The last elections for the faculty representatives on UBC’s Board of Governors triggered a legitimate debate about university governance. Should the University Act distinguish between rank-and-file faculty, from those faculty members who hold administrative positions?
There is already one instance where there is an agreed upon distinction between the two subgroups of faculty. It is a framework accepted and used by both the Faculty Association and the Administration for the purposes of collective bargaining. A feature of this year’s negotiated Collective Agreement was that Associate Deans are now considered to be part of management just like Deans and Vice-Presidents.
The question is whether this distinction between management (i.e., faculty members who serve in administrative roles) and rank-and-file faculty should carry over to other frameworks, such as those dealing with spots for faculty representation on the various university bodies?
The safest answer may be that it all depends on which university body we are talking about. I will argue here that as far as the Board of Governors is concerned, there is a strong case for making the faculty representation there solely covered by rank-and-file faculty members, who do not hold any University administrative position.
Why? Because it is an integral part of the Board’s mandate to provide independent oversight over the Administration. Indeed, it is well understood that, by the time projects, motions and resolutions are submitted to the Board, this means that the Administration has done its work, and that it is the responsibility of the Governors to take an independent last look, and either seal the deal or send it back to the drawing board. Members of the Administration are usually present at Board meetings to answer questions and clarify issues if need be, but not for discussions or voting. One can hardly imagine a VP-Academic arguing and voting against a motion that was brought forward by the President.
While this clearly makes the case for not having members of the central administration -besides the President- on the Board of Governors, the issue of having Deans and Associate Deans on the BoG is murky. Indeed, while there is no precedent for having members of the University Executive on the UBC Board, it was reported that Deans used to be able to be Governors while holding a deanship, at least before 1974.
My recent experience on the Board leads me to also argue against their presence on that body. Though less frequent than central administration submissions, many capital projects are often led and sponsored by Deans who are then invited to defend them in front of the Board. This is again a source of an obvious conflict of interest, just like if a grant applicant is part of a grant selection committee. Deans can of course exclude themselves from a particular case, but what about dealing with cases submitted by fellow Deans or by the Provost, to which they report? Ditto for an Associate Dean who cannot be considered at arms-length when his/her own Dean addresses the Board to defend a specific pet project.
It just doesn’t make sense as it goes against what I consider to be independent oversight.
Short of revising the University Act, which at this stage may be undesirable, one can proceed by simply specifying the distinction in every governance policy where faculty representation is required.
Our position on the issue of faculty representation at the Board level does not prevent other university bodies such as the Senate, from having representation from both groups of faculty members (administration and rank-and-file), as long as the number of slots for each is well specified by the corresponding policies.
Counter-arguments are welcome!
In an upcoming post, I will be discussing the need for enhancing independent faculty representation on the various university bodies.