Organization of the University (Departments, Schools, and Divisions: Minimum Size)

Ad Hoc Committee on University Organization

Note: Contains recommendations and discussion of minimum size for departments, schools, and divisions.

The following is an excerpt from the May 18, 1994 Minutes of Senate. The full text of the ad hoc Committee’s Report is for download below.

First Report of the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on University Organization

Dr. Shearer, Chair of the committee, presented the report, which had been circulated.

Dr. Shearer
Dr. Tees
} That the report be received.


Dr. Shearer noted that the committee had been established in response to a proposal by the Senate Budget Committee concerning administrative costs at the University. The terms of reference approved by Senate extended the committee’s mandate to considering both efficiency and academic effectiveness.

The committee came to the conclusion that it would have to focus not only on explicit expenditures on administrative activities but also on implicit administrative costs, particularly the time faculty members spend on administrative activities which could otherwise be spent on academic activities.

In considering the existing number of Faculties at UBC, the committee looked at the Guidelines for the Establishment of a Faculty which contain suggestions on the nature of a Faculty, and the appropriate size and complement of Faculties.

The committee was strongly of the view that there were too many Faculties at UBC. It was felt that a smaller number of Faculties would be less costly and more effective and would give rise to a smaller, more influential and effective Committee of Deans. The committee was also of the opinion that it would be highly desirable to consolidate some Faculties in a way that will significantly reduce the inequality in the relative sizes of Faculties. However, the committee had not made any recommendations at this time.

Dean Hollenberg stated that, in his opinion, there were other ways of reducing administrative costs than reducing the size of departments and Faculties.

Mr. Brady was not convinced that fewer Deans would result in each Dean having a stronger voice in deliberations, as was argued in the report. Mr. Brady queried the statement that fewer Faculties would result in a more representative Senate. Dr. Shearer responded that although some faculties were no larger than departments they had exactly the same representation on Senate as larger Faculties. In the committee’s opinion this did not ensure a representative Senate.

Dean Grace drew attention to Table 1, stating that there were other ways of measuring Faculty size whereby the Faculty at the bottom of this list could come out either first or second.

In response to a query by Dr. Cohen, Dr. Shearer explained that although the committee had not defined academic effectiveness and administrative effectiveness, the issue of the effectiveness of departments as administrative and academic units was discussed in the section of the report that deals with department size.

In section IV of the report, which deals with departments, Dr. Shearer stated that the committee had attempted to set out its notion of the role and importance of a department as far as students, faculty, the academic community and the community at large are concerned. He stated that departments are important institutions in the University and that the committee was not challenging the existence of departments. It was, however, making the observation that the concept of a department as an administrative unit within the University can be separated from the academic programs and the research activity of faculty members in a department.

The committee looked at the department as an administrative unit and observed that department size was a very important consideration in terms of costs involved in stipends for heads, administrative leave for heads, costs of external reviews, which are quite substantial, costs of external searches, and the implicit costs in time taken away from teaching and research to carry on administrative activities. The committee concluded that a disproportionate amount of time of faculty members is engaged in administrative activities of one sort or another. The committee expressed concern about problems of budget flexibility in small departments as well as questions of costs, issues of problems that arise when faculty members go on leave and when staff members get sick, and problems of students and the public trying to contact a department where the office is only open part time. Several such issues were raised, which led the committee to the conclusion that a useful and important administrative reform in the university would be to combine small departments into larger administrative units. The committee therefore recommended that Senate establish a minimum size for departments and that Deans be asked to reorganize departments within their Faculties, and in some cases, conceivably, across Faculties.

In recommending a minimum size of 15 full time faculty members for departments, Dr. Shearer stated that the committee recognized that this was not the only possible measure of the size of departments and had therefore introduced the qualification that consideration would be given to a variety of other concerns in particular cases. Any exceptions to the minimum size as a result of this qualification would, of course, be reported to Senate.

Referring to the provisions for administrative stipends and administrative leave for department heads, Dr. Shearer stated that the committee took the view that both of these provisions are justified and essential for the recruitment of administrators. The committee’s concern, as it studied the structure of administrative stipends, was that there was no distinction made between the heads of small departments and large departments with respect to administrative leave, but there were cases where the head of a large department received a smaller stipend than the head of a very small department. The committee thought that more care should be taken in considering administrative stipends and leave arrangements and that they should be graduated depending on department size.

Based on its discussions, the committee made the following recommendations:

  1. Senate establish a minimum size for departments, schools and divisions that have department-like responsibilities.
  2. The minimum size for departments, schools and divisions be 15 full-time faculty members in the department.
  3. Deans be asked to arrange for consolidations of relevant departments, schools and divisions to conform with the minimum size and to report regularly to the Vice President Academic and Provost on progress. The Vice President Academic and Provost be asked to report to Senate on the results of these reconfigurations by December 1995.
  4. Exceptions to the minimum size should be rare and should be permitted only on the basis of special circumstances which must be made explicit.
  5. All exceptions to the minimum size approved by the Vice President Academic and Provost, be reported to Senate.
  6. Provisions for administrative stipends and administrative leave for department heads be graduated depending on department size.
Dr. Shearer
Mr. Horner
} That recommendations 1 through 6 be adopted.

While speaking in support of the purpose of the recommendations, Dr. Will stated that there was more emphasis on saving money than on the academic implications. He questioned the lack of recognition of the academic implications in relation to the provision that exceptions to the minimum size should be permitted only on the basis of special circumstances. He suggested that “special circumstances” ought to be defined in a way that would ensure that such exceptions make academic sense and that the academic integrity of the respective departments would be maintained. Dr. Will also took issue with the specific recommendation that there be a minimum size of 15 full time faculty members for departments, stating that this immediately creates uncertainty in the 46 departments that would be affected by this rule. He felt that this should have been avoided in the first instance.

As far as the issue of the cost of administrative stipends and administrative leave is concerned, Dr. Will stated that five years ago the University did not have administrative leaves and that stipends were not as large. This was introduced to accommodate some of the large departments where administrative leave was clearly needed to allow a head to get back onto the academic track. It was also granted to heads of smaller departments where the head possibly spent less time on administration and may well have continued teaching and research. Dr. Will stated that the University had the option of considering alternatives to this arrangement to make sure that if it is a small department it does not cost as much as a large department on some of the overhead aspects that appeared to be generating many of the recommendations contained in the report.

Dr. Will suggested that the minimum size of 15 full time faculty members would have been better as a guideline in view of the fact that such a specific number would inevitably involve the grouping of departments which might not be compatible.

Dean Marchak agreed that restructuring was essential and stated that the report would prove useful to the Faculties in their efforts to find improved ways of administering themselves, particularly in relation to costs. At this point, however, Dean Marchak felt that it would be better not to recommend a minimum size for departments. She suggested that Faculties should have the opportunity to discuss this proposal prior to its implementation.

Dr. Shearer responded that the number of 15 was not absolutely rigid in that there was provision for exceptions. Referring to Dean Marchak’s comments, Dr. Shearer stated that these issues had been with the University for a long time. He noted that although action had been taken in the Faculty of Education, the University was not moving along as quickly as it should in trying to resolve the problem of administrative costs within Faculties and elsewhere in the University. The committee felt that a very strong statement from the Senate at this time would move the process along.

Dr. Shearer stated that administrative stipends and administrative leaves were not the only concerns about very small departments. He stated that the problems could not be solved simply by recasting those provisions, and emphasized the fact that a number of other concerns were set out in the report.

Mr. Brady spoke in favour of the recommendations, quoting from the report some of the positive aspects of combining small departments into larger groupings.

Dean Hollenberg complimented the committee on bringing forward such a provocative report on topics long overdue for discussion in the Senate. He stated, however, that, in his opinion, departments should be discontinued for academic reasons, not academic costs. He felt that it was possible to achieve administrative savings by combining the administration of several departments rather than combining the actual departments. Dean Hollenberg referred to the definition of a department given in the report stating that departments should be established or discontinued based on that definition and not on size.

Referring to the reasons given for amalgamating departments, Dr. Coope stated that the report gives the impression that it is a rather Procrustean bed that is being created. She was not convinced that there would be any savings in combining small units together as far as administrative costs are concerned.

Dean McBride spoke in favour of the recommendations, commenting that although arguments could always be made for preserving the status quo one only had to look through Calendars of other universities to find different configurations which seem to work.

Dean McBride felt that the recommended size of 15 for a department was a good target, but he had difficulty with the recommendation that exceptions would be permitted on the basis of special circumstances rather than on the basis of a strong academic rationale for maintaining a unit that was smaller than 15.

Dr. Shearer responded that what the committee had in mind was that there would have to be strong explicit academic justification for exceptions and that all such exceptions would be reported to Senate.

Dean Binkley informed Senate that out of three external reviews of the Faculty of Forestry last year, two suggested that the departments be rearranged to make one of them smaller so that it would be more effective and more focussed on its academic role. However, he supported the recommendations stating that it was important that these matters be examined.

Dean Goldberg also spoke in favour of the recommendations stating that the University should go back to some of the root disciplines with a view to examining how they might be recombined in order to become more administratively effective.

Dean Sheehan supported the recommendations, noting that the Faculty of Education had already undertaken a review and reorganization.

Dr. Tees reminded Senate that the committee was charged with examining the academic side of the house and coming up with a set of recommendations, and that on the other side of the house the Senate Budget Committee had proposed, with the agreement of Senate, that the President would look at the non-academic side of the house to examine what could be done in terms of administrative effectiveness and structure.

Dr. Tees stated that the proposed recommendations provided a challenge to departments and Faculties to re-examine what they do. He felt that the Deans were capable of reporting in a timely fashion on departments in their domain, making reasoned academic arguments that the minimum size recommended is either appropriate or inappropriate, and whether exceptions should be made in the case of their Faculty.

In response to a query, Dr. Shearer stated that the issue was not the average size of units within a Faculty but the cost of administrative and academic problems that arise with very small units. The committee wanted simple criteria which was clearly understood, one from which there could be exceptions where appropriate.

Father Hanrahan stated that if this process was to be undertaken, he hoped that small groups of different disciplines would not be crammed into an arrangement that is fundamentally established as a disciplinary kind of structure. He felt that it would be better to look at gathering several departments into a fairly large unit with a structure that was different to that of a department.

Dr. Wehrung stated that the committee thought that the best way to proceed was for units to see what savings they could effect individually. The recommendations showed what could be done from an academic standpoint without sacrificing academic effectiveness.

The motion was put and carried.

Dr. Shearer presented the following recommendations for streamlining curriculum procedures:

    1. The Senate Curriculum Committee be instructed to study the process of curriculum revision and to bring recommendations to the Senate not later than November 1994 for the simplification of the process.


    1. As guidelines, the Senate Curriculum Committee be invited to


        1. Establish a broad category of minor changes that can be made by departments, schools or non-departmentalized faculties without further consultation except notification of the appropriate curriculum review officer (who might be the chair of the Senate Curriculum Committee), who will be responsible for ensuring that the change is indeed “minor” and that no other academic program is likely to be adversely affected. This category might include, at a minimum, changes in course numbers, course names, prerequisite requirements and editorial changes in course descriptions.


        1. Establish a narrow category of major changes that require consultation and full review by faculties and the Senate. This category might include new programs, new courses, deletion of courses and changes that affect requirements for student programs in other departments.


        1. Consider the possibility that proposals for major changes in graduate courses and programs go directly to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies from departments, schools and non-departmentalized faculties for full review before being sent to Senate for review and approval.


Dr. Shearer
Dr. Isaacson
} That recommendations 7 and 8 be adopted.

Dr. Berger, Chair of the Senate Curriculum Committee, agreed that the curriculum approval process was quite cumbersome and supported the proposals, with the exception of recommendation 8c. He felt that there were good reasons for having graduate curriculum proposals go through the budget Faculty prior to approval by Graduate Council.

Dr. Autor explained that faculty, space, and budgetary implications could accompany new course proposals or major changes in courses, therefore, it was essential that these issues be considered at the individual budget Faculty level.

Dr. Shearer stated that these were guidelines for consideration by the Senate Curriculum Committee and that Senate was being asked to approve a recommendation that the committee consider these issues.

The motion was put and carried.

In presenting recommendation 9, Dr. Shearer referred to the Dupré report in which concern was expressed about use of the valuable time of deans. The committee noted that deans were heavily involved in the Senior Appointments Committee and its activities and understood the reasons for this involvement, albeit at a very heavy cost in terms of time. The committee therefore recommended that the President review the constitution of the Senior Appointments Committee.

Dr. Shearer
Dr. Goldberg
} That Senate ask the President to review the constitution of the Senior Appointments Committee, with a view to removing deans from that committee and with a view to strengthening its ability to represent high university-wide standards of excellence and objectivity.

Dr. Will stated that the Senior Appointments Committee was one of the most important committees in that it is the place where the standards for Faculties are established. Dr. Will stated that it was also a personnel committee where decisions are made with respect to retention, promotion and advancement, and that, in his opinion, deans ought to be involved in these decisions.

Dr. Shearer stated that the committee was concerned about the time involved, and also about the whole procedure concerning appointments, promotion and tenure, although most of those issues are covered by the collective agreement.

Speaking in support of the motion, Dr. Randall commented on data recently distributed by Vice President Webber in which he looked at the decisions made by faculty and the decisions made by the Senior Appointments Committee, and over a ten-year period there were very few differences in the decisions made by these two bodies. However, a great deal of time was being spent by the Senior Appointments Committee to confirm the opinions of faculty.

The motion was put and carried.

Dr. Shearer presented the following recommendations with respect to teaching and research in natural resources:

    1. Senate endorse the idea of a reconfiguration of some existing faculties and other academic units to create a new faculty with a mandate to develop and intensify the university’s commitment to teaching and research relating to natural resources and the natural environment.


    1. The Vice President Academic and Provost be asked to establish a task force to develop plans for the establishment of the new faculty. The task force should be asked to develop proposals for arrangements that will induce some relevant faculty members and academic units to transfer from other faculties to the new faculty, will encourage the active participation in the new faculty of relevant faculty members who prefer to retain their appointments in other faculties, and will encourage the cooperation of relevant academic units in other faculties.


    1. The Vice President Academic and Provost be asked to submit a progress report to Senate on plans to establish a new faculty concerned with natural resources, no later than January 1995.


    1. The task force proposed in Recommendation 11 above be asked to consider the proposed merger of the departments of Geography and Soil Science in the context of their deliberations on the reconfiguration of teaching and research on natural resources.


Dr. Shearer reiterated points made in the report stating that this was a field of study which was very important, both to UBC and to the province.

Dr. Shearer noted that there were very strong professional programs in Forestry and in Agricultural Sciences which the committee felt ought to be promoted. As well as being related to each other they were related to a much broader range of issues in the University relating to natural resources and the environment. The committee felt that the resources of these Faculties were under-utilized from the perspective of the rest of the University, and that to some extent this has arisen because of the boundaries that exist between Faculties. The committee came to the conclusion that it should propose that the Vice President Academic establish a task force charged with studying the alternatives proposed by the committee.

Dr. Shearer
Dr. Wehrung
} That recommendations 10, 11, 12 and 13 be adopted.

Dean McBride commended the committee for raising the thorny issue of Faculty reorganization. He stated that it was appropriate that the committee had focussed on the Faculties of Forestry and Agricultural Sciences which represent 4% of the undergraduate FTE’s and 5.5% of the graduate FTE’s. However, Dean McBride said that he had serious difficulties with recommendations 10, 11 and 12, stating that they were too specific at this stage of the deliberations. He felt that the point which must be addressed, given the budgetary context in which the University operates and the difficulties this presents, is whether the University can afford to do the things it has done in the past. He stated that there was no sense of that in the report. In fact the report stated that all the professional programs must be retained.

Dean McBride stated that within the year there would be degree granting institutions in three rich agricultural areas in B.C. Citing the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences as an example, Dean McBride stated that the University should be considering whether it is appropriate to move some of its activities in this field to areas where they would be in close contact with a very active agricultural community. He stated that fundamental issues such as this should be addressed before creating a new Faculty of Natural Resources, which, in his opinion, was simply a re-shuffling of the debt and perhaps the addition of even more responsibilities. Although he was strongly opposed to the recommendations as are set out in the report, Dean McBride said he would support a recommendation that asked the proposed task force to look at Forestry and Agricultural Sciences in a broader context, with the proviso that the issue of teaching and research in natural resources also be addressed.

Dr. Shearer emphasized that the committee was not charged with the task of recommending whether the University should discontinue teaching in some fields. It was asked to consider a reorganization of programs, and what the committee proposed was something much broader than the existing programs in Agricultural Sciences and Forestry in that it recommended a re-focussing of the University’s energies and talents on issues connected with natural resources and the environment.

Mr. Goehring drew attention to recommendation 13 concerning the proposed merger of the departments of Geography and Soil Science. He stated that consensus had not been reached within the departments concerned, particularly since Geography has a number of areas of study, such as the arctic, that do not involve soil.

A motion to extend the meeting beyond the 10:30 p.m. deadline was put and carried.

In commenting on the report, Dean Richards stated that members of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences who had had the opportunity to interact with the committee in the course of its deliberations were supportive and enthusiastic about the concepts and ideas presented in the recommendations. He stated that the report was timely and that its recommendations offered the opportunity to establish an appropriate broad contextual basis in which to place the various activities of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and perhaps some other related academic units.

The Faculty of Agricultural Sciences has been delivering programs at UBC since its early inception. They are unique professional programs but with a very strong disciplinary base and a very large number of interfaces with many different aspects of the University. In fact those linkages with other parts of the University have grown and strengthened over the years and are absolutely critical and vital to the programs that Agricultural Sciences delivers, particularly those at the graduate level involving research but also at the undergraduate level. The Faculty requires the context of a vital operating research university for success and considers itself to be a critical part of such an institution. He agreed that the task force should take a broad look at the whole of the natural resources area to see how programs would fit together in this area, including programs offered in faculties other than Agricultural Sciences and Forestry.

Mr. Lim spoke in support of the idea of introducing this new field whether or not it was in the form of a new Faculty.

Dean Marchak commented on recommendation 10, stating that if the idea was to take people out of other units to create a new Faculty it would weaken units which are very strong at the moment. Dean Marchak was particularly concerned about the effect the proposals could have on the Department of Geography.

Considerable discussion of the recommendations followed, during which it became clear that members of Senate felt that the task force should examine alternatives to the creation of a new Faculty.

In amendment:

Dr. Williams
Dean McBride
} That recommendation 10 be amended to read: That Senate endorse the idea of a reconfiguration of some existing faculties and other academic units to develop and intensify the university’s commitment to teaching and research relating to natural resources and the natural environment.

That recommendation 11 be amended to read: That the Vice President Academic and Provost be asked to establish a task force to develop plans for the achievement of this end.

That recommendation 12 be amended to read: The Vice President Academic and Provost be asked to submit a progress report to Senate no later than January 1995.


The motion, as amended, was put and carried.

This information is for quick reference. For the full text of the Minutes of Senate, which include the motions and discussion, please see the Minutes Archive.