Let’s Talk About Governance
By TRUFA Vice President, Star Mahara
These days there seems to be a lot of talk about governance at TRU, and rightfully so. Strengthening our governance structures and processes is a top priority for both TRUFA and TRU. Recently, Senior TRU Administration put into place a set of initiatives that they believe will strengthen TRU’s academic governance model. Similarly, at our annual retreat this year, the TRUFA Executive committed to a plan of action with the same goal in mind. One of TRUFA’s strategies involves improving faculty members’ knowledge about governance structures at TRU and their role and responsibilities within that structure.
Our goals are two-fold:
- To promote discussion about governance at TRU and to help faculty to better understand their roles and responsibilities related this key aspect of our lives as academics.
- To motivate faculty to be actively engaged in the educational decision making process at TRU.
It is my hope that a better understanding of governance will empower faculty to recognize and carefully apply the powers entrusted to them through the Thompson Rivers University Act, and the TRU-TRUFA Collective Agreement as they participate in the formulation of academic policies and procedures within the university through our many collegial bodies and committees.
Let’s Talk about Governance
When you think about academic decision making at TRU, have you ever wondered how academic decisions are made or how academic policy is formulated? Have you wondered who has the authority to make academic decisions – is it faculty, administration, some combination of both?
In a recent document, TRUFA President Tom Friedman noted:
“Collegial governance requires both faculty members and University administration to share in the academic administration of the University. Unlike most other workplaces, in which managers determine the nature of the work to be performed and supervise employees in undertaking that work, universities are based on the principle that faculty members’ professional judgement—enshrined in the concept of academic freedom—must be a major component in the academic visioning and operations of the institution.”
So, how can you tell when collegial governance is working as it is supposed to? Can you differentiate a situation where academic decision making authority has been exercised correctly from one where someone’s authority has been usurped? What level of academic oversight do you and your colleagues have over the many decisions that affect your teaching and learning and research? The answers to these and similar questions require an understanding of TRU’s academic governance structures and processes (the Board of Governors, the University Senate, Faculty Councils, and Departments), and how these bodies relate to each other.
The TRU website provides a succinct description of our key governance bodies: TRU’s governance structure is mandated by BC government legislation in the form of the University Act and the Thompson Rivers University Act. This structure includes the Board of Governors, the Senate, and the Planning Council for Open Learning. The Board is responsible for budgetary, operational and administrative matters, The Senate is responsible for decisions impacting all academic matters and includes advising the Board on the development of policy concerning TRU’s objectives and other matters. Finally, the Planning Council for Open Learning is responsible for the mandate of the Open Learning Division.
TRUFA has always contended that faculty also have rights and responsibilities related to academic governance through Faculty Councils, and to a lesser extent, through other collegial decision making bodies such as departmental appointments, sabbatical, promotion and tenure, workload, and performance review committees. Faculty Councils are the senior academic governance body of the Faculty/School and gain their academic decision making through the TRU Act (more on this in next month’s column). This point has never been in dispute. But, a more contentious idea is that the TRU-TRUFA Collective agreement also provides faculty with some powers related to many aspects of institutional decision making and setting of educational policy through provisions for these faculty/school/departmental committees. The relationship between the Collective Agreement and governance will be discussed in another of the future columns.
TRUFA’s Definition of Collegial Governance
Three years ago Tom Friedman, Bernard Igwe, and I made presentations to most of Faculty Councils about the basics of governance and academic freedom and we encouraged Faculty Councils to adopt the following definitions (informed by Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) policies) to guide their governance work:
This is defined in terms of the degree of autonomy members of a department or discipline can expect in participating in and determining every aspect and condition of their work: for example, courses, curriculum, meetings, workload, workload planning, academic and program planning, and so on. The term turns on two elements, collegiality and consultation:
Collegiality does not mean congeniality; it means the participation of academic staff in governance structures. To be collegial, academic governance must: (a) allow for the expression of a diversity of views and opinions, (b) protect participants so that no individual is given inappropriate advantage (for example, due to power differentials) with respect to decisions, and (c) ensure inclusiveness so that all who should be participating are provided the opportunity to do so. Collegial governance depends on the participants being given, and being able to deliver, their share of the service workload.
This refers to the process whereby the person(s) consulting a person(s) is obligated to take into consideration the circumstances and interests of the person(s) being consulted, and, also, to ensure that these circumstances and interests are reflected in the determination made at the end of the process. Consultation also refers to a formal meeting by which the consultation occurs around a specific agenda item(s) and whose procedure and outcome(s) are documented.
At the end of these presentations, we asked faculty to consider decision making within their Faculty/School/department:
- Is it a democratic process?
- Are you finding that faculty are merely endorsing administrative positions?
- Do you have a sense of ownership in the academic decision making process?
We asked you to consider two issues:
- What would it take to be able to make decisions collectively and respectfully in an atmosphere of transparency and accountability; to engage in collegial discussion and debate about the academic directions of departments, faculty, and the university?
- How can you, as faculty members, strengthen collaboration and meaningful consultation in academic decision making within your School/Faculty?
Two Suggestions for Faculty
A couple of years ago I made two suggestions for faculty to help keep governance strong. I think these remain relevant to us in our daily work.
First, keep abreast of institutional activities and decisions and analyze these events through a governance lens, i.e., examine the impact that all decisions or proposed courses of action may have on academic matters as well as on faculty academic oversight of decisions that affect our teaching and research.
Second, become engaged in the work of academic governance and the protection of academic freedom. Participate in departmental and institutional committees yourself, and work to support your colleagues who do serve in these positions.
Success in building a university rests with the ability of departments, schools and faculty councils, and the Senate to establish truly collegial consultation and decision making procedures and the commitment of faculty to serve on governance bodies. Our university depends on the role that each of us fills with respect to the professional knowledge and skill we bring to academic decision making and policy development related to pedagogy and curriculum, program and course planning, and to disciplinary scholarship and research. Each of us has a role to play in ensuring that the university is successful. Each of us must assume some sense of ownership over the future of the institution that comes with being an academic. We are all academic citizens, and as such, we have a responsibility to have an active life in the governance of the university.
Next month: The Powers and Duties of Faculty Council
The TRUFA newsletter will be hosting a monthly column on governance issues at TRU and beyond. Faculty are encouraged to contribute an article about governance in their specific faculty or discipline or indeed about the general state of governance both at TRU and at Canadian universities in general. If you do not wish to contribute an article but have specific governance questions or issues that you would like to see addressed in an upcoming column, please feel free to contact Martha at firstname.lastname@example.org.