PACC Report for AGM (12 December 2012)

Political Action and Communications Committee (PACC) Report
For QUFA Annual General Meeting, 12 December 2012

by Mark Jones, PACC co-chair

QUFA’s Political Action and Communications Committee (PACC) members for 2012-13 are Emily Hill, Monika Holzschuh-Sator, Mark Jones (co-chair), Darko Matovic (co-chair), Robert May, Adèle Mercier, Margaret Pappano, and Nasser Saleh.

We need strong political action these days; faculty / student control over academic quality and the academic agenda has never been so threatened.  It is threatened in the first place by the Ontario government, which has long boasted the nation’s lowest per capita funding to universities[1] and now presumes to dictate “revolutionary” restructuring measures for still increased efficiency.  The Ministry’s efficiency agenda includes ideas like increasing “differentiation” (i.e., specialization) of Ontario universities;[2] wholesale virtualization of teaching (in one proposal, making three out of five credits deliverable online);[3] and making all 100 and 200-level university courses transferable across the province.[4]  Such measures would mean provincial standardization of curricula (a radical loss of control by both instructors and departments), more centralized, top-down control of research and teaching, and a serious net loss in intellectual diversity.

A major (and explicit) goal of this agenda is to make universities more serviceable to the corporate sector and fast-track students into the labour-market, e.g., with three-year degrees.  The Ministry’s recent “discussion paper” views “university credentials” primarily as “prerequisites for success in our new labour market”; it boasts that “Ontario’s 20 publicly assisted universities contribute to the development of Ontario’s innovation economy through the education of a highly skilled workforce to meet labour market needs and research and development (R&D) activity and commercialization.”[5]  This is a bean-counter’s vision of higher education.  The division established in the 1960s, in which universities attend to liberal and professional education, while colleges deliver occupational training, is increasingly traversed.[6]

Meanwhile, university administrations—those who should be speaking truth to the government about the real aims and requirements of university education—have been rendered servile to the Ministry by the Ministry’s hold on their funding. As Principal Woolf told the Board of Trustees last March, “it is important to bear in mind how the university’s decisions may fit with government priorities in order to maximize leverage and support.”[7]

To this end our own administration has increasingly adopted a corporate management style, presuming to dictate rather than facilitate “the university’s decisions.”  On three separate occasions since 2009, the Dean of Arts and Science simply ignored resolutions by his own Faculty Board that challenged his unilateral decision-making, taking shelter in University Counsel Diane Kelly’s assurance (though it later proved to be mistaken) that Deans, acting as “officers” of the Board of Trustees, have the right to decide “resource” questions unilaterally even when they have serious academic impacts.[8] While the university conducted a costly and laborious “Academic Planning” exercise in 2010-11, the early stages of which involved intense debate over virtualization and online learning, it excluded all mention of these subjects from its 2012 Academic Plan but meanwhile commissioned a secret “Business Case to Grow Distance [i.e., online] Enrolments.”[9]  Indeed, once the Academic Plan had been produced and approved by Queen’s Senate, our administration sought to bury most of it by publishing pages 2-13 (the chair’s summary introduction, about one fifth of the whole) as the entire plan.[10]

More recently, when the Ministry directed college and university principals to file “Strategic Mandate Agreements,” or SMAs,[11] Principal Woolf responded with a “Proposed Mandate Statement” (4 October 2012) that parrots the Ministry’s own proposals, thus hopefully placating the Ministry but meanwhile committing Queen’s to  three academic priorities:  “Expanding undergraduate credentials, Developing twenty-first century skills through entrepreneurial and experiential learning, [and] Expanding graduate credentials.”[12] The Principal’s emphasis is, like the Province’s, manifestly on credentialing, not education.  It is, indeed, an inflationary program for granting credentials on the basis of shorter time-commitments—e.g., “two credentials in considerably less time.”  “Thus,” offers the Principal, “we shall reduce the time students take to obtain the credentials (including their degree) they need to be ready for the labour market” (p. 3).  Thus, though history gets longer and knowledge goes deeper, we are asked that higher education be done and credentialed at a fraction of the cost in time and resources spent on former generations.  Like most of the efficiency proposals seen lately, this vision is geared to reduce faculty-student contact time and thus to save institutional dollars. Our Proposed Mandate Statement is titled an “Institutional Vision.”  But this is not the future of education as most faculty or students would probably choose to see it.  And Queen’s “mandate” is an important academic issue into which we should probably have input.[13]

Serious as these concerns may be, there are positive signs as well.  For one, Queen’s Senate has just received the advice it sought last February concerning its authority over academic matters.  It is excellent news.  According to Justice Iacobucci, Queen’s Senate does share some decision-making authority with the Board, and its academic authority is not all to be overridden by the Board’s control over “resources.”  Contrary to Diane Kelly’s contention for the Deans’ “managerial” rights over resource-related decisions, the Justice affirms that both closures of academic programs and amalgamations of academic units “require Senate approval.”  Even elsewhere, he adds, where Senate has in practice delegated its academic authority, it may resume it.  These  affirmations in principle are certainly  encouraging–but what will it take to resurrect Senate’s authority in fact?  The present fact is that Senate has long been dominated by Administration, and is indeed commonly viewed as a “rubber-stamping” body.  But it is also a fact that faculty members hold, and are meant to hold, a majority of seats, and that together with students—together representing the academics within Senate—we hold a large majority.  This majority does not only mean that (in principle) academics hold the balance of power in the exertion of Senate’s academic authority.  It also reflects that we are meant to hold this power.  But until we choose and organize to assert it, we will continue to hold this power in principle only. Justice Iacobucci’s clarification of Senate’s academic authority will not deliver it to us in fact.  In recent years, attendance in Senate by faculty Senators has been lower than 50%.  This might appear as a shameful default, but in the context of recent history it is understandable.  What is the point of participating in Senate if, as Diane Kelly assured us, Senate has no significant authority anyway?  In essence, Justice Iacobucci’s advice to the contrary means that Senate can have significant academic authority; but the academics in Senate will have to choose to assert it.  Some important procedural work remains to be done concerning election procedures, attendance rules, etc.  That done, the fault will be ours if administrators continue to make our academic decisions for us.

Another hopeful sign is what was achieved in the Arts and Science Faculty Board just last April.  Last December (2011), Faculty Board repudiated its Deans’  unilateral suspension of admissions to the BFA program.  It voted to require that the Deans and Associate Deans “abide by the bylaws of Faculty Board,” that they “consult with both Faculty Board and Senate” on academic decisions affecting the continuation of units or programs; and that they resume admissions to the BFA.[14]  Although the Dean participated in the discussion and voted against the motion, he then refused to comply with it when it passed, calling the vote “irrelevant” and citing Diane Kelly.[15]  He then set out to disempower Faculty Board.  At its February meeting, he  announced that he had been circulating a “discussion paper” on the possibility of “restructuring” it on a model similar to Queen’s Senate.[16]  When this question was revolved in March,  members of faculty observed that it would strip faculty and students of the power to oppose cases of decanal unilateralism.[17]  So the Deans changed their tack; in April they moved merely to strike a committee to consider restructuring.  But Faculty Board voted it down.[18]  Not only did it not wish to restructure, it didn’t wish to waste time discussing restructuring.   This was, as I see it, a decisive show of our faculty’s interest in preserving its collegial authority in academic matters, and it brings hope that we might exert ourselves similarly in Senate–now that we have been assured that Senate’s academic authority is real.

*

A recent report in QUFA Voices 38[19] covers other matters that merit discussion here; please refer to it for discussion of:  

In addition to involvement in some of the above matters, PACC has been involved in organizing two QUFA Academic Freedom lectures.

The first was 28 Nov. 2012, when QUFA welcomed Prof. Kenneth Westhues, professor emeritus in Sociology, University of Waterloo, to speak on “Mobbing: A Hard Fact of Academic Life. or: How to Eliminate an Undesired Colleague.”  This talk was well received by over 50 Members.  Further materials by Prof. Westhues on academic mobbing are available on QUFA Forum.[20]

The second Academic Freedom Lecture will occur in winter or spring and will be given by Prof. Emeritus David Mullan (Queen’s Law) with a response by Prof. Len Findlay (CAUT).

PACC organized Fair Employment Week in October, sending out publicity posters and hosting a “beer with contract faculty” event at the Grad Club.

Some of our members have been involved in critical discussion of the Queen’s-Blyth Worldwide (QBW) program on campus lists.  This discussion began with objections to the language of the QBW website and extended to critiques of the financial arrangements, academic course approvals, exclusion of QBW instructors from the QUFA bargaining unit, touristic agendas, etc.  A petition to cancel QBW has been signed by 79 members of the Queen’s community.[21]  Two PACC members and six other faculty attended a meeting with Jim Lee in early November; discussion focused on questions of the academic validity (and vetting) of QBW courses.  In conclusion the group proposed a public forum.  This discussion has paused since mid-November but is ongoing.


[1] As OCUFA’s “Analysis of the 2012 Ontario Budget” (29 Mar. 2012) states:  “Ontario universities already have the lowest rate of expenditure per student in Canada and the worst student-faculty ratio. In real terms, per student operating funding from the province has been in decline since 2008-09. With this budget plan, the cumulative reduction in per-student funding by 2014-15 will be 16 per cent” (p. 6); http://ocufa.on.ca/wordpress/assets/OCUFA-Budget-Analysis-2012-FINAL.pdf.

[2] HEQCO, “The Benefits of Greater Differentiation of Ontario’s University Sector,” Oct. 2010; http://realacademicplanning.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/differentiationeng.pdf; see also OCUFA, “Response to the HEQCO Differentiation Report,” 26 October 2010; http://realacademicplanning.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/ocufa-response-to-the-heqco-differentiation-report-26-october-2010/;  Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, “Public Services for Ontarians:  A Path to Sustainability and Excellence,” a.k.a. “Drummond Report,” 15 Feb. 2012, pp. 244, 246-48, 258; http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/reformcommission/chapters/report.pdf.

[3] “Ontario Government Policy Paper Recommends 3/5 Online Courses,” 23 February 2012; http://realacademicplanning.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/ontario-government-policy-paper-recommends-35-online-courses-23-february-2012/.  See also Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge,” June 2012, pp. 10, 19; http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/pepg/publications/DiscussionStrengtheningOntarioPSE.pdf.

[4] “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres,” p. 16.

[5] “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres,” p. 4.

[6] See Drummond Report, p. 246.

[7] “Board of Trustees in Brief,” Queen’s News Centre, 12 Mar. 2012, http://www.queensu.ca/news/articles/board-trustees-brief-4.

[8] See Mark Jones, “Queen’s Governance: The Case for Legal Advice for Senate,” 28 February 2012; http://realacademicplanning.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/mark-jones-queens-governance-the-case-for-legal-advice-for-senate-28-february-2012/; and “Review of the Structure of Faculty Board: A Counter-Proposition with Two Motions,” 7 March 2012; http://realacademicplanning.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/mark-jones-review-of-the-structure-of-faculty-board-a-counter-proposition-with-two-motions-7-march-2012/.

[9] “Business Case to Grow Distance Enrolments in the Faculty of Arts and Science,” August 2011; released under FIPPA, 22 May 2012; http://realacademicplanning.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/business-case-released-22-may-2012/.  See also Mark Jones, “Comments,” 25 May 2012; http://realacademicplanning.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/mark-jones-comments-on-the-business-case-to-grow-distance-enrolments-in-the-faculty-of-arts-and-science-25-may-2012/.

[10] “Queen’s Bowdlerized Plan: An Open Letter to the Principal and the Provost,” 11 March 2012; http://senatefacultycaucus.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/queens-bowdlerized-plan-an-open-letter-to-the-principal-and-the-provost-11-march-2012/.

[11] The call for SMAs went out on 7 Aug. 2012, fulfilling a key recommendation of the Drummond Report, 241, 246-51.  See also CAUT, “Assault on labour rights and post-secondary education,” 21 September 2012; https://qufa.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/caut-memorandum-assault-on-labour-rights-and-post-secondary-education-21-september-2012/.

[12] Daniel Woolf, “Institutional Vision, Proposed Mandate Statement and Priority Objectives” (4 October 2012), p. 1; http://queensu.ca/provost/responsibilities/responsetomtcu.html.  Compare the proposals in “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres” for “Expanded Credential Options and Supplements” (p. 15) and “Entrepreneurial and Experiential Learning” (p. 21).

[13] On the logic and function of these Mandates, see Drummond and CAUT, as cited in note 12 above.

[16] Minutes, February 2012, pp. 2-4; http://www.queensu.ca/artsci/sites/default/files/FB_20120210_Minutes.pdf.  See also the Deans’ “Discussion Paper:  Review of the Structure of Faculty Board” (ca. 4 Feb. 2012; posted 28 Feb. 2012); http://realacademicplanning.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/discussion-paper-faculty-board-march-16-2012.pdf.

[17] See the several posts on “Faculty Board Restructuring” in Real Academic Planning, Feb.-April 2012; http://realacademicplanning.wordpress.com/category/themes/faculty-board-restructuring/.

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