One of many surprises in the now-notorious Miner-L’Écuyer report in 2007 and the Discussion Paper that preceded it was the suggestion that New Brunswick’s university senates failed to “meet the needs of contemporary society”. Senates were alleged to have outlived their usefulness “since faculty interests are now protected by unionized collective bargaining”. They should be reduced to mere presidential advisory bodies.
Such an attitude reflects a most woeful misunderstanding of the respective roles of senates and faculty unions.
Senates are the academic parliaments of Canadian universities. Assisted by faculty councils, they are the forum where academic policy is debated and set. (By contrast, the role of the board of governors is to superintend university finance and management.) One of the distinctive marks of the university as a work-site is collegial governance by academics and librarians, and it is in senates that collegial decision-making plays out. While our own two senates have a larger voting bloc of administrators than is the Canadian standard, the UNB Act does provide that elected teachers and librarians hold half of all senate seats. We anticipate that the next round of amendments to the Act will strengthen the senates by adding representation for contract academics.
At present UNB’s senates are not notable forums of policy debate. They would increase effectiveness if senators caucused prior to senate meetings, attended consistently and then offered post-senate reports to their constituencies. Despite current senate short-comings, any move to subvert or circumvent their potential is to be resisted. On that point AUNBT and the administration were united in critiquing Miner-L’Écuyer.
While the senates and faculty councils are UNB’s primary forum for collegial governance, and while AUNBT does not have a practice of favouring particular candidates in senate (or board of governors) elections, a university union cannot be agnostic in academic affairs. Article 3 of the full-time collective agreement binds the administration to collegial governance, and to administrative openness, transparency and accountability. Accordingly, were the administration to by-pass faculty councils or the senates in making academic decisions, it would contravene not only the UNB Act but also the collective agreement. That was the basis on which, earlier in this decade, AUNBT led successful resistance to an exercise whereby deans were to rank the university’s academic programs with a view to prioritizing hirings. AUNBT took the position that establishing criteria of ranking was an academic matter that ought to be undertaken by the senates and that failure to do so would violate the collegial rights provision of the collective agreement.