The YUFA Sub-Committee on Governance is continuing its task to keep YUFA members informed about key governance issues that affect our work and community. As the pandemic has abundantly illustrated, the way decisions are made at York can have substantial impacts on our academic programs, our ability to determine the mode of delivery of our courses based on academic integrity, and our working conditions. This communiqué will focus on our continued concerns about increasing administrative control of Senate’s authority over academic matters, financial accountability, and academic governance at the Markham campus.
The YUFA Sub-Committee on Governance is concerned that the administration is continuing to restrict debate at Senate. The amendments it has proposed to Senate Rules will have potential negative impacts on democratic debate at Senate by reinforcing the powers of Senate Executive to make decisions without consultation. We also note that the emergency powers granted to Senate Executive because of the pandemic have not yet been rescinded.
The proposal for a Medical School was only brought to Senate after it had been announced in Y-File. Further questions and comments about Senate concerns can be addressed to Patrick Phillips, the convenor of the YUFA Senate caucus, at [email protected].
II. NOUS consulting firm at Glendon: NOUS’s reports on Laurentian University call for a 40% reduction in Senate
The administration’s hiring of the Australian firm NOUS to propose strategic directions for Glendon College raises further concerns about potential administrative inroads on Senate and democratic governance structures. YUFA members should be aware that NOUS reports on Laurentian University are now available. NOUS has proposed a radical change in governance structure which would reduce by 40% the size of the Senate and the Board. Furthermore, Senate would no longer have a role in determining overall academic planning but would be restricted to simply approving academic programs. More information can be obtained at Alex Usher’s blog of March 7, 2022.
III. University Financial Accountability
The YUFA Sub-Committee on Governance is concerned about the Board of Governors’ ability to meaningfully exercise its financial oversight functions. The capacity for robust internal debate is considerably limited by the fact that an overwhelming majority of Board members are appointed by the Board itself. The Board’s persistently closed attitude to participation by faculty, staff, and students in its decision-making hampers discussion across the university of matters that affect teaching, learning and working conditions for everyone.
A number of questions about the use of York's financial resources need to be addressed. For example, the financial details regarding the costs incurred to date in relation to the Markham campus and the Vaughan Healthcare Centre Precinct are unclear. It would also be instructive to receive greater disclosure regarding the university's internal and external legal expenses (including support for contract negotiations, arbitration, grievances, and real estate ventures), as well as expenses associated with the university's sub-contracting of administrative services to external entities such as NOUS and Organizational Solutions Incorporated (OSI) whose involvement at York continues to expand. The expenses and revenues of the York University Development Corporation (YUDC), as well as the governance and oversight structures in place with respect to its significant role in land and building projects, including the Markham campus, the Vaughan Healthcare Centre Precinct, the Lands for Learning project, and Glendon campus, are also unclear.
In this context, we are concerned that the administration has failed to respect its obligation under article 7.04 of the Collective Agreement, to participate in regular meetings of the Financial Information Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on the Administration of the Agreement to share financial information.
IV. Deficiencies in Academic Decision-making at Markham
The YUFA Subcommittee on Governance underscores its continued concern about the lack of a clear and collegial governance structure for the Markham campus. In 2017, the Provost’s Office issued a draft paper on governance at Markham: “Collegial Governance Structures for Markham Centre Campus Governance—A Draft Options Paper.” On December 3, 2021, it followed up with “Update and Recommendations on Collegial Governance for the Markham Campus.” The structure, as proposed and presented to the Academic Policy, Planning and Research Committee, raises concerns about the possibility for unilateral administrative control of academic decisions about who teaches, what, and how at Markham.
In terms of governance structure, the administration has opted initially to not make Markham a separate Faculty, a model which would ensure that students and faculty have full access to the normal Faculty Council governance structure, reporting to Senate. Instead, the proposal leaves open the possibility of an alternate structure of “pan-campus assemblies or fora” at Markham, leaving substantial academic control with the administration. We have already noted that the appointment of a Deputy-Provost for the Markham campus suggests that determinations of the academic direction of the campus are being moved from collegial to administrative responsibility. Other dimensions of the proposed model open the way for inroads on Senate’s academic authority and collegial input into teaching redeployment to Markham. We encourage YUFA members to voice their concerns about the governance structure proposals for Markham. More information can be viewed at: https://www.yorku.ca/markham/
YUFA Governance Sub-Committee
Arthur Hilliker (ex officio)
Agnes Whitfield (Chair)
YUFA Executive would like members to be aware of the Ontario Auditor-General’s Report on Laurentian, just released today, April 13, 2022.
In that report, the Auditor-General states that:
"Although external factors such as tuition freezes and the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Laurentian, we determined that the primary cause of the university’s financial deterioration from 2010 to 2020 was its pursuit of poorly considered capital investments. It proceeded with expansion projects without procedures in place requiring senior administrators to make a reasonable assessment of the value and viability of the plans, or to fully consider the risks associated with a rapid growth in debt. We also found there was poor management of the university’s financial affairs and operations, exacerbating the situation.
This poor management was allowed to continue in large part because of weak oversight by Laurentian’s Board. It lacked key operational and governance practices and expertise, and allowed transparency to decline. For its part, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (Ministry), which is the primary government ministry responsible for monitoring the financial health of post-secondary institutions, did not proactively intervene in a timely manner to provide guidance to help Laurentian slow—or ultimately respond to—its worsening financial deterioration."
The Auditor-General's report, "Preliminary Perspective on Laurentian University," is available here. To access this report in French, click here.
YUFA Executive Committee