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President’s message / A tale of two motions

President’s message / A tale of two motions

By Brenda Austin-Smith

At its April meeting, CAUT Council passed two significant motions. One called for the resignation of administrators and politicians responsible for the financial and governance disaster that led to the insolvency of Laurentian University. The other passed censure against the administration of the University of Toronto for its failure to protect academic freedom and collegial decision making from outside influence in the botched hiring of Dr. Valentina Azarova, an international legal expert in human rights law. While these two actions might seem unrelated — one focused on the financial mismanagement of a public institution and the other on irregularities in the academic hiring process — they share a critical element. In both cases, the practices of collegial governance were bypassed, ignored, or just trampled over.

At the University of Toronto, the outcomes of these failures include the resignation of a Research Associate for the International Human Rights Program, the resignation of the faculty representative on the search committee members, and the stepping down of Dr. Kent Roach, the Chair of the Asper Centre at the University’s law school. This is in addition to widespread condemnation and the reputational damage that continues to ripple out from the circulation of documents that informed discussion on the CAUT Council floor.

In the Laurentian University case, financial mismanagement at the top has stripped almost one hundred academics and support staff of their jobs, forced several colleagues to retire at short notice, endangered the progress of hundreds of students, and dealt a body blow to Sudbury and its extended community. The faculty association leadership was effectively severed from the membership by the enforced confidentiality of the court-ordered process, and many protections of the collective agreement completely side-stepped. The fallout continues: the Indigenous Studies department hosted by the University of Sudbury — one of the three founding departments of Indigenous Studies in North America — will end because of the Laurentian administration’s termination of its agreements with it, among other federated institutions. And soon, musical instruments once played by Laurentian colleagues in their celebrated music program will be sold off.

The distal causes of both of these situations lie at the feet of governments, both federal and provincial, who have quietly retreated from supporting colleges and universities over the last thirty years. Lack of core funding put pressure on Laurentian to invest heavily in campus infrastructure to attract more students. And donor approval seems to have become a priority in the aborted recruitment of Dr. Azarova at the University of Toronto.

But the proximal cause of these two disasters is the arrogance and mismanagement of senior administrators. Documents associated with the University of Toronto case indicate that it was through communications from a sitting tax judge, Justice David E. Spiro, that the first choice candidate in a field of over one hundred applicants was suddenly characterized as “academically unworthy,” and someone whose hire would “do major damage to the university, including in fundraising.” While it is not surprising that donors might ask for influence over academic hiring or programming at our public institutions, what is called for at these moments is unqualified protection of collegial processes by our administrations against such inappropriate meddling. Instead, it appears as if senior administration at the University intervened strenuously to scotch the hiring process.

At Laurentian, Dominique Giroux, former President of the University, claimed to have achieved balanced budgets each year, even when the institution was already in debt. Our colleagues, the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA), made repeated requests for financial information from Giroux and others charged with managing the university’s budget. LUFA was repeatedly rebuffed, even in the lead up to bargaining, when employers are supposed to share financial details with the association. It was the union who blew the whistle, over and over again, that the Giroux administration and the Board of Governors, were not providing clear and transparent financial information. Why didn’t anyone listen to the union? Because of arrogance, secrecy, and a disdain for the checks and balances, the public accountability that collegial governance makes possible.

This is why members at CAUT Council passed these two motions. This is why CAUT members speak up about the critical role of shared, collegial governance in our sector. We have a responsibility to raise our voices when we see administrations running roughshod over the transparency, fairness, and accountability essential to good governance.

If we don’t stand up for these principles, who will?

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