Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Visualizing The Effects Of Postsecondary Funding Cuts

What long-term effects might result from the recent provincial cuts to postsecondary funding?  No one is in a position to answer that question.  However, a recent paper of mine explores how to visualize a century of a department’s history, and hints at a possible answer by turning to the not too distant past.

The academic year 2009-10 marked the 100th anniversary of a psychology department at the University of Alberta.  Around this time, the chair of the department asked a small number of people to gather some information and relics to commemorate this event.  My task became generating a roster of the department’s full-time faculty members for each year of its history.  I began this task by examining rosters published online in the University calendar, as well as a couple of published department histories.  This evolved into spending many, many hours at the Law Library, and later at the Book Depository, going through older (never digitized!) calendars.  In the end, I produced an unwieldy spreadsheet that documented this aspect of department history.

I had two problems.  The first was to manipulate the spreadsheet into a form, preferably visual, for easy access and communication.  The second was to convert my long hours of research into something useful (i.e. a publication).  I solved the first problem by using a particular representation, called a Gantt chart that provided an engaging visualization of department history for public display.  I also leaned on my computational vision background to perform some algorithmic processing of this chart to pull additional information out of it.  This solved the second problem, for I wrote a paper about these visual methods, a manuscript that recently appeared in the journal History of Psychology.

Below you will find one of the less challenging analyses of the Gantt chart.  It graphs the total number of faculty members in the department for each year of its history.
This graph reveals four different phases of departmental dynamics.  The first is a long period of slow growth in a small department, ranging from 1909 to 1945.  The second is a long period of steady growth between 1945 and 1988.  The department grew in size by about one faculty member per year over this period.  The third is from 1988 to 2001, and marks a dramatic reduction in the number of faculty members.  The final phase is from 2001 to the present, where there has been some recovery of department size, but not to historical levels.

The sudden downturn in department size, the third phase of the graph, is of interest today.  This downturn reflects changes in provincial funding.  This was a time in which per capita funding for Alberta postsecondary institutions declined by between 36% and 46%.  For instance, the Klein budget of 1993 cut $140 million from postsecondary education.  Premier Klein said of that budget that “you have to hunt where the ducks are”, a line recently echoed by the current minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education.

The graph suggests that after the ducks were hunted, the hunters left, along with a sizable number of faculty members who were not replaced.  This was a long lasting effect: two decades after the Klein cuts, department size had not recovered.  Is a similar downward trend on the horizon as a long-term effect of the recent Redford budget?


Dawson, M. R. W. (2013). A case study in Gantt charts as historiophoty: A century of psychology at the University of Alberta. History of Psychology, 16, 145-157. pdf version: 315 kb

1 comment:

  1. If you then correlated this data with student numbers (undergraduate, graduate, U of A totals and Psych degree students) the results would be even more marked, I speculate. In 1988 there were 10,000 fewer undergrads at U of A than in 2013, and about half the number of graduate students: see