Dear reader,

welcome to our blog site which started with the presentation of the first open letter to the President of the University of Saskatchewan that comments on the problems which the TransformUS process has brought to our university. We have now added a second open letter that presents the particular concerns of our students about the future of education at our university.

To see the first open letter with comments, go to "January" and click on "First open letter". To see the second open letter with comments, go to "March" and click on "Second open letter".

We welcome signatures to both letters at any time. The campaign will continue as long as things go wrong at the U of S.

Whether you are faculty, student, staff, alumni, a family member of someone studying or working at the university, or a stakeholder in any other way, we welcome your signature. You can use the automated system at the address given below each letter, or write to


Note that this is NOT a campaign of the USFA, who has neither endorsed nor explicitly rejected the endorsement of each open letter, as the scope of the letters is not entirely within their mandate. So they want to leave the decision to support the letter to each single member.

If you support our campaign, please help us spread the letter widely, on campus and in the community.

Please also post comments on this blog site (by answering this blog or those that will follow). Please let us know what we can do (better), please tell us about your experiences and about those parts of TransformUS that affect you. Please also tell us if you feel that you cannot support our campaign and let us know the reasons.

We have created this blog site as a forum that is independent from the administration. Please make the best use of it and help us preserve the traditional values at the University of Saskatchewan that we all cherish.

The Free Academia Team.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

First open letter

To the contrary. The President has said that for her a letter with "only" 100 signatures has no weight. But now we have
and we are planning to do better - with your help! Let us show the President that she cannot cast aside this letter. Help us spread the letter! The letter can be signed below.

First open letter to the President of the University of Saskatchewan

Dear President Busch-Vishniac:

We are writing to express our grave concern about the present state and the future of our university, as a result of the TransformUS process. This letter will present our opinion on this process and its results. We know that we speak for many members of this public institution who are deeply concerned that it is diverted from its true mission.

1) It is the mission of every good university, including ours, that programs align with the needs of education, information, culture and knowledge. These values are superior to the "university priorities" which were pushed through by administrators and do not adequately represent the vision of the majority of faculty and the students, which together compose the University.

2) For centuries, academic programs and achievements have been judged by peer review. This is the only procedure that can assess their quality adequately. In their Principles, the U15 group explicitly endorses peer review! But the results of the Systematic Program Review are bluntly cast aside, apparently because they do not match what administrators want to see. In contrast, TransformUS was not peer review. Most programs had no peers in the Task Force. This is why apples are compared with oranges, leading to false judgement. Moreover, the Task Force members had only minutes to consider any single program. It is absurd to believe that in this way, an informed recommendation can be made. We are sad for our colleagues, well respected scholars, who were given such an impossible task.

3) Contrary to what you have repeatedly stated, the Dickeson model was not adjusted to the reality of our university. There is no service teaching in it, so there was none in our templates. It is also impossible to assess the true costs of programs. When faculty had problems filling the templates, they received advice from the Task Force leaders that amounts to willful falsification (in particular, but not only, in the case of service teaching). Therefore, the database is badly distorted, and it is irresponsible to make this the base for any drastic decisions which can have adverse effects for students and faculty. Moreover, "keep with reduced resources" (quintile 3) is a contradiction in itself. Many programs, already starved in the past years, will die when their resources are reduced further. You said recently that all programs in quintiles 3, 4 and 5 could see their resources reduced to zero. So you are even willing to disregard the recommendation "keep" - why don't you convey this message openly to all faculty?

4) Contrary to what you have repeatedly stated, small programs are not necessarily costly, but provide diversity and hence a service to students. This is necessary for our society, and to offer the students the value they are paying (a lot of money) for. In most cases small programs share courses that exist anyway. Small programs are often also elite programs which society needs and which belong to every good (in particular, U15) university. The Task Force report shows a clear bias against them, which you have called "boutique" programs. It is these programs and the exceptionally talented students taking them who have given this institution its reputation for nurturing excellence.

5) A university is a complex organism, its structures have developed over a long time. Trying to influence a complex organism with crude measures never leads to improvement. Evaluation of the merits of academic programs is not within the purview of administration. Administrators have to care for the institution and support its main bodies, the faculty and the students.

6) TransformUS has damaged morale on campus. Successful researchers see their programs recommended for reduced resources. Celebration of success has become a lip service. Administrators have a responsibility for their employees and their workplace. We are appalled by the inhumanity of the "best practices" our administration has adopted. Low morale does not support efficiency. We recommend the "Ant Story" for watching (available on Youtube). The costs of the damage done are immeasurable.

7) Faculty and staff are ever more burdened by "planning exercises" and are thus distracted from their actual duties, teaching and research. Both the "research intense" university and "improving the student experience" have become a lip service of our administrators. Apart from TransformUS, also curriculum mapping is forced upon us, something that departments have always done on their own (but their efforts were cut short by the ever recurring answer from the administrators: no resources). Again, the cost of these activities that do not lead to true improvement are immeasurable.

8) Administration has not provided verifiable information about the size and origin of the proclaimed debt. The truth seems to be that it stems from the large projects pushed through by administrators as well as the growth of administration itself, at the expense of the classical duties of a university. In this time of crisis, even more such large projects are forced upon us, with financial sustainability as doubtful as it turned out to be already for the existing ones. Moreover, why are the few costly and already rich
programs in quintile 1 even getting richer? We have noticed the puzzling statistical correlation between
these programs and the representation of their members on the Task Force.

9) We call for open discourse and honest answers. Statements do not become true by being repeated often. TransformUS has not been widely endorsed by faculty, it was forced through Council. The public has been given the impression that there were serious problems with our university and that now it will be saved. The problems were forced upon this university not by its faculty and not by its traditional structure. TransformUS will not save this university which is about to lose its great potential and its variety of programs and research offered for the benefit of the province and the country.

10) We call for transparency about the financial situation and about the TransformUS process and how its results were achieved. We are led to the conclusion that either administrators themselves do not know what exactly the financial situation is, or that they are withholding information from the public because of a hidden agenda. In addition to the inadequacy of the TransformUS process, we are appalled by the so-called "best practice" of forcing Task Force members to destroy notes and other material that would give information about the details leading to their results. Such practices are unacademic and don't have any place in a university. (It is already sad enough that they have been adopted elsewhere in our society.)

We call on the administration to acknowledge the failure of the TransformUS process due to its numerous well-documented deficiencies. We ask for a new transparent and independent review process to uncover the true origin and amount of the debt and develop academically defensible solutions.

To sign the letter (at any time), please go to goo.gl/MPv9he

To see the list of signatories, please go to goo.gl/G6utyp