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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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, 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?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New Interim Dean of Engineering announced, new President to be introduced tomorrow

In a letter from the Provost sent to faculty, staff, and students in the Faculty of Engineering (posted in Whitherleaks), it was announced that the selection committee for a new Dean for that Faculty had ultimately come up with a shortlist of one candidate, which was not felt to "align with the spirit of the open, public process" that the committee had intended. So the committee has been wrapped up, and an Interim Dean, Professor Fraser Forbes, has been installed for one year, "or until such time as a new Dean is appointed."

But in more positive news, the new President will be announced to the University tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in Convocation Hall. I was on the advisory selection committee, and I'm excited by this announcement.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

GSA gets 1.65% and 1.5%

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Graduate Students' Association has negotiated pay increases of 1.65% and 1.5% for the next two years.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Confusing "leadership" with management and administration

There's much talk of "leadership" these days, but, rather like "sustainability", the word has been devalued to the point of meaninglessness. When advertisements go out for academic leaders, from department chairs to presidents, what is really meant is that they are looking for someone who can get done what the people who hold the reins of power want done, and in a way that doesn't blow back on them. The leadership being declaimed is more along the lines of the pied piper, but the real "leadership", in terms of where the piper goes, is reserved for the political and financial paymasters.  It's unclear to me that a department chair can "lead" a department into anything other than a fight with the dean, although some chairs might be better generals than others. And our new President's ability to lead anywhere substantially different than at present will depend to a very large extent on Albertan politics and government finances, just as our current President's early ambitions were largely thwarted by these provincial realities.

Perhaps what in fact we should hope for in our "academic leaders" is good management and administrative skills, focused on facilitating the work of the University's staff and students. After all, it is the accomplishments of the professors and their students that "lead" the University, not the latest policies and pet projects dreamed up by administrators. That would go a long way towards improving morale, which in turn would encourage creative thinking and achievement. Speaking personally, a lot of my time these days is spent thinking about alternative careers or early retirement (or both!) — it would be great to have something more positive to look forward to here than endless budget cuts and increasing workloads.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The smart internal candidate

Internal candidates for positions such as Department Chair can expect at most a small annual stipend (I think currently in the range $10k, which goes away when the term is up) on top of their current salary (and perhaps a few bonus merit increments along the way — I wouldn't know). External candidates, on the other hand, can negotiate for whatever salary the Dean is willing to pay, which, judging by the recent job description for the new EAS Chair, should be a lot (the job description is similar to the President's). So the financially smart internal candidate, if they are confident of getting the job, should quit and then reapply as an external candidate.