AUNBT submission to Senior Administration Responsibility Review Committee

Today AUNBT sent the following document to the Senior Administration Responsibility Review Committee. We would invite any of our members who wish, to send us your submissions for posting on a dedicated page that will remain publicly available.

May 20, 2014

Dear Members of the Senior Administration Responsibility Review Committee,

We thank you for the opportunity to address you on the subject of the structure of the upper administration at UNB.

We are the faculty union representing over eight hundred full-time and contract faculty, instructors, librarians, archivists, and nurse clinicians at the University of New Brunswick. We were founded as a faculty association in 1956 and certified as a union in 1979.

UNB has just come through a difficult job action. Our members struck with over a 90% strike vote and were locked out the next day. This was the first time either had happened in the history of UNB, where academic staff have traditionally had collegial relationships with the administration. In the past, most grievances did not make it to the formal stage and between 1984 and 2010 we had not a single arbitration. The current administration, however, has brought about a dramatic change in climate. Grievances have multiplied. The relationship had deteriorated for several years and its breakdown was foreseeable.

Since we came back to work in February there have been a rolling series of non-confidence votes across the faculties, all organized by academic staff at the grassroots level, not by AUNBT, and all of which have passed by significant majorities.

We understand that plans for the current review go back a year or more. It is unfortunate that it is happening now. We are concerned that the review committee is being inadvertently put in the position of intervening, at a difficult juncture, in internal governance issues that would best be resolved collegially. This would not be a time for dramatic changes that would inevitably be regarded by many as top-down impositions. The upper administration of UNB needs to change its practices more than its structure.

There is little trust these days between our members and Administration, particularly its choice of management by a unilaterally-imposed UMC. This is a body that has no basis in the UNB Act. Our membership has been shaken by revelations of millions of dollars in surplus revenues over the same period that our programs have been withering and dying due to stringent austerity measures. The job action was a further shock as the administration took harsh, punitive and altogether unnecessary actions. To make a bad situation worse, at possibly the lowest point in administrative/faculty relations in UNB history, the administration is trying to simultaneously juggle several significant endeavours, any one of which could portend disaster for our university: 1) a Board of Governors committee has been revising the UNB Act with no consultation or sharing of information; 2) the university is threatened with a prioritization exercise as early as this September, again with no consultation or even communication; and 3) with this review, we are possibly faced with significant changes to the structures of the upper administration, again without notice or consultation and with minimal communication.

That is the context within which we attempt to answer the three questions posed for the committee.

1. Do the current position descriptions of UNB’s senior administration capture appropriate responsibilities, accountability and authority?

Most difficulties our members experience with the UMC are not related to their job descriptions but to the fact that they persistently and continuously step outside those descriptions in order to intervene in hirings, promotions, assessments, and other matters traditionally and more properly handled collegially. Conversely, when it suits them, they adhere rigidly to hierarchical reporting structures. Rather than any restructuring, we would like to see the upper administrators act transparently and accountably.

There is considerable speculation among our members about the timing and real purpose of this review. Many are convinced that the president seeks to use the committee’s report to reintroduce hiring a provost. If that is the case, please save them from themselves: please do not recommend that we have yet another highly paid administrative position. The membership has strong feelings about administrative bloat and, despite what the UMC claims, the numbers to prove it. Their bitterness over the budget discoveries made during bargaining will only be exacerbated if, after years of what has now been acknowledged as over-zealous austerity, they are asked to accept a new administrative position, particularly one likely to be more costly than any but the president.

Our VP-Finance, in an embarrassing presentation to the joint senates on April 17, admitted that indeed there was and had been substantial surpluses and that he was as “worried” as anyone about this bad budgeting. However, when our union president suggested to Dr Campbell that the recently-revealed money might in part be spent on sorely-needed faculty positions, she was told that the money is “a one-off” and so cannot be used for ongoing expenses like faculty salaries. Nor then, logic would dictate, could it be used to hire someone who would cost as much as four or five faculty, not when we have lost sixty academic positions over the last decade. If a provost is being suggested by the UMC, it would mark the jarring disconnect between the restraint they enforce with teaching and research and the expansive way they fund their own activities.

We have not, historically, had a provost; we had only one — a part-time one at that — for a brief period and such a position, like the UMC itself, has no legal basis in the UNB Act. When that part-time provost retired, a committee, chaired by the president, recommended after long deliberation that the experiment be discontinued. See <http://www.unb.ca/president/provost/>. Of course, that conclusion was reached before collective bargaining commenced. Now that the conclusion to bargaining is safely in the hands of an arbitrator, you have been imported for the purpose of concluding that UNB needs a provost after all.

2. Is UNB’s senior team structured appropriately to offer excellence in teaching, learning and research while optimizing available resources?

There is a wide-spread perception among our members, and much anecdotal evidence, that the UMC does not value research. Some members have the impression, we hope wrongly, that the VP Research spends only three-fifths of his time with his portfolio, with the balance going to his own research at the Saint John Regional Hospital. The VP Fredericton (Academic) has said publicly, more than once, that he is not interested in research and that UNB ought to focus on being a teaching institution. This view is fundamentally inconsistent with UNB’s mission as the Province’s only anglophone comprehensive university.
As to the use of available resources, our members would argue that too little goes to teaching, learning, or research. Instead, there are endless initiatives in marketing, “branding,” and the “student experience” (that is, their experience outside the classroom, lab, or library), while the faculty complement withers by attrition and programs shrink or die altogether with no oversight or planning.
However, this situation probably has little to do with the structure of the UMC and everything to do with the individuals currently in those roles. None of those goals — teaching, learning, or research — can be achieved without willing collaboration, even leadership, from faculty and librarians. The UMC has forgotten its intended role, to facilitate the work of the academic staff, and would rather direct from a distance, with deleterious results.

3. How would a re-distribution of senior responsibilities aid the bi-campus structure/relations?

We stress the importance of maintaining the bi-campus structure of two separate senates and a VP in Saint John, equal in rank to the VP Academic (Fredericton) and the VP Research. That independence was hard-won and represented a decisive advance from the time when the Saint John campus was considered as little more than a feeder school. Since its founding in 1964, UNB Saint John has developed into a viable university campus in its own right, with its own areas of excellence. Particularly after the threat to the campus in 2007, when the Graham government contemplated decommissioning the campus and turning it into a polytechnic training centre, members of the UNB community in Saint John fiercely guard the integrity of their campus.

Our members have little interest in reworking the job descriptions or reporting structures of the UMC. Instead, they are concerned with what they experience as lack of transparency, collegiality, or consultation.

Our suggestions for upper administration: 1) freeze new non-academic positions; 2) consult widely before filling any positions that become vacant; 3) when incumbents have mid-term reviews, consult widely; and 4) implement transparent reporting of organizational charts and reporting structures. The recent posting for a person to “manage the president’s brand” and oversee his “social media” has been greeted with incredulity and dismay as an emblematic example of the disconnect between the UMC and the real needs of the university: see <http://www.unb.ca/hr/_resources/php/print-support-staff-posting.php?theid=Zp-g>. Perhaps the president of York or Toronto does have a dedicated staff person to look after Twitter accounts. At UNB we would be happier to have a new assistant professor.

There is an opportunity here. Academic staff at UNB have rarely been so invigorated or involved as they are right now. A wise administration would tap into that energy and build a truly collaborative plan for the next five years. We do not expect the incumbents on the UMC to take this route but we would be glad to be proven wrong.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions about anything we have said here. And please feel free to visit our website at AUNBT.ca. We would recommend in particular that you read the Financial Reports at https://aunbtweb.wordpress.com/collective-bargaining/full-time-collective-bargaining/.

Sincerely,
Miriam Jones
President, AUNBT
miriamjones@aunbt.ca

Tags: ,

Categories: AUNBT, Austerity politics, Communication, Governance, Prioritization

4 Comments on “AUNBT submission to Senior Administration Responsibility Review Committee”

  1. Brenda Collings
    June 7, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Thank you Miriam for this excellent and concise response which represents many areas of concern. Hopefully the submission was received by the committee with the same ultimate goal in mind as caused it’s creation – a healthy, happy and vibrant UNB.

  2. Emery Hyslop-Margison, Chair and Professor, Florida Atlantic University
    May 22, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    Excellent work MIriam – my only regret while at UNB was that I didn’t have the opportunity to serve the association with you at the helm. Keep up the fight and just perhaps UNB will become the vehicle for national PSE change.

  3. Melanie Wiber
    May 20, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    I would encourage everyone to go and look at the online agendas for the UMC – if this is really what that group meets to talk about on a regular basis, no wonder there is so much disconnect at the top.

  4. Wendy Robbins
    May 20, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    This hits all the right issues, and then some. A new admin position of protector of the president’s brand? who knew? I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.