The New Normal

Professor Claire Card, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sceinces
University of Saskatchewan

The University received an increase of 2% to their operating grant from the Provincial Government, which is below a cost of living increase. Ilene Busch -Vishniac stated “I am very appreciative of the province’s investment in the University of Saskatchewan, and much of the funding is close to my expectations,” and that it was “a clear message that they (the provincial government) recognize the value of post-secondary education to the economic vitality of Saskatchewan.”1,2 A reasonable person might conclude the opposite; that a below the cost of living increase from the Province was not an endorsement. Busch -Vishniac said the grant increase is welcome news but “Our attentions will still be focused on streamlining and seeking efficiencies in what we do and strengthening our focus on the areas we have identified as most important.” and ”our work towards building a financially sustainable university remains.” The provincial grant agreement was made through negotiations between the administration and the provincial government behind closed doors. Sadly there is no public disclosure on any communication between the administration and the Province regarding the current grant, or whether as suggested, the 2% increase is the “New Normal” and part of a multi-year agreement. The phrase “New Normal” by the way, was the term my colleague applied to her terminal cancer….

Perhaps I am deaf, but I have heard no public outcry to decrease the number of programs, staff or faculty at the University of Saskatchewan, nor have I heard the public indicate we need to perform more research for what is referred to as the “Big Three.” The “Big Three” being: Minerals (and not just any minerals specifically Uranium and Potash), Oil and Gas (especially tar sands), and Agriculture (particularly GMO). The administration has already orchestrated staff cuts, early retirements of faculty, and the TransformUS process to eliminate programs and facilitated through withdrawals of budgetary support and resource redirections. Further cuts are necessary for the 44.5 million “projected structural deficit,”3 and senior administrators conclude that firing of professors must be included. The use of the TransformUS data as an ‘input” for academic decisions results in the profitability of the program for the University, having primacy over the merit of the programs or their professors.

Recall that the decision to make cuts was announced by Busch – Vishniak before the TransformUS Dickeson process was approved by the University Council, and before the results were reviewed or announced.

So how does a University Shrink into Greatness? Or become research intensive on a reduced budget? A starting point is to create three of six “Signature Areas”4 ( ) attractive to corporate interests. Follow this by aligning the University’s funds to support the “Signature Areas.” Prune the academic tree of non-profitable programs and their associated profs, no matter how excellent they are. Shift to increase research intensiveness through resource redirections and use institutional agreements on Targeted Initiatives that are highly favourable to and funded by corporations. Accept targeted provincial and industry monies directed at those corporate interests including:

  1. The Fedoruk Centre for Nuclear Innovation: 30 million from the Provincial government over 7 years (2011 – 2018) Type C Centre (subsidiary of the University)
  2. The Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS): 35 million Potash Corp, 15 million from the Province (both over 7 years 2012 – 2019), Viterra 2 million Type B Centre (under University Control)
  3. International Minerals Innovation Institute (IMII): 1.67 million (Province, UoS, IMII), plus Innovation Saskatchewan (provincial)1.2 million over 3 years. Agrium/BHP/Cameco/Mosaic/Potash Corp)(Not for Profit)

This “not for profit” IMII has industry buying membership to its board of directors. Have a look at the website of the IMII, it is instructive to read that …..

Industry-driven collaboration is how IMII gets things done…Saskatchewan has some education and training programs and research and development projects addressing the mining and minerals sector, but until IMII was created, it did not have an organization that delivered a coordinated focused set of solutions to the industry’s needs.

The last sentence is true enough, I thought professors were more concerned with educating students and serving the needs of society than the goal of a “focused set of solutions to the industry’s needs.” My intention here is not to show disrespect to my colleagues involved in applied research in any of these areas, but simply to contrast that statement to our mission… excellence in the scholarly activities of teaching, discovering, preserving and applying knowledge. Provincial and corporate funding is being provided to the UoS with the proscribed intent to develop research intensiveness dedicated to finding focused solutions for industry. The provincial money has been reallocated away from the operating budget. I thought universities were about an academic process involving research and scholarly work conceived under the tenets of academic freedom for the needs of society. This Transformative shift in focus will be sorry consolation for the fired faculty.

Lets look at a Financial Summary on these Targeted Special Initiatives:

Summing those numbers reveals the totals are: Provincial Government 46.2 million for Targeted Initiatives from 2011 – 2019, plus another 6 mill per annum for the CLS, and Industry money: 37 million plus from 2011 – 2019.

Examine the boards of the Targeted Special Initiatives called “Innovation Centres, or Institutes” and you will find them populated by members from these same corporations. The Centres and Institutes “research funds” also largely circulate among the Targeted Special Initiative group members, decreasing their impact in the larger campus community.

Pragmatically speaking is it verboten for academics to work with corporations? No, it happens all the time. Actually sometimes it is a win win situation, or sometimes it’s called “contract research.” Overhead is paid to Admin (40%), professors are paid a big honorarium, research is performed and students may be supported. However currently tax -payer monies are being diverted by the provincial government into the “not for profit” university, into what amounts to a huge corporate subsidy for their R&D, which frankly those corporations could afford to do themselves by employing our highly qualified graduates.

Canada has a huge innovation gap and is ranked 13/16 of industrialized countries.5 Noteworthy from 1981-2000, Canadian companies’ expenditures on R&D grew by about 10% annually. After 2001, expenditures were flat and declined by one-fifth when expressed as a percentage of GDP. Why is there a failure in innovation? Businesses and corporations have gotten out of the R&D business.6 To fill the void corporations have shifted that R&D need onto underfunded universities. Those universities use, and I mean use, poverty wage graduate students to focus on “solutions for industry’s needs” rather than focus on education and the basic sciences, which is where innovation really comes from. If the provincial government and the Admin continue to go down the “New Normal” road it is a wrong policy prescription. Perform the contract research when appropriate and use the money to really innovate, or for every corporate dollar received have the corporations put a dollar into an unrestricted research and artistic fund for real innovation. Frankly the corporations should be encouraged to do their own research and employ our graduates, there is plenty of space available at Innovation Place.

  1. “Looking ahead to 2014-15: Detailed operating budget in the works for next year,” by Colleen MacPherson, On Campus News, March 28, 2014
  3. Provost’s Report. February 2014 Minutes University of Council
  4. 1. Aboriginal Peoples: Engagement and Scholarship; 2. Agriculture: Food and Bioproducts for a Sustainable Future; 3. Energy and Mineral Resources:Technology and Public Policy for a Sustainable Environment; 4. One health: solutions at the animal-human environment interface; Synchrontron Sciences: Innovation in Health, Environment, and Advanced Technologies; 6. 5. Water Security: Stewardship of the World’s Freshwater Resources.
  5. Conference Board of Canada
  6. Conference Board of Canada, Globe and Mail. Konrad Yakabushi July 2009

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