Evaluating student involvement and awareness of review process
The question of how students can have an impact on changes happening in the university has arisen yet again this year. This time, the focus has turned to the Program Prioritization Process (PPP). The Central Student Association (CSA) claims that students are not being provided with accessible information about the PPP Task Force’s agenda, which is just one of the CSA’s concerns about the process.
“A lot of the issues we have with the PPP [are about] how fast it’s moving, and how little communication happened with the CSA prior to September,” said Deaglan McManus, the Academic and University Affairs Commissioner for the CSA. According to McManus, communication with students has been scant, and not completely transparent. An initial communication was sent out in the first school week of September, which may have been overlooked by students busy settling back into university life.
“I don’t think it should [have been] assumed that students would recognize that their programs might be at risk or that their programs are being evaluated in depth,” said McManus.
The PPP was started back in September, and will serve as an assessment of academic and non-academic programs and services. The end goal is to identify the university’s strengths, as well as where it can cut back on costs to narrow the gap between revenues and expenses.
While the language of the information released about the PPP is seemingly unthreatening, McManus says that the process is reminiscent of cuts that took place in 2009, which marked the end of the Women’s Studies program.
“People didn’t realize towards the end of the process that it was going to happen,” explained McManus. And, according to McManus, similar issues have been present in the PPP’s work so far. The looming deadline to submit review forms, for one, is a concern.
Units and departments in the University of Guelph are currently reviewing their services, and Maureen Mancuso, Provost and VP Academic, explains that each unit has been asked to complete a Program Information Request (PIR) form, due on March 1.
“For example, every major will have a PIR form that is completed that provides information on the ten criterion, which the programs and services will be assessed against,” Mancuso detailed through email correspondence. The criterion can be found on the PPP website, and include the external and internal demand for programs, and revenue and costs weight, among other criteria.
McManus believes that this process should involve students, as they are the primary participants in programs. Right now, students are not able to get easily involved, as many units have not been asking students to participate in part because of the tight deadlines.
“We really appreciate those that have [been involving students],” said McManus, “because at least it helps students understand what’s happening. The process does not allow for involvement […] which is concerning when students are the majority.”
Bruno Mancini, the director of Counselling Services and the Centre for Students with Disabilities, is one facilitator who has involved students in the review process. According to Mancini, meetings he held with students were “well-attended and helpful in providing new insights and feedback.”
Mancuso agrees that student participation is important since they have “perspectives/information on their programs that would be useful.” Mancuso also explained that it is not the Task Force’s responsibility to involve students, and that this job lies with departments.
Students are however present on the Task Force. Noorain Shethwala and Anne Laarman are the undergraduate and graduate interns respectively, and will aid with the review process. McManus is uncertain of how they will be able to get involved and defend student interests, though the titles of the two students’ positions have been changed from their original titles as “student representatives.”
“How much freedom are they going to have in opposing any decisions that their supervisors make, given that their supervisors are also on the taskforce?” said McManus. “To our knowledge, it hasn’t happened before that a student’s been paid [by someone other than students] to sit on a university committee.”
With the deadline approaching quickly, McManus says that members of the CSA are working to improve the accessibility of information on the website by providing the PPP with feedback. Through the CSA website, McManus has also included contact information for the authors of the PIR forms, and an email template for what students can send to the authors.
“[We’re] informing students so they’re not hit with it when the decisions are made at the end of the summer,” said McManus, adding, “The communication might get better towards the end of the process, but that’s when it’s going to hurt the most.”