New University Website

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe

At the end of September, in time for the Ontario Universities’ Fair (OUF), the University launched a new website.

On the old website, visitors did not have access to course sections and their respective description, nor did they have access to a faculty directory. There was little information about campus life in Barrie.  There was no consistent structure to the program information. “Page not found” was one of the most popular areas visited.  In short, the old site contained far too much information, much of it obsolete, including outdated references and dead links.  We were receiving complaints on a daily basis from applicants who could not find the information they needed.

The new website has generated internal criticism about the availability, completeness, accuracy or translation of some information.  All of these concerns are being addressed, and we’re doing more in the weeks ahead to correct any shortcomings.  But the complaints from students applying to Laurentian have dropped dramatically, because they are now finding what they need.

The new website was designed taking into account the information that users are looking for. Since November 1st alone, the University website has received 327,680 unique page views, for an average of 3.28 pages per visit and the duration of an average site visit of 3.22 minutes.  Users now have fewer “clicks” to find the information they are looking for, due in part to the new expandable menus from the main page.  Over 70% of visitors return.  And, visits from mobile phones are up compared with the previous website.

The most fundamental change with the new University website is that information which had been targeting current students can now be found on a new Student Portal (which has had more than 9,400 unique page views).  Information relevant to our faculty and staff can now be found in a Staff Portal (which has had more than 3,300 unique page views).  Over 250 users have already uploaded information on the intranet.  Moving content aimed at faculty, current students and staff to other platforms/intranets is absolutely the right approach.  We are catching up with some other universities and organizations that have been streaming information this way for some time.

The roll-out of a website is a complex operation, and it was my decision to launch an imperfect product, recognizing the challenges that come with that, in order to provide applicants what they needed in this recruitment season.

One of the challenges in the roll-out of the web was being able to source consistent and accurate data from multiple departments.  As we move from manual to automated processes, and from fragmented to centralized databases, we will see this improve allowing the University to deliver full academic calendars “at a glance” and reflecting personnel information more accurately.

The intent is to have a comparable information structure across all programs, which includes a program overview page featuring the language, campus and delivery mode, department contact information, admission requirements, employment prospects and credit transfers.  There will be subpages for course sections, degree options and requirements, and faculty members. Steps have been taken in the past few weeks to address some issues regarding degree options and requirements in particular.  For examples, a lot of new content has been uploaded over the past few days especially in Social Sciences and Humanities thanks to work of Dean Elizabeth Dawes.

I and my colleagues have certainly learned from the experience of rolling out a new website, and we do want to respond to the concerns we’ve heard, and make sure we’re well-positioned going forward.  Thus, I am creating a Website Advisory Group, co-chaired by the Vice-President, Academic and Provost and a faculty member appointed by the President and serving on Senate, to advise the University’s Chief Information Officer (Luc Roy) and the Chief of Staff (Chris Mercer) on the next phases of the roll-out of the new website.  The co-chairs will recruit members of the Website Advisory Group, which will include a total of seven faculty members (one per Faculty including one from Barrie, one from federated universities and one from the Library and the co-chair, ensuring linguistic and gender balance), as well as student, staff and alumni representatives.  The mandate of this Website Advisory Group will be completed no later than August 2013.  The direction to the effect that information aimed at University faculty, staff and students shall reside on an Intranet stands.  The efforts of the Website Advisory Group shall focus in priority on the webpage sections or features which have the most traffic from external users (we have measurable data to track this).

A number of suggestions were made at November 20th Senate meeting on this matter, including posting on the Intranet regular updates to the number of visits per webpage, and finding ways to better communicate to current students where they can access key information.  I have also committed to providing at Senate in January key content parameters as to the information expected (and not desired) on each program’s webpage (based on market research), with a process flow-chart of who is to submit or draft content and updates, who signs off for accuracy including translation, and who is responsible for ongoing updates and accuracy, all with associated timelines.  These key content parameters and process flow-chart will be validated over time by the Website Advisory Group.

Current improvement priorities include uploading the course and degree requirements (several have been updated for the faculty of social sciences and humanities, with more to come, including formatting and linking to course descriptions).  Access to an edit site through LUNET will be provided so that departments can update their information and faculty profiles.  The deans’ pages will be uploaded, while the Athletics homage and imagery on many pages will be updated.

I want to thank the 180 faculty members who have sent their profiles.  These will be posted in the weeks to come.  The course directory is also being updated with improved search functionality by subject area and keyword.

In addition to the new University website and intranet, a new student applicant portal has launched.  Over 20% of applicants have registered to this site so far for September 2013.  Online applications for residence (and other services) are now open earlier and increase access for students.  Many forms are being converted to online input to ease the application process for students.

Many staff members have worked very long hours to produce a new, user-friendly and attractive website, with the aim of maximizing the automation of content updates moving forward.  I look forward to the next set of improvements to our dynamic web presence and communications, to nationally showcase our exceptional teaching and research.

As always, I welcome comments on the blog or any other matter: you can reach me at dominicgiroux@laurentian.ca, or you can join the 4,700 people who follow me on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Merci, Thank You, Miigwech.

Three Home Runs in A Week; Talks Resuming Between OPSEU and NOSM

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe,

In the past week, there has been much to celebrate.  Mrs. Aline Chrétien has been appointed as our first Chancellor, an appointment which the Sudbury Star as qualified as “a home run” and which increased our national recognition.  We look forward to her installation as Chancellor on October 30th.

The University turned heads at the Ontario Universities’ Fair (OUF) in Toronto over the weekend, with its new multi-media booth and presentation viewed by over 125,000 visitors.  A member of the Board of Governors who visited OUF wrote to his colleagues that, “without question it was the most interactive and creative presentation on the floor. (…) I want you to know that this was a home run.”  Two other university presidents admitted to me that “Laurentian was the talk of the floor.”  I want to thank the close to 100 students, faculty and staff from Sudbury and Barrie who took turns to recruit students.  I was extremely proud of the Laurentian team.

Finally, it was a pleasure to celebrate on Saturday the first Franco-Ontarian Day, the 35th anniversary of the raising of the Franco-Ontarian flag at the University of Sudbury, and join close to 300 other guests at the Gala des anniversaires, which celebrated the anniversaries of seven Francophone institutions in Sudbury including the 100th anniversary of the ACFO du Grand Sudbury and the 50th anniversary of Laurentian.  Another home run.

Now, as indicated in my last blog posting, I would like to address some of the issues arising from the labour dispute between the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 677.

First, I would like to start by clarifying the relationship between Laurentian University and NOSM.

 

NOSM is an award-winning school.  It serves as the faculty of medicine of Laurentian University and Lakehead University. NOSM’s M.D. graduates receive a joint degree from Laurentian and Lakehead. The Senates of Laurentian and Lakehead jointly provide academic oversight of NOSM.  I am very proud of the success of NOSM, its students, faculty and staff.

That said, NOSM is a separate legal entity.  NOSM has its own Board of Directors, its own Chief Executive Officer, its own Chief Administrative Officer, its own Director of Human Resources, its own Legal Counsel, its own faculty association, its own student society, its own staff union, etc.  Non-academic matters are governed by NOSM’s Board of Directors.  NOSM receives its funding directly from the province, not through Laurentian or Lakehead.

The Boards of Governors of Laurentian and Lakehead do not control the Board of Directors of NOSM, just as the Board of Governors of Laurentian doesn’t control the Boards of Governors of the University of Sudbury, Thorneloe University, Huntington University or Université de Hearst, whose students also receive Laurentian degrees.  Laurentian is not the employer in this labour dispute; NOSM is, the same way that the four universities federated or affiliated with Laurentian are separate institutions and autonomous employers.

Aside from the institutional context, I am the Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of NOSM. What this means is that I am one of 35 members of the Board who, among many other responsibilities, will ratify the terms of an eventual settlement. As is the case at Laurentian and in the two school boards I have worked for, the governance body sets the maximum for compensation cost increases, leaving the management team negotiate the non-monetary items. In other words, contrary to some of the suggestions made, I can’t “fix” or “end” the negotiations on my own.

I can – and have been – an advocate for continued discussions between the parties and creative solutions to outstanding issues, and will continue to be.  At the last meeting of the NOSM Board of Directors on September 22nd, I proposed (and the Board agreed) that a group of demonstrators which included Laurentian students be given the opportunity to make a presentation to the full NOSM Board.

Before the strike began, the University – as property owner – contacted OPSEU to suggest developing a strike protocol, as is standard practice when a potential labour disruption arises on campus.

Laurentian also advised that its strong preference was, in the eventuality of a strike, for OPSEU to erect picket lines directly in front of their members’ workplace (in this case the NOSM building), as it has been the case in the past when separate employers located on campus – such as any of the three universities federated with Laurentian, the daycare centre or the staff working for the Ontario Public Service in the Willet Green Miller Centre – had striking employees erect picket lines directly in front of their respective workplace and not at both entrances to campus.  In the absence of OPSEU agreeing to erect picket lines only in front of the NOSM building, the University has taken the position that picketing should therefore only occur on public property.

On the third day of the strike, discussions began between OPSEU and Laurentian University, facilitated by the Police Services.  In an effort to be as transparent as possible, you can view here all of the documents exchanged between Laurentian and OPSEU, outlining the parameters originally agreed-upon.

One of the questions raised by some of you in the past few weeks was “Why did Laurentian University state on September 3rd that OPSEU had agreed to provide free flowing access to the campus when OPSEU was subsequently reported as stating it never did?”

 

You will notice in the exchange of letters between Laurentian and OPSEU, Laurentian’s reference to “free-flowing access” having been agreed to verbally in discussions facilitated by the Police Services. When OPSEU replied to the letter, it did not use the expression “free-flowing access”; instead it wrote that it would “continue to ensure the flow of traffic so as not to cause an unreasonable delay, as you acknowledge was the case through the first week of picketing”. In retrospect, in its correspondence of September 3rd, the University could have used the latest wording provided by OPSEU.

Several of the emails I have received have referenced the potential of an injunction.  The University has not ruled out this direction, but this would be a direction of last resort.  An injunction is a legal intervention where – if successful – it may outline the delays that are acceptable, location of the pickets, among many other things.  However, even with a successful application for injunction, the situation “on the ground” may not change much, and it may have negative consequences for the bargaining process.

Aside from the legal options, the University remains committed to working with OPSEU and the Police Services in the revision and implementation of strike protocols. Such protocols can provide OPSEU members a safe picket line location on campus in front of the NOSM building, provided that all picketing is limited to this location.

Therefore, to summarize, in the past six weeks, to address your concerns regarding safety and access to campus, the University has:

  • Continued to advocate for both parties to return to the bargaining table;
  • Tried to avoid any actions that may push the parties further apart (seeking injunctive relief, commenting publicly on some of the points raised by OPSEU or NOSM, etc.);
  • Encouraged a picket line protocol, even before the strike began, ensuring reasonable access to campus;
  • Continued to advocate for OPSEU to restrict picketing to the front of the NOSM building;
  • Set up a shuttle service to facilitate access to campus.

Since the labour dispute began 44 days ago, I have heard from students of the challenges of getting onto campus, and then trying to rush off-campus to get to their part-time jobs or other appointments on time.  I have heard from graduate students conducting research, who need to transport materials in a timely manner between facilities and run the risk of losing significant work if the delays are lengthy.  I have also heard from faculty members who aren’t always able to make it into class on time, from users of ancillary services or external service providers who are inconvenienced, from members of the university community and guests who do not want to cross picket lines.  I do not take these concerns lightly.  We have all been affected by the strike.

I strongly encourage students, faculty, staff and guests to be respectful of OPSEU members on the picket lines. They are exercising their legal right to strike. Drivers should not consider hazardous ways of circumventing the traffic line-ups.

The Police Services provide advice to drivers on its website to mitigate the traffic delays. The University has been contacting the Police Services when traffic needing access to our campus or leaving is unduly or unreasonably delayed, especially when it is beyond what was experienced during the first week of picketing. Users may contact the Police Services at 675-9171.

OPSEU and NOSM have agreed to four more days of bargaining on September 30th-October 3rd.  Should a tentative agreement not be reached by October 3rd, parties need to remain engaged at the bargaining table.  A settlement can only occur if parties are actively engaged in discussions.

I care deeply about the quality of the student experience on campus, and regret the disruption caused by the strike.  As President, I will continue to urge the parties to resolve the matter as soon as possible and will do my best to keep all informed as new developments occur.  In the meantime, I thank you for your patience and understanding.

As usual, I welcome comments and questions on the topics discussed in my blog postings, or any other matter that may be of concern to you. My email is: dominicgiroux@laurentian.ca.

You can also join the more than 900 people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Merci/Thank you/Miigwech