Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2003

An Administrator's Guide to the Modern Canadian University

Peter Anderson

Growth & Governance of Canadian Universities: An Insider's View

Howard C. Clark. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2003; 240 pp; hardcover $85 ca., paper $24.95 CA., (paper edition available Jan. 2004).
New Zealander Howard Clark arrived in Canada in 1957 to take up a position as assistant professor in the chemistry department of the University of British Columbia. His association with Canadian universities continued over the next 38 years with academic opportunities that took him from British Columbia to Ontario to Nova Scotia. Each move was accompanied by a step up the administrative ladder that culminated with Clark serving as president of Dalhousie University for eight years until his retirement in 1996.

Growth & Governance of Canadian Universities is a personal memoir describing Clark's attitudes to and experiences with changes brought about in Canadian universities by growth and shifts in emphasis in the last half of the 20th century. An expanding experimental science component in the curricula of universities greatly accelerated change in these years. Facilitating research that might have economic benefits has long been an interest of the federal government and Clark's career reflects this influence.

His early success at UBC was due to his ability to attract research funding, not only from the Canadian National Research Council, but also from the U.S. military. At the University of Western Ontario in the 1960s, he quickly adapted to "excellence," "innovation," and "targeted funding." As department head, he was a major organizer in the formation of a company housed in Western's chemistry department. University administrations in Canada have largely embraced the commercialization of knowledge and this may well account for Clark's rise to higher levels of administration.

Regrettably, Clark offers limited insight on his involvement with teaching. It would have been of interest to have had some comment on the pressure on university departments such as chemistry and physics whose major role in the undergraduate curriculum for many years has been the provision of introductory service courses to biology, biochemistry and engineering students. It seems odd that after 20 years as a university lecturer Clark writes that his time as vice-president academic at the University of Guelph gave him "needed experience in public speaking." (p. 77)

Certainly his interest in matters of importance to the academic community is not from a faculty union point of view. As he points out, he and a colleague were the last individuals at Western appointed as department heads without term before such positions became term appointments. (p. 50) In a show of power, the board of governors overruled the recommendation of the selection committee that Clark be appointed chair, not head, for a five-year term. If he were sensitive to the changes underlying this conflict, one wonders why he did not negotiate with the board to go along with the committee's view and not merely register his "astonishment." Twenty years later, his relationship with Dalhousie Faculty Association led to confrontations between the union and the board. A strike with lingering bitterness developed in 1988. Some effects outlasted President Clark, with subsequent strikes in 1998 and 2002.

Clark's antipathy toward collective bargaining is evident. The book is sprinkled with comments such as: "There are other equally negative outcomes of faculty unionization." (p. 183) He blames CAUT for educating and informing faculty association negotiators while "in too many cases negotiators for the boards arrived at negotiation meetings unprepared." (p. 182)

It is hard to believe widespread and ongoing unionization of academic staff in Canada could happen without substantial faculty support. Reasons for this could have been addressed from a university administrator's perspective, but in Clark's book they are not.

Perhaps the value of this book is in its personal nature. But it is much less successful in providing snapshots of the changing university climate in Canada in the 60s than J.A. Corry's Farewell the Ivory Tower (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1970). It does not provide either the depth of explanation or insight concerning these and subsequent changes that David Cameron does in More Than an Academic Question (Halifax: Institute for Research on Public Policy, 1991). It does, however, provide exposure to the views of an individual who occupied positions at various Canadian universities and rose through the levels of university administration.

Peter Anderson is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Ottawa. He is a former member of the executive of the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa and a past president of the Canadian Federation of Biological Societies.