Jan. 04, 2012 - Issue #846: Year in review
Cuts to the faculty of arts enacted with without due considerationWandering down the west side of the main campus you will see signs of a prosperous institution: construction cranes grace the skyline and new buildings, such as the colourful Edmonton Clinic, are popping up. You would be forgiven for thinking that this prosperous scene represents the entire university, but walk to the other side of campus and you will find an arts faculty operating on such a shoestring budget that some departments even lack phones. What is going on at the U of A?
For the third year in a row, the University of Alberta's faculty of arts—home to diverse departments including economics, psychology, English and film studies, sociology and political science—has been handed a budget cut. This year, that cut amounts to $1.5 million, or two percent of the budget.
Because the faculty of arts' budget is so tight, a process called AdPReP, the Administrative Process Review Project, has been launched to evaluate administrative efficiencies. Undeniably, any workplace has inefficiencies and trying to resolve those issues is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when such a process is inherently flawed, one ends up creating more harm than good.
To manage the AdPReP process, the faculty of arts spent $70 000 for an external consultant through a non-competitive process. Through a series of interviews and other data-gathering exercises, this consultant has been tasked with making recommendations to overhaul the administrative function of the faculty. While on paper such a process sounds relatively benign—useful even—its implementation has been disastrous.
Despite being assured that no decisions have been made as of yet, students, staff and faculty have repeatedly been informed that up to 15 administrative positions will be cut, 10 percent of the total administrative body in the faculty. Other positions will likely be centralized.
To help make this decision, staff have been subjected to a series of poorly-constructed questionnaires that seek to quantify their daily tasks. While such a method might make cutting decisions easier, it does nothing to demonstrate a person's actual work. Try it yourself: what percentage of your day do you spend checking email? Writing reports? Interacting with clients? Remember, your total must equal 100 percent; there is no room for multi-tasking.
If you find these questions difficult to answer, imagine trying to answer them knowing your job is on the line. Further, such a method does not allow staff to describe the duties they perform above their actual job description. The faculty is thus using incomplete information to wholly restructure its administrative staff system. Most importantly, each department has been run differently based on the unique needs of students and faculty.
The administrative staff is responsible for the day-to-day management of the department's teaching and research mandates and is the foundation of each department’s community. Removing one member from any department is dangerous not just because the staff members are currently over-worked, but because they perform very specialized tasks that cannot be centralized within the faculty.
Although the AdPReP process is currently only utilized in the faculty of arts, there is suggestion that it may be implemented in other departments at the U of A and possibly other universities. As more faculties start to run out of places in their budgets to cut, more departments are going to be subjected to short-sighted remodeling efforts that inappropriately assume a publicly-funded institution can be run the same way as a private business.
The situation is worsening as Canadian universities are losing public funding and are increasingly depending on private investors. Private organizations set the university's priorities and goals with targeted investments. Neglected by the provincial government and under pressure from private investors, public universities prioritize balanced budgets and private interests over the needs of its faculty, staff and students.
With more budget cuts looming, the faculty of arts is left with two options: use this moment to prioritize the opinions, needs, jobs, and livelihood of members of our community or further entrench the practice of depending on private investment and making short-sighted and ill-conceived budget cuts.
In response to this process a coalition of staff, students and faculty has risen up to challenge the terms under which AdPReP operates. The Faculty of Arts Staff Solidarity coalition, or FASS, demands that all other options be exhausted before faculties lay off hard-working staff. FASS demands that robust consultation occur with all stakeholders, including students, staff and faculty and not out-of-touch bureaucrats, some of whom have never worked at the department level before. FASS demands that the dean of arts, provost, and president lobby the provincial government to ensure that arts departments are vibrant, robust places of learning.
Progress has already been made. FASS petitioned the dean to hold a faculty-wide forum to discuss and question the process. This was one step among many that are required to assure that as many voices as possible are heard during this process. A second meeting with the dean is planned for early January.
The dean of arts has stated that after the AdPReP process is complete there will be no more "fat to trim" from the arts budget. She has suggested that next steps may be to cut graduate funding or to eliminate departments. The dean's remarks pit different groups within the faculty against each other. Students, faculty and staff are positioned to save themselves at the detriment of the other groups. Cuts to staff or department funding are cuts to graduate and undergraduate funding. Cuts anywhere within the faculty will affect students' and faculties' experiences, and quality of education and research. The students, staff and faculty that have formed FASS stand resolved in the face of this attempt to divide and conquer the stakeholders of our faculty. We must all stand in solidarity against this planned austerity—an institution without a strong arts faculty cannot call itself a university. V
For more information about AdPReP and FASS' continuing campaign visit uofastaffsolidarity.blogspot.com. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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