[Kyla Duhamel / Flickr]
Members of the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association have voted to accept a deal that puts to rest a controversial presidential power to veto tenure appointments at the Saskatoon institution.
The three-year contract between USFA’s 1,100 full-time members and the university administration also awards compensation increases of 2.25% in years one and two, and 2.75% in year three.
“We are very pleased with the terms,” said Jim Cheesman, chief negotiator for the association. “The agreement ensures that when the collegial decision-making bodies responsible for future tenure applications make choices, then no single person can change or reverse those decisions.”
The language of the collective agreement has also been modified to include the phrase “The parties have respect for and confidence in the collegial decision making processes described in this agreement.”
The issue of administrative interference in the tenure process has caused unrest at the school since 2010 after an appeal committee voted unanimously to grant tenure to a sociology professor, only to see their decision sidetracked by then-president Peter MacKinnon. He declined to pass on the recommendation to the board of governors for their approval, exercising what amounted to an effective veto.
The case became the subject of arbitration and a court dispute that resulted in the original
recommendation for tenure from the appeal committee being considered by the board. The
board determined tenure could not be awarded because the president did not recommend tenure. The faculty association filed a second grievance on the jurisdiction of the board to award tenure.
The arbitrator’s ruling in March 2014 sided with the faculty association, but the university administration has appealed that decision, arguing before a judge that the University Act allowed the president “veto authority,” and that the president needs to serve as a check on the power of the board.
The association argued that the law and the collective agreement were designed to prevent one person — the president — from having the power to reject tenure. The University Act is silent on the specific issue of tenure. A ruling is expected this fall.
The issue exploded again about four months ago, when the association discovered the board may have granted the president veto power over tenure during a closed 2012 meeting.
“To say we got angry and upset is an understatement,” Cheesman said. “We hit the roof. Then, the Robert Buckingham case happened.”
Buckingham, the former dean of the university’s school of public health, was stripped of his tenure in May, and fired for criticizing TransformUS, the university’s controversial restructuring plan. The act ignited national media attention and drew the ire of provincial legislators. Although Buckingham was returned to his teaching duties and his tenure restored, the university’s reputation suffered.
Provost Brett Fairbairn, who fired Buckingham, resigned, followed in swift succession by the termination of Ilene Busch-Vishniac, who was just approaching the two-year mark of her five-year term as president of the University of Saskatchewan.
“We’d been telling the administration that the veto power needed to be discussed,” Cheesman said. “I think it became quite clear after that.”
Under the new agreement, the structure of the U of S renewals and tenure appeal committee has been revised from a six-member body, essentially drawn at random from a pool of 48 faculty names, to a standing committee of 12, composed of nine faculty and three administrators appointed to three-year terms.
“We think this will be a much stronger committee,” Cheesman said. “It should restore confidence in the process and I don’t believe the board or the president will ever second-guess the committee’s decisions again.”
He also said the board has withdrawn its controversial 2012 delegation of veto power to the president.
Advanced Education Minister Kevin Doherty said in a statement that the provincial government will not continue its investigation of university tenure policies if the agreement is accepted by both sides.
The university’s board of governors will vote on the proposed deal next month.