Collegial governance, not managerialism

A photograph of a close-up of buttons displaying YUFA’s name and logo

Backgrounder for General Membership Meeting on governance

YUFA members have experienced a widespread deterioration in collegial rights in matters of University governance. At a meeting earlier this year, members voted to convene a General Membership Meeting (GMM) focused on governance issues.

In the intervening period, YUFA brought forward a comprehensive set of proposals to address governance issues in negotiations for our new contract, but unfortunately they were rejected by the Employer with one or two minor exceptions.

Nevertheless, the growing collegiality deficit at our university remains a leading concern of members of YUFA. Earlier this year, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) struck a special committee to study governance procedures and issues across the province. In an earlier backgrounder, we provided a table showing that faculty participation on the Board of Governors is weaker at York than at any of the other universities in the province.

The following summary addresses this issue. It details our concerns with:

  1. the decline of meaningful faculty participation through input into decanal, vice-presidential, and presidential searches and re-appointments;
  2. the need to confirm Senate’s authority over academic matters as established by the York University Act;
  3. the failure of York’s Board of Governors to fulfill its own explicit mandate (expressed in its by-laws) to represent—and to be responsive to—a broad range of groups and responsibilities within the University and in the community at large; and
  4. the importance of stronger collegial participation in budgetary and equity matters.

Open and transparent searches and appointments

There are many universities in Canada and the US that have fully open searches for senior administrators and deans that attract excellent candidates.

York should return to its past presidential search and appointment process, which, until 2005, was also open to the participation of YUFA colleagues at Senate after the short-listing stage. We sought unsuccessfully to achieve this through bargaining. Similarly, there should be an appropriate consultative and collegial process regarding the re-appointment of the president for another term.

Vice-presidential appointments

YUFA supports an open search for all academic administrative positions, including all vice-presidents and all re-appointments for additional terms.

Appointment of Deans and Principals

The senior administration has recently announced a pilot project that could allow for partially open decanal searches in which the final shortlisted candidates would give an address to the Faculty Council in question and input would be sought from members of the Faculty.

Unfortunately, the Employer’s model only applies to cases where all of the final shortlisted candidates agree to an open stage. If even one candidate asks for a secret and confidential search, the process would remain fully closed. This open stage needs to be fully regularized for all searches.

Role of Senate

In relation to Senate, it is clear that the recognition of bicameral governance mandated by Section 12 of theYork University Act needs to be upheld, especially with respect to re-affirming Senate’s responsibility for the academic policies of the University.

In particular, provisions are needed to ensure that Senate approves all mission statements, strategic and academic plans and strategic mandate agreements that have a bearing on academic policy. In a recently imposed practice, key planning documents dealing with academic policy, such as the Institutional Integrated Resource Plan (IIRP) and the Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) negotiated with the Ontario Government, have only been brought to Senate for discussion and not for a vote and approval by Senate members.

In addition to restoring our voting privileges in relation to academic planning and strategic mandate agreements, we must ensure that such documents are circulated in a timely manner to Senate and Faculty Councils, so that faculty may review, discuss, and, if necessary, amend them in advance of university or external (government) deadlines.

Board of Governors

Records drawn from OCUFA show that York has the poorest faculty representation on its Board of Governors in Ontario. Faculty have expressed increasing concern that the composition of York’s Board no longer fulfills the mandate of membership breadth and community representation clearly enshrined in the Board’s own by-laws. That document asserts that the Board’s external members should:

broadly represent the public community. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing such candidates shall be reflective of the Arts, Business, Industry, Labour, Professions, Sciences and the community at large.

It is clear that this by-law is not being observed. While some Board members will and should be drawn from areas of business and finance, the current membership of the Board is drawn almost exclusively from those areas.

Other issues concerning the Board of Governors include the unusual exclusion of “internal” Board members, particularly faculty members, from the most powerful committees of the Board, and the requirement that faculty representatives to the Board shed their YUFA membership to serve in this capacity.

Currently the Senate elects two members to serve on the Board. There is no provision that these members will be faculty members. In the recent round of negotiations, we secured agreement that the President would ask Senate to require that these elected members be faculty members in order to match similar requirements for staff and student representation on the Board. Elected YUFA representatives to the Board should not be excluded from YUFA, or potentially forced to forfeit their collective agreement rights, including academic freedom.

Members of other campus unions who are elected to serve on the Board do not have to relinquish their membership in their unions. In the recently concluded round of bargaining, YUFA received a commitment that this issue would be raised at JCOAA. Hopefully, progress will be made on this problem.

University Budget Advisory Committee

The President has recently established a new University Budget Advisory Committee mandated to address the budget issues underlying academic and institutional priorities. Unfortunately, there is no provision for faculty and student appointees to the committee. This is a departure from the constitution of budget advisory committees at most other universities. The current composition includes only the President, Vice-Presidents, and Deans on a rotating basis. The University needs to adopt the model of other universities such as the University of Toronto and Dalhousie, where faculty and student members are included on the committee. This would begin to address the frequent expressions of concern at York about the lack of financial transparency.

Concluding remarks

As faculty members, we need to address collectively the fact that the Employer has supplanted what were, until recently, normatively understood to be the collegial rights of the University’s academic staff. The changes outlined above provide an opportunity to cultivate a structure of governance that serves our central values, principles, and protections as appropriate governors of academic matters and academic freedom at York.

This is also important in relation to the nomination and appointment of upper level administrators (president, vice-president/provost, all vice-presidents, and deans) and members of the formal bodies (e.g., Senate and the Board) that are responsible for fair, democratic, and just university governance.

Download this document as a PDF here.