Conversation Notes

November 2015

Message from the Project Management team:

Throughout Fall 2015, we attended meetings each week with various groups and took detailed notes from the conversations that emerged. These notes are available (organized by date of conversation) so you can see for yourself the ideas that were offered. Also available is a summary of other inputs, including ideas received through emails, and notes provided during drop-in events.

Access the detailed Fall 2015 conversation notes and other inputs.


The conversation notes record details and include a summary of the key points the participants identified from the conversation. We tried to capture participants’ thoughts verbatim, but we have not included names or identifying information (aside from general information about the group and the numbers attending the meeting). Similarly, the other inputs offered during the fall are edited to exclude the source and other identifying details.


Generally, inputs were generated through the following questions:

  1. What do you think makes the University of Guelph exceptional? What is the most important part of our story so far?
  2. In thinking about the next chapter, what could we be doing to enhance our impact and influence? What are the things we must do to be responsive to global challenges? How can the University matter most in the future?


4 comments on “Conversation Notes

  • Some of the reasons for dwindling research excellence at UofG. Perspectives from a relatively new faculty. It is very true that the University has paid more attention and importance to teaching and not so much for the research in the past several years. This is obvious as can be seen from the downhill slope of funding received from the tri-councils and the university rankings by several magazines.

    1) Lack of diversity and inclusiveness in several levels. The diversity ratio is extremely low and our international graduate and undergraduate students intake is poor relatively to other nearby universities at South West Ontario. We have been ranked several times in the lower scale for diversity by provincial HR and MTCU towards diversity. Opening up the door for international graduate students through reasonable tuition fee payment policy similar to McMaster, Waterloo and London is essential. Diversity within OVC at the faculty levels is at the bottom level, compared to Veterinary Colleges across North America.

    2) The OMAF-UofG Partnership is a boon and a curse to the University. If you look at the past funding history and review the recipients lists, you would find that the same persons who have been awarded the grant are being awarded again. This specific funding formula is more of a old boy’s club and unless you include a well known researcher or the university’s RPD director, it is very hard even to get invited to full proposal stage. The caliber and the qualifications of the evaluation panel for reviewing OMAF proposal is questionable. The ministry OMAF dictates the composition, but the university has a say.

    3) Because the cash from OMAF is guaranteed to UofG for research, the so-called recipients and research program directors does not even care to apply for NSERC and other competitive federal funding bodies. University needs to carefully look at this and review. A comparative analysis between provincial and federally competitive funding for researchers and auditing is needed. New perspectives are needed at the University’s management team dealing with OMAF agreements.

    4) Promotion policies – Few or some of the departmental chairs, Associate DIrectors of various units and programs, and even the Research Program Directors of OMAF and some of the Associate Dean (Academics) and Research (ADRs) do not have any peer reviewed ‘federal’ funding grants. If the University wants to promote research excellence, first promote the personnel, faculty member who have demonstrated accomplishments in research. There is also a tendency to hide behind the ‘administrative’ role due to severe lack of research contributions. Administrators, directors and associate directors, Associate Dean (Academic and Research) should be well rounded in research, teaching and service. The decisions made by the departmental chair and the Associate Director for Research for a particular unit without any understanding of research may not have any meaningful impact.

    5) DOE – typical DOE is 40, 40, 20. This does not reflect the true nature of individuals. Although there are mechanisms to change this, the faculty can negotiate with the Dean every year, the policies surrounding this are not clear. Many young and new faculty members are not being mentored properly. There should be more flexibility for faculty to make their choices.

    6) Some units within UofG have several teaching focus contractually limited faculty members. If it is a 4 year contract, the faculty get to teach only two terms in a year and they get a full term break (typically summer). A regular 40, 40, 20 tenure track faculty do not have this opportunity to enjoy a similar full term break.

  • Reading through the various inputs to this strategic renewal process have led me to ponder that what might be at the core of UoG’s challenges isn’t what’s in place now administratively, but rather what’s missing. Towards resolving this gap, it may be prudent for UoG to consider investing effort and resources into setting up a new sort of Ombudsman office that would enable specific student/staff/faculty experiences & issues to be documented and addressed, such that the outcome would be positive operational/Senate policy and/or procedural change. How else can the same sorts of issues be avoided in the future? At the moment, the only change mechanisms that exist are speaking out as an individual (not something everyone has the courage or clout to do, and is largely ineffective anyways due to the current administrative structure) – or various formal grievance procedures that pit the complainant against the organization (which may not serve the good intentions of either) with both parties defending themselves and increasing personal and organizational liability. And what avenues exist when the grievance mechanism itself is the issue? Or when there is an absence of a representative group to facilitate a formal grievance procedure – as is currently the case for hundreds of grant- and trust-funded research support staff and Professional and Managerial staff? Indeed, the absence of a mechanism to enable positive change directly or indirectly promotes division, conflict and liability, reduces general morale and promotes the reputation of Guelph as a stepping stone and not a place to stay – not only for students, but also faculty and staff – and particularly for those most passionate about driving the research agenda. Is this what we want? As an organization, we say we want a Better Planet, that we are the leaders of a better tomorrow for us all. Is it true? If so, then we need to demonstrate and foster that kind of tangible leadership by examining what we’re doing in an open and transparent way through the provision of mechanisms that enable positive change, that meaningfully values and champions the bright ideas of a gifted group of stakeholders and partners. This place is chock full of people who have the intelligence, good intentions, passion and motivation to facilitate change within this organization – and the world – for the greater good. It is only by examining what we are doing and working together on finding solutions, removing barriers and building bridges that we can truly grow trust among all UoG stakeholders and be a responsible model of leadership to the generations of students who pass through these doors.

  • I was a graduate student at U.Guelph in the late 90’s and I am now a faculty member at U.Guelph, so I have some perspective from both a student and a faculty standpoint.

    20 years ago, U.Guelph attracted me as a graduate student because it had an excellent research reputation and was located in a small, safe city with a beautiful campus. I didn’t have to move to “the big city” do pursue first-class Ph.D. research.

    Today, I see that the research reputation at U.Guelph has dwindled, and there are only a handful of areas in which U.Guelph continues to have an international reputation. For the past decade, we have been focussed more on our undergraduate teaching reputation. Although we excel at undergraduate teaching, our resources are limited and we often have to offer 1st year classes in rooms of 400 to 600 students (in a single lecture) to accommodate enrolment of 1500+ students in a course. With dwindling research activity, we have fewer graduate students who can act as TAs and we are forced to offer fewer labs and less hands-on training to the undergraduate students than we did 20 years ago. Ultimately, focussing on undergraduate teaching without a parallel commitment to research has a negative impact on the undergraduate programs in the long term.

    We are still located in a small, safe city with a beautiful campus. We have maintained a campus community culture that is friendly, welcoming and conscientious. We have failed to maintain the enthusiastic drive to be one of the top performing research-based universities. We do not have a campus-wide culture to excel, achieve, or be the leader in a research field or develop cutting edge technology (there are individuals who are motivated, but it is not part of the Guelph culture). We are not part of the U15. Canadian colleagues see us as an agricultural school (yes, they are uninformed, but that is our fault) and international colleagues have never heard of us.

    I hope that the vision for the future will be a focus on reclaiming our past status. Undergraduate teaching is important, but it doesn’t define a university. Reputation is based on research, and this attracts students at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

  • I teach, research, publish on, and conduct strategic planning and management.

    Some input for this vital stage in the University’s initiative in “strategic renewal”.

    I believe that one of the initial steps for a successful process is to address the various perspectives on the raison d’etre of the organization. What is the ‘University’ for? What does society expect of such an organization, indeed, of such an institution? What does the University of Guelph perceive its function(s) to be? What does organized labour expect of a university in the Canadian context, today and tomorrow? What does business expect? And so on. Expectations have changed since the early European Middle Ages, since the halcyon days of Islamic centres of scholarship, since the more recent polytechnical Institutes, and others among our antecedents.

    A parallel opening exploration is the set of values to which the citizens of the University subscribe. What moves them, what is not negotiable, what underpins their choices, guides the setting of priorities, what inspires them and their commitment to such a social construction as a university? These fundamental or core values are at once the foundation, the touchstone upon which our vision is build, while at the same time providing stable and reliable compass to inform our “common cause” and underpin our strategic and other choices into the future.

    Without explicit attention to shared values, and those not universally shared, and without the open, transparent, and safe conversation around these, the “strategic” in the espoused renewal is at best wanting, and at worst false and misleading.

    From these interrelated initiatives a well informed, collaborative and cohesive set of longer term goals can be co-constructed. And from these goals a related set of operational objectives can be crafted to provide the flexible architecture of the longer term strategic plan. In recursive combination these goals and operational objectives, and a set of concrete targets, provide the flexible architecture for the University’s strategic management. The planning and managing are explicitly connected, as they are too often not, and the developmental venture is implementable.

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