York University Faculty Association statement on the presidential search

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Yesterday YUFA published the results of a poll that overwhelmingly demonstrate the serious concerns among our members about the conduct and direction of the current presidential search at York University. Today we are sharing those results, including hundreds of comments, with the presidential search committee and the Board of Governors. These responses help illuminate the poll data, and show the full range of views among members–both positive and negative–about the search process, its possible outcomes, and even the poll itself.

Almost 900 members participated in the poll, a turnout of 57.73 per cent. This response is greater than the number who participated in the ratification vote for the new Collective Agreement.

It is particularly notable that, while 70 per cent of respondents were “well aware” that a search was in process, almost 80 per cent said they had not been consulted in any form. There was a strong perception that the process was closed or secretive: nearly 60 per cent thought it was “secretive”, “closed” or “somewhat closed” versus 13.3 per cent who thought it was “open and accessible”, “open” or “somewhat open”.

The presidential search process itself has shed light on the collegiality deficit and the problematic procedures of governance at our institution. Prior to the introduction of fully “confidential” searches in 2005, the process for appointing a new president at York had been open, and the Senate played a central role in discussing the merits of candidates and making recommendations to the Board of Governors. In our 2015-16 round of collective bargaining, YUFA presented a proposal to reintroduce open search procedures for senior administrators, but this was categorically rejected by the Employer. It is widely acknowledged that open shortlists make it possible for search committees to seek and receive much more information about candidates from diverse sources, as is the case in normal academic hiring across the University.

By contrast, the presidential process now happens entirely behind closed doors and, in the current search, the Chair of the Board of Governors also sits as the Chair of the presidential search committee responsible for making the recommendation. In addition, the Board chose its own members as its nominees in the search committee–none of which they are mandated to do. As has been observed by many others, the composition of the Board of Governors–at York and elsewhere–is heavily weighted in favour of business and finance representation, at the expense of everyone else.

It is clear that many members of the York community–and certainly faculty members–are concerned about the presidential search and the prospect that the appointment of a leading member of the current administration would perpetuate the managerial style of leadership that has become entrenched at York. They worry that this administration has far too often followed policies that reduce academic policy-making and innovation to questions of efficiency, and promote internal competition among programs in a way that erodes collegial culture and is counter-productive for promoting academic quality and integrity. The AAPR (program prioritization) exercise and the introduction of the SHARP budget model are two developments that have demoralized many faculty members who are increasingly being told that the value of their work can only be captured by quantifying or ranking academic programs and areas of scholarship.

Moreover, in recent years, we have seen two strikes at York and an accompanying deterioration of labour relations. The implementation of the Research Release Program–negotiated less than one year ago–has been a vivid example of this. Many colleagues have been alarmed that the Program has been re-conceived by the current administration as a way of compelling departments to use performance metrics rather than academic judgment to determine how resources should be directed to support our research.

It is regrettable that the secretive nature of the process forces members of the university community who have a legitimate interest in the outcome of this process–and who want to express their views–to participate on the basis of leaks, rumour and incomplete information that began to circulate at this late stage of a closed, non-participatory search process. Such is the case with the widely held assumption that Vice-President Academic and Provost, Rhonda Lenton, is a leading candidate for the position. The results of our poll, including the extensive comments received, show that she does not exhibit the qualities that the academic community at York believes should be possessed by the next president of our university. A significant majority had a negative view of her potential candidacy, with only 11.2 per cent indicating they “support her appointment as President” and 58.6 per cent saying they are opposed.

In view of all these considerations, before the search moves to the final stages, we would like to join other individuals and groups on campus in calling for a more responsive presidential search process in which real and meaningful input from the academic community can be sought and the voices of York’s full range of stakeholders can be heard.

See the full poll results here and here.

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