Mark Jones, QUFA and Queen’s Senate (9 September 2011)

As published in QUFA Voices, 9 September 2011. See also here and here.

At QUFA’s 24 August 2011 General Meeting to discuss the new agreement, someone asked how Members might best combat the Administration’s will to rule at Queen’s in the years ahead.  Allan Manson’s immediate response was that Members must begin asserting themselves in Senate.

It was a good response.  Part of its meaning is that Members can’t expect QUFA and its bargaining teams to do everything for them.  A long, spontaneous round of applause at the beginning of this meeting made our gratitude to our bargaining team very clear.  But we need to express this gratitude in action as well, by doing what we can do for ourselves to foster the academic, community, and workplace values that QUFA fought most of the past year to defend.

There is a certain overlap between the defined purposes of QUFA and of Senate.  As a labour union, QUFA is committed to “promote the interests of academic staff,” including “equity in recruitment and hiring,” “academic interests,” and “working conditions.”  As stated in its “Purposes and Function” document, Senate “determines all matters of an academic character that affect the University as a whole, and is concerned with all matters that affect the general welfare of the University and its constituents.”

Such overlap is unavoidable:  academic issues, for instance, have implications for working conditions, and vice versa.  But that does not mean we should try to do with one hand what we could do better with both.  Collective bargaining is infrequent, but Senate meets monthly from September through May, supervising policies and practices on an ongoing basis.  With many Members representing staff, students, Administration, and faculty, it is also suited—at least in principle—for multilateral discussion.

The composition of Queen’s Senate has almost always respected “the principle of the faculty constituting a majority voice.” At present, faculty hold 36 out of 71 positions (along with 16 students, 3 staff, and 16 ex officio places, mostly held by administrators).  Within living memory, however, it is not the faculty contingent but Administration that has dominated Senate.  The reasons are fairly obvious:

  • administrators specialize in administration, whereas faculty focus on teaching and research; many of us learn about the issues and motions to be discussed in Senate only from the agendas, less than a week in advance of each meeting.
  • Administrators are hierarchically unified, whereas faculty act as individuals and pull in different directions.
  • Three-year terms in Senate mean that faculty (like staff and students) rotate in and out, whereas administrators with ex officio appointments often serve longer, thus developing crucial expertise and confidence in Senate procedures.
  • The Secretariat, which controls information and agendas critical to the functioning of Senate, is under the supervision of Administration and allied with its interests.[1]
  • And not least, a long history of ineffectiveness in Senate has made faculty Members apathetic. This impediment is self-perpetuating.

It need not, and should not, be this way.  If it is indeed a “principle” of Senate that faculty have “a majority voice,” Senate is not meant to be run by the administrators.  It requires a coherent faculty presence.  Faculty need to participate in the understanding that Senate is a place for their constructive contribution, that their contribution is needed, and that they have the numbers to make their presence felt. But for this to work, faculty need to organize themselves—as they have done within QUFA.  Though Queen’s students have had seats in Senate only since 1967, they have set faculty an instructive example there: with just sixteen members, they have organized themselves as a caucus, meeting a few days before each Senate to share and discuss information.  They attempt, for instance, to get members on all key Senate subcommittees so that their caucus as a whole knows what is happening where.  By these means they have made themselves an effective presence.

Queen’s faculty senators started their own caucus on the students’ model last October; it has already helped improve our effectiveness.  We have met regularly before each Senate, we have shared information via the QSFC blog and email, and we have successfully challenged several administrative initiatives, including revisions that would have weakened Senate’s Functions document and the University’s Human Rights Policy.  It is worth stressing that collaboration between the Senate faculty caucus and QUFA was critical to the positive outcome on both of these issues.

But almost a year later, fewer than half of faculty senators belong to their caucus, fewer still attend or contribute to caucus discussions, and the role of faculty in Senate continues to be weakened by absenteeism and non-participation.  All faculty senators need to recognize that a seat in Senate is more than a line on an annual report.  It is a position from which an engaged Member can contribute valuably.   Accepting a seat in Senate therefore entails a responsibility to contribute.  Faculty who are not in Senate should understand that their units are allotted only so many seats (Arts and Science, 15; Business, 3; Education, 3; Engineering, 6; Health Sciences, 5; Grad. Studies, 1; Law, 2; Religion, 1) and urge their senators to attend and participate. They should know that all members of Queen’s have access to Senate agendas and minutes and can inform themselves about Senate discussion and participation.  They should feel free to use the Senate multiple address list to write Senators generally about issues that concern them.

At least since 2009, when Queen’s University lawyers pronounced that academic decisions with financial implications fall under the control of the Board of Trustees (and of the Deans, as its “officers”) rather than of Senate, the authority of Senate has been under a cloud (for further explanation, see this Introduction to an April 2009 Arts and Science Faculty Board motion opposing improper program closures). In 2009-10, faculty and students had to fight to get Queen’s Academic Planning put under the auspices of Senate, and even then the Senate-appointed task-force was placed by the Principal under the chairmanship of a member of the Board of Trustees. And in 2010-11, as mentioned above, faculty in Senate had to fend off efforts to revise the “Functions” document in ways that would have further minimized Senate’s powers.  In short, a struggle is now under way to maintain Senate (and thus, ultimately, faculty, staff, and student) jurisdiction over academic matters.  Unless faculty step forward to assume in fact the power that they have in principle as Senate’s “majority voice,” the Board of Trustees and Administration will increasingly assume that power.  And the more authority we cede to them over academic matters, the harder it will be to restore either “academic interests” or working conditions in our infrequent bouts of collective bargaining.

Note:

 

[1] For instance, the Secretariat was ordered by Senate last January, on a faculty-sponsored motion, to produce a multiple-address list for use in emailing senators.  Such a list, which Senate has never made available before, would clearly facilitate discussion and preparedness among non-administrative senators.  But in spite of the simplicity of the request, and in spite of reminders, the Secretariat has never bothered to provide this list (the SFC blog has therefore produced its own).  What the Secretariat has accomplished over the past summer is to change most of the URLs for Senate documents.  This useful project has predictably killed the links to Senate documents in other documents, thus impeding transparency, access, and discussion itself. The Senate Faculty Caucus blog alone includes hundreds of links that will now be useless until they can be repaired.

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