In On Top

Date Approved by LUFA Executive: 13 November 2020

Collegial Governance: What You Need to Know

For centuries, universities have been run by an alliance of stakeholders comprised of faculty, staff, students, administrators, and community representatives operating on the basis of transparency, trust, and inclusion. In contemporary systems of shared governance, decision-making authority and responsibility for the health and success of the institution is broadly shared by two sides of a ‘bicameral’ system of governance, the Board of Governors and the Senate.

Today, the transparency, trust, and inclusion upon which this system depends are increasingly under assault as university boards and administrations attempt to cope with massive government divestment in education by turning to neoliberal managerial solutions.

At the core of this mindset is the idea that educational values should be determined by economic metrics and market share and that programs and curricula that do not translate directly into marketable skills and job readiness lack credibility. This brand of managerialism is sharply at odds with the tradition of collegial governance that faculty know and rely upon. In place of a system of shared governance it seeks to concentrate decision-making power at the top by steeply increasing in the numbers of administrators, minimizing the influence of teaching faculty in decision-making, and stacking University Boards of Governors with lawyers, accountants, business people, and banking and finance executives.

All of these developments are familiar to LUFA members. As the number of full-time faculty shrinks, the ranks of administrators grow unabated. These administrative posts are increasingly filled behind closed doors with little or no meaningful input from stakeholders at large. As a matter of principle and law, all university boards are designed to be a “stakeholder board,” where the public, academia, students, and alumni guide the university in concert, but our current 18 member Board of Governors—which draws very heavily on the ranks of lawyers, accountants, bank executives, and financial analysts—has only one student and one faculty member.

Attempts to bypass the role of faculty in decision making are even more alarming. On February 5, 2019, the Lakehead University Executive Team established a Policy Governance Framework that sought to empower the president to “enact, amend or suspend a policy without prior presentation to the appropriate Approval Authority, and/or without consultation with the Approval Authority, which would otherwise be required.” The policy was approved with no amendments by the Executive Team before it was defeated in Senate. A zombie document of the proposal remains on the university website.

The negotiating team for the Board is attempting a similar tactic in this round of negotiations in their attempt to force a short term layoff clause into our collective agreement that would empower the president to unilaterally impose layoffs, despite the fact that our Collective Agreement already has sufficient financial and academic exigency clauses that allow the Board of Governors to meet budgetary challenges.

The erosion of collegial governance is a pressing concern for faculty in Ontario and across the country. LUFA, along with the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), are increasingly alarmed about the way that longstanding norms of collegial governance are being undermined.

OCUFA worries that Ontario universities are increasingly “foregoing their responsibility to respect the shared governance structures of their institutions and, instead, are making academic decisions without the involvement of senates and academic councils or proper consultation with faculty.”

CAUT sees “University and college boards increasingly controlled by corporate appointees with little understanding of important academic matters. Decision-making powers are concentrated in the hands of a few – who act behind closed doors – while the voices of academic staff and other key stakeholders are being weakened or silenced.”

We should join OCUFA and CAUT in protesting these developments, not as a way of empowering ourselves, but rather because shared governance serves the needs of all stakeholders and is vital to preserving universities as a public good. Efforts to make governance “more efficient” by reducing or limiting the faculty role in shared governance are broadly seen by experts to diminish the institution and limit its effectiveness.

Faculty unions are a vital check on the consolidation of power. Senate procedures and collective bargaining are mechanisms to ensure negotiated and legally binding solutions to common challenges. Faculty solidarity and collective bargaining can restore and maintain the balance of power. Our efforts in these negotiations are meant to help secure the future of Lakehead University as a public good.

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