CUFA BC Conference on University Governance

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On March 3 and 4, OCUFA co-sponsored and attended a national conference on university governance hosted by the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia (CUFA BC). The event, “University Governance in the 21st Century: Meeting the Challenges of Openness, Accountability, and Democracy,” sparked important exchanges between faculty, staff, and university administrators about policy challenges and best practices for supporting collegial governance.

The role of faculty and faculty associations in realizing good university governance was a central theme. Since faculty knowledge of governance processes cannot be assumed, several speakers motivated for more education to support effective engagement. Discussions about leveraging university governance processes to close the gender gap, address sexual violence, and indigenize the academy also raised the important challenge of recognizing and valuing the disproportionate amount of work taken on by women and indigenous faculty members in efforts to achieve these goals.

Animated discussions about the role collective bargaining plays in supporting collegial governance recognized the potential to strengthen and clarify good governance practices in collective agreement language. Although a few participants voiced the possible limitations of an adversarial process for promoting collegiality, the keynote speaker, University of British Columbia President Santa Ono, struck a chord when he stated that faculty associations are a key partner in shared governance, both as unions and because they can articulate the broader interests of faculty across the institution.

One underlying issue identified is the shrinking complement of full-time faculty who struggle to find the time to take on the service work involved in good governance. In addition, the contract faculty full-time faculty are being replaced with are often not represented on governing bodies or compensated for the service work they do take on.

Throughout the conference, participants expressed concern about the increasing secrecy and corporate approaches utilized by Boards of Governors. This was accompanied by discussions about the narrowing role of Senates at many institutions and strategies for reviving them to ensure they are respected and effective academic decision-making bodies.

Several speakers reviewed the legislative and legal backdrop for collegial governance, leaving the audience with some helpful takeaways. These include that Boards of Governors’ fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the university should not be used to silence board members. In fact, it was suggested that there exists a positive duty of care and loyalty to speak out if a board’s agenda is getting off track.

CUFA BC is planning to develop a publication based on the conference presentations. For the full agenda, list of speakers, and copies of select presentations visit the conference website.

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