A few weeks ago, in an exceptionally professional and selfless act, Darrin Lehman declined to take his position as a faculty representative on the UBC Board of Governors. This is because of the potential conflict with his current administrative position as Senior Associate Dean. Now we learn that another Associate Dean has decided to be a candidate in the runoff election to replace Darrin.
The President of the Faculty Association sent a letter today to all UBC faculty asserting the “FA’s interpretation of the University Act, which is that BOG representatives for faculty positions should represent non-management faculty voices”, and that “Associate Deans (and Deans in general) are managers, that is, that their principal employment responsibilities were management responsibilities, with management identity”.
The issue was also addressed today by the Registrar in a widely distributed letter, in which he announces that all candidates, including the associate dean, are eligible to represent the faculty on the Board of Governors.
I had made my position clear on the issue in a previous post, but in view of the latest development and well aware of the precedent-setting potential of this election, I feel the need to repeat and detail my concerns.
Granted, an outdated University Act does not distinguish between rank-and-file faculty and those faculty members who hold administrative positions, but my own experience on the Board leads me to recognize how essential it is that faculty representatives on BoG not be part of the university management. There is simply too much potential for conflict that could be detrimental to the Board’s role in ensuring independent oversight of the University Administration.
Short of updating the University Act, I cannot see any legal route to prevent the occurrence of such a conflictual situation. There are, however, two possible ways forward:
1. The University Administration has so far adopted a position of non-interference in this matter. I say that they can and should interfere because the matter is not solely a faculty issue since it also involves someone on their management team. Because once a faculty member has been seconded to a managerial position, he/she becomes subject to a different set of rules from those of rank-and-file faculty members. They have been given incentives to take these jobs (extra pay, special teaching deals, etc). They have been provided with certain executive powers to perform. In exchange, they are obligated to follow a certain chain of command. They cannot and should not air publicly their disagreements with their own management team. They are supposed to abide by different rules for conflict of interests originating from their positions as University officials. Their public statements on sensitive issues are not only theirs, as they reflect on the whole Administration that they belong to.
Had Joe Peek been in a management position, any one of his critical statements against the University administration would have and should have gotten him removed immediately from his administrative position. On the other hand, no one can touch his status as a rank-and-file faculty member, which is well protected by well known principles of academic freedom and free speech.
2. Again, and because of the University Act, the role of the Governance committee of the Board of Governors on this matter is limited. However, we have initiated two lines of action, in order to prevent further complications:
First, we are looking to tighten up the conflict of interest rules that Governors have to sign on upon joining the Board. These will now have to include sections on dealing with conflicts that are internal to the university decision-making.
Secondly, two of the current faculty representatives on the Board have requested that more precise wordings be added to various Board policies (currently under revision) regarding faculty representation on various university panels (in particular policies #17 and #18). The request consists of replacing “faculty representatives” with “faculty representatives not holding an administrative position”.
Since the University Act does not distinguish between the two subgroups, it is wise that we start making this distinction in all university legal documents, whenever such distinction is intended and/or warranted.