July 21st, 2024

University panel examines collegial governance reform

By Lethbridge Herald on January 31, 2023.

Ry Clarke
Lethbridge Herald
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

What kind of strategies would you like to see implemented that might provide more effective governance structures at post-secondary institutions? 

The University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) hosted a Collegial Governance Roundtable discussion on Friday which looked to generate a conversation about successful collegial governance on university campuses in Canada and around the world. 

A panel of four speakers active in both faculty associations and senior administrations from across the country came together to discuss the topic from their perspectives. 

The panel consisted of Jeff Hennessay (Provost and VP Academic and Research, Mount Allison University), Jeff Keshen (President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Regina), March Schroeder (Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computing, Mount Royal University), and Robin Whitaker (Vice-president, CAUT and Associate Professor of Anthropology, Memorial University). Dan O’Donnell (President of the ULFA) moderated the roundtable, leading the discussion with topic questions provided to speakers beforehand.

“This panel is part of a year-long process, a year-long campaign, that we started, about working for a better university, where we are looking at how university’s are run, preparing for the future of the University of Lethbridge, but also universities across Canada,” said O’Donnell, noting the timing of the panel with the U of L recently announcing its newest president, Digvir S. Jayas. 

O’Donnell also noted ULFA member participation in decision-making was a key issue during the last round of collective bargaining, which culminated in a 40-day strike/lockout between the University Board of Governors and the faculty association last year in 2022.

“It is important that both administrators, faculty, and unions ensure that collegial governance processes incorporate plurality of voices and positions, not just allowing in the privileged few,” said Hennessay. “I think it’s a necessity to maintain the longevity of the institution. Universities are not companies, for example, that get built and then grow to a point where they get sold off to make shareholders rich. They are built to be enduring institutions.”

Noting the need to contribute positively to the academic mission of post-secondary, Whitaker says we have to be aware of other factors at play. 

“I also believe we need to understand it in conjunction with a host of other issues that might not, on the face of it, appear to be about governance. These include such issues as funding models for public post-secondary education, our commitments to the wider social welfare state, ideological questions about the public good, and our ability to see ourselves as part of a wider labour movement,” said Whitaker. 

Schroeder pointed out the tensions that could be at play when looking at the structure of governance. 

“I would say that it is important to recognize that there are inherent structural tensions, as universities are currently structured and organized. Inherent structural tensions in governance settings, and it is important that we don’t ignore those tensions,” said Schroeder. 

“Sometimes when faculty are put in the position of critiquing governance practices at their institutions, they can often be positioned as grandstanding, or as a few loud voices. They can be perceived as rude or disrespectful, and I think that is natural, or an unavoidable consequence.”

Keshen also made note of how administration has to be open to self-reflection and looking inwards. 

“The spirit of collegial governance also has to permeate down to departments,” said Keshen. 

“Younger colleagues are not ready to speak up because they may not have the time and the training, but sometimes they feel that they have to be lockstep with a lot of folks in their area. […] We need to be honest about this, if we are going to really engage people within the university, we have to look in the mirror for what it is administrators are doing wrong.”

The panel showed insight into the inner workings of university governance, and how things operate behind the lecture hall. 

“There is obviously a fair bit of disagreement within the union movement in Canada and post-secondary. It is something that we at the U of L have really worked and had good solid discussions back and forth about the union’s relationship to governance,” said O’Donnell. 

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