New Faculty arrives on time thanks to transition teamwork

It took an intense effort over the past year and a half by people from across the University, but on July 1 it all happened.

On that day, York’s new Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) officially came into being, marking the completion of a successful process that saw two of York’s oldest Faculties disestablished to make way for a new one that comprises half the University – and one which, at 27,000 students, is larger than all but half a dozen Ontario universities.

A wide range of staff and faculty served on committees and task groups that worked through the thousands of details a change of this magnitude entails. There were departments to merge, courses to revamp, curricula to harmonize, student records to shift, office space to allot, advising to organize, Web sites to create, alumni to inform – and much more. Every sector of the University was involved. Moreover, many of the people implementing arrangements for the new Faculty were still managing their responsibilities in the Faculty of Arts or the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, which had to function up to June 30.

There were two keys to the project’s success. One was the creation in 2007 of a steering committee led by Sheila Embleton, York vice-president academic & provost through June 30, to oversee creation of the structures, processes and rules that would allow the incoming dean and his leadership team to hit the ground running. The other was a strong commitment to first principles and a student-centred approach to creating the vision for the new Faculty. “These results could not have happened, and certainly would not have been carried out so well, without the active involvement, collegial goodwill and dedicated efforts of literally hundreds of faculty, staff and students,” said Embleton. “It was much more than process and rules.”

On June 16, the management-level Transition Coordinating Committee, which oversaw the working groups and monitored progress, turned over the reins to the staff of the new Faculty, and on July 1, Dean Martin Singer and his team of associate deans officially took charge, though Singer, named to the position in January (see YFile, Jan. 26), had been visiting York regularly for months to consult. "I wish in particular to thank former deans Robert Drummond [Arts] and Rhonda Lenton [Atkinson] for their support and counsel," said Singer. "We put in countless hours together and melded into a truly collegial team almost immediately."

In the transition process, many participants made discoveries and developed new channels of communication that will benefit other York Faculties. “Restructuring provided a unique opportunity to think about how to improve and streamline many processes, not just those required for the consolidation,” said Ross Rudolph, who was senior adviser to Embleton on the transition. “The result was smarter and better-informed decisions, some of which are already being emulated in other Faculties and across the University.” Staff who served on the Transition Coordinating Committee began referring to these as “Eureka moments”.

The most substantial final requirement for the July 1 deadline was the transfer of some 27,000 student records – most to LA&PS and some to the Faculty of Science & Engineering – a process that was designed and tested over several months and went ahead in a matter of minutes in late April.

“This was a hugely complex exercise and it took about 18 months to imagine and prepare for and, when they actually pushed the button, 27,000 students became part of the new Faculty within 15 minutes,” said University Registrar Joanne Duklas. “It’s an incredible example of the quality of the staff we have working in Computing & Network Services and the Registrar’s Office. None of this would have been possible without their efforts and those of the Faculty committees and the Transition Coordinating Committee.”

With the appropriate student files marked as LA&PS, the processes of registering new students, posting grades and updating course requirements for existing students can go ahead. For example, LA&PS, the Registrar’s Office and University Information Technology (the successor to CNS on July 1) can now begin to implement a new online degree progress report system that was first tested in the Faculty of Health, where students were “ecstatic” with it, said Stan Taman, executive director of LA&PS’ new Centre for Student Success. The system will be adopted in other Faculties once the LA&PS system is completed.

These improvements represent significant enhancements to the quality of the student experience at York and are a result of the efforts of centre staff that began their work in February (see YFile, Feb. 17).Taman said degree audit is the heart of all student advising activity. With the new online system, students will be able to check their course and degree requirements 24-7. Students will also be able to book an advising appointment and find digital copies of required forms online.

The technology, however, is just the modern face of a process that involved countless person hours of sifting, sorting, discussion and appraisal as the program requirements, curricula, course offerings and schedules for the two Faculties were blended into one (see YFile, Oct. 2, 2008). Three new academic units were also created, in communication studies, human resources management and equity studies.

Other changes flowing from the disestablishment of the two Faculty councils by Senate in May were approved in time for the July 1 launch date. Five new associate deans were appointed (see YFile, June 1) and elections for a new Faculty Council Executive Committee were held.

Carl Ehrlich (Arts), professor in the Department of Humanities, was elected to a one-year term as chair of the Faculty Council. The Executive Committee – a deliberate blend of representatives from both former Faculties – then began the process of nominating members for election to the various standing committees by June 30. There will also be a new student government in the Faculty – the Student Council of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (SCOLAPS), which additionally is responsible for naming student representatives to LA&PS Faculty Council and committees.

With the establishment of LA&PS now official, the ultimate test of the transition committees’ work will take place on Sept. 9, as students begin their year as the first class of York’s newest and largest Faculty.