MUFA’s Response to Directions II (December 1996)

Introduction

On behalf of its membership, the Faculty Association Executive welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Directions II document. Many aspects of the report are indicative of a new administrative commitment to university-wide consultation and communication (p.3), and the four topics under consideration indicate a determination to continue discussion of renewal and reform in a difficult economic climate.

In the spirit of continuing dialogue, we offer here responses to certain aspects of the proposed changes which either have a direct impact on our membership, or the potential for altering the nature and structure of the University environment in fundamental ways. We observe that the Directions II statement reinforces the commitment of the University to the devolution of responsibilities to the Faculties that has occurred in recent years and we comment on certain issues in regard to faculty appointments and the control of the curriculum that arise as a consequence.

I. Institutional Renewal

Pension Funds
We view the recommendation about using some of the surplus in the Pension Plan to pay the bridging costs of the Special Early Retirement programme with interest. Other early retirement programmes have done this (for example, the University of Waterloo) so we assume it to be legal if approved by the employee groups involved. To do this after the fact at McMaster will require the support of employee groups. MUFA is certainly willing to enter into discussions along these lines. However, promises about how freed-up funds are to be used (for example, for faculty and staff renewal) will probably not be sufficient to persuade our members to support such a scheme. MUFA members continue to be concerned about pensions and pension improvements and will wish to discuss these in conjunction with the bridging funds issue. Though the issue will need to be studied thoroughly, we believe there is sufficient surplus in the Pension Plan to do both.

Faculty Renewal
The preamble to Section I.4 suggests that “a discussion of faculty renewal forces two questions,” that of deciding whether “the control of faculty hirings should be more local (Faculty Deans) or more central (Provost and President)” and that of determining the correct balance between tenure-track and contractually limited appointments. We agree that both of the questions are important and we shall comment on each. But there is an over-riding issue in regard to faculty renewal that is not addressed as directly as it should have been in the document and that is the “faculty/student ratio” and its consequences for the quality of undergraduate education. This University has in the past deplored the fact that the ratio was in excess of 1:20 in the core arts and sciences and it must surely be higher now. It is hard to imagine that the attendant adverse consequences of larger classes, fewer written assignments and less personal attention to individual student needs have not also increased.

It is not enough to argue that the total numbers of instructors have not decreased and to bias the calculation of the faculty/student ratio accordingly. Part-time instructors and most persons on contractually limited appointments simply cannot be expected to have the ongoing commitment and involvement in scholarship and research that is essential for the support and enrichment of the undergraduate curriculum and instruction. A faculty to student ratio of less than 1:20 with only tenure- track or tenured faculty being included in its calculation would allow us to say with much greater confidence than we can now that we offer a truly innovative and first-class educational experience for all of our undergraduate students.

On the matter of the balance between tenure-track and contractually limited appointments, we note that while the University Revised Policy and Regulations With Respect to Academic Appointment, Tenure and Promotion (1992) allows for as many as seven different types of contractually limited appointments, it is only the seventh category that has a bearing on the Directions II discussion. That category allows for a contractually limited appointment to be made when “the University’s financial position is so severe and uncertain that the normal commitment to a tenure-track appointment would be imprudent.” We believe the words “normal commitment” are important ones and they were included to acknowledge that tenure-track appointments are the ones that sustain and enhance the intellectual vitality of the institution and should be made whenever possible.

Tenure Decisions and Control of Appointments
Both I.4 and I.5 are relevant to tenure decisions. It is proposed in I.4 that a distinction be made in faculty hirings: “local hirings” would be made at the level of Faculty Deans and “more central hirings” at the level of Provost and President. These have, subsequent to the publication of Directions II, been identified as Stream 1 and Stream 2 appointments respectively. (See memo from the President, Provost and Faculty Deans to Department Chairs of October 15, 1996.) In the preamble of I.5, a “commitment to faculty excellence” is declared and a set of “operating principles” proposed to ensure that a high standard is maintained for all tenure-track appointments.

Although we endorse the commitment to excellence, we find that the first operating principle, 5a, has the potential to compromise the impartiality of tenure deliberations. The principle states that if a tenure-track appointment “does not succeed” the funds for the post and control over them will remain with the dean. And this principle is to apply “in spite of decision I.4a,” in which it is indicated that the exclusive control of deans over appointments is restricted to contractually limited appointments which can be funded from the Faculty envelope. The implication, then, is that in cases where tenure-track appointments are allowed to lapse, the Faculty Dean will have exclusive control over the funds designated for the position, whether that position was initially Stream 1 or Stream 2. Thus, for example, it would appear that lapsed tenure-track appointments would result in the following for the dean of the Faculty concerned: acquisition of control over Stream 2 positions initially funded centrally; the opportunity of reallocating a tenure-track position; the option of turning a tenure-track position into a contractually limited appointment position. In the light of the power of deans and/or Faculties to exercise such options, Departmental and Faculty tenure committees might well attend more to the fate of positions than to the merits of the candidates being considered for tenure.

Evaluating Multi-/Interdisciplinary Faculty
For the Stream 2 appointments referred to above, every effort must be made to ensure fair process for the merit, tenure and promotion evaluations of multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary faculty. Their work outside the home department or school should carry the same weight as work for the home base. Such colleagues run the risk of being judged within the parameters of highly specialized areas of their own department, or a department with which they have an affiliation, without sufficient consideration being given to their wider roles as expected or required by their terms of appointment.

II Administrative Structure

Undergraduate Council
The senior academic team is of the view that Undergraduate Council (UGC) has not played the leadership role for undergraduate programmes that was expected or desired. As a remedy, Directions II recommends a major structural change in the composition of UGC.

The membership of UGC is now broadly based, consisting of elected students, elected faculty, associate deans and deans from all six Faculties, as well as various other ex officio members, most important the Provost, the President and the Registrar. In contrast, the recommended UGC is narrowly based, composed entirely of administrators and students. There is no place for elected faculty, nor for the Provost or the President.

It is an error to state categorically that the “Undergraduate Council has not played the leadership role for undergraduate programs that was expected or desired”. On the contrary, the UGC in the past has played a major role in fashioning many of the innovative programmes for which this University is now noted, and a quick perusal of Senate minutes indicates that for many years some deans were of the opinion that UGC played too much of a leadership role. In recent years, the role of UGC has indeed changed. We are of the view that this change is not due to the nature of UGC, and therefore that the change recommended in Directions II would not be an appropriate solution.

There was a time when the Provost and the deans regularly attended meetings of UGC, and the President frequently was present, especially at meetings when policy matters were on the agenda. Recommendations from UGC to Senate were usually approved by Senate since the matters had been fully discussed in UGC with input from the deans and the Provost. In recent years, the Provost has not attended meetings of UGC, and attendance by the deans is at best infrequent. Thus, the first direct input from the deans and the Provost has come to be at the Senate level. This is unfortunate since usually neither the full supporting documentation or the full UGC discussion is available to Senate at this time. Moreover, Senate has substantially modified, sometimes dramatically, recommendations of UGC, rather than referring the matter back to UGC.

Directions II places considerable emphasis on undergraduate education. For this emphasis to be implemented, the senior academic team must participate fully in the discussions regarding undergraduate education. In our view UGC could again assume a leadership role if the senior academic leaders participated in the Council.

Department Chairs
We would like to comment also on Section III.1c regarding the term of department chairs. We can understand that there might be administrative benefits to extending the term to five years, but we also see costs. The main ones, in our view, would be the potential loss in collegiality and flexibility that accompanies moving to a more managerial structure. Moreover, whereas both deans and department members could consider it necessary to replace a chair before the five-year term had expired, a scheduled termination at three years might be tolerable. The bitterness that remains after prolonged dissatisfaction can seriously undermine the strength of a department.

At the same time we recognize that the department chair is a key position, and we would not be adverse to discussing improved rewards for chairs who serve two terms. A research leave at full salary should be considered.

Conclusion

Of primary concern to faculty is how the administration will continue to engage in the dialogue it has initiated through the Directions documents. We note with approval the November 4 (1996-05) President’s Newsletter, which reviews concerns raised at the October Town Hall meetings, and recent actions on some of the Directions II initiatives. Such updates are an essential contribution to the continuation of the debate.

Since “the senior academic planning group has a commitment to open and informed administrative operations”, we would appreciate knowing what mechanisms are in place for responding to members’ suggestions and criticisms raised in Town Hall meetings and elsewhere.