Update on the Research Release Program

What we learned from the town hall meetings

In the last week, YUFA hosted a town hall meeting in each of the five Faculties affected by the Research Release Program, Article 18.15 in the Memorandum of Settlement: AMPD, Education, Glendon, Health, and LA&PS. The meetings were well attended and members gave lots of feedback. At your request, we have produced this summary of the discussions and have suggested some next steps. Please contact us if you have any more feedback: yufa@yorku.ca.

What we learned

The meetings covered a range of issues related to the program, some of which were Faculty-specific. The following responses were common to all Faculties.

Frustration: The overwhelming response to the delayed implementation of the program is frustration, and sometimes even anger. Many members beyond Chairs and Directors are aware of the state of discussions with their Deans/Principal—which suggests there has been good communication among members in each unit.

“This is not what we bargained for”: There is a shared sense that the Employer’s preferred vision for the program places an emphasis on ranking and competition in a way that violates the letter and spirit of what YUFA negotiated in the last round of bargaining. Members expressed frustration at having made concessions to get an accessible and inclusive program, only to discover months later that the Employer sees it differently. In particular, many members mentioned that giving up Appendix O means there should be recognition of graduate supervision in the criteria, but the Deans/Principal have, for the most part, resisted its inclusion.

Moving goalposts: Chairs and Directors reported that the ‘goalposts’ for acceptable criteria have been shifting throughout negotiations, and that the Deans/Principal have often replied to each submission with ‘revise and re-submit’ requests that introduce new standards or inexplicably require different standards for different units. Some members complained of bad faith on the part of the Employer after noting their shared expectation that the program would be more inclusive and would allow teaching loads to become more competitive with those at other universities.

Impasse and dispute resolution: Despite the general sense of frustration, some units reported progress in discussions with their Deans/Principal, but most units reported an impasse. Some are ready to seek the help of the Provost. Others want to move directly to a Dispute Resolution Panel—as there are clear indications the Provost is already directing the Deans/Principal in responding to units’ submissions. In this case, there is little point in spending time, in view of looming curriculum planning deadlines, in further discussions with the Provost. The desire to move to the next stage is motivated by a growing concern that the program is at risk. In order to meet their deadlines, some units are going ahead with recommending recipients of research release (even without decanal approval of criteria), citing their members’ right to have the program implemented this year.

What’s at stake?

In addition to the concerns above, members addressed three broader issues that came up in all five meetings: collegial governance, how research actually happens, and the nature of post-secondary education at York University. Members discussed these issues in terms of their units’ specific research practices, but they also cautioned against reducing the discussion to the details of criteria from one unit to the next. In other words, we need to keep in mind the “big picture” issues at stake.

Collegial governance: Many members are upset that there seems to be very little recognition from the Deans/Principal that units spent a considerable amount of time carefully and sensitively crafting their criteria. This program was established to give units the task of collegially defining what counts as ‘research active’ and how to award releases among colleagues to enhance research/scholarly/creative activity. There is now a fear that the process has been skewed in a managerial direction to empower the Deans/Principal at the expense of collegial governance.

How research actually happens: One of the biggest criticisms of the process is the seeming lack of acknowledgement on the part of the Deans/Principal of how research actually happens and of the diverse contributions members make to the overall research process. The reluctance to recognize peer-reviewing activities or to give adequate weight to graduate supervision is a clear case of this. If criteria only recognize the end-points of research at the expense of all other steps, it creates disincentives for faculty to participate in the totality of the research process, to contribute to broader research networks, to supervise graduate students, and so on.

The nature of post-secondary education: Another widespread concern is the immediate and long-term effects of a competitive, strictly merit-based program on the quality and nature of education at York. Members are concerned that the Employer’s approach is contributing to a larger problematic shift in post-secondary education—centred on an anti-collegial and “neoliberal” trend of boosting the auditing and quantifying of individual academic performance, at the expense of other valuations such as quality or influence/impact.

Next steps

At all five meetings, members asked YUFA to suggest concrete actions that would help move the process forward. To that end, we have taken or recommend the following next steps.

Initiate the dispute resolution process, if you have reached an impasse: Most units seem to have reached an impasse in negotiating criteria. If this is the case, clearly indicate in writing to your Dean/Principal that you intend to move down the dispute resolution path that the parties negotiated in Article 18.15 in the Memorandum of Settlement. The next stage of the process is to refer the matter to the Provost to help facilitate a resolution. Your unit can do this by sending such a request to the Provost, including relevant materials (such as previous correspondence with your Dean/Principal). If the impasse continues, you can formally request to move to the next stage, which is to set up a Dispute Resolution Panel. When units make such requests, we encourage them to copy YUFA on their correspondence: yufa@yorku.ca.

Set time limits: The stage of seeking approval from the Deans/Principal has taken months, an advantage for the Employer as units begin to feel the pressure of curriculum-planning season. In response, many members urged units to move quickly to the next stage of the process. Some members actually suggested setting a two-week time limit in your request for dispute resolution with the Provost. YUFA will be taking this demand to the Employer, at a meeting with the Deans/Principal on October 26. The next stage, should nothing be resolved after two weeks, is sending the matter to a Dispute Resolution Panel (which might be more productive as it includes representatives selected by YUFA). Units should decide what timelines work best for them.

Provide feedback to Chairs and Directors: Later today, YUFA will send a short survey to Chairs and Directors in Faculties affected by the Research Release Program. Please provide them with any feedback you have before they complete the survey. The deadline to complete the survey is October 25 at 12:00 p.m., so please provide your feedback as soon as possible. The survey will help YUFA prepare for the meeting with the Deans/Principal on October 26, during which YUFA will raise your concerns with the Employer.

Attend the General Membership Meeting: Members asked YUFA to host a second round of meetings so they could provide updates from each unit. To that end, the Fall General Membership Meeting (GMM) will take place on Wednesday, November 9 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (location to be confirmed). The GMM will allow units in the same Faculty to caucus together and get updates from other Faculties. Please mark the date in your calendars.

The challenge facing units is that negotiations with their Deans/Principal are largely in isolation from one another and from other Faculties. To overcome that fragmentation, YUFA has begun to collect and consolidate this information to share with units as needed. Please email YUFA to share any relevant information and/or to request advice or support: yufa@yorku.ca.

Thank you again for your feedback at the town hall meetings. We appreciate your ongoing support.

York University Faculty Association

YUFA is the professional association and certified bargaining agent for approximately 1,500 faculty, librarians and archivists, and post-doctoral visitors at York University.