The Athabasca University President and Board of Governors just recently passed a motion to adopt a provostial model at the university. Such a model is already present in other Alberta universities, e.g., University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge. The discussion to explore potential benefits and issues of the model for AU began in 2012.
The provost is considered to be the chief academic officer of the university, similar to a VP academic, and the second ranking officer of the university. The specific duties and areas of responsibility for a provost vary from one institution to another, but usually include supervision of curricular, instructional, and research affairs. The various deans of the university's various faculties generally report to the provost or jointly to the president and the provost. The provost, in turn, is responsible to the president and board of governors for oversight of all educational affairs and activities.
During the various forums to discuss the provostial model, the following main concerns were raised:
That it would create a further layer of administration
That it would further centralize administrative authority
That the university is too small for such a model
That it would add to administrative costs
That it would create an internal conflict between provost and president
These criticisms notwithstanding, in August 2016, the Executive Committee of the AU Board of Governors recommended to the Board that a provostial model be implemented, in consultation with the new president.
The CUPE 3911 Executive were invited to meet with the new president about the proposed model in December 2016. Our opening question was, “What problem(s) is the provostial model going to solve?” The President suggested that in the main it would “champion the academic mission”. One Executive member suggested that such a championing should give more acknowledgment of those who actually do the teaching, such as ourselves, and are thus actually carrying out the academic mission. Since the document on the model was only sent to us the day before the meeting, we asked for more time to review it and to give feedback.
After thinking about the model and the meeting, I sent the following email to the rest of the CUPE 3911 Executive:
“I have reread the document and really I have no substantial comments. The discussion document is at a very general, abstract level and I find no real clues as to how such a model will change or improve or undermine our situation. We can agree that it’s nice that the provostial model gives elevated status to the academic mission but whether or how that will improve the quality of decision-making relevant to the performance of the university and/or our own situation is anyone’s guess. For example, will we have fewer grievances of certain kinds? Will we have more access to the provost than we did to the president? I don’t know. In passing, I do note that in Canada there are some universities which have the provostial model in place and some which do not. So there is obviously not a consensus on the effectiveness of the model.”