Year-end roundup

by Faculty Association | Filed under December 2015, President's Message.

– By Sandra Hoenle, Faculty Association President –

As the end of the year approaches, it is a good time to take stock of a number of serious issues we are facing in our institution. I find I am deeply concerned about a number of trends and patterns I have been observing from my perspective as President of the Association and as a member of various university-level committees.

Increasing secrecy: While President Cannon has repeatedly proclaimed the University’s commitment to transparency, in fact a pattern of opacity and secrecy in governance has been developing. In the past, prior to Board of Governors meetings, the agenda and materials for open sessions were posted on their website. As of recently, only the agenda is posted. This raises a number of concerns. Firstly, stakeholder representatives (such as AUPE, Management and Professional Staff, the Students’ Union and the Faculty Association) are unable to consult with their groups prior to the meetings in order to bring up issues for discussion. This means that Board of Governors’ decisions are made with very little or no input from the groups that understand the issues and who are able to provide a perspective beyond that of the Board of Governors members. In effect, the various groups of people who make up the university and are directly affected by those decisions are silenced. Secondly, the public is excluded from information about a publicly-funded institution. It is of great concern that the governing body of this publicly-funded institution is becoming increasingly secretive in how it is conducting its business. Further, the Board of Governors’ recent decision to remove the Students’ Union (SU) President from future discussions in sub-committees is a questionable move, which appears to be not only a tactic to remove stakeholders who question or dissent, but also retaliation against the SU for its legal action regarding their ownership of MacHall. Is the Board of Governors attempting to stifle free speech and independent thought?

Administrative domination: The Association is increasingly concerned about the academic processes designed to ensure bi-cameral collegial governance being progressively more controlled by the Senior Administration. GFC, the main body of academic decision-making, has had its authority gutted. Its key powers have given to committees whose membership appointments are, in effect, controlled by the Administration in the form of nominations made primarily by the President or the Provost. The GFC Executive is chaired by the President; the membership is nominated by the Administration. In effect, only issues approved or chosen by the President or Provost ever reach the agenda of the GFC Executive. Further, it is the Executive that sets the agenda for GFC; making it also subject to the approval of the President and/or Provost. Can independent, democratic processes concerning the academic decisions of the institution function under these conditions?

Secretariat overreach: The University Secretariat recently discovered that the GFC quorum rule was not consistent with the provincial Interpretations Act: a document that sets out rules of interpretation of all government acts, including the Post-Secondary Learning Act. In addition, the University Secretary claims that Faculty Council quorum rules are subject to the Interpretations Act, and are in violation of its 50% quorum rule. There is an argument that the Interpretations Act does not apply to Faculty Councils. Rather than seeking clarification from the government on this issue, the Secretariat and Administration developed a new template for all Faculty Council Terms of Reference, which was then approved by Deans’ Council, a body of administrators with no student or faculty representation. In the past, these kinds of discussions concerning academic bodies were done by GFC committees, and rightly so, as Faculty Council Terms of Reference fall under the authority of GFC. However, currently, this administratively-developed template is, in many cases, being rushed through approval at Faculty Councils with the argument/opinion that the changes must be approved to conform to the Interpretations Act. Further, this is generally being done without any reference to the existing Terms of Reference. Without that comparison, Councils are, one could argue unknowingly, voting to remove SU representation and reduce the proportion of academic staff members of Council. Where Councils are (supposedly) unable to meet quorum, the template allows for expedited decisions on academic matters by a committee where academic staff may not be a majority; or potentially not be represented at all. The final approval authority of these new Terms of Reference rests with GFC, which, however, has delegated this authority to the GFC Executive, which is dominated by the Administration. And thus we come full circle to the earlier points regarding my perception of administrative domination.

Enbridge: Currently an independent review established by the Board of Governors is being conducted, as well as an investigation by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) into allegations of President Cannon’s inappropriate conduct on behalf of donors. As I have stated in the media, even a perceived conflict of interest is harmful to the institution and to all of us who work and learn here. I reserve further comment until the results of both investigations are announced.

In addition to these weighty concerns, the Association continues to manage the heavy load of its core functions of bargaining, as well as advising and representing members.

The coming year promises to be challenging on many fronts. In closing this year, my wish is that everyone is able to take some time to spend with family and loved ones; time to regain some balance between work obligations and the rest of our lives.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Eid Milad-un-Nabi Mubarak, and Happy New Year.

 


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