Letter 4 (Coalition in Solidarity with Faculty of Arts Staff)

Dean Cormack

Faculty of Arts

6-33 Humanities Centre

University of Alberta

Edmonton, Alberta

T6G 2E5

24 November 2011

RE: November 21 Public Forum about AdPReP: Response from the Coalition in Solidarity with Faculty of Arts Staff

Dear Dean Cormack,

Thank you for holding the first public forum about the Administrative Process Review Project (AdPReP) on November 21, 2011. Despite the short notice and mid-afternoon scheduling, we are sure you would agree that the full lecture hall demonstrates widespread student, faculty, and staff concerns about this process.

The format of a long presentation and a comparably short time for dialogue left many questions unanswered, yet we believe that the forum was a potential first-step in the right direction. This letter delineates the points of agreement that the Coalition in Solidarity with Faculty of Arts Staff identified at the forum and what we consider necessary reforms to AdPReP.

You may note that this letter has not been sent to any other university administrators, only to you as the identified decision-maker. This letter completes the first scheduled stage of our campaign to reform AdPReP. Due to your short project timeline and fast-approaching decision period, the second scheduled stage of our campaign begins next Monday, November 28. Of course, our campaign actions progress according to your openness to the reforms we believe to be necessary to preserve the quality and integrity of our programs. We welcome your invitation to consult directly with representatives of our coalition. We also welcome requests to reasonably adjust our campaign timeline if they are accompanied by a firm commitment to meet and offer solutions to the reforms requested herein.

Points of agreement:

(1)  We asked you to reconsider the placement of Assistant Dean Bauer—the AdPReP Project Champion—on or overseeing (formally or informally) the Alternative Solutions Working Group.  As a committee of second thought formed to ensure that all possibilities are fairly considered, it is vital that this group operate independently and without possible intimidation. You agreed to consult with all members of the Alternative Solutions Working Group outside of the presence of Assistant Dean Bauer in order to ask if changes could be made. Based upon principles of good strategic planning, we believe it would lend more legitimacy to the process if Assistant Dean Bauer voluntarily stepped down from any role with the Alternative Solutions Working Group.

(2)  You indicated openness to some form of voluntary retirements and severance (although not VRIPS) as an alternative to staff cuts. You stated that you would unveil plans on this in the near future. The Coalition in Solidarity with Faculty of Arts Staff also supports this proposal as one possible alternative to staff cuts.

(3)  You indicated that there would be “different moments of consultation” and that graduate students would be consulted during the implementation phase.  Although you were vague on this point, we welcome the affirmation.

(4)  We appreciate you mentioning and supporting dialogue on revenue generation in the forum.  Project Manager Tiz Benvenuto’s description of revenue generation as outside of the project mandate in an October meeting with students was concerning and it was good to hear that you do consider this a priority and are open to further dialogue. We look forward to discussing revenue generation further in the coming weeks and months.

With regards to consultation, we believe it is important to differentiate genuine community consulting from informing people. Presenting fait-accompli information to a faculty-dominated body where students get a few token representatives and zero mechanisms for getting the word out or calling for student input is not consultation. Each department in the Faculty of Arts elects undergraduate and graduate student representatives. In the case of graduate students, you can find the names of each department’s executives through the Graduate Students’ Association, where they have representatives. You can also ask the departments directly for the contact information of their graduate and undergraduate student association executives, since representatives from these associations sit on many department councils.

In the spirit of genuine consultation and in solidarity with all of our administrative support staff who form an indispensable part of Faculty of Arts’ community, we request the following reforms:

(1)  Make the AdPReP process—including the work of the Alternative Solutions Working Group thus far—more transparent so that all students and faculty may be granted the opportunity to share ideas and lend support to Alternative Solutions Working Group’s proposed alternative solutions to staff cuts. The right of all departments and student organizations across the Faculty of Arts to see and endorse the solutions of an independent Alternative Solutions Working Group should be affirmed promptly after you meet with the members of that working group and they present their alternatives to you. In the meantime, a timeline for this action, allowing for ample dialogue before the decision period, should be announced immediately.

(2)  Provide an input-feedback mechanism to all departmental administrative staff, faculty, and students, to allow them to explain their department-specific needs and propose alternatives to staff cuts before any decision is made with regard to administrative staff cuts. This could be easily accomplished through an online forum attached to the Faculty of Arts’ website, but there are other options. Some action is necessary to address this, but we welcome your suggestions.

(3)  Inform departments of their percentage or amount of the budget cut they each have to come up with in order to save a staff position at risk, and give them the opportunity to offer department-specific solutions as department-communities. For example, faculty and students may combine some combination of tax-deductible donations and fundraisers in order to maintain an administrative staff position.

(4)  With more budget cuts on the horizon, we ask that you transition AdPReP into an inclusive and open faculty-wide dialogue. This dialogue could pivot on brainstorming the most appropriate, ethical, and fair responses to budget cuts and how various stakeholders can work in solidarity with one another in order to improve our collective financial circumstances as a faculty and university. This is an opportunity for you to build political capital within the Faculty of Arts and contribute to solving the larger financial problems facing the university.

(5)  Finally, we urge you to be proactive with both central administration and the provincial government about the integral importance of Arts to the university’s success and the province’s future. Cuts cannot be juggled indefinitely. With Alberta’s new Premier, we feel optimistic about the possibility of ending the vicious cycle of cuts in the future. We ask that on the question of the 2% cuts proposed to the Arts for next year’s budget you advocate for zero cut alternatives from the outset and realize the original confidence that our colleagues and peers have in you as an advocate and champion of the Arts. We see a significant role for faculty-wide mobilization behind efforts to ensure that Arts once again has a chance to flourish rather than retrench.

Not long ago, the Faculty of Arts welcomed your arrival in the Dean’s Office as a breath of fresh air. Faculty, staff and students who know you personally speak highly of you as a person and as a scholar. Please do not risk the confidence of the Faculty for a process built upon flawed strategic planning and a risky political gamble that the Provost will spare us from future austerity measures merely because we claim to have already cut all we can. This university cannot reach its goal of being a top-20 institution without a vibrant and healthy Arts Faculty.

According to one of your favourite quotes, by Northrop Frye, “the fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life, then, is to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in.” If the current vision for which you are the “decider” can only imagine a Faculty of Arts without 15 of our friends and colleagues—10% of the hard-working Arts’ community we depend upon every day—we cannot help you realize that vision. In fact, we have an obligation to resist and seek alternatives to that vision. On the other hand, if you can imagine a Faculty of Arts community where staff, students, and faculty work together to resolve difficult challenges and realize a common vision, we will help you make it a reality.

Sincerely,

The Coalition in Solidarity with Faculty of Arts Staff

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