Aftermath of the AU Third Party Review (Coates Report): What Has Really Changed?


Recently, workers at AU received a message from AU Board Chair Vivian Manasc concerning a March 22 meeting that the Board of Governors held with Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt and Dr. Ken Coates. The communication referred to how AU is progressing in light of both the AU Strategic Plan and the Third Party Review (Coates Report). In fact, the message made the interesting and surprising comment that, “It is gratifying to see that most of the Third Party Review’s thirteen recommended actions are completed or well underway. AU is ready to once again transform post-secondary education.”


The Manasc message included the following statement from Minister Schmidt: “Our government has championed Athabasca University through a very challenging time. That is why we supported the report and remained confident all the way through that the university would rise to the challenge. After Thursday night’s presentation, I am incredibly pleased with the progress being made to reinvigorate the founding spirit of AU, a spirit that is Open, Flexible and Everywhere. What AU is doing now is the result of innovative thinking, collaboration across Alberta’s post-secondary community and diligent action on the financial bottom line. You have set a clear path forward, and I am certain Imagine will result in AU performing an even more vital role in Alberta and beyond.”


The Manasc message also included the following statement from Ken Coates: “The review laid out several actions and associated deliverables including aggressive timelines. It included both a strong sense of urgency and optimism about the future of AU. AU today is very different from the AU I examined a year ago. AU’s new strategic plan, Imagine: Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities, is one of the clearest strategic plans I have seen in my many years as a University Administrator across Canada. It sets the stage for Athabasca University to become a leader in addressing the remarkable opportunities in the rapidly changing world of online education. I feel fortunate to have played a role in what is happening at AU.”


Now, many of our members have seen the Manasc message in their AU email and many think it must refer to events taking place in a parallel universe.  Because as far as many of us can see, there is little, if any, discernible, on-the-ground concrete evidence of the aforementioned earthshattering changes!  Take for example Minister Schmidt’s comment that “I am incredibly pleased with the progress being made.”  We humbly request some actual details of said progress.  Or, take Ken Coates comment that “AU today is very different from the AU I examined a year ago”.  Really?  Again, perhaps someone could give us some real evidence of said differences. 


Until we get some solid evidence that a “new AU” has actually come into being, we remain skeptical. In fact, the pervasive feeling is that the real changes have yet to come and when they do they may be fast, furious, and not to our liking. Perhaps a clue to what will happen lies in Minister Schmidt’s mention of “diligent action on the bottom line”.  We have heard this refrain before, that financial considerations take precedence, that we must all “tighten our belts”.  The notion of collegial governance suggests that both financial and pedagogical factors are taken into account when universities, colleges, and technical institutes make decisions but when push comes to shove we all know which one takes precedence over the other!

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