Lukaszuk letters released by board chair
Two long-awaited letters from Advanced Education minister Thomas Lukaszuk to Doug Goss, chair of the Board of Governors, were released publicly nearly two weeks ago as part of Goss’s report to the Oct. 18 BoG meeting.
The letters, one sent June 26 and the other Aug. 15, contain feedback from Lukaszuk on the University of Alberta’s budgetary planning and its administration’s actions in the wake of the severe budget cuts received in March.
The June 26 letter reveals that Goss and U of A President Indira Samarasekera had agreed in a June 18 meeting with Lukaszuk to balance the university’s budget by the end of the 2014–15 year. But the administration’s Comprehensive Institutional Plan, submitted to the government in early July, still included plans to balance the budget by 2015–16.
“The plan we submitted, we thought, was in the best interests of the university. His letter came later,” Goss told The Gateway after the Oct. 18 BoG meeting.
The Aug. 15 letter includes Lukaszuk’s approval of this year’s $45 million deficit, his concerns with the school’s three-year plan and expectation that the administration would submit a revised plan. Also contained in the letter is the announcement of a financial review — which has since been cancelled — and his concern with the university’s use of the term “flagship” in describing itself. Lukaszuk suggested in the letter that the U of A avoid distinguishing itself from other Campus Alberta instutions, and collaborate with them instead.
Goss had stated back in August the letters would be released within days after being discussed with the BoG, but they were withheld for nearly two months. Goss told The Gateway the letters had not been released because the board didn’t want to take action “precipitously” without appropriate discussion first.
“It’s just the process we went through, because there was a lot of discussion of their effect and exactly what it meant in our planning,” he said.
President’s report details report card and Change Agenda
Samarasekera began her report to the board by discussing the 2012–13 Dare to Discover report card. A blueprint for the university’s mission for the next century, Samarasekera said the report tries to capture the highlights of the university’s progress.
Much of the report card compares the U of A to other North American post-secondary institutions. Samarasekera said the university has been focusing on attracting more national and international students. To compete with American schools, she said, scholarship funding is critical in attracting these students to the U of A.
She said the university has made progress in enrolling international students, with an increase in enrolment from 5.1 per cent to 11.1 per cent since 2007.
The U of A should also be aiming for a 3:1 ratio of undergraduate to graduate students, she said. But the ratio is currently 3.6:1, and more classes as well as 500 more professors are needed to achieve the ideal balance.
Samarasekera also updated the board on the Change Agenda, which she first presented to the university community during her Sept. 19 State of the University address. The agenda is divided into four categories: academic transformation, sustainable financial models, efficient administration and culture change. Regarding the last point, Samarasekera said the administration is committed to a new level of transparency.
“We are going to put as much data as people want, publicly,” she said. All budgets will be posted, including breakdowns for each faculty and unit, she promised.
“Everybody will know which faculty got what cut, how much was cut from where, and when and how.”
Letter of Expectation Approved
The board carried a motion to approve the letter of expectation due for submission to the government on Oct. 31. The letter — originally known as a ‘mandate letter,’ and later a ‘memorandum of understanding’ — was provided to each post-secondary institution in Alberta.
The letter contains three core sections: system-level outcomes, sector-level outcomes and institutional-level outcomes. The U of A has been revising the letter’s institutional-level outcomes and moving it through its governance process throughout the summer and early fall.
The final draft contains several amendments which were debated by the board, including a stated value of “attributes and competencies” in the programming the U of A offers, develops and renews.
The finalized letter has also removed any reference of the government’s acknowledgement of a “free and open academy” being a “vital safeguard for a democratic society.” Instead, the letter conveys recognition only from the university of “academic freedom” and “administrative autonomy.”
Government denies Women’s and Gender Studies Master’s degree
Board members discussed the Advanced Education Ministry’s recent rejection of a proposed Master’s program in Women’s and Gender Studies. According to the members, the Campus Alberta Quality Council rejected the program due to low enrolment prospects and concerns of program duplication — a similar Master’s degree is offered at the University of Lethbridge.
President Samarasekera said this is the first time the council has turned down a University of Alberta program.
Presentation on the Banff Centre
The meeting began with a presentation from Jeff Melanson, President of The Banff Centre, which has recently entered into a partnership with the U of A to launch the Peter Lougheed Leadership Initiative project. Melanson used a visual presentation to outline the centre’s future goals and spoke about why a partnership with the U of A has the ability to ensure excellence, access and transformative change in the arts community.
The Banff Centre currently offers more than 100 non-degree arts programs. Melanson said the centre is seeking to expand by offering courses in public broadcasting, interactive digital media, publishing, media arts, television and radio. The focus of these courses will be to enhance the social sector, communities and businesses by equipping students with skills in arts.
By partnering with the U of A for the leadership initiative, Melanson said the centre hopes to improve its current leadership programs by integrating value-based business design and a commitment to innovation and perspective. He said the “big idea” for the upcoming project is to explore creative human potential.
With a proposed $600 million expansion to downtown Banff and upgrade to the centre’s current facilities, Melanson said the centre will need to fundraise to double the current $60 million operating budget.
The initiative will serve key sectors of the community including indigenous people, creative industries and public school education. The cost will be split three ways between the provincial, federal and private sector, Melanson said.
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