The Ontario Government has been working with the province’s universities to develop Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) that identify each institution’s strengths and set out how the government can work to best support the strategic priorities of each institution and the system as a whole. However, the process by which these agreements have been developed has not included meaningful consultation with university faculty, whose teaching and research is at the core of every university’s mission. The failure to consult with faculty and incorporate their input into these agreements raises significant concerns for Ontario’s professors and academic librarians about how decisions regarding the future direction of their institutions are made, and the legitimacy of the SMAs themselves.
The second round of SMA negotiations between the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) and individual Ontario universities is expected to conclude this summer. Each institution’s agreement is oriented around five government objectives and priorities. These priorities include 1) student experience; 2) teaching and learning; 3) access and equity; 4) research excellence; and 5) community engagement. For each priority, there are system-wide indicators that all institutions will report on, as well as institution-specific metrics that each university selects as part of the negotiations.
Unfortunately, the government has not required institutions to consult with their campus communities as part of the SMA negotiation process. As a result, consultation on most campuses has been limited, with little to no opportunity for faculty input, and faculty associations are deeply dissatisfied with the process. Typically, if “consultation” did occur, administrations presented drafts of completed SMAs to senates for the information of senators, but opportunities to provide input or modify these drafts were non-existent. In some cases, campus town halls were held, but the mechanism through which community feedback was to be integrated into draft SMAs was not made clear.
The very nature of the five key priority areas addressed by the SMAs is such that anything decided in these agreements will directly impact faculty in every aspect of their work as teachers and researchers. The absence of meaningful consultation with faculty as part of the SMA development and negotiation process significantly undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of these agreements. This failure of process must be corrected when designing the next round of SMA negotiations.
Earlier this month, OCUFA sent a letter to the government’s lead for SMA negotiations and the Deputy Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development to highlight the shortcomings of the current round of negotiations and identify strategies for improving the process in the future.
In the next round of SMA negotiations, MAESD must require institutions to provide evidence of meaningful consultation with faculty before negotiations between the Ministry and university administrations begin and again before the final agreements are approved. While it is the responsibility of local university administrations to undertake local consultations, the Ministry must take a leadership role and set standards for the negotiation process that will result in SMAs that reflect the views and priorities of the entire campus community – not just administrators.
Moving forward, OCUFA will continue to work with MAESD and other stakeholders to ensure that the next round of SMA negotiations involve meaningful consultation in which faculty voices are heard.