July 16, 2013
Last week, “in the face of financial pressures”, President Jack Lightstone publically announced a review of all University programs, both academic and non-academic. This review is being conducted by a Special Task Force, which has been appointed by, and will report to, the President. In a letter posted on the Task Force website http://www.brocku.ca/president/program-review, the President stated that the goal of the Task Force is “to identify where we need to further invest in and expand, where we need to stay the course and where we need to cease our activities or engage in major redesign.” Task Force recommendations regarding these budgeting priorities are expected by the end of October.
The guiding principles for this review appear to be based on Robert Dickeson’s (2010) book, Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services, which was given to the Task Force members, and is available as an e-book from the Brock Library. Fundamental to Dickeson’s prioritization process are 10 criteria with which all academic programs are to be assessed and compared: (1) history, development and expectations, including how the program has adapted over time; (2) external demand; (3) internal demand; (4) quality of program input and processes; (5) quality of outputs; (6) size, scope and productivity; (7) revenue and other resources generated; (8) costs and other expenses; (9) impact, justification, and overall essentiality; and (10) opportunity analysis (i.e., how to take advantage of possibilities for improvement). If the review process unfolds as it has at several other Canadian universities, the Task Force will rely on centrally collected “dash board” data (e.g., number of research grant dollars, undergraduate enrolments in specific majors). Units also will likely be asked to provide input on these criteria for each of their associated programs (e.g., each major and minor). One university faculty association with whom we have spoken estimated that the data-gathering, analytic, reflective, and writing processes associated with a Dickeson-like program review took their members, collectively, over a million hours during an 18-month period.
BUFA is not against program reviews, in principle. Indeed, we understand that ongoing review of our programs, followed by appropriate and well-considered action, is an inherent and important part of what we do as academics. However, BUFA has serious concerns about the legitimacy of this Special Task Force and the review process set up by President Lightstone.
First, we believe strongly that any such program review and prioritization must be done in a manner that follows sound academic principles, is fair and transparent, and is consistent with the assigned responsibilities and processes identified by the Brock Act, Faculty Handbook, and our Collective Agreement. BUFA has major reservations about President’s Task Force because it does not meet these criteria.
One major problem with the Task Force (see, for example, evaluation criteria 4, 5, 6 and 9 above) is that it is infringing on the Senate’s responsibility, in general, and the Brock Institutional Quality Assurance Process (IQAP), specifically, to monitor and review the quality of academic programs. The IQAP process was designed to be consistent with guidelines from the Quality Council of the Council of Ontario Universities and is managed at Brock by the Academic Review Committee, which reports directly to Senate. This is the process that Brock has established for the review of academic programs, not to have our programs scrutinized, compared, and judged by an ad hoc, presidentially appointed group.
Our concern over the legitimacy of this review process is greatly heightened by the composition of the Task Force itself. The Provost and VP Academic and the VP Finance and Administration are the Task Force Co-Chairs. Having this committee, which will be reviewing and prioritizing academic programs, co-chaired by a non-academic is a “red flag” in itself. There are nine additional members of the committee: 2 senior administrators (Registrar, and AVP University Services); 2 Associate Deans; 3 non-administrative full time faculty; and 2 students. Thus, out of an 11-member Task Force, only 3 (27%) are faculty members who are not administrators. Further, the Task Force does not have representation from Social Science, Business or the Library. This is the group that will be making recommendations about which academic programs should be eliminated, which should receive budget cuts, and which should get additional resources! The preponderance of administrators on this Task Force also raises the issue of whether Administration will receive the same scrutiny as academic programs.
Second, in addition to these serious concerns about the legitimacy of the Task Force, we are not convinced of the financial justification for this extraordinary action. Given the lack of detailed and complete financial information provided by the University to date, it is hard for the University community to assess the extent of the fiscal pressures, their causes, and the actions required to relieve them in the future – information necessary before cuts to programs can be justified on a financial basis. For example, our members have repeatedly asked us how much of the deficit can be attributed to growth in administrative positions and international travel by administrators over the last few years, as well as the extent to which our operating budgets have been impacted by transfers to capital expenditures and the construction of expensive buildings resulting from decisions that have not themselves been made with adequate input from the larger University community or, it appears, their impact on our operating budget. The information provided by the University has not allowed us to answer such questions. In order to do so, BUFA has appointed a Budget Advisory Committee, which will provide us with our own analysis of the University’s budget and financial situation. Members of that Committee are Louis Culumovic (Accounting), Anamitra Shome (Accounting), and Martin Kusy (Finance, Operations, and Information Systems).
Third, other Faculty Associations experienced with program review and prioritization processes, have repeatedly expressed surprise at the short time frame (approximately 4 months) established for the work of Brock’s President’s Task Force. Similar processes at other Universities typically have been in progress for 12-18 months and, in some cases, are continuing beyond that time frame. We find it hard to imagine how Brock’s Task Force, in any thoughtful and legitimate way, can develop its own ground rules (e.g., starting from as basic a level as needing to define what is a “program”), identify and weight meaningful criteria that will allow comparisons across a wide diversity of academic and nonacademic programs, define the data needed and the methodology required for data collection, interpret and summarize the data, compare programs using the criteria, and make recommendations between July and the end of October 2013.
At this time, these are BUFA’s major concerns with the program review, prioritization, and resource allocation processes as they have begun to unfold at Brock. We will be closely monitoring these developments and making any additional concerns known as they emerge. BUFA also will be developing our position on the process and formulating a strategy to respond to specific issues as they arise.
We encourage you to share your suggestions and comments with BUFA, as well as with your department/centre colleagues, Senators, Dean, and the Task Force members (listed on the Task Force website above).
Linda Rose-Krasnor, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Psychology
President, Brock University Faculty Association
500 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catharines ON Canada L2S 3A1
Phone: 905-688-5550, ext. 3870
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