Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Is University of Winnipeg a real university... or what?

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Lloyd Axworthy (U of W to shift from growing to learning, Sept. 8) has invited faculty to work at improving the fiscal well-being of the university. In that spirit, I offer the following modest suggestions.

Review the need for the ever-growing litany of expensive administrators. Eliminate the multiplicity of deans and associate deans who have been imposed by recent senior administrations, at considerable financial and academic cost. Question the value added to teaching and research by hordes of senior administrators who "supervise" the people (who actually do concrete support work) when not attending meetings with one another or otherwise interacting via their BlackBerrys and iPhones.

Concentrate available and limited funds on core educational operations in academic departments, rather than allowing them to be diluted across a multiplicity of competing sectors. Use restraint when funding functions less central to university teaching and research, such as continuing education, the Collegiate, theology, sports teams, residences, and the like.

On the academic side, insist emerging interdisciplinary and applied programs depend as much as possible on existing liberal arts departments for their course offerings, rather than creating superfluous new courses that are then used to justify hiring new faculty (i.e., increasing costs) without any corresponding increase in students (i.e., revenues), who are simply being shuffled between programs. The imposed separation of faculties (i.e., silos) clearly makes such efficiencies increasingly difficult and less likely.

Avoid promoting U of W as a non-academic entity concerned with sports teams, social services, or whatever. Most students do not enrol in university because it has a soccer field for inner-city kids. No matter how noble that endeavour might be, it is one that should be assumed completely by government and does not generally enhance the U of W as a place of higher learning and research.

Make sure core funding trickles down to the departments with primary responsibility for the teaching and research functions of the university, and empower them with true decentralized decision-making. Try not to give them the illusion of responsibility and then bribe them to adopt a particular course of action imposed yet again from on high (i.e., online classes).

Avoid the hype of faddish educational movements, even ones that refuse to die. Some of us old-timers have heard for many decades how classroom teaching (i.e., actual contact between students and faculty) is to be replaced by various computer-aided fantasy scenarios, none of which has achieved the supposed promise, largely because it is not what most students want nor what many, especially weaker students, need in order to succeed at university. And it clashes with U of W's primary historical strengths as an intimate institution where students and faculty actually interact with one another, as do faculty members from diverse academic backgrounds.

Do not undertake costly initiatives that are actually less needed in an urban campus than in suburban institutions. U of W does not need to engage in subsidized competition undermining local private and non-profit businesses, whether it be restaurants, housing, or whatever. Moreover the cost of such operations, both financially and otherwise (e.g., loss of valuable space for classrooms and labs), generally means they are of little ultimate benefit to the proper functions of a university.

Should my modest suggestions not do the trick of achieving fiscal integrity for the U of W, I'm sure the 250 or so highly educated faculty could provide many more like ideas for his consideration and possibly even implementation.

 

Jim Clark is a professor of psychology at the University of Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2012 A13

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