Burlap Sack: College Deans

Brought in after the wake of academic restructuring, the college dean was meant as a cost-saving and creativity-fostering position. Unfortunately, it's done the opposite.

The Burlap Sack is a recurring Gateway opinion column for students to express grievances on anything from campus life, to provincial politics, to everyday hot takes.

Let me just say what most students on campus are thinking — I am pretty clueless as to what is going on with the university’s plan for restructuring.

Most of the issues stem from the brutal funding cuts we’ve faced in the wake of the United Conservative Party’s (UCP) tirade against education in general. However, in scrambling to pick up the pieces, the University of Alberta’s higher administration has made this school an overall worse place.

I’ve been at this school for six years so far, studying here in my undergrad and then into graduate school, and let me tell you, a lot has changed.

Among these changes includes the academic restructuring to the new college model in order to save the university between $30.9 and $40.7 million in costs. This entailed siloing faculties — minus Native Studies, Campus Saint-Jean, and Augustana — into overarching administrative colleges. The new college model felt like the university had pulled the rug out from under students’ feet, all while we were facing the hardships of COVID-19 and Zoom university. 

Not only this, but through the restructuring, they’ve laid off many support staff that made this place feel like an actual enjoyable place to study. From outsourcing cleaning staff, to getting rid of entire libraries, to losing 1,050 staff, the new University of Alberta is a shell of what it used to be. An institution only functions properly if all parts of it are working. However, slashing the heart of the university — the non-academic staff — only works to destabilize it.

Yet, throughout this, the administration was still set on bringing in newly created positions — the college dean. Not only is this an insult to all the essential staff who lost their jobs, as the combined salaries of the three interim college deans was just over $1 million in 2021, but so far, the administration has done nothing to show that this position will actually make this school a better place. This seems to go against the whole purpose of why the academic restructuring was introduced — to save money. 

The college deans were introduced to foster “interdisciplinary teaching and research” and to add another layer of accountability within the administration. Yet, professors and other academic staff now have another layer of bureaucracy that will only stifle creativity and innovation in the academy. 

Some of the most wonderfully creative endeavours come from interdisciplinary study, where two vastly different subjects intertwine to co-produce knowledge. However, restructuring is further siloing faculties into colleges with other like disciplines — thereby adding another administrative level. This seems like it will only discourage a researcher to pursue wild and exciting interdisciplinary study as there are more administrative hoops to jump through. 

Not to mention that at all levels of administration at this university, we can’t trust that they will tackle issues that students and staff face. Decisions are seemingly being made for the sake of bureaucratic management and control, not to better the university experience. So, that begs the question: why do we think that the college deans will be any different?

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