Response to Jim Harrison Editorial

Re: Jim Harrison’s April 13th editorial on Radio NL

Mr. Harrison’s curmudgeonly editorial accuses TRU faculty and the Faculty Association of “whining” and “carping” despite being well compensated and enjoying a “cushy” job. What Mr. Harrison fails to recognize is that the issues he says “should have been addressed at bargaining” were not, and faculty feel that it was due to a failure of administrative leadership. What faculty are currently lobbying for are not more benefits for themselves, but a profound concern about the future of the University and the impact of unilateral decisions by administrators on the credibility of our programs and the success of our students. He feels that speaking out may “diminish the reputation of TRU”; what he doesn’t understand is that by not speaking out, by remaining silent in the face of continuing cuts to front-line education, increased class sizes and a reduction in course offerings, there’s a real possibility that TRU will indeed become a diminished institution.

As for Mr. Harrison’s outright dismissal of faculty concerns about governance, saying that faculty are just “employees,” and that the “tail shouldn’t wag the dog,” he clearly chooses not to understand–or acknowledge–that universities cannot be compared to other workplaces. At universities, faculty are the discipline experts, having experience and credentials to make key decisions about what is best for their students. They are employees–sure–but not subject to the whims of managers who may not have been in the classroom for years and don’t understand the day-to-day challenges that TRU students face.

Even TRU administrators admit that the University must have a shared governance model for academic decision-making. The problem is that, when it doesn’t suit them, administrators don’t consult with faculty or consider faculty perspectives.

Tom Friedman

Updated April 13: Hear Tom rebut Jim Harrison editorial on Radio NL here: Tom Friedman Rebuts April 13 Jim Harrison Editorial

  1. Merv Nicholson 5 years ago

    A genuine administration, one that valued and respected the people who work here, would be as offended as faculty are by this crude and uninformed bullying.

  2. Troy Welch 5 years ago

    I really tried to shrug this off, but alas I’m unable to. Merv, I agree with your characterization of “crude” but I’m not so sure about “bullying”. Bullying implies some sort of power and threat, Jim is a two-bit radio host in small BC town. He doesn’t have the world reach of the faculty and researchers at TRU. He is, after all, proud of being simple.

    I do feel some need to shred what he seems to thing passes for public discourse. Initially I held back back because it seemed in poor taste (clearly he hasn’t done his homework.) But after sober reflection, I believe that he is eager to join the thrust and parry of intellectual debate. So let’s examine his argument, such as it is.

    The first buck and half on the time stamp appears to be the sniping of petty jealousy, likely at the realization that while he was leading the simple life of keggers, fishing trips and monster truck rallies while others were pouring their days, evenings, and weekends into trying to learn, teach and understand the world and how to pass this knowledge on to their students.

    Just for kicks, it would be interesting to do a comparative analysis of the actual work done by a small-city radio host vs. a small city academic. Anyway, back to his argument at approx. 1:28 where he casts aside his limited understanding of our position leading to the non-confidence vote with “…that may be the norm at the university level, but we have a more simplistic view on life…”

    I’m confused (I’m not really, it’s just a cheap narrative device), hasn’t anyone explained to Jim what the “U” in TRU is? The entire community was in support of the transition from Cariboo College to The University College of the Cariboo to Thompson Rivers University. Did Jim somehow miss the part where calling the institution a University meant that it actually then had to be a University with all of the attendant activities, policies, governance structures, and decision-making processes?

    And who is the “we” he is referring to that has this “more simplistic view on life?” Possibly he and the 6 or 7 people who actually listen to his show. However, thinking people have long since realized that life is anything but simple, and you over-simplify to your detriment.

    However, he continues with his rant, simple and erroneous as it is, by characterizing what he believes the “jobs” of faculty and administrators are. He does so unencumbered by and unaware of such complications to his understanding (part of his simplistic view on life I would imagine) as the Thompson Rivers University Act, the Thompson Rivers University Faculty Agreement and the Thompson Rivers Policy Manual.

    Let’s pick up his rant at this point, “administrators are paid for developing and carrying out policy.” Well this is not entirely accurate. There are several types of policies and the key ones at issue are meant to be co-constructed by faculty and administration (I know that my characterization is woefully bereft of the fullness of detail and nuance, but I’m trying not to overwhelm Jim). In any event, the major point of contention at issue in this non-confidence vote is the lack of collegial governance.

    This Jim is not some bit of “cheese” as you so eloquently characterize it, it is contractually provided for in the documents that frame the operation of TRU and it was part of the general understanding when TRU was formed. It would be fair to say that if the TRU administration followed the provisions of: the Thompson Rivers University Act (it’s a provincial government thing and sort of has the force of law, except when the body who wrote the law decides not to enforce it), and the TRU Policy (except where the body who wrote the policy decides not to enforce it), and the Thompson Rivers Faculty Agreement (which is a contract wherein two parties explicate how they will conduct their relationship with one another (except when they decide not to and the body that enforces the laws decides not to)…

    I’m going to start the previous sentence again without the parenthetical intrusion:

    It would be fair to say that if the administration conducted their affairs with respect to the above mentioned act, policy and contract, we would be thousands of miles away from holding a non-confidence vote.

    Jim, I understand that in your world “editorial” means unencumbered by truth or research, but on campus here we take truth and research very seriously. We also take the education of our students very seriously. We also work hard, damn hard, at these things, and despite your cheap and shabby characterizations the faculty of this institution work doubly hard when they aren’t in class. It may have escaped your notice, but the world stubbornly insists on changing and our faculty equally stubbornly insist on trying to understand it pass that understanding on. Also, if you spent a little time researching you would find that our salaries have been settled for the next half a decade. Our concerns (which are left over from the failed contract negotiations) are about the quality of education we are able to provide our students.

    I’m going to close soon, because in my heart I know you went finishing or to a golf course or something about five paragraphs ago. I will apologize for my ad hominem remarks (that means directed against a person) but quite frankly buddy, you fired the first shot. Any time you want to compare the salary and work of university faculty members against radio op. ed. guys you just let us know.

    I’ll even give you some hints on how the arguments will go. “Wow, you make how much and all you have to do is blow into a microphone for 10 or 15 minutes per day. Hell, it’s even recorded and played back over and over again. Jeez anybody could do it. Must be nice.” I have friends in media and I understand the iceberg of time behind those 10 or 15 minutes of broadcast time. I understand that your cumulative hour of air time doesn’t on its own justify your salary, it’s the iceberg of work behind that hour. Maybe you could extend the TRU faculty the same respect and seek to understand the iceberg of time behind their classroom hours, preparation, marking, service, research and other components of their workload.

    Finally, it is worth pointing out that faculty members weren’t born into their positions, anyone can do it, it’s very simple, quite frankly. All you have to do is get a Bachelor’s degree, then a Masters, then (for most programs) a Doctorate, and then produce instruction, thought and research of a calibre high enough to pass muster at a provincial, national and global level. About then you should be pulling in roughly the salary of a level 3 custodian at the Ajax mine should it ever open except that you will have about a decade of student loans to pay off.

    Jim, I hope you consider yourself a Journalist, and as a journalist it is your responsibility to seek out and deliver the truth. I’m not sure if you know this, but we have a Journalism program at TRU and it would sure be swell if you tried to be a bit a role model. Spend a little less time on the golf course and do your job. You are letting us down, but frankly we are getting used to it.

    Troy Welch

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