Process FAQ

Background Information


What is program prioritization?
Why is the university going through program prioritization process now? 
How does our process compare to those at other universities?
Who will be involved in making recommendations for program prioritization?
Will students have a voice in this process?
What do we hope to achieve? 
Is the Task Force setting institutional priorities? Does StFX have a mission statement
        which the Task Force will use as a frame of reference?
What is the timeline for program prioritization?
Will this be yet another black hole of hard work with no real results? Why should I take
        this seriously?

Programs and Criteria

What constitutes a program in the program and why are you not just evaluating
        
on  
a department-by-department basis?
How will programs be prioritized?
Are all university academic programs involved?
What about academic support and administrative programs of the university?
Why are academic and non-academic programs evaluated differently?
How can the criteria used for evaluating the programs be fair to all areas (such as 
        smaller programs)?
How will the Task Force make sure that criteria, metrics, and weightings will be 
        developed so that academic support and administrative programs are not
        automatically disadvantaged relative to academic departments?
How do you ensure that task force members don’t simply lobby to protect their
        own 
areas?

Completing Reports

What support will be provided to faculties and departments as they proceed through
        the program prioritization process?
How can I access centrally stored data?
Will experts in my field be scoring my program’s report?
Will the activity of individual faculty/staff members be evaluated during the program
         prioritization process?
What about people who work in more than one Department or in an Interdisciplinary
          Program?
Can I use bullet lists vs. narrative style?
Will there be training for the Task Force members to show them how to rate and rank?
If I leave something out, will the Task Force ask for this information?

The Results

Are results of the reviews going to be public?
Will that include the rationale for recommendations?
What will happen to the recommendations?
If programs or positions are recommended for being phased out, will they be phased 
        out within the collective agreements and governance statutes?
Will people lose their jobs?
How will StFX’s Senate & Board be involved in program prioritization?
I have more questions. Where do I turn for answers?

 

What is program prioritization?

Program prioritization is a process that allows universities to take a comprehensive look at all their academic, academic support, and administrative programs at the same time in order to assess their quality, productivity and connection to the university’s strategic directions. Program prioritization is becoming a fairly common practice at many universities in Canada and the US. For more information, click here.
At StFX, we will be looking at both academic programs and support area programs to form a complete picture of where resources are being allocated. By working through this process, the University will be in a position to develop a clear and comprehensive sense of how its resources are currently being used. This information will be useful to help make decisions about how to allocate resources in the future. The ultimate goal of program prioritization is to allow universities to make evidence-based decisions about how best to evolve successfully. 

Why is the university going through program prioritization process now? 

It makes sense that all large institutions regularly engage in a systematic process to review their operations and focus. This is especially relevant for StFX at this time, and in June 2013 the Board of Governors, responding to the recommendation of faculty members on the Board, created the Terms of Reference for a program prioritization exercise at StFX. The document explains the Board’s timing: “The University, recognizing the changing environment of teaching and learning in Nova Scotia, and recognizing the changing enrollment patterns of students attending St. Francis Xavier University (StFX), proposes a Presidential Task Force to identify and recommend avenues for sustaining the academic priorities of the University 2013-2018.” 

It is important that the Presidential Task Force assist the University in identifying priorities to support the strategic direction for StFX as a nationally recognized, high quality, mainly undergraduate institution with graduate programs in key strategic areas. The process is intended to determine how best to approach the allocation of resources for the future sustainability and advancement of StFX. We must determine if our programs are of the appropriate configuration, size, and quality to serve the goals of the University. Therefore, this process will help the University to identify the academic and administrative support programs that should be sustained, enhanced, revised, or phased out in order to ensure a high quality future.

How does our process compare to those at other universities?

Our prioritization process borrows ideas from a number of other universities that have completed this process, but the Task Force members feel it very important to ensure this process is appropriate for our institutional context and culture.  We want this process to guide our decision making in ways that are meaningful and significant for our situation and needs. So, although we have chosen to use the same broad criteria that are commonly used, we remain committed to our uniqueness as an institution with our student-centered focus, within a framework that is mindful of both quality and sustainability. 

Who will be involved in making recommendations for program prioritization?

The project is led by a Task Force comprised of representatives of the campus community drawn from faculty, staff, administration, and students. The members were appointed on an ex-officio basis from a set of guidelines put in place by the Board. You can find the complete task force membership list here.

Will students have a voice in this process?

Students will have an opportunity to be involved throughout the program prioritization process. The Task Force has three undergraduate student members (Laura Sandre, Daniel McKenna, and Taylor Mason). In addition, the Task Force will be holding information sessions open to students. Students can also submit feedback and questions through the Task Force website.

What do we hope to achieve? 

There is no preconceived set of outcomes directing this process. However, the University hopes to create a 360 degree view of the relative strengths of all programs currently operating on campus. Having the report as a resource, StFX will be able to make evidence-based decisions about planning and resource allocation. This will provide the foundation for an ongoing process of integrated planning and budget setting for future institutional development.

Is the Task Force setting institutional priorities? Does StFX have a mission statement which the Task Force will use as a frame of reference?

The Task force is not setting the priorities. Rather, it is responding to them. The Task Force has adopted the following principles, which are adapted from a variety of StFX documents, to guide our processes and to help us make decisions that reflect the University’s values:

• 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.

What is the timeline for program prioritization?

The Board of Governors requested the creation of the Task Force in June 2013. The recommendations report  will be presented to the Board by end of June 2014. Details of the timeline can be found here. 

Will this be yet another black hole—hard work with no real results? Why should I take this seriously?

This is perhaps the most common concern that has been raised about this process.
The Board of Governors has committed to ensuring the economic sustainability of StFX based on high quality programs. The prioritization process is designed to support the University to make strategic and meaningful decisions using valid and reliable evidence. If each program is able to represent its work and contribution accurately, then the decisions that are made will help to set a viable course toward the future. In addition, at StFX we will have a new President in 2014, and this report will give him or her a broad basis for understanding what StFX is all about in order move forward.

What constitutes a program in this process and why are you not just evaluating on a department-by-department basis?

For the purpose of this process, a program is “Any activity or collection of activities of the university that consumes resources” (people, time, dollars, space, equipment). This definition enables us to evaluate all academic and support activities and services in terms of their priority for university sustainability and future success. We want the list of programs to be inclusive, but not overlapping, of all of our activities that use resources.

If the Task Force were to evaluate on a department-by-department basis, it would not have the data required to make decisions about the individual streams of work within a department. Departments are administrative units of organization not of function.

For academic departments, there would also be the risk of the conversation focusing on the relative value of the various academic disciplines. This is NOT the goal of program prioritization. Rather, the goal is to focus on where resources are being expended and to see how resources can best be allocated to strengthen the University.

The Task Force has compiled two comprehensive lists of Academic and Academic Support and Administrative Programs based on input from and consultation with Deans and Directors from areas throughout the campus. These late draft  program lists are available here.
 
How will programs be prioritized?

The Task Force has drafted criteria by which all academic programs and all academic support and administrative programs will be evaluated.  Once finalized, Task Force members will rate each program using an approved rubric based on information provided on the question templates.   The Board has asked the Task Force for recommendations about which programs “should be sustained, enhanced, revised, or phased out?”

Are all university academic programs involved?

Yes

What about academic support and administrative programs of the university?

Yes. All programs of the university are being reviewed.

Why are academic and non-academic programs evaluated differently?

Academic programs differ in many ways from academic support and administrative programs. While we plan on using the same broad criteria of history and contemporary relevance; demand; quality; cost-effectiveness; size, scope and productivity; importance; and opportunity analysis to evaluate both, the specific questions that we will ask and the data measures that are available will need to be different in order to validly and appropriately measure each program.

How can the criteria used for evaluating the programs be fair to all areas (such as smaller programs)?

The Task Force has proposed criteria and weightings that will be used to evaluate all programs. All criteria are weighted differently. It is likely that different programs will score differently under different criteria depending on their characteristics and relative strengths.

How will the Task Force make sure that criteria, metrics, and weightings will be developed so that academic support and administrative programs are not automatically disadvantaged relative to academic departments?

Although both groups of program will be evaluated using shared criteria, the metrics will differ substantially and the evaluation, categorization, and rankings will be done separately. Academic programs will not be directly compared with academic support and administrative programs. 

How do you ensure that task force members don’t simply lobby to protect their own areas?

The Task Force members spent considerable time talking about their mandate and considering this issue. Members came to a consensus that, in order to ensure the future sustainability and advancement of StFX, they must act as stewards of the entire University. Members committed to using decision making processes that prevent self-interest of a particular program and to assist with the cultivation and maintenance of this stewardship culture. For example, the Task Force will use an agreed upon rating system to assist in scoring and prioritizing all programs.

What support will be provided to faculties and departments as they proceed through the program prioritization process?

The Task Force is very aware that this process will require additional work for individuals, all of whom are already working with limited time. However, it is critical that programs have the opportunity to provide quality responses since the effort expended will almost certainly contribute to the quality of outcome for that program. To that end, the committee is attempting to make the process as streamlined as possible. Much of the quantifiable data, particularly data related to academic programs, will be collected centrally and reported to departments. Also, the project coordinators and manager will be available during the data representation phase to assist programs with any questions, concerns or difficulties they may have. Any questions or concerns about the data representation activity phase can be directed to the Coordination Team through the website.

How can I access centrally stored data?

Much of the quantifiable data, particularly data related to academic programs, will be collected centrally and reported to programs. This will ensure that common definitions are used and increase the reliability of results. 
Departments are asked not to make direct requests for data to TSG, the Registrar or other administrative offices. Please contact the Task Force office if you have questions.

Will experts in my field be scoring my program’s report?

No. Task Force members will be scoring the program reports. Therefore, your report should be written in clear, plain language so as to be understood by colleagues with varied areas of expertise. 
You are encouraged to have someone from outside your department review your report and provide feedback to ensure that it clearly answers the questions asked.

Will the activity of individual faculty/staff members be evaluated during the program prioritization process?

No, this process is not an individual performance appraisal. Measurement of activity will be aggregated and reported at the program level.

What about people who work in more than one Department or in an Interdisciplinary Program?

Task Force managers will meet with the Department Chairs in this situation and with Interdisciplinary Programs Coordinators to assist them in allocating the resources.

Can I use bullet lists vs. narrative style?

Yes. We encourage the use of bullets as much as is practical.

Will there be training for the Task Force members to show them how to rate and rank?

Yes.

If I leave something out, will the Task Force ask for this information?

No. The review committee may ask for information to clarify, but will not request omitted information. It is very important that all program leads do the best job they can to ensure that their work is well-represented explained clearly.

Are results of the reviews going to be public?

Yes, the report and final rankings by the Task Force will be public and will be based on a set of criteria and rating rubrics which will be widely shared and discussed in advance of the rating and ranking process. Detailed information reported by individual programs will not be public, however.

Will that include the rationale for recommendations?

Yes. We will provide a rationale for why each program is ranked as it is, on the basis of clearly understood criteria and an accompanying evaluative rating system.

What will happen to the recommendations? 

The Report of the Task Force is received by the President, who after discussion with the Task Force, refers any academic recommendations to the Senate, which in turn refers them to the Academic Planning & Priorities Committee for eventual re-proposal (if accepted) to Senate. The non-academic changes shall be referred by the President to the Board either for support of decisions or for consideration/acceptance of recommendations. The report will also be presented to the Board of Governors for consideration of all matters under its jurisdiction. 

If programs or positions are recommended for being phased out, will they be phased out within the collective agreements and governance statutes?

All collective agreements will be respected throughout the implementation process. Also, Senate and the Board of Governors will adhere to their respective governance frameworks.

Will people lose their jobs?
The work of this Task Force is about providing evidence to help set institutional priorities. Some areas will be deemed to be less of a priority. The more likely and appropriate scenario is reallocation of resources from low priority to high priority areas.

How will StFX’s Senate & Board be involved in program prioritization?
The President, StFX’s Senate and Board of Governors  are not directly involved in the work of program prioritization.  The President will receive the report. After that it is expected that the President, Senate and Board of Governors will review the report and act on its recommendations in accordance with their respective governance roles as outlined in the St. Francis Xavier University Act. The Senate and Board of Governors will not do anything as part of the program prioritization process that is in contravention of their legislative authority nor will their decisions violate collective agreements.

I have more questions. Where do I turn for answers?
You can contact the Task Force staff. You can also contact members of the Task Force directly