Robert Dickeson: Right for Ontario?

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The term “program prioritization” has been making headlines recently, as several Ontario universities have begun this controversial rationalization process. Program prioritization involves ranking every academic and administrative program according to set criteria, and then directing more resources to highly ranked programs while marking poor performers for cuts and closure. Program prioritization is based on a procedure developed by American consultant, Robert “Bob” Dickeson. But who is this man, and is his product any good?
 
York University history professor Craig Heron has done an analysis of Dickeson’s methods, and the results are concerning. Professors and academic librarians should view the Dickesonian prioritization with extreme skepticism, and not just because it justifies program cuts and closures.  It also embodies a flawed methodology:

  • Programs are ranked according to hundreds of data points, which creates the possibility of serious errors and promotes subjective judgments.
  • Those tasked with ranking are asked to evaluate programs they may know nothing about.
  • It produces absurd comparisons. The logic of program prioritization leads to equivalencies being drawn between bookstores and Physics programs, English departments with postage and mail services. This is apples and oranges at its very worst.

More worrisome, program prioritization violates the authority of Academic Senates to make academic decisions. In short, it can be viewed as an attempt on the part of central administration to circumvent Senate and to centralize academic authority. 
 
Guelph is the furthest along in its program prioritization, with Laurier, Brock, and York close behind. Algoma, Carleton, Nipissing, OCADU, Ottawa, Ryerson, Trent, and UOIT have also signaled their interest in program prioritization.  Program prioritization is being encouraged by the government through its Productivity and Innovation Fund, and represents the on-campus component of their differentiation agenda.
 
OCUFA is assisting faculty associations in pushing back against program prioritization, with analysis, strategies, and mobilization resources. Check the OCUFA website and OCUFA Report for the latest developments.

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