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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 1997

Openness & Civility Needed at Trent

Arthurs & Lorimer Release Report

In the aftermath of the strike at Trent University before Christmas and the subsequent mass exodus of senior administrators, the board of governors set up an external review of the administration of the university. The committee was composed of Professor Joyce Lorimer, past president of CAUT and Professor Harry Arthurs, former president of York University.

Arthurs and Lorimer submitted their report on March 15, and in it they noted that Trent was lucky enough to have a body of faculty and staff deeply committed to the institution. They commented, however, on a lack of civility in the political discourse at Trent. They did not wish to discourage vigorous disagreement but thought this could normally be done without personalizing the issues.

They also thought that over the years Trent had developed a syndrome of internal musings about the functioning of the university without having the structures to produce much in the way of results.

"Civility," they wrote, "does not demand that some form of consensus must always be reached before any action can be taken. What it does require is mutual respect, a willingness to listen to the other side, orderly procedures, and institutional safeguards."

They found significant problems in the management structure at Trent.

They stated there was a serious lack of institutional research. The university, they said, should create a research office for the production of information and analysis "which is accepted as reliable by all elements" of the university.

"It should," the report stated, "collect and display such data, especially in regard to labour relations matters, according to conventions agreed with the unions."

Arthurs and Lorimer thought this was essential for the university in its dealings with the provincial government and that the research office "...might help to lay to rest some campus controversies which are now the result of misinformation or misinterpretation...."

They recommended a slight increase in the size of the senior administration through the creation of a new Dean of Graduate Studies and Research.

Arthurs and Lorimer also recommended that senior administration should be held accountable for their actions as administrators and managers, though they warned against the creation of mindless performance indicators borrowed from industry. The administrators should propose such indicators which should be adopted with the advice and consent of the senate and of the board.

They proposed that the administrative positions be filled immediately by temporary appointments for the coming academic year and that it be understood that the acting president could not be a candidate for the ongoing job. They suggested a structure of selection committees to operate simultaneously but to report so that the choice of president is made first. This will allow the new president to have a say in the final deliberations of the other selection committees.

The report also recommended that the university set up orderly mechanisms for the review of its structures. This review should include provisions for a more open and transparent board, the direct election from particular stakeholder constituencies, the enlargement of the social and economic composition of the board, and an effective policy on conflict of interest.

The authors found the senate had ceased to have a meaningful role in developing academic policy. They suggested reforms so that the academic faculty would have a clear majority and that there would be representative seats for the board of governors.

They also strongly urged that the senate be chaired by a "speaker." These changes would likely require, they suggested, subsequent revisions in the terms of reference and operations of other bodies such as the Faculty Board and the Faculty Council.

They also proposed an overhaul of the procedures for adopting the budget which should be more transparent and open. They recommended the senate budget committee discuss the detailed annual budget in open meetings, hold hearings where necessary, and receive written representations.

The committee should have access to the line budget and any other financial records it requires. It should report the administration's budget to the senate with any amendments it might wish to propose. The senate should debate and vote on the budget which should then be forwarded to the board of governors which should retain the final authority to adopt it.

The report suggests the creation of a representative committee to oversee all the various changes recommended where all the significant stakeholders would have one representative and urges the committee to use professional facilitators when roadblocks develop.

Arthurs and Lorimer noted that labour relations both with the faculty and with the OPSEU had been strained for many years. They suggested a series of improvements:

  • the job descriptions of the vice-president (academic) and the vice-president (administration) should both require training or experience in, and responsibility for labour relations. The vice-president (academic) should deal with the academic staff, and the vice-president (administration) with the non-academic staff;
  • the employer should bring outside experts to the bargaining table during contract negotiations;
  • after negotiations are completed, the vice-presidents should ensure that department heads, middle management and other administrative employees are fully familiar with the contract and its procedures;
  • the outstanding pension dispute should be negotiated with the assistance of a mediator;
  • the administration should review the management policies of the Human Resources Department to improve employee relations and reduce unnecessary grievances;
  • the parties to the collective agreements should undertake to make the joint committees for the management of the contracts work;
  • and the vice-presidents should meet regularly with the three unions on campus.