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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

  • ‘Disassembling’ the Sixth Decade Plan
  • A change — ‘basically in attitude’
  • Needles Hall, Fed Hall and other moves
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

‘Disassembling’ the Sixth Decade Plan

President Feridun Hamdullahpur said yesterday that he hopes to draw the whole campus into a process to reassess the details of the Sixth Decade Plan, “disassemble it”, “bring it down to earth” and work out what’s needed to make its goals achievable.

The process will start during the annual senior executive retreat, the president told the afternoon “town hall” meeting in the Humanities Theatre. “This is the first step of our conversation on this topic,” said Hamdullahpur, who said the plan can lead Waterloo to “a very bright and great future” that will include a recognized place among the world’s top 100 universities.

The town hall meeting drew about 500 staff and faculty members, plus some at remote campuses watching through an experimental webcast. Both the president and his co-star at the event, provost Geoff McBoyle, said they’re looking for a change in “attitude” at Waterloo, and when the question period came, one person in the audience asked what the top administration plans to do to encourage that kind of change. “We have to start practising it,” Hamdullahpur said. “We have to open up and talk about taboo subjects. Also, we question our own positions. The most important thing for me is to start this communication.”

He said the university has been successful over the years, but can’t rest on its present achievements: “The world around us is changing very rapidly. We are faced with some fundamental questions — about the environment, hunger, energy, water, human rights, literacy. These questions will grow! On the other hand, you can see new economies growing at a pace we’ve never seen before. So our position is not guaranteed for long. We have to start thinking differently. We need to make this university a place that will attract talent.”

But “resources will become more and more difficult to bring to our campus,” as governments have less and less to spend, Hamdullahpur warned. “Our reliance on government funding will be less and less. One way to do this is to increase the quality of everything we do — we need to differentiate ourselves.” The time will come when government will let universities set their own fees, he said, and when that happens, if Waterloo is visibly “a different university from our peers”, it’ll be able to generate the income it needs.

He said the Sixth Decade Plan “is a very good plan that many institutions will envy, but just having a great plan will not enable us to do everything. How do we bring this plan down to earth?”

During its retreat, he said, the members of executive council — the top administration — will “bring the plan down, disassemble it”, then work out delivery and accountability, involving faculty, students and staff. “This is a democratic institution,” he said, “and as long as you have something to say, we will hear what you have to say. I will read every single e-mail you send me, and I will respond.” A more specific invitation for input will be issued, he repeated, after the May retreat.

Someone asked him to flesh out what it would mean to be among the world’s top 100 universities. About 5,000 universities are in the running for international rankings, he said, and the top 100 typically are a mix of American, British and other institutions, including three solid Canadian contenders (Toronto, McGill and UBC). “Other than not having a medical school, we have everything we need to be in that category,” he said, adding that a year or two ago one set of rankings put Waterloo as high as 117th. “I believe we have what it takes to be in there.”

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A change — ‘basically in attitude’

During the 100-minute-long meeting, more than one audience member asked whether the university-wide push for excellence, and the resulting redistribution of resources, will help some academic areas at the expense of others.

“This is exactly the type of discussion I’d like to have,” the president said, calling it “a huge disfavour to the university” to imagine Waterloo as a bastion of science and technology and nothing more. The university has strengths in all kinds of fields, he declared, and any weaker areas “have to aspire to be just as good as all the others. Everything has to fit into the definition of what we call excellence. I don’t want to see any programs in this university that can be called mediocre.”

One questioner got specific, asking how the university can help the school of computer science, which he said is having trouble attracting top faculty members, even with the extra funding produced by the multi-million-dollar David Cheriton endowment. “Money is absolutely necessary,” said the president, “but money is not everything.” He turned the question back to the academic unit, saying that quality requires dedication, ambition, and leadership, “so that people who want to come here will find themselves in an engaging intellectual environment. We can do it in water; we can do it in other areas.”

Someone else asked whether the funding for the arts faculty is equitable, and provost McBoyle quoted some statistics leading to the conclusion that arts is “still about 10 per cent short of the money they should be getting for the teaching they’re doing.” Some other faculties are in the same boat, he said, and budget distribution is being studied.

Another question: how can departments maintain quality in the face of budget reductions that have continued for so many years? “This is one we all wrestle with,” the provost said. “It’s a bit of a balancing act. How does your department fit into the strategic goals of the university? If it does, you’ll be looked after.” He said the university has hired 149 new faculty members (not counting replacements) since the Sixth Decade began in 2007, and staff hiring has also kept moving despite the so-called “mission-critical” rule.

“This is going to be a year of change,” said McBoyle, “and that change is basically in attitude. I expect your attitude to change!” (There was a roar of laughter, with just a little nervous tinge.)

The provost gave a quick briefing on the 2011-12 operating budget and what’s going to happen to the 2 per cent cut imposed on most departmental spending for the new fiscal year that starts May 1. “It’s going to go to those areas that are important to the university and that are moving ahead,” starting with the student success office, he said.

He put emphasis on the student-faculty ratio, which according to a longstanding goal should be 20:1, but at present stands at an uncomfortable 27.3. “We will start the process of reducing the student-faculty ratio and class sizes,” the provost promised. Other transfers will go to graduate student support, some pilot projects on teaching innovation, and specific academic areas.

He picked up on Hamdullahpur’s point that the ambitious Sixth Decade Plan needs to be supplemented with operational plans. “I’ve asked the deans to fill out a one-page form,” he said, showing new programs and key figures for the next six years. “How many new faculty do you need? How many new staff? How much space, how much equipment, each year?” Then the results can be shown to the academic support units: “What do you need, in order to meet their goals?” That’ll be the basis of developing a budget for next year. “There’s got to be academic plans, there’s got to be budget plans; we need both.”

Someone asked how Waterloo’s financial health compares to that at other universities. “We’re doing very well” he said. “We’re continuing to add new faculty members, new staff, new programs. We also have a very strong pension plan. I think we’re in pretty good shape this year.”

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Needles Hall, Fed Hall and other moves

A couple of major announcements about space allocation surfaced in answer to questions posed to the provost. “We intend to put the student success office into South Campus Hall,” he said, settling the continuing puzzle of where it will take root unless or until a new “student services building” is erected at some point.

The student success office will take over at least part of the Festival Room cafeteria, he said, but will also displace the office of development and alumni affairs, which is currently squeezed into office space mostly on the upper level of SCH. Later this year, he said, ODAA will move to a temporary off-campus location, until it gets a new home as part of a planned expansion of Needles Hall.

The new NH space, in about three years, will be north of the existing building (towards Biology) and will include a new senate and board room, replacing the existing, universally loathed meeting room on the third floor of the 40-year-old building.

Meanwhile, “we are going to take over Fed Hall in 2012,” the provost stated, confirming news last week from the Federation of Students to the effect that the university was exercising its option not to renew the lease when it ends a year from now. Federation Hall, originally a pub, was built with student fees in the 1980s, has been fully paid off for some years, and is owned by the university, which will be able to use it for functions that now are often held in the Festival Room, the provost said.

Among other questions, answers and announcements at yesterday’s meeting:

• McBoyle said he commissioned an external review of Waterloo’s international activities earlier this year, and the resulting report has just arrived on his desk.

• Hamdullahpur said a search committee for the position of university secretary is being put together (long-time secretary Lois Claxton left Waterloo in February) and work is also starting on the formal nominating committee for the position of provost, which was Hamdullahpur’s own job until he moved to the president’s office and McBoyle agreed to fill in.

• There will be an interim vice-president (external relations) when Beckel leaves Waterloo this summer, the president said, giving time to review whether the job should be filled in the same way or perhaps split into two positions.

• A major signage project has just been approved, the president said, promising that “We’re going to have wonderful signs!” The project may not be universally popular in a time of tight money, he admitted: “It is really difficult to make some decisions. Do we use this money for new signs? Our infrastructure has come to a point where it is time to get it done.”

• Answering a question about information technology, McBoyle acknowledged that “There is a sense that we’re behind.… We’ve been playing catch-up for quite a few years. We haven’t put as much money into IT infrastructure as we would like. I think we’re all fed up with catch-up. IT is very important for our teaching, for our communication, for our research.”

• McBoyle stressed that the billion-dollar pension fund is in good shape, and quoted some statistics: 4,000 employees currently contributing to the plan, 1,500 retirees drawing pensions, $19 million in premiums from individuals added to the fund last year along with $26 million from the university as their employer. He added that the pension and benefits committee and the board of governors investment committee draw on “some of the best investment brains in Canada”, including chancellor Prem Watsa.


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Two candidates for staff seat on board

The university secretariat has announced that voting is to begin Thursday, as staff members elect a representative to the Board of Governors. Brief campaign statements are available online for the candidates who are contesting the position: Drew Knight (Office of Research) and Mark Walker (Registrar’s Office). All regular full-time staff members of the university are eligible to vote online. (CUPE members will vote via a paper ballot.) The e-vote runs through Thursday, April 21.

Link of the day

First man in space

When and where

Library extended hours during exam season: to April 21, Davis Centre library open 24 hours (except Sunday 2 to 8 a.m.), Dana Porter Library open 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Winter term examinations April 8-21; unofficial grades begin to appear in Quest, April 22; grades become official, May 24.

Mathematics contests sponsored by Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing : Euclid (grade 12), today.

UW Recreation Committee presents Nancy Matthews, “Sabbaticals 101”, reading from her book, discussion follows, 12:00, Dana Porter Library room 329.

Senate undergraduate council 12:00, Needles Hall room 3004.

Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology seminar: Kevin Truong, University of Toronto, “Engineering Synthetic Control Over Rho GTPases Using Calcium and Calmodulin Signaling” 3:30, Chemistry 2 room 361.

Scientific and Technological Literacy Series: Heather Douglas, University of Tennessee, “Politics and Values in Science” 4:00, Arts Lecture Hall room 105.

Staff career seminar: “Get LinkedIn” 7:00, Tatham Centre room 1112. Details.

Mathematics contests sponsored by Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing : Fryer (grade 9), Galois (grade 10), Hypatia (grade 11), Wednesday.

Dana Porter Library hot water shut down Wednesday 8 to 10 a.m.

Problem Gambling research speaker: Charles Livingstone, Monash University, “Whose responsibility is problem gambling?” Wednesday 11:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library.

Biomedical Discussion Group: Catharine Winstanley, University of British Columbia, “Rats, Risk and Research” Wednesday 2:30, CEIT building room 3142. Details.

‘Single and Sexy’ auditions for September performances, Wednesday 3:30 to 8:30, Humanities Theatre.

Staff career seminar: “Trends in Leadership from UW Recruiters” Thursday 12:00, Tatham Centre room 1112. Details.

E-waste green day dropoff for staff, faculty and the public, Saturday 8:00 to 4:00, East Campus Hall (off Phillip Street): computers, peripherals, TV sets, phones, microwave ovens, stereos, cellphones accepted for recycling.

Birding hike on the Healthy Valley Trail, sponsored by UW Recreation Committee , Sunday 2:00.

Teaching Excellence Academy for faculty members April 19-21 and 25. Details.

Discovery Days in Health Sciences for high school visitors, April 19, 8:30 to 3:30, Humanities Theatre. Details.

Retirees Association spring luncheon, speaker Ken Coates, dean of arts, April 19, Luther Village great hall, cash bar 11:30, meal 12:00, tickets $25, phone 519-888-0334.

UWRC Book Club: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Wednesday, April 20, 12:00, Dana Porter Library room 407.

Education Credit Union lunch-and-learn session: “Purchasing a Vehicle” April 21, 12:10, Davis Centre room 1302, RSVP by April 15 to janinew@

QPR suicide prevention training session April 21, 1 p.m., Math and Computer room 4068, registration required, information ext. 32797.

‘Facts of Fishing Live’ starring Dave Mercer, April 21, 7:00, Humanities Theatre. Details.

Good Friday, April 22, university closed.

Graduate Student Research Conference April 25-28; keynote speaker, cartoonist Jorge Cham, Monday 3:00, Davis Centre. Details.

Opportunities and New Directions teaching and learning conference sponsored by Teaching Based Research Group, keynote addresses and workshop sessions, April 27-28, Hagey Hall. Details.

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