On Jan. 19 President David Barnard announced a plan that could result in seven fewer faculties by 2017 and a combination of the medical faculties by Dec. 2012.
The University of Manitoba has 20 faculties and schools with 78 departments serving 27,000 students.
The president announced the university wants to identify options for reducing the number of faculties to about 13 in the next five years.
Barnard said the current structure impedes academic work in a few ways.
He said there are too many deans involved in conversations about the university’s academic future, people are working in infrastructure that could be teaching or doing research, and the academic structure makes it complicated for students and faculty to work together.
Barnard said the topic has been discussed at the deans’ level for at least a year and a half and now they have decided to “expand the conversation” to different faculties.
“We’re really excited about the opportunities to do things in an efficient and effective way,” Barnard said.
Barnard said the initiative grew out of conversations that started in the optimizing academic resources (OARs) project.
Barnard said he has asked vice-president (academic) and provost, Joanne Keselman, to work with the health sciences cluster — which includes medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry and medical rehabilitation — to create a proposal to simplify their academic structure by December.
“The intention here is not to be reducing positions but just to be changing the structure,” Barnard said.
“It’s just a way of organizing our work, it’s not changing what we’re doing,” Barnard said.
In terms of combining faculties Barnard said “we may have fewer people who are doing exactly the same roles they have now but those people would not be without work.”
Barnard met with staff unions in early January to discuss the initiative.
Cameron Morrill, president of the U of M’s Faculty Association (UMFA), said he is not surprised by the initiative because Barnard has been hinting for a couple of years that the U of M has too many faculties.
Morrill said UMFA hopes the initiative will reduce “inefficiency and unnecessary bureaucracy.”
But Morrill said there are some risks associated with merging faculties.
Morrill said the biggest impact to UMFA members could be performance evaluation.
Morrill said performance criteria for tenure and promotion decisions are set at the faculty level so those standards might not be well suited to individual professors in a bigger faculty.
Linda Guse, UMFA’s executive director, said they would also be monitoring to see that programs didn’t get devalued or lost because of low enrolment.
Matt Mclean, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3909, said he thinks it is an ambitious project.
“I think there’s a lot of historical reasons for the faculties existing the way that they are and I have a hard time imagining that the academic community is going to voluntarily [ . . . ] cut that many faculties out through Senate,” Mclean said.
Mclean said he is concerned that the reorganization could affect student’s ability to access different faculty resources and could result in less people available to provide assistance and guidance to students within faculties.
“The biggest threat [to CUPE 3909 members] could be larger classes and the elimination of some classes,” said Mclean.
Tom Moyle, president of Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), said if people are going to be moved into different positions then his concern is whether they will have the right background to do those jobs.
Camilla Tapp, president of U of M’s Student Union (UMSU), said that she feels the plan sounds as if the university is “essentially reducing the number of support and possibly academic positions on campus.”
Tapp said that she is concerned that if the plan passes through senate, it could result in support staff helping larger numbers of students and students in unique programs, such as fine arts or medical rehabilitation, might be “pigeonholed” and expected to have the same needs as any other student.
Tapp said the perceived value of a student’s degree to potential employers could be affected.
“Graduating from the ‘U of M faculty of pharmacy’ will sound better to some than the ‘U of M faculty of health,’” said Tapp.
Tapp said she does not think the academic restructuring will help improve the student experience.
“Frankly [ . . . ] this is about reducing costs,” Tapp said.
Peter Nawrot, president of the Graduate Student’s Association (GSA), said the amount of paper work in the current bureaucracy is “quite heavy” and that GSA supports everything that helps students go through a more simplified process.
Nawrot said he felt that the idea of academic restructuring is not new at the board level and should not come as a surprise to anyone.