University governance: what does faculty representation mean?

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.

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4 Responses to University governance: what does faculty representation mean?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention University governance: what does Faculty representation means? | Piece of Mind --

  2. Philip Resnick says:

    I strongly concur with your position and that of the Faculty Association. As a former faculty member of BoG, I couldn’t agree more with the importance of having faculty members on the Board who are scrupulously independent of the University Administration. A key function of the Board is to provide critical scrutiny of Administration actions, something which the presence of Associate Deans would render more difficult, if not impossible, where policy decisions of their own faculty were up for discussion. Moreover, they would find themselves in an impossible position if their Dean were present at a Board or committee meetings where such debates occurred.

  3. Richard Anstee says:

    When I first arrived on Senate, I was told by Stephen Toope about the independence of Senate from the administration and how valuable that role is. I was also struck by the number of Associate Deans.
    The recent collective agreement removes Associate Deans from the bargaining unit, in essence deeming them management. Of course this line between management and regular faculty is hard to define but the collective agreement has placed Associate Deans an the management side. It is my view that in order to preserve the independence of Senate, we must now refrain from having Associate Deans serve as faculty representatives on Senate. I gather currently that 8 serve on Senate.
    There will be those who point out the fine service that Associate Deans provide on Senate and I would agree. But independent oversight is a good idea. I would point out that at the nuts and bolts level such as Senate Admissions with which I am familiar one has Associate Deans serve ex officio providing their expertise and energy. On a personal note, a dear friend Philip Loewen provides excellent service at Senate but, given he is now an Associate Dean, I would prefer that he no longer serves as a Faculty rep from Graduate Studies.
    I could discuss instances where Associate Deans either have been `independent’ or `not independent’ of the administration but I’m not sure that would be helpful. It is quite reasonable to ask for Associate Deans to not be on Senate as Faculty Reps as a general rule.
    Now one can reasonably ask are there enough Faculty willing to serve on Senate? That is a separate issue to tackle. For me personally, too much Senate time is spent discussing items of general interest (with somewhat flossy presentations) rather than sticking to the role of Senate in academic decision making. Maybe this turns some people off.

  4. Pingback: Faculty representation: Here we go again! | Piece of Mind

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