If you’ve ever been part of a construction project — or even watched one come together from the sidelines – you can appreciate the incredible complexity involved in creating a brand new structure.
So often, moving or changing a single element sets off a cascade of other to-dos you didn’t even realize would need to happen. That interconnectedness is a good parallel for what’s involved in the changes to MacEwan’s policies, processes and operations required by the amendments to the Post-secondary Learning Act (PSLA) announced at the end of October.
It’s daunting, but it’s also incredibly exciting and an important milestone in our university's history. MacEwan is now an undergraduate university under the Post-secondary Learning Act, legislation that passed on December 11 and will take effect on February 1. That might leave you asking, “But weren’t we already?” The answer is yes – and no. While we were a university in name, the PSLA formally labelled MacEwan a “baccalaureate and applied studies institution.” Now, we’ve been established as an “undergraduate university” under Part 1 of the PSLA, recognizing our focus on teaching and distinguishing us from “comprehensive academic and research universities.”
While being an undergraduate university ultimately has very little impact on our mandate or mix of academic credentials (we’ll still offer degrees, diplomas and certificates), there are a great many things that do need to change.
So we created a task force to assume the role of general contractor, making sure that we approach the PSLA changes in the correct order and at the right time. The task force has been meeting every two weeks since October and building plans that outline the changes to operations, processes and policies that will be implemented by working committees.
To follow through with the construction metaphor, most of the changes we’re making aren’t so much about the fit and finish, but rather about our building’s foundation, and what goes on under the floor and behind the walls. They’re also the things that involve a lot of work to change — think electrical and plumbing.
Like anyone heading up a big project, I have a system for keeping track of things (although mine is admittedly low-tech). For the first several weeks after the changes to the PSLA were announced, an inch-thick blue binder felt like my constant companion. Here are some of the most dog-eared sections:
Board of Governors
Background: About the board
The university’s Board of Governors is a corporation, as set out in the PSLA. As the senior authority for the university, the board is accountable to the Minister of Advanced Education and ultimately, the people of Alberta. The board manages and operates the university, establishes most of the university policies and submits an annual comprehensive institutional plan and audited financial statements to the minister.
We've just gone through a board review, looking at best practices nationally. And although the board’s current practices likely will not need to change very much as a result of the revisions to the PSLA, there are some notable differences, including the board’s membership.
The PSLA outlines that the board will have several new members — two additional alumni members (nominated by a new alumni association, which we’ll need to create — keep reading for details), one new academic staff member nominated by the General Faculties Council (which we’ll also need to create), a new student member nominated by the students’ association, a chancellor (appointed with input from the yet-to-be-created alumni association) and additional public members.
In order to have all of the other pieces fall into place, we’re aiming to have new board members appointed by the summer of 2019.
Creating a General Faculties Council
What was once the Academic Governance Council (AGC) will evolve into a new General Faculties Council (GFC). Creating this council is among the top priorities in implementing the PSLA changes because many of the other changes hinge on having a GFC in place.
Why? The GFC will not only replace the AGC, it will also have a bigger role and more accountability, including responsibility for the university’s academic and student affairs, and the ability to approve its own bylaws. We are aiming to have the new GFC in place for Fall 2019.
Deans’ and faculty and school councils
Although the university already operates with a Deans’ Council and Faculty and School Councils, the legislation formalizes the structure and the powers and duties of these bodies, including the conferral of degrees by faculty and school councils.
An exciting aspect of the updated PSLA is how these changes invite our alumni in to play a greater part in this institution, with increased representation on the board and involvement in new activities like appointing a chancellor and awarding honorary degrees (more on that follows). As we grow and evolve as a university, and continue to expand our reach and impact into our community, our alumni have an important role to play. Our target is for the alumni association to be in place in the fall of 2019.
The work attached to the changes I mentioned during the last few paragraphs is immense. It also sets the foundation for some of the more high-profile changes that will come a bit later, including appointing a chancellor and awarding honorary degrees.
Electing a chancellor
Background: What’s a chancellor?
A university’s chancellor represents the institution at ceremonial occasions, presides over all degree-conferring ceremonies, confers credentials at convocation and represents the public’s interest in the university.
The role of chancellor will be a new one for MacEwan. This person will hold a very public and visible role in the university, creating important links into our community. The chancellor holds office for a single four-year term. As president, I hold the title of vice-chancellor, taking on the chancellor’s responsibilities when the office is vacant or the chancellor is unable to act.
There are several pieces that must be in place before we can elect a chancellor, an alumni association for example, so we are aiming to have this role filled sometime in 2020.
Another exciting development is the university's ability to confer honorary doctorate degrees. This honour will take the place of the current Medal of Excellence, presented during the university's Convocation ceremonies, and is expected to be awarded for the first time in Spring 2021.
What does all this mean and is it worth it?
Definitely. Moving to a bicameral governance model (governance in two chambers: our board and the new General Faculty Council), aligns us with other universities across Canada. It will elevate our national profile and enhance the credibility of our programming, which benefits our students. These changes also give us new opportunities to engage with our community and our alumni — both with important ties to implementing our Integrated Strategic Plan.
That was a lot of information, so thank you for making it this far. We will continue to provide updates as we move through the process. Please watch for opportunities to get involved.
Continuing the conversation
Last year, I hosted two town hall meetings, and I’m hoping we can continue the important conversations we began there in a less formal way. We’re working on plans for events, including series of casual, lunchtime opportunities in the new year where we can get together to ask questions and talk about our university's future.
I also hope to see many faculty and staff at the Holiday Festive Feast today. It’s a great opportunity for us to reflect on 2018 and to look forward to the coming year.
A lot has happened since I wrote my last column in September. Here are a few organizational highlights and updates from across the university:
The search for a new provost is well underway and we anticipate that an appointment will happen early in 2019.
Congratulations to the dean of Continuing Education, Dr. Heather McRae, who has been reappointed for a five-year term.
A search for a new associate vice-president, Research has commenced with the appointment expected to occur before September 2019. During the search period, Dr. Fred McGinn is providing leadership in the Office of Research Services.
On January 1, 2019, Dr. Lynn Wells will take on an expanded role with the reconfiguration of the Office of Teaching and Learning Services, a move that will bring greater synergy between the portfolios related to our students’ day-to-day experience.
We expect a new dean, Library, to be appointed by July 2019. The search is underway.
- A coordinated, proactive and strategic approach to engaging government and community is required to support the university in realizing its strategic directions and enhancing its operations. A search is currently underway for an associate vice-president, Government and Community Relations and we anticipate an appointment early in the new year.
People and resources
- In January, the search will begin for a new associate vice-president, Human Resources. In the interim, Karen Boros has agreed to act in this role.
- To support a new model that will see a comprehensive and consistent investigations model for the university, we are recruiting a manager for a new Office of Investigations. We anticipate an appointment by January 2019.
It’s hard to miss the construction activity that is ongoing at the site of the new students’ association building. There has been a lot of progress in recent months, and we can now see the structural frame along 109 Street. In November, a portion of the pedway was removed and replaced with a temporary passage to make way for construction. That passageway will eventually be inside the SAMU building when it’s complete. Over the next month, watch as the building is closed in so that concrete slabs and interior mechanical and electrical rough-ins can be completed. The new building is a great accomplishment for our students’ association and we are thrilled about the benefits their new building will bring to our students.
In consultation with a user group team, the Indigenous Advisory Council and Facilities, project architects have developed a design for the interior and exterior spaces of the new kihêw waciston, including components from Indigenous teachings and traditions. The new centre will showcase Indigenous artists, including an art piece that will be a treaty marker located just outside the new Indigenous centre.
Design completion is scheduled for early 2019, construction documents are currently being prepared and construction is set to begin in late February or early March. We anticipate that the centre will be open to students and the community for Fall 2019.
In the community
In my last column, I mentioned that I was going to be spending time representing MacEwan out in our community — and the world. This semester has taken me to Australia for the Commonwealth Peace and Reconciliation Network Seminar and to Ottawa for the Universities Canada Membership Meeting, but I’ve also had the chance to take part in many things on campus and closer to home.
I had the honour of helping select Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40, celebrated the announcement of a Commonwealth Walkway along the city’s river valley by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, met with the Edmonton Journal editorial board, walked alongside the thousands of visitors who came to our Open House and welcomed community members to the university’s first round dance.
This fall, I met with Chief Billy Morin from Enoch Cree Nation-Maskekosihk, which borders Edmonton in Treaty 6 Territory, AFN Regional Chief Marlene Poitras, a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, and was thrilled to attend the Indigenous Knowledge and Wisdom Centre Open House. These ongoing conversations are a critical part of building partnerships that lead to our students’ success and in responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action.
There is already so much to look forward to in 2019, including our second TEDxMacEwanU event on January 23 and a continuation of the conversation around reconciliation in our Interdisciplinary Dialogue, which launches at the end of January, this year in collaboration with University nuhelot'įne thaiyots'į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills.
But before we look too far into the future, I want to take a moment to thank each and every one of you – our students, alumni, faculty and staff — for your work this year. I hope the space between the Fall and Winter semesters give you a chance to catch your breath and spend time with the people who matter most to you. I challenge you all to turn off your emails and social media, to spend time with your friends and family, and to do something that refreshes your spirit. See you in the new year.
President, MacEwan University
@DocSaucier on Twitter