Summary of the UNB Senior Administration Responsibility Review (SARR) Report

Jon Thompson

 

Overview

The review by Drs. MacKinnon (U Sask and SARR committee Chair), Embleton (York U) and Traves (Dal U) was arranged by President Campbell on direction by the UNB BoG Executive Committee. Their report is dated June 4, 2014.

The mandate provided to the SARR committee was narrow, its three clauses dealing with ranges of authority, duties, responsibilities and the reporting lines of senior administrative positions, along with administrative relationships between UNBF and UNBSJ.

The SARR was carried out at a time when most of the UNB academic faculties had passed non-confidence motions in the current senior administration, motions discussed in the media. Unsurprisingly, information received by the committee through a combination of interviews with administrators and written submissions by faculty members and others – some submissions posted publicly – included accounts of the concerns giving rise to the non-confidence motions.

The SARR report said “we were not asked to evaluate job performance or advise on campus relations per se.” (p. 1) Indeed, the majority but not all of the report’s 16 recommendations pertain directly to the narrow mandate. Nevertheless, matters not expressly set out in the mandate are discussed in the report. For example, the need for clear strategic and academic plans is emphasized, along with needs for a more consultative and effective budget development process, better communication between the administration and the faculty, and positive labour relations. Also, Recommendation Sixteen and the “rationale” for it address broad synergies that could be developed in “academic resources” between UNBSJ and UNBF. Planning and budget issues, communication deficiencies, labour relations, and academic program resources were not listed in the SARR mandate yet they are discussed in the report.

Significantly, among the discussions and rationales leading to the report’s recommendations are commentaries on issues related to the concerns giving rise to the non-confidence motions. These include observations on how to lead a university properly, with the competence and trust that inspire confidence and sustain moral authority.

Requirements for Trust and Confidence in the Senior Administration

As noted in their report, the members of SARR committee have had extensive experience as senior administrators in national comprehensive universities. They developed their report by “[a]pplying [their] experience to the extensive written material and oral testimonials” they received. (p.1)

The SARR committee made the following observations on priorities, leadership, collegiality, transparency, trust and confidence:

  1. “Academic priorities must, of course, drive the budget process.” (p. 6, in Recommendation Six)
  2. “The research mission is vital to the success of the University of New Brunswick and to those it serves, and graduate programs are vital to that mission.” (p. 4)
  3. “[T]he academic leadership of UNB must ensure that the University’s budget priorities fulfill the institution’s mandate.” (p. 5)
  4. “[T]he University of New Brunswick and other Canadian universities … require more than full-time commitment from dedicated leaders, and administrative structures and processes that facilitate their work.” (p. 1-2)
  5. “Sustainable and effective budget management in a university environment requires confidence from the entire community that the values and judgments that support the creation of the annual budget reflect the University’s academic objectives and priorities. This requires a clear University strategic plan and guidance from the University’s academic plan. If either is deficient, the budget priorities that emerge annually may well fail to support the University’s long term needs.” (p. 5)
  6. “[W]hile the Saint John campus has a well-developed campus budget process that feeds Saint John priorities into the University-wide budget process, there is no equivalent process in Fredericton.” (p. 6, in Recommendation Six)
  7. “Recent unexpected budget surpluses at UNB have raised confidence issues about the effectiveness of the University’s financial management systems.” (p. 4)
  8. “The President, with the support of the Board of Governors, should reorganize the University’s financial management systems, processes and personnel to achieve effective University-wide budget preparation, monitoring and reporting outcomes under the responsibility of the Vice-President Finance and Administration.” (p. 5, in Recommendation Five)
  9. “[W]e propose that UNB institute an inclusive, consultative and transparent budget development process that leads to recommendations for the President to consider before he presents his annual budget to the Board of Governors for approval.” (p. 5)
  10. “Effective communication on important issues is … [necessary to] … inform decision-making, build pride in institutional accomplishments and deeper understanding of pressing problems, as well as help create a trusting environment that is essential for positive morale. It falls to the President of the University to organize essential communication across the campuses on issues great and small.” (p. 7)
  11. “Positive labour relations at universities depend on many factors, but it is essential to have appropriate professional staff support to facilitate routine dispute resolution and effective collective bargaining outcomes.” (p. 8)
  12. “Academic labour relations support is a specialty requiring unique knowledge and skills, and this capacity must be developed within the Office of Human Resources to provide appropriate advice to deans and vice-presidents on both campuses, as required.” (p. 8, in Recommendation Eleven)
  13. “Collective bargaining strategy should be determined by the Vice-President Academic and the Principal under the oversight of the President and the Board of Governors Human Resources Committee …” (p. 9, in Recommendation Eleven)
  14. “The University Management Committee is not, in fact, a management committee, but there exists perception that it is, and that its membership may not be optimally constituted to exercise managerial duties.” (p.9)

 

Comments

The report’s recommendations range from substantive to combinations of symbolic and substantive. The former include: Recommendation Four – having the Dean of Graduate Studies report to the Vice-President (Academic); Recommendations Five and Six – calling for major reorganizations of the current budget development processes; and Recommendation Ten – calling for a new University-wide Academic Innovation Committee with a majority consisting of faculty members. The latter include: Recommendation One – changing the title of the administrative head in Saint John from Vice-President back to Principal, as it had been during UNBSJ’s first decade of operation but also having the Principal normally serve as Acting-President in the President’s absence; and Recommendation Two – changing the title of the Vice-President Fredericton back to Vice-President Academic as it had been for many years, and having this Vice-President’s focus and mandate primarily academic on the Fredericton campus.

The SARR Committee stated “we have no doubt that our recommendations, if followed, would assist campus communities to recover from recent events ….” (p. 1) The SARR report is well reasoned and carefully written and its recommendations could be helpful to the UNB community if and when implemented.

However, questions immediately arise. First, if the matters discussed in the report and addressed in its recommendations are in fact significant in the context of “recent events” at UNB – such as the non-confidence motions – why did the Board not direct President Campbell to establish such a review much earlier in his five year period in office? If it had issued such direction, events of 2014 might have been different.

Second, the existing administrative framework was in place – with Board approval – when Dr. McLaughlin was President and Dr. Fritz Vice-President, yet they both enjoyed wide faculty confidence in their academic and administrative leadership. This fact raises the more fundamental question: would full and prompt implementation of the complex array of SARR recommendations result in President Campbell and his senior administrative team re-gaining the confidence of the faculty, and set UNB properly on its quest to reach the “Overarching Goal” declared in the 2010 Strategic Plan – “to be the best teaching and learning institution in Canada, balancing and integrating excellence in education and research”?

As matters currently stand, the great majority of faculty members have formally voted non- confidence in President Campbell and his senior administrative team while the Board has publicly declared its full confidence. The SARR report demonstrates that a properly constituted review can provide helpful information and recommendations. There is at hand a process for clearly resolving the disagreement between the Board and the majority of the faculty on the matter of confidence in President Campbell, namely, a review of the incumbent President by agreement of the Board and Senates pursuant to section 19(9) of the UNB Act.

 

Sept. 26, 2014

 

 

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