With everyone back on campus, the university once again feels like the MacEwan so many of us know. If you’re new here, I’d like to extend a warm welcome. I hope your first months give you many opportunities to experience the supportive learning and work environment to which our students, faculty and staff all contribute.
Last week, as we were welcoming thousands of new students to campus, we also had the chance to host Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides. On Friday, September 6, Board of Governors Chair Carolyn Graham and I toured the minister around City Centre Campus, showcasing our amazing programs and pathways for students. Thanks to everyone who helped make the visit a success.
Minister Nicolaides tours MacEwan’s City Centre campus on September 6 with Myrna Khan, vice-president, University Relations; Carolyn Graham, chair, Board of Governors; and John McGrath, acting president. See the full gallery.
As we embark on a new academic year, there are many updates to share – budgets and planning, progress on the presidential search, and information about the opening of both the new Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) building and the new home of the kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre.
Earlier this week, I was honoured to join many of you at the unveiling of the university’s new Treaty 6 marker – a sculpture by Stewart Steinhauer of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation. The sculpture, Mother Bear Prays for Earth Healing, is located in what will become the new kihêw waciston healing garden. It was a proud moment for MacEwan. Thank you to everyone who organized and took part in the event.
As you make your way through the updates that follow, I think it will be clear that we are in a time of transition at MacEwan. I hope this column gives you the information you need to understand and appreciate the variety of opportunities and challenges we will face in the coming months.
Uncertainty, budgets and planning
A number of significant issues and changes – a shift in the membership and leadership of our board; the search for a new president; the government’s decisions on the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances; and uncertainty about our future grant funding, along with the potential for a new funding formula and changes to financial models – are converging to form a period of considerable uncertainty for our institution.
We are happy to have our new Board of Governors chair and public members in place, and recognize that new leadership on a board can mean a change in direction. The board also plays a critical role in setting the strategic direction of the institution, and is the governing body which will select the university’s next president – a process that will take until 2020 to complete.
Given all of this, and other anticipated changes, I have made the decision to pause our strategic planning process as we wait for more clarity and have an opportunity to seek direction from the board in early October.
Let me explain further.
The report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances, which was released last week, includes several recommendations that could impact the post-secondary sector. One recommendation suggests that the government work with stakeholders to achieve a revenue mix which is less reliant on government grants, generates more funding from tuition and alternative revenue sources (including lifting the current freeze on tuition fees), and takes a more entrepreneurial approach to how programs are financed and delivered. We need to see how these recommendations inform the next provincial budget.
The entire senior leadership team is concerned about the budget, as a real potential exists for base grant reductions in the next year, and possibly consecutive years. Currently, the university receives approximately half of its operating budget from government grants. Any significant reduction to our base grant will have a negative impact on our annual operating budget. While we do not yet have any firm direction from government, we are clearly getting signals that there may be a reduction in the provincial grant that MacEwan currently receives. This creates considerable uncertainty in the university's budget and strategic planning processes.
We are working on budget contingency planning now, but will not have any definitive information to share until the provincial budget is announced in October. As soon as we have more information on the budget and how it will impact MacEwan, we will communicate through town hall meetings, and other means, to keep the university community apprised of the impact on our institution.
Over the past two years, much good work has been done through a collaborative and inclusive process to create a five-year integrated strategic plan for the university. At this time, I believe we must pause that work. Once a clearer picture emerges of the university’s future budget, the new members of our board have had a chance to settle into their roles and we have a new president in place, we will take steps to move forward with the development of the integrated strategic plan building on the work done to this point. I will make sure to update you on our progress and share next steps as they unfold.
Changes and new leadership for the Board of Governors
As mentioned earlier, the provincial government announced changes to MacEwan University’s Board of Governors a few weeks ago. The university’s new board chair is Carolyn Graham and new public members include Adam Guiney, Samantha Kernahan and Janice Sarich. Read more about the university’s board members on MacEwan.ca.
We thank our past Board Chair Ione Challborn, and public members Sharon Bodnarchuk, Meghan DeRoo McConnan and Judy Piercey for their service to the university.
Presidential search update
In the next few weeks, the Presidential Search Committee will complete consultations on a position profile and seek approval from the Board of Governors in the fall. Once the profile has been approved, it will be posted on the presidential search segment of MacEwan.ca. The Search Committee remains on track to make a recommendation to the board early in 2020 with plans for a new president to be in place by late spring or early summer 2020.
President’s Budget Committee
In 2017, the president established a President’s Budget Committee (PBC) to oversee development and planning of the university’s budget. The PBC liaises with Deans’ Council, which acts as the Budget Advisory Committee for the university, providing advice and confirming recommendations on various aspects of the budget.
The PBC will also confirm that projects and initiatives are in alignment with the strategic priorities of the university prior to recommending funding. The committee’s terms of reference have been recently updated.
New Strategic Enrolment Management Committee
A new committee, chaired by the associate vice-president, institutional planning and registrar, and reporting to the provost, will provide leadership on enrolment planning for the university. Its mandate involves reviewing best practices and analyzing trends to inform future enrolment decisions, and creating an annual enrolment plan for the university. See the committee’s terms of reference.
I would like to thank everyone involved in the successful bargaining process for the collective agreement between the university and the MacEwan Staff Association (MSA). Hard work, dedication and commitment to collaboration by the MSA and MacEwan University bargaining teams resulted in a one-year agreement that was ratified by the MSA on July 19 and by the Board of Governors on July 31.
Freedom of Expression Policy statement
The board chairs of public post-secondary institutions in Alberta have received a request from the Minister of Advanced Education to develop and implement stand-alone freedom of expression statements or policies for their institutions. A draft statement has been developed and further university consultation will occur throughout the policy development process.
Post-secondary Learning Act
Work continues to implement various aspects of the university’s move to Part 1 of the Post-secondary Learning Act, passed into legislation by the provincial government in December 2018. Some highlights include:
The Board of Governors has endorsed the appointment of a chancellor, a process that will begin in the spring of 2020.
Membership in the Board of Governors is expanding – two additional student representatives are now in place, the GFC will select its nominee for a second faculty position on the board this fall, and two alumni will also join the board in 2020.
Another aspect of the move to Part 1 of the Post-secondary Learning Act involves a new alumni association. In May, the Board of Governors approved the creation of the MacEwan University Alumni Association, and over the summer we have been recruiting members for a new Alumni Advisory Council that will act as the representative body of the association.
We are also reaching out and reconnecting with our MacEwan alumni through focus groups and a large-scale, comprehensive survey, and are grateful to the many alumni who took time to share their thoughts. We look forward to seeing the survey results in October, which we will use to help set a course for engaging this important part of the MacEwan community and welcome them back on campus for our upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations.
Employee Code of Conduct
Over the last few months, staff have participated in information sessions on the new Employee Code of Conduct, implemented on September 1. Staff are expected to review and understand their obligations under the code and discuss potential issues with their out-of-scope manager. If staff members have conflicts with the code, they are expected to disclose them online by December 31. Online training is under development and more will be shared on this in coming months.
New Bachelor of Early Childhood Curriculum Studies program
Congratulations to the Faculty of Health and Community Studies on receiving the minister’s approval for the delivery of a new Bachelor of Early Childhood Curriculum Studies program. This credential is focused on the pedagogy of early learning and builds on the university’s existing Early Learning and Child Care diploma. The first intake of students for the program will be in September 2020.
Thank you to all those involved in making this unique credential an option for our students – and for Albertans.
Excellent progress is being made on the interior space for the new kihêw waciston, which will provide a creative, innovative and functional space to deliver services to staff and students. The new space, located in the Robbins Health Learning Centre, is scheduled to be ready in late October.
Finishing touches are being made to two new journalism labs, located on the second floor of Allard Hall. These will provide real-life newsroom simulations for students in the Bachelor of Communication Studies program. A new TV studio will be ready by mid-October, giving students the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art audio, visual, lighting and recording equipment.
Much progress has been made on the Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) building project over the summer, including interior finishes and exterior cladding. SAMU recently announced that the building is scheduled to open in early December, offering students more study, group and social spaces, and new retail outlets to extend students’ time on campus.
Interim and new appointments
Dr. Heather McRae has been appointed vice-provost for at term of one-year, while continuing in her role as the dean of Continuing Education.
Dr. Craig Kuziemsky began his term as associate vice-president, Research on September 1.
Dr. Ed Lorkovic has accepted the appointment of acting dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science while we search for a new dean.
Kevin Fitzgerald, associate vice-president, Alumni and Development, began his term on September 9.
As I close this column, I would like to thank each of you for your resilience during times of uncertainty and change and to encourage you all to support one another, learn together and get involved in the many initiatives and activities that make this university such a great place to be.
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather in Treaty Six Territory is the traditional gathering place for many Indigenous people. We honour and respect the history, languages, ceremonies and culture of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit who call this territory home.