Recently, Paul Simpson and colleagues hosted the first meeting of Faculty Council (FC) Chairs with the intent of creating a forum for dialogue and debate regarding the functioning of this important academic body. From the meeting notes, I see that discussion topics included some of the common challenges faced by Faculty Council Chairs such as: balancing time for guest speakers, committee reports, and other important work with which Faculty Councils are tasked. In my view, the most important topic raised concerns the role of Faculty Councils in academic governance. Approximately two years have passed since I joined Tom Friedman and Bernard Igwe to visit Faculty Councils to discuss issues of academic freedom and collegial governance. Given that many new faculty members and Deans have joined TRU since then, I reviewed my previous presentation notes and newsletter columns to offer to the Faculty Council Chairs group, and all faculty members, some thoughts on the importance of strengthening Faculty Councils as sites of collegial governance.
According to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the concepts of academic freedom and governance are key factors that make universities distinctive compared to institutions in other sectors. CAUT also argues that academic freedom requires that academic staff play a major role in the governance of the institution. Since 2005, TRU has acknowledged faculty rights and responsibilities to participate in the formulation and/or recommendation of academic policies and procedures within the university through duly constituted collegial bodies and committees. At TRU, we have several collegial governance bodies and procedures for collegial consultation and decision-making on academic matters. The most well-known of these governance bodies is Senate. It, of course, is responsible for educational matters and also provides a venue for academic staff to impact educational policy and key academic decisions. However, what is not as well recognized is that faculty also have rights and responsibilities related to academic governance through our Faculty Councils.
The role and authority of Faculty Councils in governance is enshrined in the TRU Act. The Senate by-laws provide for the creation of Faculty Councils and Faculty Councils’ By-Laws (more commonly known as FC Terms of Reference or Charters/By-Laws). The General Features of the Academic Divisional Councils Appendix B to Senate By-Laws state:
Each academic division of the University (Faculty, School or Division) shall have a Council. The Council is the senior academic governance body of the Faculty, School or Division and the venue for collegial and consultative decision-making within the Division.
The Council provides a forum for Division-wide dissemination of information, discussion and academic decision-making related to the governance and management of the Division and its activities. While respecting the authority of more senior university governance bodies and administration, each Council is responsible at the Divisional level for the planning, priority-setting, development, management and ongoing review of the teaching, research and other related programs and services within the Division.
No recommendation on behalf of a Division or its departments will be made to a senior governance body without the approval of that Division’s Council and the approval of the Council of any other Division likely to be affected.
The vital role that Faculty Councils play in governance could not be more clearly stated. These Councils are not just a site for the dissemination of information, but have a larger and more important purpose as well. Is your FC empowered to fulfill its governance role? If not, then what action can you take as a Faculty or School to change this situation?
Here are some questions to stimulate reflection, discussion and, hopefully, action on strengthening the role of your Faculty Council in academic governance.
- Is your Faculty Council agenda reflective of the governance functions of your Faculty Council?
- How does your Charter and By-Laws reflect that your Faculty Council is a governance body and how does it support your role in academic decision-making?
- How is collegial consultation and decision making enacted within your Faculty Council?
- Reflect on your autonomy over academic matters and the academic oversight you have regarding the many decisions that affect your faculty work. Are you satisfied with this situation?
- What is needed, if anything, to strengthen collaboration and meaningful consultation in academic decision-making within your Faculty/School?
- Do your Faculty Council members and Senators work together around key issues at Senate?
Academic decisions require your input. The university depends on you to bring your professional knowledge and skills to academic decision-making and policy development related to teaching and curriculum, program and course planning, and to disciplinary scholarship and research.
We need to ensure TRU is responsive to a rapidly changing context while, at the same time, ensuring strong faculty participation in educational decisions and policy. A key step to strong governance is to realize the potential of your Faculty Council as a site of governance. I encourage you to have these discussions and to support your Faculty Council Chair to join the newly formed FC Chairs group as one way to build stronger Faculty Councils across the university.
Vice President, TRU Faculty Association