Issues on the Table: Faculty participation in decision-making

Academic Freedom and Collegial Governance are two long-established, interrelated principles that underpin the health of a learning community at Canadian universities. The unfettered application of these two principles ensures that academic staff are able to participate meaningfully in decision-making affecting teaching, scholarship and research, are able to freely speak about decisions, and can speak out in their own defence. Both principles have been and continue to be undermined in recent years by the University’s Board of Governors and senior administrators.  

The problem

At the U of L we have seen increasingly hierarchical and opaque decision-making processes in which senior administrators are “the deciders” and academic staff are treated as resources to be deployed through cost-benefit analyses. In this scenario, students are treated as customers and sources of income, rather than active participants in learning and knowledge creation. Borrowed from the private sector, this corporatist approach fits uncomfortably with the primary educational mission of the University, which ultimately benefits the well-being and progress of society at large.

We find an example of this top-down approach at the U of L in the response to provincial budget cuts. Academic staff have no knowledge of what has happened to our input into the “consultation” process around proposed “solutions” such as faculty restructuring, as decisions are made by bodies such as the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC), which is composed of senior administrators and the Board. Until recently the BAC had academic staff and student representatives, but they were removed through a “streamlining” effort. This is a serious concern because BAC recommendations forwarded to the Board for approval are, at their core, decisions that affect the entire learning community. 

Part of a solution

In ULFA’s bargaining mandate approved by its members in a 94% vote, collegial governance is a top priority. ULFA has proposed in bargaining that representation of academic staff be included on the BAC (ULFA also supports reinstating student representation). Further, we seek a role in decision-making concerning our benefits and in senior administrators’ selection committees, and input into decisions around academic staffing priorities.  Board team proposals received to date have offered no academic staff representation on the BAC and merely a memorandum of agreement to create a powerless committee to examine the feasibility of a joint benefits committee, with nothing more. In the Board team’s narrative, they say “hell no” to “co-management,” which is a corporatist reframing of the important principle of collegial governance. This demonstrates a lack of respect for the fundamentally collaborative process required in productive collective bargaining. The “management rights” approach that the Board team has been married to throughout these negotiations shows no respect for the contributions that academic staff make to the university, and amounts to a repudiation of the principle of collegial governance.

Issues around faculty participation in decision making are covered primarily in ULFA proposals for Article 5, and Schedule BB. Article 5 has been presented at the table by ULFA on March 22nd, October 19th, November 30th, December 7th, 2021, and January 12th (twice), January 13th, January 17th, February 4th, and February 9th, 2022. Article 5 has been presented by the Board on March 8th, May 20th, December 7th, 2021, and January 17th, 2022. More details on the presentation of Article 5 at the negotiation table are provided in an October 19th 2021 bargaining update. ULFA has presented the same proposal for Schedule BB 5 times on February 22, 2021, and January 13th, February 1st, February 4th, and February 9th, 2022. More discussion on joint management of benefits (Schedule BB) is provided within the “Issues on the Table” series in the February 11th post.