The Wisdom of Elders:
WURA’s Contribution to Strategic Planning
In February WURA members were asked for their suggestions with respect to the priorities to be included in the University’s next Strategic Plan for discussion and consolidation prior to transmission to the University’s Strategic Planning Committee. However, before presenting the specific items we have agreed upon as reflecting WURA’s recommendations, we believe that a discussion of the context within which strategic planning needs to take place is in order.
Specifically, we see three fundamental roles for universities (including our own), continuing to be important in the third decade of the 21st century:
(1) Research- the creation of knowledge and engagement in creative activities,
(2) Teaching- the transmission of knowledge (including the emerging field of experiential learning) to students, and,
(3) Service- a multiplicity of contributions to public life (including leadership), to the communities (local, regional, national and international) to which we, as part of the university community, belong.
Moreover, with respect to research and teaching, we believe that these activities cannot occur without an appreciation that while we, as an academic community, have a great deal of which to be proud, much remains to be accomplished. Specifically, while Canada has one of the strongest economies in the world, capable of producing great wealth, the benefits of that wealth are extremely unevenly distributed. For example, in the same issue of our leading national daily newspaper one can find stories dealing with massive salaries paid to CEOs of major companies and adverts for palatial homes selling in the low millions. These are juxtaposed with reports of homeless people sleeping and dying in our streets and alarming statistics regarding the number of people forced to seek the assistance of food banks to feed their families. Unfortunately both portrayals are true and there is something fundamentally wrong with the reality that this portrays. Further, if we look at the international community, disparities between the “haves and have not’s” are even more pronounced -- check for example, the Covid-19 vaccination rates in Africa.
At a time when we set out to re-assess our roles as researchers, creators of culture, teachers, librarians, managers and academic leaders, we need to do so with the understanding that a society that does not embrace the concept of “social justice for all” is fundamentally flawed. Note that the main campus of the university is located very near one of the least affluent areas of the city, while the down-town campus very likely has homeless people sleeping in entranceways to its various buildings on a nightly basis. Whatever the University of Windsor decides as its immediate strategic priorities, they need to be framed in the context that while Canada has the potential to be a truly great society, that goal is far from being achieved. Our strategic priorities, whatever they may be, need to be imbedded in an aspiration to realize that noble goal. For those of us who have served the University in a variety of capacities for many years and have moved on to life in retirement, nothing less is acceptable.
Suggested Strategic Priorities
Reevaluate and improve the process of transitioning from “Active” to “Retired” Faculty/Administrators. In short, the preparation for retirement needs to move beyond providing information on pensions and benefits; retirement itself needs to be made more attractive. Retirees need to be better integrated into university life—specifically they need to be regarded and treated as valued members of the university community.
During the pandemic University of Windsor students have had access to 24/7 counseling as a result of the UWindsor partnering with the UWSA in launching the “My Student Support Program (MySSP)”. This has been a great resource for students especially those suffering from mental health issues. It was also extended to UWindsor alumni for up to 5-years post-graduation, thereby helping them transition from university life to the working world. Human Resources in its attempt to support faculty and staff with their workplace wellness programs initiated a partnership with LifeWorks (formerly known as Morneau Shepell) to provide confidential support for faculty/staff regarding challenges related to mental health, depression, anxiety, nutrition etc. Yet, unlike the University’s alumni, who can acquire support for a period of time after transitioning from the University, this type of support is not extended by HR to retirees. As we’ve all recognized during the pandemic taking care of one’s mental health is crucial. This is especially true of older adults who may have experienced emotional and social traumas as a result of spouses, partners, family members and friends passing away, resulting in depression, isolation, and loneliness. After retirement, retirees must deal with an absence of routine activities or even a diagnosis of new ailments, both of which contribute to their sense of vulnerability and possible need to turn to a support group, like LifeWorks, to help them cope. Yet this kind of assistance from the University and access from HR to resources is not made available. It is very disappointing how retirees are forgotten, and their needs not addressed -- this needs to be remedied.
More generally, when Faculty/Administrators retire, Human Resources holds meetings dealing with pension options and health benefits; but very little is done for other areas involved in the transition process. In addition to what is currently being done, inclusive Exit Interviews should be held (in coordination with WUFA), explaining various dimensions of retirement such as, for example, post-retirement IT (Information Technology) support. As things now stand, only after people retire do they discover that their IT support has changed -- and not for the better. When faculty/administrators retire, they continue to receive free e-mail access, but they lose Microsoft (MS) desktop support for Office, along with associated systems (Word, Excel and PowerPoint). These must be purchased by the retiree from Microsoft. Members of WURA continue to receive Online Web support for the MS Office system from IT Services, but for some people, the Web Office system does not provide them all the facilities they require to remain productive members of the university community. It would be preferable if WURA members (some 160 out of 16,000 University licenses—less than 1%) could have the same level of MS support as do active faculty and administrators.
Consider as well, retired faculty with on-going (or new) research grants. Does it make sense that they should lose full MS license support because they have retired? Research Services has stepped up and provides support for research grants held by retired faculty. As well, WURA has created a Research Support Group which encourages and supports retired faculty continuing their research, with or without research grants. Full IT support for all retirees who need a full range of communications technology is the next step.
Also helpful would be a program whereby academic departments ask retired faculty members to assist in mentoring new faculty members, especially in areas of grant preparation, research and community service. Mentoring can help improve faculty satisfaction, retention, and research productivity thereby contributing to the professional development of early career faculty. Following are some bullet-points that will assist in highlighting how WURA mentors could help support the success of early career faculty:
- help new faculty acclimate to the formal/ informal norms of the Department and Faculty
- provide new faculty with information about the academic community and the tenure and promotion process
- foster research skills, effective publishing strategies, and grant writing
- encourage faculty to explore new pedagogical methods
- foster an atmosphere of collegiality and assist with the development of professional networks
- act as a safe, judgment-free sounding board, which can help with faculty retention
- assist new faculty in making informed choices regarding short- and long-term goals
- help increase social contact and the exchange of ideas/ experiences
- help ease the workload of overextended faculty by chairing or serving on departmental/faculty/ University committees
Important as well is an achievable mentoring role with students, especially foreign students, meeting with them and making their transition to life in Canada easier. There is much to be done in making retirement a more attractive experience – let’s begin the process.
Including, but not limited to existing WURA scholarships, launch a major University-wide fund-raising campaign to increase the number and value of scholarships available to students from historically disadvantaged communities, both domestic and international.
Imperialism (conquest) followed by colonialism (occupation), have left pernicious legacies of inequality that have proven extremely difficult to overcome. Education is one established path toward addressing these historical inequalities, and students from both domestic and international communities adversely impacted by past injustices, need significant added resources. We suggest further that awards to racialized students be made in honour of former FASS Dean, Cecil Houston, who recognized their unique problems long before others -- and did something about it.
Reinstate the Centre for Social Justice, created in 2003 and terminated in 2013. “Social Justice” was one of the “three pinnacles” of the University, as agreed upon in a beginning of the new century strategic planning document (the other two being the automobile and the environment).
The Centre for Social Justice was involved in the early planning of Dean Cecil Houston’s ground-breaking “African Diaspora” initiative, the work of city’s Ethnic Relations Committee, and the Greater Windsor and Essex County School Board’s anti-discrimination efforts. Whether the presence on the ground of the Centre for Social Justice (during the now near ten years of its absence), would have been sufficient to deal with the problems related to anti-black racism that developed on campus, we will never know. It would, however, have sounded the alarm that things were not well and that immediate action was needed.
Over the past two years several new offices/positions have been created to address problems related to bigotry, discrimination and hateful behaviour:
Vice-President, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Two-year acting appointment
Began June 2021
Clinton Beckford [Ph.D] Faculty of Education
Director of Anti-racism Organization Change (AROC)
Began November 2021
Marium Tolson-Murtty [Ph.D Candidate, M.A]
(Previously the Strategic Planning Officer for Anti-Black Racism Initiatives)
Black Student Support Coordinator
Began November 2021
Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Relations and Outreach,
Two-year interim position
Began January 2022
Beverly Jacobs [C.M., LL.B., LL.M., PhD] Faculty of Law
It appears to us, however, that these were set up to operate more or less independently, and two are headed by acting or interim appointments. A Centre for Social Justice would provide the continuity needed to deal with the serious problems related to racial and religious hatred, along with providing a needed coordinating function.
Refocus university education to provide an education that offers the intellectual skills needed to provide the foundation for living, rather than merely for making a living.
There seems to be an increasing orientation of university education towards job preparation rather than an overall humanistic experience. Exposure to what the greatest minds have written in the arts, including literature, the social sciences, and the sciences, provides a fundamental enrichment to individual persons and to their capacity to contribute to society. In addition to expanding the mind and heart, these areas of study also offer a broader knowledge, skill in research, communication, and leadership. These are essential to life, but also bring a wider vision and capacity to any occupation, beyond narrow job-related skills.
Maintain a prudent balance between permanent tenure track positions and sessional appointments.
Bound up with limitations to government financing of higher education, there seems to be, an increasing number of sessional appointments and an accompanying reduction of permanent tenure track positions at the University of Windsor. This approach is certainly harmful to the individuals who are deprived of more secure careers that allow the development of their personal abilities and their contribution to society. It also hinders the development of Departments (the component parts of the University), in that research (the foundation of knowledge and innovation) is dependent on long-term funding of established researchers. While sessional instructors may be excellent teachers, undue reliance on their talents undermines the ability of the university to undertake and sustain the kinds of research that will benefit the wider society of which we are a part. Students likewise benefit from consistent course content provided by tenured professors and exposure to their research.
The University needs to demonstrate a clear commitment to a post-Covid-19 return to primarily in-person instruction.
We can all thank the Internet for getting us through the pandemic. However, despite the remarkable and helpful steps that have been taken to cope with Covid-19, this pandemic has also revealed more clearly the need and importance of in-person contact. Unfortunately, the Internet does not create the same community dynamics that accompany in-person interaction. With the expansion of acquaintances and friendships, the interactions within a class situation provide mutual support and intellectual stimulation. The educational atmosphere of a university campus, with the ability to attend on-campus events and join groups, fosters future beneficial relationships. Being on campus helps students to receive a variety of services and assistance in dealing with issues such as isolation and anxiety.
Those of us who spent our careers teaching students in largely in-person settings believe that in the post-Covid-19 environment, the social interaction that is so much a part of the classroom experience needs to be recreated to the fullest extent possible. While we understand that to some extent “virtual learning” will be a part of the total course offerings of the “University of the Future,” some of the so-called “cost-effective models” we have seen, look very much like a series of courses taught by low-salaried sessional instructors, teaching unconnected students, scattered across the globe. The future of the University of Windsor should reflect a multi-faceted approach to teaching that demonstrates a diversity of methods, a commitment to social justice, research and effective communication.
On priorities 4, 5 and 6, the application of short-sighted pragmatism, based largely on financial considerations, runs counter to a well-thought-out understanding of the issues involved, as well as to the overall well-being of individuals, the University and the society of which they are part.
A number of WURA members have been retired from the University for a significant number of years and have indicated to us a hesitance to comment on specific strategic priorities as they lack sufficient knowledge of existing strengths, weaknesses and, for example, financial limitations which would make some proposals unworkable. Nonetheless, they have shared with us some guidance regarding the implementation of whatever strategic priorities are decided upon:
1. Strategic Plans are only as good as their implementation process and inclusiveness. Stated goals need to be linked to strategies to accomplish them.
2. All strategic objectives need to have specific time-lines and appropriate performance indicators for their achievement.
3. What are clearly new goals and objectives need to be high-lighted and explained.
We believe that all of these guidelines are quite helpful and need to be applied to any strategic goals put forward by the Strategic Planning Committee for implementation.
The last two pandemic-plagued years have been quite destructive to the University as we have known it, and this is very distressing to us. Clear strategic priorities, that are understood and can be embraced by all its constituent parts, are needed for the University of Windsor to emerge from the pandemic as a healthy institution. Your Committee has our sincere best wishes for carrying out this task. Should you wish to discuss any of the six priorities suggested in this Report (or other issues) in greater detail, please contact our President, Roger Lauzon and he will arrange a time for a meeting.
WURA’s Strategic Planning Committee: Roger Lauzon, Gwendolyn Ebbett, Norman King, Veronika Mogyorody, Jake Soderlund, John Meyer and Mary-Louise Drake