By Richard Maerov
Ryerson’s desperately outdated management structure is a serious obstacle to the development of the university, according to a report commissioned by provost Errol Aspevig.
The report says that an over-centralized administration, lacking in resources and “designed for a previous existence,” has become the source of high levels of frustration and criticism by staff and faculty.
York University professor Bill Found, who spent the fall semester reviewing Ryerson’s decision-making infrastructure, submitted his findings and recommendations to Aspevig in January. “Administrative systems well design to deal with pressing issues in the past are impediments to progress today,” Found wrote.
All departments examined in the study, with the exception of continuing education and graduate studies, lacked both the resources and personnel to handle complex administrative tasks that are extremely time-consuming and poorly coordinated throughout the school. Jackie Maclennan is a third-year business student.
She directly entered third year last September after she completed a diploma in business management at George Brown College. She found transfering to Ryerson was a difficult process. “We had a lot of questions and issues regarding our timetable and converting our courses over and stuff like that,” Maclennan said. “When we would go to one person they would give us one answer and we would think it was right. When we would go and act on it, no, it was totally wrong.”
Maclennan said it was not until the fourth week of first semester that she was able to settle into and concentrate on her courses because she had so much administrative paperwork to deal with. “It shouldn’t be that way,” she said. Found said that while Ryerson has been a full-fledged university since 1993 and continues to have a steady increase in enrollment, faculty appointments and new academic programs, the administration runs as if it were still the small polytechnic institute it was in the 1980s.
Former Ryerson geography professor Ron Goldsmith, who helped Found with the review, says Ryerson had been too preoccupied over the past 15 years with becoming a university under immense financial pressure to deal with this issue. “Until recently there hasn’t been a real opportunity to step back and look at our operating systems and structures in a big-picture sort of way,” Goldsmith said. According to the report, administration staff is stretched beyond its means and cannot keep up with the increasing demands of such a large and complex institution.
Associate deans and school directors are unable to focus on their academic responsibilities because they are too preoccupied with dealing with bureaucratic complications. “If administrators have drifted into a ‘silo’ mentality it is hardly surprising,” Found wrote. Natasha Short, also a third-year business student who was allowed direct entry into Ryerson after completing a diploma in human resources at George Brown College, says she can’t even get in touch with her department chair.
“Everytime I’ve tried to contact the chair of my program I’ve never gotten a response. He’s never in his office. His door’s always locked,” Short said. “If anything they (department chairs) should have people doing the paperwork and (being) available for students to talk to them,” said Maclennan.
Chief among the debilitating aspects of the current system is the requirement for all departments to continuously check with the central administration before being able to make any decisions — a procedure that results in a dependence on “endless forms and paper-flow.” Found’s proposed solution to the problems is to decentralize administrative responsibility, giving local departments higher levels of authority to handle their own planning, procedures and finances.
He recommends the university hire a new senior administrative officer for every faculty and the library, and calls for the appointment of a new chief information officer to take control of the university’s central computer system. Also suggested is the injection of $1.5 million into the overall framework, while at the same time simplifying all administrative forms and procedures in order to speed things up. The report’s recommendations are still to be considered by the university and a response is expected in the next couple of weeks.
Found said that based on the feedback from faculty and staff, he thinks the implementation of his decentralization ideas should be “straightforward and non-controversial.” Goldsmith hopes people see the recommendations as being constructive. His only concern is that some administration support staff that are frequently mentioned in the report will feel singled out for criticism.
“In reality, nearly everyone recognizes that these areas are staffed by very capable people who are working hard on behalf of Ryerson, often in the face of real challenges,” he said.
— With files from Kim Garraway