The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) is fighting for changes to university governance processes, after it was revealed that President Amit Chakma received $967,000 in pay in 2013-14- twice his contractual pay. The double payment – disbursed when Chakma declined to take a year of paid leave – was revealed in the 2015 Ontario Sunshine List.
Following the disclosure, 94 per cent of Western faculty who voted approved a motion of non-confidence in president Chakma and Chair of Western University’s Board of Governors, Chirag Shah. The motion was accompanied by an anonymous online petition of non-confidence, which has attracted over 5,700 signatures.
“Faculty have clearly lost confidence in Dr. Chakma’s and Mr. Shah’s ability to lead our university,” said UWOFA president Alison Hearn. “There’s something deeply wrong when a university president earns close to $1 million while student debt is rising, class sizes are increasing, and staff are facing cuts.”
President Chakma has since returned the double payment, and has apologized. However, UWOFA believes the apology does not address the underlying governance problems at Western.
“The Board’s initial response was that nothing wrong had occurred. We’ve said all along that this is not about the money. It’s about poor judgement and skewed priorities, and the deep disconnect between the senior leadership and the realities on the ground,” said Hearn.
On Friday, April 10, in a special meeting of Western’s Senate, Chakma again apologized, and acknowledged that there are serious problems with the university’s collegial governance model. He also outlined a process for regaining the trust of the campus community, and improving the relationship between the Senate and the Board of Governors. Students, faculty, and staff protested outside the meeting, while many senators stood and turned their backs while President Chakma spoke.
Governance is a serious concern at campuses across Ontario. The controversy at Western shows that university Boards of Governors, isolated from the broader campus community and beholden to a particular corporate view of the university, can frequently make poor and harmful decisions. The challenge before faculty, staff, and students is to ensure that university governance and decision making reflects the needs and priorities of all stakeholders on campus.