Lessons from IPRM: Senate works just fine!

This is an article from the WLUFA Advocate January 2015 3.3

Rob Kristofferson, WLUFA President

This issue of the Advocate presents multiple viewpoints offered by our members on various issues related to the recent IPRM Report. I feel it safe to say that, whatever your opinion of the process, it has caused heightened feelings. Discussions I have had with Members from across the university confirm the feeling I expressed to the K-W Record late last year, that in my 20 plus years of university teaching, I have not seen a process so thoroughly upset faculty and undermine morale.

The fate of the IPRM – and the pro-grams it identifies for potential differential resourcing – remains to be seen. Two Board of Governors meetings next month (February 2 for discussion and February 26 for decision) will determine whether or not the report will be implemented in whole or in part. The recommendations flowing from the recent Senate meeting discussing the Report, however, give us an opportunity to reflect on where things appear to stand.

First, it is important to note that part of the IPRM committees’ “Made at Laurier” approach to the Dickeson model has made a difference: the proportion of programs assigned to the dreaded bottom categories was not 40 percent (as rigid Dickesonian quintiles require), but 17 percent (academic) and 18 percent (administrative). And it’s telling that a number of those academic programs that ended up in “Phase Out or Minimize” or “Transform with Few-er Resources,” categories had either initiated or undergone significant change since the process was begun. Combine this with the fact that most academic programs ended up in the middle categories, and the conclusion is clear: our normal Senate process works just fine, thank you. The idea that tired, stale and static academic programs are too stuck in the mud and unresponsive to change that reflects the realities of today’s world is demonstrably false.

Should the Board approve implementation of the academic program rankings, it is important to note too that this will be done through “normal” Senate processes. At the 12 January, 2015, Senate meeting, senior administrators explained that any changes recommended would have to be considered and initiated by faculty at the program level. For example, they explained that a Dean assigned a budget cut would have to work with their academic subunits to figure out how best to absorb the con-traction. In that event, IPRM rankings would simply be one piece of information that might inform discussion between Deans and their programs. Other, more immediate factors would also figure large, including more recent performance indicators that better capture assessments of “value,” and the program’s fit with the new Strategic Mandate Agreement. In other words, the need to cut or change a pro-gram will become a conversation between members of that program and the Dean, based on the situation on the ground at that time. If true, those most expert in the academic area under question and most aware of the economic and enrolment realities of the Faculty in which this conversation takes place will determine the fate of the program. Again, situation normal.

What’s more, Senate voted to cast aside the implementation recommendations enumerated in the Planning Task Force section of the IPRM Report. The reasoning? These both exceeded the committee’s mandate and duplicated established processes. On the other hand, Senate did vote to recommend the hybrid Responsibility Centre budget model proposed by the Re-source Management Team. Versions of activity-based budgeting (of which the Laurier model is one) are being implemented at various universities across the country and have been a hot topic of conversation at meetings I have attended this year with the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). The emerging consensus is that such models have major academic impacts, especially insofar as they foster a market-based competitive environment in an institution carefully constructed around structures that promote the depth and breadth of the universe of learning – the university – we create through collegial cooperation. I urge you to have a look at WLUFA’s information sheet on the proposed budget model.

I conclude with a couple of quick points about the budget’s potential effect here at Laurier. First, devolving budgetary responsibility to Deans would appear to necessitate the further expansion of mid-level management personnel to track the fortunes of their “responsibility-centre.” Second, competitive pressures will impel Faculties to compete with each other for a fixed number of students through course registrations and the capture of majors. While introducing these new costs into a closed system makes little sense, in most universities this effect might be moderated by the more radically distinct divisions between faculties. There are, for example, only so many course registrations that a Faculty of Science might capture from a Faculty of Arts. But at Laurier, where we have three separate Faculties based in Humanities and Social Science (Arts, Liberal Arts, and Human & Social Science), such competition threatens to destroy more than it can create.

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