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Open Letter advising Athabasca University not to agree to the Enterprise & Advanced Education Ministry’s Letter of Expectation 2 April 2013 Dear members of the Board of Governors of Athabasca University, The Athabasca University Faculty Association is deeply concerned with the Enterprise & Advanced Education Ministry’s “Letters of Expectation.” Having discussed these Letters with colleagues at Athabasca U and Alberta’s other comprehensive academic research (CARI) universities, we are concerned that Alberta’s postsecondary institutions are being pressured to agree to terms and conditions of public funding that counter the public interest. The public interest is best served by universities with autonomous governance and academic freedom; these protect the integrity and effectiveness of research and teaching. In the wake of the devastating postsecondary budget cut, the Letters of Expectation show evidence of a lack of knowledge of - or disregard for - the postsecondary sector (as do several Ministry statements to the media), and they undermine the academic autonomy and integrity on which universities - and the public interest depend. The best interests of neither the universities nor the public will be served if Alberta’s universities are forced to comply with directives from a government that appears to be working from false assumptions about our post-secondary education system, and that seeks to be seen as having the support of students without substantially consulting with them - or with faculty groups like the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations, or with other PSE stakeholders. The government has drastically cut the PSE budget, provoking layoffs and program closures: the government thus diminishes student service while demanding improvements to it. This contradiction casts aspersions on the legitimacy of these Letters of Expectation, which represent unprecedentedly authoritarian plans for higher education.
1 UNIVERSITY DRIVE • ATHABASCA, ALBERTA • T9S 3A3 PHONE: 780-675-6282 • FAX: 780-675-6182 • EMAIL: email@example.com • TWITTER @AUFACULTYASSOC
AUFA-CUPE Open Letter on E&AE Letter of Expectation 2
Some especially noteworthy evidence for our concern with Athabasca University’s Letter of Expectation includes: 1) This Letter of Expectation threatens to displace the authority of the University's existing Mandate and Roles Document. On page three of this Letter, the third point under Governance requires the signing institution to "review your Mandate and Roles Document to ensure it is aligned with this letter." The implications of agreeing to this clause could be serious and adverse, especially for the autonomy of university governance. Specifically, the Letter has the potential to displace the institutional authority of bodies like General Faculties Council and the faculty association. Going forward, acceptance of this Letter would concede unprecedented authority to the government to tell universities what they are expected to do. Government dictated education mandates are good neither for higher education nor democracy. 2) On page two of the Letter, under Learners, the fourth point instructs the University to "demonstrate a 10% increase" in the development of mechanisms to "support student mobility and success." This "10% increase" appears to be an overly simplistic "performance indicator," given according to no clear evidence-based reasoning. How is such a percentage to be calculated or quantified, exactly, when the object of its measurement - e.g. "mobility and success" - is itself unclearly defined and thus difficult, at best, to quantify? This difficulty is compounded, for instance, by the profoundly different way in which Aboriginal students and communities - whom this Letter also purportedly seeks to serve - define “success” (as U of Regina PhD candidate Cassandra Opikokew explained at the Ignite! Alberta students’ conference in February). This instruction invites the strategy of grade inflation to create the appearance of an increase in student success. And it is inappropriate, even contradictory, for the government to demand improved success rates for students while so drastically cutting the resources that universities could devote to helping marginalized students to improve their skills and achieve academic success. 3) On page two of the Letter, under Collaboration, the second point directs universities to work with Campus Alberta partners to increase access and better serve students; the first sub-point directs universities to "reduc[e] program duplication across Campus Alberta institutions through transfer agreements, collaborative delivery arrangements, and delivery through Campus Alberta." On this point, the Ministry issuing this Letter appears to be unaware of how efficient and successful Alberta's existing transfer credit system already is. Athabasca University is a provincial and national leader in credit transfer programs and prior learning assessments; and the Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfer (ACAT), though it is not perfect, is the envy of other provinces, thanks largely to its institutional autonomy in orchestrating transfer credit agreements among Alberta's postsecondary institutions. Closer engagement with the sector’s key stakeholders could enhance the Ministry’s support for successful features of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions such as ACAT.
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4) Another concern is that the Letters of Expectation for all four CARI universities are more or less identical in substance. Like the issues raised above, the Letters’ close similarity suggests a problematic lack of either knowledge about or interest in Alberta’s pose-secondary sector, and a need for meaningful consultation with this sector’s key stakeholders. (All Letters of Expectation are publicly available at the E&AE Ministry webpage linked here.) The Letter, ultimately, is best understood as an attempt to justify the unjustifiable cut to the province's postsecondary budget, a cut so deep - and made in one of the world’s richest jurisdictions - that it must be understood primarily as political, not financial. This cut and the Letters of Expectation gravely hurt the capacity of universities to produce new knowledge and engaged citizens - two critical requirements for a knowledge economy and a healthy democracy. We advise Athabasca University not to agree to this Letter, which, in its current form, also asserts an unjustifiable level of directive control over university operations and mandate. AU's Administration and Board would be better advised to join with other university stakeholder groups now mobilizing - student associations, the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA), the U of Alberta Board of Governors - to publicly oppose Ministry plans that will compromise student learning, university autonomy, and academic freedom, all of which vitally serve the public interest of Albertans. Sincerely,
Mark A. McCutcheon President, AUFA Mark Dimirsky Co-chair, CUPE Local 3911
Ernie Jacobson Co-chair, CUPE Local 3911 Dougal MacDonald Co-chair, CUPE Local 3911
CC: CAFA, AUSU, AUGSA, Edmonton Journal, Athabasca Advocate About AUFA and CUPE Local 3911: The Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) serves and represents Athabasca University academic faculty and professional staff members. firstname.lastname@example.org 1-800-788-9041 ext. 6282 or 780-675-6282 CUPE Local 3911 represents tutors, academic experts, markers and lab instructors at Athabasca University. email@example.com (780) 421-3276
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