Additional Information

The Changing University Landscape
For the most part our universities, including StFX, are organized to operate in the early 20th century German model of von Humboldt, valuing independence of thought and discussion in the advancement and sharing of knowledge. As the 21st century neared, Boyer (1990) introduced the four ‘principles’ for academic leadership in the professoriate required of a successful university – scholarship of discovery, of integration, of application and of teaching – which have impacted how academic programs and teaching are evaluated in most universities. Universities throughout North America and Europe are also responding to dramatic societal changes in expectations of student-centredness and to capture the learning opportunities provided by new technologies.

Particularly in universities with an undergraduate focus, the pressure to change continues as technology enables new ways of interacting and learning. Debate has emerged around concepts as diverse as the utopian ‘ecological university’ of Barnett and the commodification of higher education, and alternative models of post-secondary education are being explored that re-frame the university: Community colleges offer degrees, universities such as Athabasca offer all programs on-line, corporations operate their own universities in some countries and MOOCs and videos are integrated into traditional face-to-face course offerings on traditional campuses. As students of all ages and interests consider these alternatives and more, StFX needs to evaluate its own activities and options, and to determine its future directions.

Over the past 20 years, societal demand to increase participation rates and accessibility has been accompanied by expansion of Canadian universities, increasing enrolments and research capacity. Coupled with growth in tuition rates, government has funded this expansion both through provincial grants and the federal research granting agencies. More recently, there is increasing interest among stakeholders in determining the value of university investment, in terms of student outcomes and advancement in technological, economic and social innovations for our society that benefit our citizens. This increase in accountability is occurring at the same time funding is declining, as governments struggle with more immediate funding priorities such as health care for our aging populations. In Nova Scotia, the government has limited tuition growth while cutting operating grants, resulting in net decreases in revenues in an environment where costs continue to grow every year at 3-4%. The immediate consequences of this public policy has been to shift financial burden to students, to contract operations and to defer regular investments in maintenance, equipment and infrastructure. Together the increased societal interest in university outcomes and decreased flexibility in our funding environment mean that taking an thoughtful and critical look at what we are doing and the resources we are using to accomplish it is very important.

How will program prioritization be done at StFX?
There are six major steps in the process, distinct in consideration:

It is important that we design our process with our unique context in mind, yet be mindful of advice and context provided by emerging literature on successes and challenges in the program prioritization experiences of other universities. The term “programs” is defined broadly and includes all academic programs, academic and administrative support programs and services that use university resources. We will use simple and clear data collection tools and templates so that each program and service area can collect comparable data as well as data which may be unique to them. Both qualitative and quantitative information will be considered for each program. 

This analysis will allow the campus community to rate the relative value of each program, as well as how it connects with our guiding principles, which the Task Force has spent time developing using a variety of University policy documents.

The following four guiding principles will serve as touchstones for the prioritization process:

  • StFX prides itself on the excellence of its teaching, research and service, its rich traditions and lengthy history of social justice and leadership, its many distinguished graduates, and its dedicated and engaged alumni network.  
  • StFX is dedicated to enabling students to attain an education that supports intellectual and personal growth in an intimate setting on a well-appointed residential campus. The Xaverian commitment to Excellence, Honesty, Respect and Generosity frames that experience.
  • StFX is a community of scholars: students and faculty share an intellectual life and the twin goals of teaching and research must be kept in a careful balance so that teaching is informed by active research, and research is pursued with a view to our teaching mission.
  •  StFX, from its founding, has always had a mission for service. Our graduates will be prepared for and will wish to serve and lead in their communities, locally, nationally and globally.

Who is involved in the process?
The evaluation of programs will be led by the Task Force and involve program and service leads in the assessment process. If you chair or manage a department, coordinate or otherwise lead a program or service at StFX, you will be asked to participate in its evaluation. A Project Management team consisting of myself, Jeff Orr, Candace Finbow and Gina Sampson, together with additional expertise as needed, is coordinating and supporting the project work of the Task Force.

Who will decide our future?
Once the Task Force completes its evaluation and ranking, its report and recommendations are provided to the President. The President will review the results with the Board of Governors and senior management of the University to plan for implementation. Academic recommendations will be referred to Senate for follow-up.  Some changes may take place more quickly, while others must take place over a longer period of time.

How will the task force ensure transparency and broad accountability?
The Task Force is committed to informing the university community of its work on an ongoing basis. The programs and services to be examined, the evaluation criteria for all programs and the weighting of criteria will be developed in consultation with the broader campus community and applied consistently across like programs.
All StFX stakeholders are encouraged to provide feedback. In addition to using the feedback form provided on this website, please feel free to discuss the process with any task force member.