Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Fall 2017 Town Hall Notes

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor welcomed attendees to the second annual Town Hall meeting and stated the following:

  • Acknowledged being on traditional lands of the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc within Secwepemcúl’ecw traditional territory of the Secwe̓pemc people.
  • the Town Hall is being live-streamed
  • questions can be asked via Twitter feed
  • the purpose of the meeting is to have a dialogue about challenges and opportunities at TRU
  • if you wish to ask a question or make a comment, please state your name and affiliation
  • questions may be sent after the meeting to president@tru.ca
  • notes will be taken from the Town Hall and will be distributed as before to keep track of the issues so we have a chance to address them and inform people

The President introduced the Vice-Presidents:

  • Christine Bovis-Cnossen, Provost and Vice-President Academic
  • Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance

The President also commented that, sadly, we are a depleted team with the passing of Christopher Seguin, Vice-President Advancement and that we had postponed the Town Hall meeting because the date originally scheduled for it (September 26, 2017) was so close to his passing.

The meeting was opened and the President mentioned that the posted notes from the last meeting had been supplemented by several responses to questions that had been raised but had not been able to be responded to at that time. He said that the supplemented notes had been reposted and asked if there were any questions about those responses. There being none he threw the meeting open to any questions and recognized Christine Bovis-Cnossen.

Christine Bovis-Cnossen, Provost and Vice-President Academic gave an update on chair course release and chair job description and algorithm. The Chairs’ Committee continues to meet and everything will be in place for 2018/19 academic year. The Committee is working on one final bit and that is academic instructional support, chair release. Thank you to all the members of the sub-group for their work.

Diane Henderson, ESL Department Chair – Last week was English as an Additional Language Awareness Week. We celebrated and honored bilingual and multi-lingual students, most of whom are international students. One-fifth to one-quarter come through the ESL department; many continue to need assistance and language supports in graduate and undergraduate programs. What plans are being made or might be considered for the expansion of support services for our growing population of international students? What needs to be in place on campus to entertain the notion of ESL for credit after students complete ESL Level five?

Christine Bovis-Cnossen, Provost and Vice-President Academic – Regarding your second question, ESL for credit, it is down to the department and the faculty to put forward plans. If you have some ideas about ESL for credit take them to your department council meeting, take them to the faculty council and let’s see a way forward. It needs to come from the people that deliver it and it needs to come in conjunction with the consultation in faculty and department council. If you bring forward a proposal then we will look at that through our regular system of looking at academic programing and credit. That would include EPC and discussions along there as well.

Your first question, I believe, is about support for students. One of the things a number of BC universities knew is that we were going to see an increase in international students. We are doing modeling with regard to the carry-through of the current international students and what that looks like in years two, three, four, etc. Matt Kennedy in IPE has been doing a lot of work looking at modeling, working with TRU World and having conversations with Deans regarding what that looks like. We would see that come forward; any proposals for additional services that we need to be providing for students, including international students would come through in the plans coming forward from the Faculties and the Schools. I am also looking at other types of supports we need to put in place, such as a writing centre (for all students, not just international students) and a math centre. It needs to go through planning and be put in the budget to support our students.

Marjorie Budnikas, Assistant Registrar, Articulation, Audit and Graduation - Enrolment Services are seriously strained by such an increase in international students. Are there any plans or thoughts about tying the number of students we have with the number of employees we have to serve those students in things like Enrolment Services?

Christine Bovis-Cnossen, Provost and Vice-President Academic – Always keen that, whenever we see an increase in student numbers, be they international or domestic, there has to be a concomitant increase in services in the people that we have, so I raised it with regards to our Faculty and School offices. If we have an increase of 200 students in a Faculty we need to look at ways of supporting them. That holds true also of enrolment services and other areas. We have had a discussion regarding international graduate admissions and we are putting an additional two FTE’s there because of the significant increases. Additional support would come through the Enrolment Services Service Plan and Strategic Plan moving forward. All budget holders in academic areas have been asked to include five year hiring plans, including whether we need to increase or replace employees. Once we see this information through School and Faculty plans we will determine how we can better support.

Michael Mehta, Geography and Environmental Studies – Given what’s happening with the University of Calgary and its president Elizabeth Cannon, and the recent finding of CAUT in regards to conflict of interest, what sorts of provisions are we putting in place so senior administrators, members of the Board of Governors and others that are in a position to make decisions that may have material impacts disclose in advance any kinds of conflicts, perceived or real, that they may be engaged in?

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – We have extensive conflict of Interest rules for members of the Board, and before every meeting of the Board and Committees there is a request for people to express any possible conflicts of interest. This is something we have been active on long before discussion has been taken nationally. We’ve also been audited by the Auditor General on our process (randomly selected), got flying colors on that and other areas of governance. I’m always extremely sensitive to these issues. All new members of the Board, whether elected or appointed, has to participate in an orientation session before being sworn in; part of the orientation is a detailed discussion regarding conflict of interest. We tell Board of Governors members if they have any doubt, please raise it – it is better to raise it and have someone say don’t worry about it than to have voted and have the conflict found out later.

Gordon Down, Student Awards & Financial Aid– This may be premature but can you comment on the plans to fill the Vice President Advancement Position?

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – I am now effectively the Vice President Advancement, meeting with Karen Gamracy and other people in Advancement every week. I am going to appoint an Interim VP Advancement. I am planning not to do a search now because that will mean the new President will not have a say in the Vice President Advancement. The relationship between the President and Vice-President Advancement is critical; they have to be a good fit, have to have chemistry and complementarity in order to be effective. We will be looking for an Interim VP ideally to last 18-24 months. I have invited a former colleague, who was the VP Advancement at Dalhousie (and who is no longer working for them, but has a private consulting company), who has done an evaluation of advancement activities and given the team an A-plus. He is pleased with the team and organization, and does say it’s incredibly lean on the ground but that’s normal for TRU. We are a very lean university in most areas. He is giving advice on how we should continue and agrees getting an Interim VP is the way to go. Because of his connections he’s looking for us – will try to get that going as soon as we can. In the meantime, the Advancement team is having these great events and they have kept going. It’s been challenging and emotional for them all but they have come through as tremendous team players. I’m proud to be associated with them in all these events.

Louis Gosselin, Biological Sciences – I was at a consultation meeting for the Committee searching for the next President. What struck me is that at this time 11 other universities are also doing searches. Right now and in the near future we will be looking for other Deans, VP Advancement, etc. Is it normal for 11 universities to be looking for new Presidents? What strategy is TRU using to make us stand out? What words and approach do we use?

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – I feel a little awkward answering that question. I will simply speak objectively. Regarding the number, from month to month or year to year, I don’t think 11 is particularly high or low. I say 11 because I read it in the Omega. There is usually a tremendous variety of institutions hiring at one time. We are not in competition with huge Research Intensive Universities, so that lowers the number of institutions we are in competition with. For the Presidential Search Committee (and all search committees at TRU developing a profile) there is a consultant. This one is Geldart Group, who will work with the Committee and do consultations, generate a profile, and create, in addition to a profile, an advertisement. They will then get the word out that TRU is looking for a new president. With that will be all kinds of contacts. People who will be looking for these kinds of positions can easily let us know. The consultant will be approaching all kinds of people: Presidents, VP’s, and Deans. They have a very intensive process of seeking people to show interest. I would never sell TRU short. It has a rising profile, is a unique institution in its design, is also surprisingly large and is in a city that’s becoming well known across Canada. We know what a great place Kamloops is. One of the things you should do in these situations is plan for success; have a plan, execute it in the highest possible way, and plan for success. You will often find it will work.

Louis Gosselin, Biological sciences – if we make a comparison with undergraduate students we know that the environment has become competitive. Do we have the same kind of institutional strategy of positioning ourselves so anyone applying for a position of Dean, VP, or President can say this is where we want to work?

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – The best way to determine the answer to that question is to ask some of our recent hires; some have said yes, we do project a positive image and we are attractive.

Christine Bovis-Cnossen, Provost and Vice-President Academic – I will try to answer a little about decanal searches because my office handles that. We have a grid in my office for formal, formative reviews for each Dean and Associate Vice-Presidents and dates of when terms are up. We work backwards, so are already in contact with the search consultant for searches taking place in two years’ time, and are thinking in advance of potential people a year from now. The other thing is networks – I’ve certainly spoken to my counterparts at other institutions that are similar to TRU to ask if they know of anybody. Tom Dickinson talks to people as well, including speaking at the faculty level to recent PHDs. There is a formula by which we do things. We had a second meeting of the search committee for the Dean of Arts yesterday. Before the committee met, the search consultant had a database of 1000 people who may be suitable for the Dean of Arts. It’s not the same for all areas, as we have some niche faculties, but we use our networks.

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – I am often contacted by search consultants for suggestions of names. In the last seven years, the profile of TRU has increased a lot. Other presidents are saying “wow, TRU is doing this and that.” Part of the reason is seven years ago we did not have a centralized MarCom unit. The establishment of that unit has set a vision and an image to attract students. That also attracts faculty members, Deans, Vice-Presidents, and Presidents. We are in better shape than we were before.

Melissa Svendsen, Librarian at WL – What is TRU doing to support TRUSU’s fund the future and TRUFA’s fair funding campaigns.

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – We continue, and have been doing for a number of years, to present what we feel is the problem of funding post-secondary institutions in this province; the funding formula, such as it is (I frankly haven’t been able to find it), is 15 years old. Over 15 years, a lot of inequities grow into any process like that but more importantly, the creation of TRU postdates the formula. TRU is a specially designed institution that didn’t exist 15 years ago, and not the only one. In addition to that, the requirements for universities regarding what they must deliver has changed enormously in 15 years. One area of particular concern to me is student support. Expectations of student support has increased enormously. For example, we recently appointed a sexual violence investigator, because we must and want to have an environment at TRU that is free of sexual violence. There was no government funding for that. In a short period we will be starting on a task force around mental health. We have great expectations but no funding from government. TRU has a lot of first generation students, and they need more support. Other institutions that are more selective (80 or 90% grades) don’t have the same challenge, as the best predictor of success at university is success in high school. We want to let people in and help them succeed. There needs to be a lot more student support for our students than maybe is needed at an institution that is highly selective. We are a different kind of university. People are starting to become aware of that. The formula discounts those kinds of universities and gives them less per student when they should be giving more. Transition rate from high school to university in the interior is lower than in the Lower Mainland. It’s in everybody’s best interest that the transition rate in the interior be raised. Who’s going to do that? The universities. Are they funded to do that? No, but are expected to do that, and we want to do that. In addition, it’s expected that our students will be properly prepared to work in this modern society, so there is a transition from graduation to employment. Who’s going to pay for that? We are. Are we funded for it? No, because 15 years ago that wasn’t a concern. We are optimistic the new government will be sympathetic to these kinds of things and more forthcoming recognizing these differences. The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services goes around the province every year and TRU presents there. So does TRUSU, and often TRUFA. We find there is quite a lot of convergence on our proposals. Those proposals are finding their way into the report. We have been proposing (the presentations to the Committee are on my website) that there should be a review of post-secondary funding in this province. It has appeared as a recommendation, and it is becoming more and apparent that the present situation is untenable. So we push, and are also getting pushes from outside the University from community members. There needs to be a review and a reform.

Michael Mehta, Geography and Environmental Studies – given that underfunding seems to be a perennial issue here and at a few other universities, and that we have been successful at bringing in international students, how do we deal with inevitable inequities that develop across faculties? For example, with regard to the donation from Maple Leaf Schools, it appears that the Faculty of Arts is the only faculty excluded from this donation.

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – when dealing with fundraising, there is a factor – the donor. When you look at that donation, you should be impressed by the breadth of it. It’s very broad. We were not able to touch every Faculty but did a lot to spread it around. We need to spend extra effort to level-up some of the Faculties that in this case were not funded. It is part of the capital campaign that we are going to be announcing, hopefully between now and January, and those priorities will be broad and go across all the Faculties and other units as well. It has to be understood that people get to have input into where their money goes, and if they didn’t we simply might not get it.

Sean McGuinness, Mathematics and Statistics – how does the construction of unaffordable housing on campus fit with sustainability?

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – The University acquiring and renovating McGill residence is a way of protecting affordable housing on campus.

Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance – with respect to affordable housing, we are looking very closely at current inventory. Some of you may have seen the Scion presentation; we wanted to determine the need for affordable housing at TRU. The comprehensive report shows us the sweet spot of housing. We took over McGill in part because we wanted to protect that sweet spot and give students a place to go that’s affordable. We have put about $1.5M into upgrading it and making it habitable. Going forward, at the Capital Projects Planning Advisory Group open forum on November 16, a proposal will go forward on student housing. If we build or acquire housing we want to protect that sweet spot. We are not making money in McGill, as we are being respectful of student budgets.

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – just to add to that, the study Matt mentioned by Scion is on the web. The sweet spot was determined by an extensive survey of students. You might ask why the University doesn’t just build an affordable residence. We would if we could. The government requires the universities’ budgets to be incorporated into their own. So if the university incurs debt, then it rolls up and appears as a debt on the bottom line of the government. They said we are in the GRE (Government Reporting Entity). Sorry if this is arcane, but it is arcane. We can’t borrow money, even if it’s funded. We have two residences created on this campus before that change was made. We were allowed to engage in a Public Private Partnership to build McGill and to build the new residence. We can’t do that anymore because we are not allowed to incur debt. The universities have been lobbying the previous and current governments for something that we call debt room. We need some way to figure out how we can engage in that kind of activity. The new government has made affordable housing one of its priorities. The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training has been given a sector, which is student housing. We are working very hard to try to get at some of those resources so that we can make some progress on affordable housing for our students. That frees up affordable housing in the community. It’s a small impact but it is some impact. The vacancy rate in Kamloops is below 1%. There is a crisis in British Columbia so I am hoping the new government will be true to their word and we’ll have some impact on that.

Lois Rugg, Production Technician, CUPE President – CUPE is also working at the federal and provincial levels to lobby for improved funding in various ways. As part of my role of CUPE President I hear stories from TRU employees; their concern is the mental health and well-being of our staff. We have issues with red-circling, retention, parking fees, and it is affecting morale of staff on campus. We know there is an employee engagement survey out and encourage people to participate. What are you going to put in place to support the results?

Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance – In respect to the survey that launched yesterday, the idea is to take the temperature of the entire community regarding how people feel about working here. From there, we will make data-driven decisions regarding the programs we run. Jenny Gomes is behind our current mental health awareness campaign. We wouldn’t do the survey and ignore the results. Where we can, we will invest in programs to address some of those issues. We do care what the community feels and will work to address the results.

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – The survey was delayed for the same reason this meeting was delayed; we needed time to get our minds around the situation. I encourage you to fill out the survey—we need it.

Sean McGuinness, Mathematics and Statistics In follow-up, I was referring to The Reach, it being unaffordable, is it in fitting with TRU’s mission?

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – 50-60% sold already, so someone can afford it.

Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance - the reach is a broad project, it’s more than one building. We have a 60-unit Condo building (Creston House) and another project that will break ground in the spring, rental apartments that are being constructed by Kelson Group. Every plot and site is different. Developers will build a product that is appealing to the market. We have 90 acres of land set aside for the Trust and the idea is to build a broad residential community, which includes housing, retail, and commercial, to make this a city within a city but integrated with the city. It is important that the first project, and all of the projects, are successful. I want to remind people here that all the proceeds from the dispositions and leases go back into student support and research; we are not putting it into capital or frivolous things.

Jennifer Read read a comment from Piper Jackson, Computer Science – 
Just a comment on Sean’s question – For what it is worth the Community Trust at TRU has been a great support for research funding.

Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance – I want to reassure the community that when we did our master planning we determined we can still build another 2M square feet on our campus beyond the 2M that the Trust could potentially build.

Kristen Hamilton - Integrated Planning and Effectiveness – Thank you for the survey opportunity. I encourage everyone to fill out the survey, and there is lots of room for comments. There are two themes for me related to the fiscal situation we are in – how or can the University address the need to recruit highly-skilled professionals, including support staff, with constraints on wages (not necessarily market-competitive rates for Kamloops or other institutions). How do you, as the Executive, support both the entrepreneurial strategic priority and the new budget model that encourages us to be efficient and plan and apply for Strategic Initiative Funds (SIFs) and that kind of thing? How is that balanced with the feeling of scarcity and to be collaborative but not necessarily competitive with each other and make sure that we are working together to share the resources that we do have and not worrying about who gets what?

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – It is relative. We are not the best funded institution in British Columbia but we are funded, so we have to be prudent and make the best of it and find ways of moving forward. One is the University Village idea, the other is our success recently in exploiting funding proposals from federal government for strategic infrastructure projects. We need to be ready with a plan when we see something like that. It is not related to a 15-year-old project, it is right there and right now. Matt’s team submitted two projects. We have to plan for success and figure out ways to take advantage of what is available.

Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance - Regarding the compensation restraint, we all feel it, was implemented years ago and we are still trying to recover from it. Two years ago was the first time the management group was able to receive an increase. We have challenges reclassifying administrative jobs and putting the salaries where they need to be because we are governed by Public Sector Employers’ Council (PSEC). The reins on us are tight, and it’s unfortunate. We do provide reports to the Research Universities’ Council of British Columbia and PSEC regarding employees we have lost to the city or BCLC regarding wages, so we are on it, but we are kind of stuck right now. We don’t stop talking about it and believe me when I say we all want to be out of this. We value the work of everybody at this institution, and definitively we are all underpaid.

Christine Bovis-Cnossen, Provost and Vice-President Academic – Regarding SIFs, we do want to encourage collaboration rather than competition. Try to look for synergies. When draft proposals come my way, I ask if they’ve talked with so and so. The Open Textbook initiative has been launched by TRUSU. There was a SIF from Open Learning to bring in educational development people to work with faculty to develop open textbooks. That initiative has now broadened out, so there is another SIF coming forward from the Faculty of Arts, TRUSU, and Open Learning. A pan-institutional example is “Coyote brings food from the upper world”, which involves all of the academic units. I want to thank Airini for spearheading and leading this initiative. This should also apply to degree programming—have those discussions with your colleagues who may be in a different department. Wouldn’t it be great to have something that is interdisciplinary? Conversations are taking place—if you have an idea, talk to people.

Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance – If I can augment that in regards to SIF, one of the most creative things we did with Nursing is that we used SIF funding for seed funding and developed a pay-back schedule to launch the Master of Nursing. We don’t get funded for our graduate programs so if we want to talk about entrepreneurialism, Nursing, MBA and MScEEM are good examples. Purely being entrepreneurial, real growth and real profile for the University will come from those types of initiatives.

Marjorie Budnikas, Assistant Registrar, Articulation, Audit and Graduation – Could you speak a little bit more about what constitutes student support from the profits that come from the TRU Community Trust activities?

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – The TRU Foundation has been supporting students for many years with scholarships and bursaries. Money from The Reach will come to the Foundation and will be distributed from there.

Marjorie Budnikas, Assistant Registrar, Articulation, Audit and Graduation – What does student support mean?

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – Scholarships and bursaries. Trying to make access easier for students, which is why we say scholarships and bursaries. But there is more to it. Part of Sherman Jen’s donation is to help students attend conferences. Christopher Seguin had a hand in that. Students will be able to augment their education by presenting at a conference. Also, research grants are student support. That money is not to be used to hire another Counsellor or Academic Advisor. We’ll be paying for that and we want more money to do it.

Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance - The TRU Community Trust has two beneficiaries—one is the University and one the Foundation. A decision is made by the Trust Board as to how to disburse those revenues back to the institution. They will do so on a recommendation from TRU, but they have the right to make that decision. Scholarships and bursaries will flow to the Foundation, research money to the institution. All monies will be endowed, as we want to preserve the value of land in perpetuity.

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – Just to be clear, the Trust does not determine the form of student or research support. The amount of money split is determined by the University.

Tracy Christianson, Nursing – Thanks for making the Town Hall accessible to those off-campus.

Gordon Down, Student Awards & Financial Aid – What do you anticipate the timing to be for getting into the black from The Reach?

Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance - We are working through the accounting now, we are going to see money in January. A piece of it will be endowed immediately based on future sales but the money is coming.

Alan Shaver, President and Vice-Chancellor – Remember to fill out the survey. If you have a question email president@tru.ca. Thank you for coming out today and for participating in this discussion.

Matt Milovick, Vice-President Administration and Finance - We are hosting the men’s national soccer championship, our boys won bronze. We play York on Thursday; I appreciate your support; get out if you can.

The meeting ended at 1:38pm.

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