The beginning of November 2016 marks just over six months since TRU faculty voted 80% non-confidence in TRU senior administration.
What led to this unprecedented vote? Last April, in response to TRU faculty concerns, TRUFA identified a number of key areas of our professional lives which lead faculty to lose trust in senior administration.
First, the proposals TRU administration brought to the bargaining table throughout 2015 and their dismissive attitude toward TRUFA proposals were key elements in the failure to reach an agreement. TRU administration, you must remember, wanted to eliminate our members’ annual increment and replace it with a performance increment that was solely at the discretion of the Dean. In addition, they looked to remove the Collective Agreement limit on courses or hours taught in a year, as well as the course/student number maxima language. These changes and others, you will remember, were all proposed in the name of giving Deans and senior administration tools to “hold our members more accountable.” All of this while, at the same time, proposing language to reduce evaluations and accountability measures for administration themselves.
TRU admin’s failure to work with TRUFA on addressing long-term faculty, program and student needs showed a profound disrespect for TRU faculty and their efforts to create improved learning conditions for their students. Adequate staffing levels, improved compensation and benefits for contract faculty, and increased transparency and accountability for academic decisions were all proposed by TRUFA and, for the most part, rejected by administration bargainers.
The unwillingness of administration to work collegially to address these issues was marked by the fact that, while some of TRUFA’s proposals – including changing the floors of the salary grids and improving salaries for Sessional faculty – did carry costs, TRU administration made no effort to take those proposals to the Public Sector Employers’ Council (PSEC) for possible approval. This failure is particularly disturbing since most of our sister institutions—SFU, UVic and UNBC—were granted very similar gains in excess of the provincial mandate.
Second, faculty lacked confidence in senior administration’s commitment to collegial governance. The lack of administrative commitment has been characterized by a number of unilateral academic decisions by administrators without mandated consultation with departments or without acknowledging the need to follow Senate-approved governance protocols. Some examples include the transfer of programs from one department to another, attempts to move long-standing courses out of the bargaining unit, cancellation of course sections, and unilateral changes to faculty workloads.
In addition, directly as a result of lack of consultation, administrative budget decisions in many program areas did not take into account appropriate staffing levels or student support necessary for success of students in our programs. Such unilateral decision-making without consultation – most faculty agree – is disrespectful. It devalues faculty member’s professional stature and leads to poor morale.
Collegial governance, as well, requires that administrators inform and—if appropriate—consult with faculty and/or TRUFA regarding major initiatives on campus. An example of administrative failure in this regard was the implementation of the InfoSilem course scheduling software. Not only were faculty members—including Chairs and workload committees—not fully briefed, but draft schedules were released months after they should have, and Chairs had to spend countless hours during the May-June period to correct a proliferation of errors that would have been prevented had faculty been informed and fully involved with the project.
Another example has been the establishment of a private high school—Maple Leaf University School—at TRU. When asked why neither faculty or TRUFA were briefed on this initiative—despite their own internal documents indicating that all stakeholders had to be consulted—the response was that in a contract in which Maple Leaf is leasing space from TRU, there’s no need to inform TRUFA or CUPE. We have now learned that Maple Leaf students are using not only the three re-purposed classrooms in Old Main, but also laboratories in the Science building.
Monthly Labour Management Consultative Committee meetings resumed after bargaining finished. TRUFA table officers have been consistently frustrated at how difficult it has been to get issues resolved in a timely manner. These meetings are meant to be a forum to raise problems and find solutions prior to any formal grievance procedures. Time and time again, TRU administrators have either denied there was a problem or refused or delayed any actions that would resolve a problem. Of particular concern is the fact that administration tries to prevent TRUFA questions/concerns on academic matters by claiming that the Faculty Association should be concerned only with contract negotiation and administration. However, TRUFA feels that we have a duty to represent all faculty concerns, whether they relate to the Collective Agreement, or to professional concerns about academic matters.
Over the past year, TRU faculty have made it clear that shared academic governance is a key principle that we all must pursue. TRUFA, as the collective voice of TRU faculty, is fully committed to promoting shared academic governance at TRU. In response to the show of faculty non-confidence, the “Open Governance” initiative was launched by the TRU President and Vice Presidents which now sees livestreaming of both Senate and Board of Governors meetings, and a once-per-semester Town Hall at which the President and Vice presidents answer questions from the TRU community, is a worthwhile step. However, in assessing the value of the Town Halls much will depend on the follow-through. Administrators were asked some important questions about policy review processes, departmental Chair release formulas and other concerns. When we see concrete actions taken to address these issues, the Town Hall can be viewed as a success.
The TRUFA Executive decided this fall to hold at least one general faculty meeting each semester. This semester’s meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 16th from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM at a room to be determined. A light lunch will be provided and, in addition to taking questions from faculty, the survey results will be publicized, and the focus will be on faculty views six months after the non-confidence vote.
Between now and November 16th, TRUFA will be conducting a short survey of all TRU faculty members to assess the current situation regarding academic governance and other key issues. Do members feel that the situation that led to the non-confidence vote has improved, or have things remained much the same, or have gotten worse?
I urge you to fill out the short survey when it arrives in your inbox, and attend the general faculty meeting on November 16th.
Submitted in solidarity,
Tom Friedman, TRUFA President