December 12, 2014
As many of you already know, TRUFA has a dual mandate: to fulfill its responsibilities under the Labour Relations Code as a certified trade union and to, among other things, “promote, maintain and improve the professional standing of its members and the quality of education at Thompson Rivers University.” While much of the day-to-day work of the union deals with collective agreement administration, including investigating possible violations, working with administration to resolve problems and filing grievances if necessary, the second part of our mandate is more loosely defined. Over the past year, however, it’s become readily apparent that TRUFA and our membership has a prime role in maintaining and improving the quality of education at TRU through academic governance.
Over the past few weeks, the TRUFA Salary and Working Conditions Committee has been consulting with all academic units across campus on bargaining priorities. Aside from the expected support for salary and workload improvements, what struck me about the responses is the degree to which university governance has arisen as a major concern among faculty in every discipline, department, Faculty and School. What we’ve experienced—certainly since I was elected as your TRUFA president in late April—is a series of administrative actions that have violated the shared governance model of academic decision-making on campus. I pointed out these problems in my October 15th open letter to the Board of Governor’s Presidential Evaluation Committee and I’d like to report briefly on developments since then.
On November 3rd, former UBC Faculty Association and CAUT president Bill Bruneau spoke to about 45 faculty members about academic governance issues. He told us that the shared governance model of the university requires that we “become habitually inclined to speak up” through our Faculty/School Councils, at Senate and its standing committees. Faculty have a key role to play in ensuring that governance—particularly academic governance—is both transparent and accountable, he pointed out. Academic governance, of course, goes far beyond simply approving new courses or revisions to courses, setting exam schedules or developing marking standards. Bruneau said that faculty must be fully aware of the educational consequences of all expenditure decisions by the university. That means full faculty involvement in and consultation on all budgetary decisions, first at the Faculty/School level and then at the university level through the Budget Committee of Senate (BCOS) and the Board of Governors. He said very plainly that “education should be the driver in making budgets.”
TRUFA has taken the “speaking up” advice and begun work with TRU faculty Senators to initiate a stronger faculty role in setting Senate agendas and driving Senate decision-making. At the next Senate meeting on Monday, December 15th, a group of faculty Senators will address a key academic governance issue: the omission of pedagogically prescribed course section capacities from the Educational Programs Committee (EPC) course approval/revision process. Instead of disciplines and departments having the ability to identify appropriate learning environments for student success by including section capacities in the approval process (as was the case up to February 2014), the new CurricUnet, on-line approval forms—unilaterally implemented by the TRU Registrar without any Senate approval—have eliminated section capacities and have replaced them with “expected enrolment.” On Monday, the Senators will raise this issue and ask that EPC investigate and report back to Senate. Full participation in shared governance means that faculty representatives have to take this kind of initiative, raise key issues identified by their Faculty/School Councils, and communicate clearly with those who elected them.
In regard to faculty involvement with budgetary matters, TRUFA organized a “financial literacy” workshop presented by Accounting Department Chair and former TRUFA treasurer, Rob Anderson on November 13th. As a first step toward fully participation in setting budgets, faculty have to have the tools needed to understand balance sheets and income/expenditure statements. Rob went through some basics that will help faculty representatives on BCOS to better fulfill their obligations. In the new year, TRUFA is planning a workshop focused on the budget process and on the new TRU budget model.
On Tuesday, December 11th, TRUFA VP Star Mahara and I met with TRU President Alan Shaver. Dr. Shaver requested this meeting, and I believe that it represents a good first step in TRU administration responding to the problems that I have identified. Star and I highlighted a number of key concerns including a lack of consultation with faculty in administrative decision-making. Faculty have told me that administrative decisions have been undertaken without adequate consideration of their impact on programs or on students. We made it clear to Alan that both at the decanal level and the VP Academic level, there must be a concerted effort to involve faculty and to assess how decisions—some financial, some not—will affect the ability of faculty to fulfill their obligations to students.
We used three specific examples to make our point. First, the loss of faculty positions in the Faculty of Student Development (which includes Co-op and Career Education, the Writing Centre and Supplemental Learning) is occurring at the time that TRU administration wants to hire a new manager in that area. If TRU is serious about meeting its strategic goal of offering experiential learning opportunities and providing support for student success, I pointed out, then programs must have adequate faculty resources. A second example was the decision—again, not debated or approved at Senate—that course waiting lists would no longer be in the hands of faculty and that the Registrar alone would have the ability to add students from the wait list automatically. A third example, was the decanal order in at least one Faculty/School that already agreed-to course section capacities (see the Senate item coming up next Monday) would no longer be valid and that course capacities would be increased by 50%.
In addition, we spoke to Alan about how Senate can be more effective. In particular, I pointed out that the Senate Steering Committee – a small group of eight—seems to have an inappropriate level of control over Senate agendas and the populating of Senate standing committees. He committed to investigating and ensuring that Senators have the ability to set agendas (with appropriate explanation of the agenda items being proposed) and that Senate would be a place for open debate (within the rules of order) and an effective governance body.
Finally, Star and I raised the issue of unresolved TRUFA grievances and asked that administration commit to a solutions-oriented approach to faculty labour relations. President Shaver made a strong commitment to adhering to that request.
TRUFA will continue to monitor how TRU administration responds to these and other faculty concerns. And I will be reporting to you regularly on developments.
On behalf of the TRUFA Executive, I want to wish all of all of you a relaxing and joyous holiday season—Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Heri za Kwanzaa.