Briefing Note

May 31, 2013

BRIEFING NOTE: A President-Sponsored Process for Comprehensive Program and Function Review

Why Engage in Comprehensive Program/Function Review? Why Now?
In an era of (1) serious financial pressures, (2) increased demands upon universities to be accountable to achieve their missions for students, society, and the advancement of knowledge, and (3) expectations of differentiation, universities must engage in planning to set priorities and strategies for their development. University planning must be based upon:

  • The strengths and particular opportunities of the institution;
  • Its unique history and development and how this has affected its academic mission and values;
  • Its location and relations with and sense of obligation to the communities around it;
  • Its place within a constellation of other, often, competing institutions;
  • Shifting environmental and societal developments that cannot be ignored; and
  • Remediation of weaknesses and the parrying of threats.

Not to plan and adopt appropriate strategies at this point in time is to risk being run over in a variety of ways. While Brock has experienced explosive growth i through its first 50 years charting a path for the next half-century will be far more complex. Economic conditions combined with the explosion of new technologies is fundamentally reshaping the university landscape bringing at the same time serious constraints and pressures as well as new opportunities for expansion and increasing market share competition across the Post-secondary Education (PSE) sector.


Fall head count bar graph from 1964-2012

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For Brock there is a significant sense of urgency. Given the cumulative impact of the competitive climate in the PSE sector, the economic downturn, shifting government policy, funding restraint and reduction and last but not least the university’s current fiscal condition, Brock faces extremely difficult challenges in the months and years ahead. The only way to mitigate the impact of these forces is to address them now, head-on.

But no plans or strategies will avail, if an institution is not also on a secure financial footing or on a path to such security. An institution’s plans and strategies will contribute to establishing fiscal stability even when such plans require some investment. At this time there are few places in the western world where publicly-funded universities are not under severe financial pressures. Across the western world, annual cost escalation in publicly supported institutions has continued to exceed revenue growth. This is overlaid by other challenges, notably university pension shortfalls driven by a confluence of factors that have negatively impacted pension evaluations of virtually every defined-benefit or hybrid pension plan.

TRENDLINE – Look back at Revenues versus Expenditures for Brock University

Revenue expense graph

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Simultaneously the principal funders — students and their families, and governments –are increasingly unwilling or incapable of bearing the growing costs of operating our universities.


Surplus deficit graph

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Like many other universities, Brock University has attempted, in part, to fund increased costs and trailing revenue growth by increasing enrolments, as well as by cost cutting more or less across the board. What this has meant in reality is that at the level of individual Faculties or units, we have shifted resources away from some things just to fund general annual cost-escalation pressures. University administration recognizes that this approach cannot continue as an ongoing recovery mechanism without significantly eroding all Faculties and divisions and diminishing the longer term viability of the institution.

As mentioned, Brock University has also generated increased revenues. These have come from various types of enrolment growth. Moreover, our adopted strategies involve using alternative delivery methods, pedagogies and scheduling, not only to offer students more choice, better accessibility, and to accommodate alternative learning preferences, but also to overcome some of our physical constraints to growing enrolments and therefore increasing revenues.


Revenue sources graph

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These strategies are beginning to bear fruit. However, they are insufficient in themselves to bear the full weight of dealing with our financial pressures, as the financial reports made to the Board and Senate over the last months make abundantly clear.

Consequently, the cost mitigation and revenue improvement strategies have been helpful but insufficient on their own. If, as many have suggested, Brock has reached the limit of across-the-board cuts as a means of reducing costs, then the university must shift resources and reduce expenditures in a different way, if the institution as a whole is to remain healthy and viable.

Brock at a Major Crossroad – Charting the Future Path
As Brock University embarks upon its 50th year, the university leadership faces deliberate and undoubtedly difficult decisions about:

  • What to continue to do as we are doing and fund more-or-less as we do now (but in constant dollars);
  • What we will continue to do, but very differently to reduce costs or achieve better cost effectiveness;
  • What we will no longer do at all; and
  • What we will invest in to do more, better or differently than we do now.

At the initial stages, making decisions of this nature requires a very different deliberative and decisional process than either the institution’s historical budget process or planning procedures afford. The experience of many universities is that planning and budgeting, even when well integrated and aligned, suit the requirements of constant incremental change. But the type of decisions ahead of Brock University demand concurrently assessing within a restrained timeframe everything, inclusive of:

  • Administration,
  • Academic,
  • Advancement,
  • Ancillary,
  • Research,
  • Student Services, and
  • Support Services.

In short, such a review must be comprehensive, in order not to be tinkering at the margins or to slide into instrumentalism, neither of which will suffice to move Brock University away from across-the-board cuts that will have to become more severe. Only when a comprehensive review of the entirety of the institution has been completed, then, and only then, can the university shift to maintenance mode and make deliberative decisions of this type in a systematic way as part of an integrated planning-budgeting process.

Brock is not heading into uncharted territory in undertaking such a comprehensive program review. Program review of the type referred to in the previous section is new to Brock. But such reviews are not new to the university milieu. A number of American institutions have engaged in program review, and, one-by-one, Canadian universities are beginning the process. Brock is not inventing such a mechanism from scratch.

The Dickeson group has created a vibrant business in directing such reviews. But they have also written in detail about the process. Moreover, Brock is in a position to learn from the positive and negative experiences of others. Guelph University, to name one close neighbor has instituted such a review. Senior administrators have been speaking, and will continue to speak, with them. Wilfrid Laurier University is another. We may surmise from them what went right and what not. We may, and have, asked them what they would do differently. Because this is the case, we are in a position to do this ourselves, without the additional expense of hiring external consultants who know too little about us and about the Ontario-Canadian system and landscape.

What Principles Underpin Such A Review?
The following outlines a summary of principles that are seen as fundamental to the process from the outset. Other principles maybe added as developments evolve, for example principles that guide and support labour relations.

  • The first principle of any such review is that the core mission of any university is paramount: we teach, we conduct research and we undertake community service. Finances (costs and revenues) are important, but they do not override core mission.
  • Consideration of quality must play heavily into judgments.
  • Our declared long-term goals, and current plans, priorities and strategies, as articulated in our planning documents and as committed to in our Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) submission, must be important touchstones for our deliberative decisions, together with our sense of our historical identity.
  • We must look at programs and functions more than, or prior to, looking at departments and units. Departments and units are organizational structures, and exist as they do for so many different reasons but the primary reasons ought to be to support the programs and functions that they deliver. It may be the case that upon examination we may wish to continue to deliver certain programs or functions, because they remain priorities; however it is possible that different organizational arrangements may make better sense. A second stage of the process will be to design these alternative organizational structures.
  • The process must be evidence driven. Some of that evidence will come from data extracted from our databases. Academic reviews provide information, as do annual reports. However, a significant part the evidence will be qualitative and contextual and must be provided by departments and units themselves.
  • The process must be open, transparent and collegial, and it must be informed by the perspectives of faculty, staff, and students, as well as by administrators.
  • The Board and Senate (via its relevant committees) and the Brock community as a whole must be kept informed of the process and of its results all along the way, and involved as appropriate. Transparency and communication are deemed as vital to the process. Well articulated and well supported communications will be key to effectiveness and outcomes. The outcomes must be sufficiently comprehensive and timely in order to be at all effective.
  • The process will result in a series of recommendations brought forward by the senior administrative team for endorsement as appropriate by Senate and the Board in light of their respective mandates. It is ultimately the responsibility of the senior administrative team to deliver these recommendations to the university and its governing bodies.

Who Will Do What?
The Board and Senate as governing bodies will hold the senior administrative team accountable for:

  • Conducting the review and its processes;
  • For keeping these bodies fully informed; and
  • Delivering appropriately robust recommendations at its conclusion

The Board and Senate will each designate the appropriate vehicles/committees for doing so.

The institutional sponsor of the review process is the President and Vice-Chancellor, while all parties involved in the review process, other than the governing bodies of the University, are responsible through their respective unit or Faculty heads, and through their respective Vice-Presidents, to the President to participate as required in the process.

The Vice President Academic and Provost (or delegate) and the Vice President Finance and Administration (or delegate) are Chair and Co-Chair respectively of a Special Presidential Taskforce that will be responsible to the President for appropriately conducting the review in an open and transparent manner, reporting to Senate and the Board, and communicating with the Brock community.

The Taskforce will be comprised of:

  • Faculty (4 members);
  • Staff (2 members)
  • Students (2 members- one undergraduate and one graduate); and
  • Chair of Senate.

The entire process will be managed by an Internal Consultant, an academic with the required skills and background to ensure an appropriate architecture to the process, with timely and meaningful inputs and outputs.

The Internal Consultant will command all of the required support of Institutional Analysis and Planning, Financial Services, Organizational Development and Communications to support his or her work and that of the Taskforce.

Process and Timelines
The Internal Consultant and the support network will commence work in July 2013. Prior to the commencement of the initiative a pre-planning or “think tank” session for the Internal Consultant and the support network will be convened to scope out potential processes, issues, resources and other considerations which are identified as essential to the work that follows.

Over the course of July and early August, under the guidance of the Internal Consultant, the process architecture will be fully defined, draft criteria and protocols will be prepared for the Taskforce’s deliberations. Relevant quantitative data collected will be compiled and organized, and forms/surveys for the collection of qualitative data drafted. By mid-August the Taskforce will be in place. By the beginning of September the Taskforce will have validated the work of the Internal Consultant, and adopted forms/surveys will be sent to all departments/units.

By the beginning of October the completed qualitative forms/surveys will have been returned to the Internal Consultant.

From mid-August through November the Internal Consultant will provide updates and reports to the appropriate Senate and Board committees at regular intervals. The frequency of these reports will be at the pleasure of the Senate and Board.

Over the course of October the Taskforce will draft a provisional set of comprehensive recommendations for the President.

The President will review the recommendations of the Taskforce with the senior administrative team before endorsing a draft body of recommendations for presentation to and discussion with the appropriate committees of the Board and Senate early in November.





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