BUFA Fighting to Defend Collegial Governance at Brock
Senior Administration’s Push to Strip Away Collegial Governance Rights for Faculty, Students, and Staff Must be Resisted
An agreement between the Faculty Association and the University’s Board of Trustees to maintain existing search provisions for senior academic administrative positions in the Faculty Handbook will expire alongside the Collective Agreement on June 30, 2020. As a result, faculty members, professional librarians, students, and staff risk losing most of their rights in relation to consultation and participation in senior administrative searches unless Faculty Handbook protections are incorporated into the Collective Agreement.
Incorporating these collegial governance rights in the Collective Agreement – where they cannot be arbitrarily altered or dismissed – is long overdue and urgently required given the push by our senior administration to do away with the requirements for faculty, staff, and student input and participation.
If the existing Faculty Handbook rights and provisions are not incorporated into the Collective Agreement, BUFA members will lose guaranteed rights to: (1) review shortlisted candidates’ CVs, (2) attend and pose questions at shortlisted candidates’ presentations, and (3) provide feedback on the suitability of the candidates. In short, aside from members of the Advisory Committee, faculty and professional librarians will be stripped of their collegial governance rights and will be completely shut out of the process of recommending the appointment of Deans, Vice-Presidents, and a range of other senior academic administrative positions.
Why do we think this? In 2019 Brock’s President exploited a loophole in the Association’s agreement with the Board in order to undertake a closed search for Brock’s Associate VP Research – a new position that had not been contemplated as part of the Faculty Handbook. Despite an overwhelming Senate vote recommending the President incorporate the position into the Faculty Handbook along with open search provisions, the President rejected that advice and a closed search ensued. As a result, the shortlisted candidates were kept secret and no public talks were held. Instead, the successful candidate was simply announced to the University community via a press release.
Brock’s President and Board Chair have both stated their preference for this kind of closed search process for senior administrative positions more broadly. The President has exclusive control over the relevant sections of the Faculty Handbook and will have free rein to do away with existing search provisions upon expiry of the current Collective Agreement. This dynamic prompted members of the Association to include the defence of existing collegial governance rights as a key issue in BUFA’s collective bargaining mandate.
Professors Robin Whitaker and Marc Schroeder, co-chairs the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ Governance Working Group, issued a warning to faculty associations that the move towards closed searches hurts universities by perpetuating a culture of secrecy, undermining shared governance of the institution, and validating a management approach that downplays the importance of transparency and accountability. They also note that closed searches have widened the gulf between academic staff and university administrations, noting that a growing number of senior administrators have no academic background at all and are being hired onto campuses where they have never set foot.
This dynamic raises serious questions about candidates’ qualifications, their suitability relative to other candidates, and whether or not advisory committees took into account issues of equity and diversity. As a result, closed searches actively undermine the credibility of the appointment process for senior academic administrators.
While some senior administrators and Board officials will perpetuate the myth that closed searches lead to stronger applicant pools, they cannot marshal any empirical evidence to support this argument.
A recent report on collegial governance from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) noted that, “no evidence was cited for the value of closed searches other than an assumption on the part of university administrators and boards that the closed model would yield a stronger candidate pool. This seems to be an assumption which has been argued by search firms to enhance their relationships with clients and accepted by many university boards. Unfortunately, this argument ignores the negative impact of narrowing the type and quantity of information about candidates that can be obtained in a closed search.”
Incorporating existing collegial governance rights, currently embedded in the Faculty Handbook, into our legally-enforceable Collective Agreement and ensuring they apply to any new senior academic administrative positions created by the University are the best ways to defend shared-decision making and the principles of participation and transparency at Brock.