The Executive Committee of Memorial University’s Faculty Association (MUNFA), is calling on the Province and the University to address serious issues raised by the resignation of Brittany Lennox, MUN Students’ Union (MUNSU) representative on Memorial’s Board of Regents. These relate to the Board of Regents’ operation and to its membership.
MUNFA believes that problems with the Board of Regents are inseparable from the increasingly corporatized character of Memorial and other Canadian universities.
“Memorial’s students and its academic staff share a common set of interests centred on our commitment to providing high quality public education and scholarly research in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said MUNFA President, Dr. Basil Kavanagh. “We believe Ms. Lennox’s resignation is a sign of wider problems that need to be tackled for the good of the University and the province.”
Operational issues: transparency, accountability & civility
Under the Memorial University Act, the Board of Regents is responsible for the “management, administration and control of the property, revenue, business and affairs of the university.” As such, it is Memorial’s top decision-making body.
However, public access to Board meetings is highly restricted and Regents must follow confidentiality rules that preclude them from discussing Board business outside of meetings. In a post on its website, MUNSU notes that these prevented Ms. Lennox from consulting her constituency for feedback or guidance on Board of Regents decisions (see: http://www.munsu.ca/regents/).
Ms. Lennox’s own letter of resignation, although heavily redacted to comply with Board of Regents confidentiality rules, refers to “personal harassment, bullying and gaslighting” and “intimidating behaviour” during her time as a Regent. The letter also points to concerns of a higher order in the “overpowering influence of senior university administrators over the purportedly independent operation of the Board.”
MUNFA calls for an immediate end to the Board of Regents’ confidentiality restrictions. Making the Board’s decision-making process open, transparent and accountable is essential for sound governance and public confidence in Newfoundland and Labrador’s flagship educational institution.
MUNFA is troubled by Ms. Lennox’s descriptions of personal abuse at Board meetings. The University must treat these reports as a matter of urgency and with the same diligence it uses to investigate respectful workplace complaints lodged against faculty. If they are sustained, redress must be offered to Ms. Lennox and steps taken to ensure no such situation recurs.
Board of Regents Composition
MUNFA is calling on the Province to review the membership structure of the Board of Regents. Currently, the Board is comprised of Memorial’s President, Chancellor and Pro-Vice Chancellor; six members elected by Memorial’s Alumni Association; four representatives from the University’s student unions; and 17 members, appointed by the Lieutenant Governor.
The MUN Act explicitly forbids any academic staff member from sitting on the Board.
It is time for the Province to amend the legislation to include faculty representatives so that all constituencies with a stake in the priorities and working of the University can help set its direction.
MUNFA notes that the ban on teaching staff puts MUN out of step with comparable universities across the country, most of which reserve spots for academic employees on their governing boards.
“Faculty members know first hand what is needed to deliver the University’s core services: teaching and research. It is bizarre and counterproductive to exclude them from the decision making process,” said Dr. Kavanagh.
Some universities also include representatives of non-academic staff, and MUNFA believes the Province also should consider reserved spots for representatives of other campus unions.
But even under existing membership rules, there is scope for improving the process of appointing new Regents. The current process moves so slowly that Ms. Lennox was the only student representative for most of her tenure.
The Corporatized University
Further, applicants with a background in business and corporate management appear to be the target pool for Regents. Named competencies for Board members include, among others: finance/investment, governance, accounting/auditing, and risk management.
MUNFA calls for equal priority on recruiting people with a background in education and scholarly research.
“We believe this directive reflects the shift from the collegial university to corporatization,” Dr. Kavanagh said. “Administrators used to be drawn from the faculty ranks and then return to work there. Now we have a class of academics who see administration as a career track. They are a mobile workforce, recruited by expensive headhunting firms. They see their jobs as running universities like businesses, not serving as stewards of public educational institutions.”
In a recent survey, academic staff indicated that they are very unhappy with the increasing size and cost of university administration and with the growing division between University administrators and academics. They are most worried that these trends are eroding their main priority: the linked areas of teaching and learning, and research, scholarship and creative activities