Clearly understood processes and criteria will be required for the introduction and evaluation of proposals which could lead to significant selective decisions. Any process and set of criteria must involve a fair evaluation of all proposals and consideration of alternative points of view, and at the same time provide for a final decision point.
The urgency for selective decision-making is related in part to the difficult budgetary situation which the University faces. Universities in Ontario have seen their real government grants per student reduced by nearly 30% over the last 17 years, and have experienced funding constraints significantly greater than those in the hospital sector or in primary and secondary education. Unfortunately, the required budgetary restraint at Western over the next few years will likely be even greater than in the recent past. In this context, a selective approach to the allocation of resources is vital to the maintenance of academic excellence. Moreover, it is essential that, even in a period of severe resource constraint, the University maintain the flexibility to fund important new initiatives and redistribute funds to outstanding units.
Western has well-established processes for selective decision-making at the institutional level which involve final approval by Senate and the Board of Governors. Many important selective decisions, however, are taken at the Faculty and Departmental levels, and it is imperative that the processes and procedures for making these decisions be clearly understood within the units.
Academic leadership at all levels of the University carries the responsibility to formulate, advocate, and communicate selective proposals and priority decisions which reflect Western's Mission and Principles. The President, Provost, and Vice-President (Research) will often have responsibility for developing specific proposals relating to academic priorities for the University as a whole and advancing these through established University structures. At the Faculty and Departmental levels, this responsibility will be assumed primarily by Deans and Chairs, exercising their authority and meeting their obligations as academic administrators within the Faculty Councils and Departments.
Selective decisions can be of many kinds, including reallocation of faculty positions among programs and Departments, expansion of some programs and reductions in others, and the provision of capital and other forms of support for some projects while not providing it to others. Particular attention is often paid to academic restructuring proposals, which seek to create or eliminate, merge, or significantly expand or reduce in size an academic program, Department, or Faculty. Academic restructuring proposals should be formulated and evaluated based on their furtherance of the University's Mission, Vision, and Principles.
Under the University of Western Ontario Act, approval is required from both Senate and Board to "establish or terminate academic units, departments, chairs, and programs of instruction." After any draft proposal to establish or terminate an academic unit is made public, there must be a significant period before it enters the first stage of Senate committee consideration, to allow for consultation and discussion in the academic community. This period should not be less than ninety days.
Four primary criteria should be used in assessing academic restructuring proposals: support of the University's Mission, Vision, and Principles, academic excellence, role of the program at Western, and the effect of the proposal on other Western programs. In the listings that follow, the Task Force refers to "factors" rather than "measures" to be considered under each of the four criteria. Given the diversity of the University, we do not believe it is possible to have a simple quantitative formula which combines various measures of academic performance and produces a single indicator of a program's importance to Western. Nor is there a single set of weights which we can assign to the four criteria or the various issues associated with them. Other issues may well be introduced in the consideration of restructuring proposals, having direct and demonstrable links to the University's Mission, Vision, and Principles. The listings that follow are not exhaustive; similarly, not every factor listed below may be applicable in each particular case.
There will always be an important element of qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, judgement required of those who offer restructuring proposals and of those members of the Senate and Board who must evaluate the proposals. The four criteria below are designed to identify the central considerations upon which our individual and collective judgements should be focused and upon which debate should centre as we consider proposals for major academic restructuring at the institutional level, although these same criteria should guide selective decision-making at all levels.
Four criteria should be considered in formulating and evaluating proposals for academic restructuring:
The budgetary challenges facing Western over the coming decade will require the University to be selective in its planning and resource allocation, to economize on operating and capital expenditures, and to focus on areas of strength. The University must consider structural changes which, however difficult in the short term, will allow us to maintain academic excellence in the face of future budget cuts.
This Report suggests a number of specific structural changes on the understanding that our list is neither exhaustive nor comprehensive, and there are many other possibilities for restructuring which Chairs, Deans, Directors, and the President and Vice-Presidents should be examining. We intend that our specific suggestions will engender a debate not only on the proposals we make, but also on other examples of potential restructuring that will be known to Departments and Faculties at Western.
Western has a great variety of Departments and Faculties of varying sizes. We think it is vital as part of our effort to maintain academic excellence in the face of budgetary restraint that the University consider mergers of Departments and Faculties. The potential benefits of such mergers include strengthening of undergraduate programs, graduate recruitment and programs, faculty recruitment, reductions in the cost and complexity of necessary administration, and flexibility in meeting future budget cuts. Potential costs include the creation of units of unmanageable size or complexity and friction among colleagues who do not share common academic interests.
The Task Force believes that several possible mergers at the Faculty level are worthy of immediate attention by the senior academic leadership of the University, including the following:
In addition to these broad suggestions of possible areas for structural change, the Task Force report includes a particular recommendation for increasing the University's capabilities in the area of resource-intensive research (requiring significant external research funding). Such research and its applications are of special importance to the achievement of the University's Vision of achieving a place among the first rank of Canada's universities. Resource-intensive research in the biological, physical, medical, and engineering sciences is the basis of partnerships between university and industry that can support work that addresses the economic and social needs of society while at the same time directly and indirectly supporting the scholarly mission of our own researchers. Funds from overhead charges and the commercial development of research applications hold the potential of supporting additional research initiatives in these and other areas of the University where external partnerships are less likely.
Western's declining relative performance in resource-intensive research is at least in part related to the exceptionally small size of our Faculty of Engineering Science relative to other similar Faculties at Canadian research-intensive universities. As individuals, the members of the Faculty have strong records of research support, but their small numbers limit the levels of research that they are able to achieve. Research funding per faculty member in Western's Faculty of Engineering Science, is nearly $110,000. Areas such as the Geotechnical Research Centre and the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel have deservedly earned national and international reputations for excellence. Members of the Faculty of Engineering Science are crucial players in several highly successful interdisciplinary programs, including Surface Science Western and the newly-established Tribology Research Centre. Western must develop a selective plan of investment that will enhance established programs of research in this domain, particularly those that promise to build on strengths in different areas of the University and facilitate strong interdisciplinary centres of scholarly activity. Implementation of this plan will take place through the annual planning processes, with assessment and evaluation by the Provost each year before specific funding recommendations are brought forward to the Senate and Board of Governors.
The physical setting and architectural integrity of Western's buildings and grounds are major factors in recruiting outstanding faculty, staff, and students to the University. Western's academic environment is reflected in the acknowledged beauty of our campus. One of the principles of Western's Campus Master Plan is that the University should use the core land near the centre of campus for academic purposes. The area east of Huron Drive and south of Lambton Drive - which we refer to as the "South Valley Site" - is the one area in the core campus that would allow the creation of a series of academic buildings in a consistent architectural style, such as we have on the east side of Oxford Drive. Over the next twenty to sixty years, the University may well wish to build a series of academic buildings on the South Valley Site, which (with the Graphics Building removed, and without encroaching on the flood plain of the Thames) is as large as the site containing four large buildings on the east side of Oxford Drive: University College, Stevenson-Lawson Building, Somerville House, and Thames Hall. The Task Force suggests that the senior administration investigate both the use of the South Valley Site for academic buildings and alternative sites for a new stadium.
In addition to the academic restructuring proposals, there are several possible administrative unit reorganization/merger options that could both improve service and result in budgetary savings:
5.2 The Provost should develop a plan to improve Western's performance in the area of resource-intensive research through a budgetary transfer of as much as $300,000 (which is equal to 0.12% of the University Operating Budget) per year for a 10-year period. A priority of this investment should be to increase the research capabilities of our Faculty of Engineering Science, with particular emphasis on areas of current strength within the Faculty and on building interdisciplinary linkages with areas of strength in the biological, physical, and medical sciences at Western. Funds should be directed primarily at the appointment of additional members of faculty in the Faculty of Engineering Science and related units (joint appointments should be encouraged) but also will support the renewal of research infrastructure and an expanding program of research activity.
Proposals under this recommendation will go from the Provost to Senate Committee on University Planning (SCUP) and Senate as part of the regular budget process. The continuation of this program of investment will be contingent upon an annual review, with particular concern for the quality of new appointments and the creation of successful interdisciplinary research groups. If the quality of the new appointments and the scholarship made possible by the transfers is not consistent with Western's commitment to academic excellence and national leadership, then the Provost will not recommend the transfers.
5.3 The senior administration should develop a proposal for the long-term use of the area of the South Valley Site for academic buildings, as part of Western's efforts to concentrate its teaching and research activities on the core campus. This will involve finding a new location for the stadium. One option for the location of a new stadium which should be investigated is the current site of Althouse College. Both the stadium and Althouse College are identified by the Campus Master Plan as requiring replacement within the next ten to fifteen years. An essential element of consideration of the relocation of the stadium will be its impact on traffic and parking.
5.4 Change at all levels of the University is impeded and sometimes prevented by a multi-level process of consideration and approval that, in some areas, is unnecessarily complex and time-consuming. While recognizing the importance of the collegial decision-making process and accountability, Western's Departmental, Faculty, and Senate committee mechanisms should be reviewed with an eye to eliminating unnecessary complexity and delay, with particular attention to the process of introducing and amending undergraduate courses and programs and amending the University Calendar to reflect changes in curriculum.
5.5 The Vice-President (Administration), in cooperation with the appropriate senior officers, should consider the reorganization/merger options that are likely to lead to improvements in service and budgetary savings.