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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 2003

A Study in Top-Down Mismanagement

Tim Quigley
The question of university governance has long been a matter of debate. Historically, and for sound reasons associated with their places in society, universities have developed a governance structure different from the more hierarchical structure typical of government bureaucracies and many corporations.

A unique feature of universities is the sharing of decision-making authority between a senate or council largely composed of academics and a board of governors or regents whose members are elected or appointed, often by the provincial government.

In most Canadian universities, the board of governors, through its administrative apparatus, must then negotiate collective agreements with its faculty and staff on salaries, benefits and working conditions. The collective bargaining process therefore necessarily brings faculty associations and staff unions into the governance process.

Unfortunately, there has been a trend away from such shared decision-making. Many university administrations have attempted to centralize decision-making in the hands of a few senior administrators. The University of Saskatchewan is an example of this trend.

At the U of S, the most recent component of the centralizing trend is a process called integrated planning. However, the integrated planning process did not begin the centralization of authority at our university.

At the outset, it is important to stress the role the U of S has played in our province. Created shortly after Saskatchewan became a province in 1905, the university developed over the next 80 years according to the plan devised by its founders, which included our first president and the first premier of the province.

The central role of the university was to be the people's university - that is, it was to provide post-secondary education, especially undergraduate education, and service to the citizens of the province. Research has always been important but its role was seen to be to attempt to solve the problems facing the province. Basic or curiosity-based research was central to this task.

From the mid 1980s the U of S has embarked on a different path, at first slowly but now in a more pronounced way. Through three successive presidents and their administrations we have engaged in a number of planning exercises. In the last decade or so, the original aims of the university have changed so that we have become much more a research institution.

The trend in Canadian post-secondary education to more targeted research funding has affected us greatly, with the result that the emphasis is on research in the sciences and applied sciences, while less attention has been paid to the social sciences and humanities and to undergraduate teaching and service.

This appears to be part and parcel of pursuing higher rankings in the annual university survey conducted by Maclean's magazine. At the same time, there have been steep rises in tuition fees so that access to university is increasingly in jeopardy. Much of the change in focus has occurred outside the planning processes and with campus-wide discussion and debate that has largely been cosmetic.

The process of centralization of governance has accelerated in the last five years or so. In 1998, every academic unit was required to prepare and submit a renewal plan, outlining areas of development, maintenance, and disinvestment (to use the jargon that was imposed with the exercise to indicate new initiatives, maintaining existing programs, and cutting other programs, respectively). Although it took a considerable amount of time and energy, academic units complied. However, approval or disapproval of the plans was never forthcoming.

Beginning in 1999, every academic unit was to be subjected to a systematic program review process that included external reviewers for each unit being reviewed. Again, the process required a huge amount of faculty and staff time and energy in the preparation of documentation both prior to and subsequent to the review. This process has not yet been completed in many academic units, even as yet another planning process - the so-called integrated planning process - has begun.

Under the integrated planning process, all academic units are once again told to prepare a plan according to a very rigid template. The same jargon - development, maintenance, and disinvestment - has been retained and the requirements for unit plans carefully stipulated.

It is obvious that the most important document will be the two-page executive summary, since the eventual decisions on priorities will be made by small committees composed entirely of senior administrators. There will be no expertise on the committees capable of judging the relative merits among competing disciplines.

Our university council - the equivalent of the senate elsewhere - has no representation whatever on the planning committees. Only recently has there been any degree of consultation with the council, but that has not changed the top-down nature of the process.

An even more worrisome aspect of the process is that a hiring freeze has been instituted. Filling existing faculty vacancies now requires a special case to be made and only in certain prescribed circumstances. The University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association has determined that roughly one-third of our members will reach retirement within five years. Many other faculty members may opt to retire early.

Consequently, our institution has instituted a hiring freeze at a time when we will soon need to replace up to 500 faculty members in a very competitive environment. Moreover, we have lost at least 120 faculty positions over the last decade, a matter we are currently trying to address at the bargaining table because of its effects on workload, recruiting and retention and morale.

There is also no mention whatever in the planning process of employment equity. This is a striking failure when one considers that women represent only about 26 per cent of faculty at our university. Saskatchewan ranks ninth out of the provinces in this regard and, since the other Saskatchewan universities fare much better, it is clear the U of S is among the worst in the country in achieving employment equity.

We also are poor in Aboriginal representation among faculty and, although among male faculty, visible minorities are well-represented, visible female minority representation is very low. Similarly, disabled people are under-represented on our faculty.

In addition to being a legal requirement under the Federal Contractors Program and under an agreement with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, employment equity, if pursued vigorously, could be a powerful recruiting tool.

Active recruiting of faculty members from equity-seeking groups would increase our diversity, enhance the learning experience for students, lead to new research perspectives, and provide a benefit to the larger community. It would also broaden the pool of potential recruits to the university at a time when we are almost certain to face difficulties in this regard.

Our faculty association has decided we must act on the issue of the integrated planning process. Our members regularly tell us the workload, particularly for department heads, has become unbearable. Morale is very low and most faculty members are merely hunkering down attempting to perform their teaching, research and administrative duties. The workload associated with the integrated planning process is staggering and, at the same time, poses a great risk for academic units.

It is clear to us that, if allowed to continue, the integrated planning process will cause faculty members to plan their own retrenchment and cutbacks, while reserving the more pleasant chore of allocating new resources for some units to central administrators. The centrally-controlled fund for this purpose will be drawn from not filling vacancies and from a tax against tuition and operating grant increases to academic units.

Thus, the ongoing enterprise is jeopardized while the central plan is being prepared. Attempts to deal with workload, faculty complement, employment equity, and recruiting and retention will be stymied as the process unfolds.

Does it have to be this way? Obviously not. In 1993, CAUT commissioned the report of the Independent Study Group on University Governance. After an exhaustive study, the group concluded that shared governance between a senate and a board of governors was the preferred model. Academic decisions should rest with the collegial body while the board should deal with the fiscal integrity of the institution.

Perhaps more significantly, the ISGUG report rejected the trend towards centralized decision-making, the corporate management model. Indeed, the authors noted the corporate management model was in decline. In the ensuing decade, it is clear that modern management theory rests on a much more decentralized approach to decision-making. The redistribution of power and decision-making to employees is actually seen as a strength for the corporate entity. See, for example, Peter Block, Stewardship (1993).

Surely, in the academic milieu, decentralized decision-making is even more important, both to ensure that the wide range of perspectives within universities is reflected in the decisions and to instill a sense of participation among faculty members.

Undoubtedly, this is why recent policy statements adopted by CAUT stress the importance of collegial governance. (See the Policy Statement on Openness and Transparency in Post-secondary Education and the Policy Statement on Renewal and Retention of Academic Staff, both adopted at the November 2002 CAUT Council meeting.)

The faculty association has obtained a legal opinion which indicates that the integrated planning process contravenes the legislative authority of the administration and board of governors. Accordingly, we have called for a suspension of the integrated planning process until such time as a new process is developed. Such a process must comply with the legislated roles of the governing bodies, end the hiring freeze, allow other planning processes and necessary documentation to be completed first, include employment equity in its mandate, and be participatory and open in its processes.

It must also address the need for a strong undergraduate program at the same time as improving graduate education, ensure access to education for all strata of society, and maintain the balance among sciences, social sciences and humanities. Finally, sufficient administrative resources must be provided to academic units to enable them to undertake the planning without a significant increase in workloads.

The association does not oppose planning for academic institutions. Indeed, a sound planning process can avoid the favouritism that has sometimes occurred when particular programs have been preferred to others in the allocation of resources. However, we strongly believe that collegial governance is the best model for en-gaging in planning. We are certain that those at other academic institutions agree and hope that our struggle is an illustration that hierarchical management styles can and should be resisted.

Tim Quigley is a professor of law at the University of Saskatchewan and chair of the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association.

This commentary has the endorsement of the executive of the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association and is intended as an illustration to the wider Canadian academic community of the dangers of centralization and the need to oppose it.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of CAUT.