YUFA update on governance

In the last round of bargaining, YUFA put forward a number of proposals for reform of governance at York. Our goal, strongly supported as a top priority in the bargaining survey of YUFA members, was to enhance the role of faculty in University decision-making and to protect collegial rights.  Our proposals included open searches for senior administrators, a more representative membership of the Board of Governors (BoG), an expanded role for Senate in the approval of strategic plans, and more transparency in University finances.

The Employer declined these proposals, with two partial exceptions.

First, they agreed that the President would take a proposal to Senate that would restrict elected Senate representation on the Board of Governors to full-time faculty. After a delay of seven months, the President has now gone forward with that proposal to Senate.

Second, the Employer agreed to discuss at the Joint Committee on the Administration of the Agreement (JCOAA) the provision that requires faculty members sitting on the Board of Governors to be exempt from YUFA membership. This item was finally discussed at JCOAA on Thursday, May 16. After a one-hour discussion, Provost Lisa Philipps stated that she was not convinced by YUFA’s arguments and that the administration declined the proposal.

What was perhaps most disturbing about the discussion of union membership at this meeting was the administration’s stated reasons for dismissing our proposal. The Employer offered a highly restricted view of academic freedom that, in their view, applies only to teaching and research in our areas of expertise. Apparently, it does not apply to our roles in academic decision-making or to our right to criticize the University, despite the fact that these are covered in Article 10 (academic freedom) of the Collective Agreement. We immediately contested this narrow view and we particularly reject it as an interpretation of Article 10.

At this same meeting of the JCOAA, Maureen Armstrong, University Secretary and General Counsel of York, gave additional historical background on the role of the Board of Governors. She explained that York’s Board is highly independent and autonomous. Because of that, YUFA members cannot serve on the Board while retaining their union membership. There is no logical or empirical connection between these two statements.

In most Ontario universities, faculty members serve on the Board without being asked to give up their union membership. YUFA explained to the administration that, of course, YUFA members serving on the Board would recuse themselves from any discussion of compensation for YUFA members. The administration was, in fact, not able to explain what possible conflicts could arise from YUFA members’ retaining their membership while serving on the Board. 

One thing is clear: YUFA members who choose to give up their union membership to serve on the Board of Governors are more vulnerable to the discipline of the Employer or to reprisals from the Employer if they challenge or disagree with the administration.  

These developments at JCOAA must be read in light of recent proposals from Senate Executive (on which both the President and Provost serve ex-officio) to reduce union representation in Senate and to implement new, highly restrictive time limits on Senate discussion. YUSA, CUPE 3903, and YUFA each have a single representative in Senate. In the event that the representative is unable to attend, all three unions have the right to send an alternate. Senate Executive is now proposing to eliminate the right to an alternate for all three unions. In addition, Senate Executive has proposed a three-minute limit on Senators speaking in Senate. No other Ontario university has limits such as those proposed. 

In sum, the administration of York seems unwilling to accord us our appropriate and rightful place in the collegial governance of the University. The administration conveys the impression that it is the sovereign and we are the pleading subjects. Philipps’s statement that she was not convinced of YUFA’s position is telling. Apparently, we must plead before the Provost and President of York for our professional and contractual rights. This administration and the independent Board described by York’s General Counsel are running the University while we do our teaching and research in a heavily restricted zone, symbolized by the proposed three-minute limit in Senate.  

YUFA cannot accept this vision of the University. The University is an ancient community, made up of scholars at all stages from undergraduates to emeritus professors. It cannot and should not be bossed by administrators who openly vaunt their independence from the academic stakeholders they serve and who explicitly disavow the collegial rights, decision-making role, and academic freedom of the full-time faculty. 

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See earlier governance statements from YUFA:

Governance & collegiality bargaining backgrounder (July 31, 2018)

Faculty representation on the Board of Governors bargaining backgrounder (September 30, 2018)

Collegial governance, not managerialism – Backgrounder for General Membership Meeting on governance (November 9, 2018)