out programs.

“We would never, ever consider any decisions without making sure that students would have the opportunity to finish the programs that they’re in,” Fowler said.

Programs will only begin to be phased out in May once the implementation plan is announced on April 30. Some phasing out may not begin until the university enters the next planning phase in 2016.

The academic taskforce created five quintiles for academic programs to be categorized into based on the extent to which it aligns with university priorities and its academic contributions.

Candidates for enhanced funding fall in quintile one when the taskforces determined that increased funding will aid them in contributing to the university’s academic goals. The smallest category, quintile one, accounts for three per cent of all academic programs.

Of the university’s 16 colleges and schools, only five had programs classified for enhanced resources. The College of Arts and Science has the most programs in quintile one, with eight being candidates for increased funding. The College of Agriculture and Bioresources has three programs in quintile one while the College of Engineering has two. Both the Western College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition each have one program in the first quintile.

Quintile two is the largest classification with 143 programs deemed candidates to maintain their current funding. These programs are well-aligned with the university’s priorities and receive an allocation of 34 per cent of the U of S operating budget funds used for academic programming.

Programs falling into quintile three may be candidates for reduced funding and are subject to future budget adjustments. There are 115 programs in the third quintile.

Academic programs that  stray from the university’s priorities are categorized into quintile four. These programs may be reconfigured for efficiency and effectiveness and may also be merged with other programs of this quintile. The effects of this quintile are not necessarily negative, as the weakest parts of a program may be trimmed while retaining its strengths. There are 107 academic programs that fall into this category.

Programs that are unsustainable for the university to offer are in quintile five and are candidates for phasing out. The academic taskforce examined 479 academic programs, 98 of which have been suggested to be cut.

The College of Engineering has 34 per cent of its programs slated in quintile five. Though the College of Arts and Science has just short of 200 programs, 43 of them fell into the fifth quintile.

Despite being a smaller school, the College of Graduate Studies and Research was hit the hardest with five of its seven programs being recommended for phasing out.

The colleges of dentistry, pharmacy and nutrition, education and law along with the schools of physical therapy, public policy and environment and sustainability did not have any programs receive recommendations to be cut.

Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor

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