by Jeremy Richards
Thoughtful people must not cede all power to politicians and business interests; we must make our voices heard across the full range of professional, social, and civic circles.
(p. 95: Karr, J.R., 2008, Protecting society from itself: Reconnecting ecology and economy, in Soskolne, C.L., ed., Sustaining Life on Earth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p. 95-108)


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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

AVP departs

Executive Director and AVP of Alumni Relations, Sean Price, has apparently departed for greener pastures (reportedly for a job with the Edmonton Eskimos). No doubt these people come and go all the time, but like airplane crashes, it always seems that they happen in a cluster (maybe we're suddenly paying attention more). But right now there does seem to be a rush for the exit.

Update on new budget model — don't ask!

At the GFC Academic Planning Committee meeting today, I asked for an update on the implementation of the new budget model, and how it will work (especially the component that will start in July 2015, whereby Faculties will have to pay for ATB and merit from available funds allocated from Central). I was told by the Chair that it was too complicated for non-accountants like me to understand, and that I shouldn't be asking questions about it but should trust the financial people to do their jobs.

This follows on similar non-responses to other questioners at GFC on Monday: it's purely an administrative change — nothing for you to worry about. OK, so why is it so hard to explain how it works? And why are specific questions about the potential impacts of these changes (such as, will Faculties with different abilities to raise revenue to cover these costs be differentially affected?) deferred to the next phase of implementation? ("We don't know yet.")

We're told that the Deans are all on board with this, so maybe there really is no problem. But would they tell us if there was? (Think U of S.)

Does AASUA know what's going on? I don't think so. Last heard I was still on the Joint Committee on University Planning and Budgets, but we have not met since February, and have not been briefed on this new budget model.

$1/4m donation from Samarasekera

The Edmonton Journal reports that outgoing President Indira Samarasekera is giving $250,000 towards "bursaries to assist students with finances of an international internship or volunteer placement", with the objective of growing the fund to over $1m through additional fund-raising. This is a welcome move, although I'm not sure I would have picked this target for funding — but that's entirely her call.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New budget model still on

GFC was told yesterday by President Samarasekera that the new budget model, whereby Deans will be expected to pay for merit and ATB, is still on despite the Provost's departure (he had been championing these budget changes). However, any other aspects of "incentive-based budgeting" will be put on hold until the new President (and Provost) have had a chance to review the situation next year.

Samarasekera noted that the changes to the way the budget would be handled were purely "administrative", and were intended to simplify the annual funding allocation process. GFC was told that Deans were "on-board" and were already planning for it, but it's not clear how uniform their support is. Attempts to glean more information were rebuffed by the President and VP(Finance).

Despite the claim that the new budget model is a purely administrative change, which swaps annual cuts from Central for managing budget shortfalls at the Faculty level, it is not at all clear that it's business as usual. Forcing Deans to deal directly with merit and ATB while not being able to control them (these will be negotiated as before with the BoG*), presents a curious dilemma, and a situation ripe for unintended (or perhaps intended?) consequences. Not allowing GFC to discuss these plans in more detail can only heighten the "fear and uncertainty" that Samarasekera noted was prevalent on campus at the moment.

* Of note, Samarasekera stated that she wants to "pay faculty and staff competitively." That should be a useful starting principle for salary negotiations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dean of FoMD follows Provost out the door

It was announced this morning that the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Douglas Miller,  has resigned (effective January 31, 2015), and will be taking up the position of Dean of the School of Medicine, New York Medical College.

Bulldozing Alberta's public health-care system

Paula Simons pens an insightful piece in the Edmonton Journal about Carl Amrhein's secondment as "official administrator” of Alberta Health Services. In describing Amrhein's likely approach to his new role, she says:
Tough, determined and passionate about making Edmonton a better place, he can be a human bulldozer when it comes to achieving his policy aims or rolling over opponents. 
Whether a bulldozer is the right tool to restructure, yet again, our beleaguered public health-care system is a rather different question.
One minor note that answers some questions raised here yesterday, it appears that Amrhein will still be paid by the University during this "leave of absence", but the UofA will be "compensated" for this by the GoA.

Monday, November 17, 2014


It is no secret that the new budget models being proposed for the UofA were being pushed hard by our now-departed Provost. I wonder if that will bring this process to a halt? It would seem to be sensible at least to put the changes on hold until our new President can get to grips with the University and its financial problems.

It seems to me that there is an opportunity for real change here. I propose that the starting principles should be a return to full and effective collegial governance, and a reaffirmation of the University's core principles of the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. Only then should we begin to talk about how to fund that mission.

Amrhein gone already?

A new President normally refreshes the senior administrative team, but it seems that our Provost isn't waiting for the purge. A commentator has just drawn my attention to this Alberta Health Services press announcement:
Health Minister appoints new Official Administrator for Alberta Health Services 
Dr. Carl Amrhein will take over as Official Administrator for Alberta Health Services starting November 17. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Incentive-based budgeting"

The Provost told the Academic Planning Committee (APC) of GFC last Wednesday that, in the opinion of a consultant (Larry Goldstein), the latest name for what's going on at the UofA is now to be "Incentive-based budgeting". Apparently we're not doing RCM or RBB or YEG, or whatever the latest Googleable trend in budget wrangling is called.

The objective of incentive-based budgeting is to incentivize Deans to raise at least some of the money they get to spend, whereas in the past, Central claims that it has had to do all the fund-raising, and Deans have just gotten to spend it.

Presumably with this divestment of responsibility, Central staff will be taking a pay cut, and Deans (and Chairs) a pay rise? No? Or maybe No to the first, and Yes to the second.

The new model, although there is some logic behind it, will reinforce the Faculty-as-fiefdom model, which has been discussed most recently in the light of the Dean of Engineering appointment fiasco. We already have a massive problem with inter-Faculty activities, in all areas of teaching, research, and service — and now fund-raising will be added to the competitive mix.

But there is another logical alternative to the problem that the Provost presented. Instead of further empowering Deans, pull some of that power back to the bodies of collegial governance. If Central is negotiating the terms and conditions of employment of staff on behalf of the University community, shouldn't the community also have the power to control, if not who is employed, but at least how many are hired, or how much is spent on new hires (in terms of total salary)? Post-hire, the Deans do not control the growth of salary; that is done through negotiations between the BoG and faculty association, which limit ATB and merit. Asking Deans to pay for that is the inverse of the problem the Provost originally posited: now, Central will negotiate the terms, and Deans will have to find the money to pay for it.

So here's a suggestion: Salary is negotiated centrally, as before, with Central paying for current commitments. But for new hires, Deans will annually bid for new appointment funding, with justifications based on teaching needs and research priorities (and in rare cases, service requirements, such as for administrative appointments). Available salary money in the operating budget (overseen and approved by GFC and the BoG), after deducting current salary commitments, would be awarded for new hires by a joint committee appointed by GFC and the BoG, populated by an elected mix of staff, students, and administrators, representing the University as a whole: may I suggest, the New Appointments Funding Forum (NAFF). The job of NAFF would be to strike a balance of funding for new appointments across Faculties in terms of demonstrated need and merit of proposals, with a founding commitment to the preservation and support of a full-service university, equally committed to the Arts and Sciences, as well as Engineering and Medicine. Proposals for cross-Faculty appointments would be particularly favourably viewed. (Note that NAFF would consider only the funding of positions, not individuals — hiring of individuals within the approved salary framework would continue in the normal way.)

As for market supplements, well yes, the Deans can be responsible for funding those. And they would also be free to seek endowed or otherwise externally funded positions (so long as their future impact on the salary budget was understood and approved by NAFF — e.g., many research chairs have limited terms, after which the appointee becomes a regular faculty member paid from Central).

Friday, November 14, 2014

David Turpin announced as new President of the UofA

Board Chair Doug Goss this morning announced that David Turpin, former President of the University of Victoria, will be the new President of the UofA. As many of you know, I was on the advisory selection committee that chose Turpin from a broad field of national and international candidates, and he certainly impressed me as someone with great vision (realistic) and energy, who might actually be able to "lead" us forwards (in the sense that I've been sort of hinting at here). I sense that he has the energy, stamina, and force of personality to address and solve the real problems that face the UofA, and academia in general, and not simply to react to external pressures. At least I hope so!

Welcome to the UofA, President Turpin — whither will you lead us?