We’ve got to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!
--Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who
After each of the last couple of President’s messages, I’ve received e-mails that ask an important question: what can we do?
We’ve all heard some version of Sayre’s Law for academics: our arguments are so vicious because academic stakes are so small. The insidious corollary of Sayre’s Law is this: speaking up will never be worth it. But these sorts of quips miss something very important. We are a collective as well as individuals, a collegium responsible for governance, and if we all stay silent then our academic expertise will not be heard. Those small stakes add up to big stakes—to program integrity, fairness and rigor, and public accountability.
My epigraph above is from the moment that the Mayor of the Whos finds one child who is not yelling “we are here.” When the child adds his voice to the others, it tips the balance—they are finally heard.
I talked about collegial governance in June, but below I offer some specific suggestions (this draws on a workshop I’ve run a couple of times at other universities). It’s a long list—but if we each just picked one thing from it, then we could start tipping the balance.
1. Use your tenure.
It’s a cliché, but for good reason. If Terms of Reference aren’t being followed, evidence isn’t being provided, or decision-making is happening behind closed doors or through the wrong group, you can ask about it with the protection of both academic freedom and a continuing or tenured appointment. (Limited-term and pre-tenure faculty in the DFA also have academic freedom, but we all know the pressures that might make it difficult for them to exercise it.)
See something, say something. Collegial governance is peculiar to academic workplaces: we have this responsibility because of our qualifications. We use evidence-based analysis in the interests of the academic mission every day—do it in governance too.
2. Show up.
We can’t all go to everything—that’s not sustainable, given our other responsibilities. But what if we each picked a couple of extra university meetings to go to each year? Decide to spend just 10 hours each year going to meetings or events you don’t have to attend—even just 5 hours from each of us could make a big difference.
The Board members that oversee university finances don’t know us, and that’s part of the problem—they only hear selected bits’n’pieces from senior administration. If just one in 50 DFA Members went to Board meetings (there are just five meetings per year), and early enough to have a chat at the coffee-and-snacks table before the meetings start, it would exponentially increase contact between the Board and academics. Watch for the Budget Advisory Committee presentations, too. If you’re worried about faculty complement, tuition, or anything else related to the budget, that’s the place to speak up: ask about priorities, evidence, analysis, and future plans. Go to Senate, or Faculty Council. Come to DFA consultations to contribute to our discussions about how to improve academic working conditions at Dalhousie. Consider what matters most to you, and find the time to go to a couple of the relevant meetings each year.
3. Be prepared.
We’re all on committees. Make sure you know the Terms of Reference and relevant procedures to keep those processes on track: fair, reasonable, rigorous, and consistent with the Collective Agreement. Ask if you’re not sure (we’re at email@example.com and your faculty regulations are likely online). Talk to precarious faculty (CUPE, limited-term, pre-tenure) to make sure you hear their views.
Mentor colleagues with less committee experience: respect independence and confidentiality, of course, but give them some history, direct them to relevant documents, listen when they are struggling with a difficult decision.
Collegial governance is not just about Senate and the Board: it is part of our daily work from department meetings to appointments committees to program reviews. Good practices are an end in and of themselves, but they also support a culture of evidence-based, transparent governance.
4. Restore internal flows of information.
The university administration relies heavily on consultants. These consultants are, in key respects, replacing faculty as advisors on the academic mission. We get external advice, too, but it is always a kind of peer review: academics from other universities evaluate our academic programs, our tenure and promotion files, our research grants and articles, and so on. The university administration is drawing instead on executive search consultants for hiring, the Educational Advisory Board for curriculum and planning, and so on. This cuts us off from the key decision-makers, and cuts the senior administration off from academic expertise about our programs, our research, our students, and academic standards.
Question this. Analyze those presentations, reports, and candidate lists that are coming from outside and share your concerns if you see errors and oversights. Ask how much it costs to hire an external consultant rather than rely on qualified faculty and staff here at Dalhousie—that is money that could be spent on better supporting the academic mission. Share information you gather from committees so that more of your colleagues hear about discussions at Senate, Faculty Council, department meetings, working groups, and all the rest of them.
5. Resist Busy-Work.
Give some thought to what will do the most good. Ask questions if you think a committee or a bureaucratic requirement is not worth the time it would take. Nothing dramatic: we all have to do our jobs. But, hey, maybe doing data-entry for two days to put a cv into some random new interface isn’t going to do as much to advance the academic mission as revising the Terms of Reference for a key committee to make it more effective and accountable. Shouldn’t we at least have that conversation, in the interests of the academic rigor and integrity?
This also connects to my point about sharing information: we have myriad ad hoc committees, working groups, rapid action task forces, and so on, sometimes doing the same work simultaneously or repeating work done just a few years ago. Because they operate outside of normal governance hierarchies and standing committees, the work is often unknown and regularly lost. If we share information, we have a better chance of recognizing these time-wasters and doing something about it.
Share the workload, too. If you and your colleagues are concerned about an issue, work together on gathering information and organizing a response. Our research often mandates that we work alone; governance is inherently collegial, and that is important to the range of information you can draw on, the perspectives you can bring to bear, and managing workload.
6. Talk to the DFA.
As I noted in my June President’s Message, our rights to academic freedom and collegial governance are in the Collective Agreement. So are principles of No Discrimination, which include “a working and learning environment that is free from personal harassment”; Intellectual Property rights over our research and teaching materials; and processes for appointments, tenure, and promotion, including “fairness and natural justice.”
If a committee goes awry, committee members are in the best position to, and responsible for, bringing it back into line with the Terms of Reference and other relevant documents such as the Collective Agreement. No one should feel pressure not to act, because it’s our job to act. Talk to the DFA if you’re in a difficult situation. Ask the DFA if you think there might be a relevant clause in the Collective Agreement but don’t know how to find it.
Come to DFA meetings, and not just when bargaining is on. The DFA regularly advocates on a number of fronts: the budget; collegial governance; working conditions; occasional matters from uniweb to the after-effects of the devastating fire on the Agricultural campus. But we need to hear from you. What problems are you facing? What are your priorities?
DFA meetings are also an opportunity to talk to your colleagues in other units. You’d be surprised how many of us are having the same problems, traceable to the reduction of academic spending in the university budget or to a top-down governance culture that is incompatible with collegial principles. These are opportunities for collaboration and joint action.
As CAUT’s Past-President, James Compton, put it, “If collegial governance lacks open communicative dialogue, all that is left is power—power that lays predominantly with the administration. Collegial governance only exists if it is exercised. My advice is to use it” (CAUT Bulletin). So let’s all participate, just a little bit more, to be heard: “We are here!”
Julia Wright, DFA President, 2019-20
Last month, I went through a few million-dollar figures from the Dalhousie budget—a surplus of $6 million, a cool $1 million thrown in the general direction of buildings, a $43.2 million reduction in academic spending over the last couple of decades, and so on. This month, let’s talk about ratios.
Online, the administration reports that Dalhousie has “more than 6,000 faculty and staff” of which 999 are professors, a tad higher than the full count of DFA Members in 2016 (professors, instructors, librarians, and counsellors, including limited-term appointments). That puts the staff to faculty ratio around five to one—part of the reason my title is taken from Jim Morrison’s 1968 lyrics. This imbalance is registered in other figures. The administrative Dalhousie Professional and Managerial Group (DPMG), which does not typically include unit-level staff, is now nearly as big as the DFA: according to the 2018 Dalhousie Census, 957 DFA members and 721 DPMG members responded (and an even 100 in “Senior Administration”; see page 2 of the pdf).
The Census suggests another ratio: if the DFA response rate to the Census was 91% and 957 responded, then that puts the administration’s 2018 DFA count at about 1,050; 134 non-union faculty also responded, so the number of faculty may be closer to 1,200. Even if the proportion of university employees who are faculty may be as high as “one in five,” to again quote Morrison, it sure isn’t anything to brag about.
The University of British Columbia was criticized in 2015: “UBC has a 2:1 staff-to-faculty ratio, while [the University of] Toronto has a 1:2 ratio.” UBC is closer to the norm, though. Here are Dalhousie’s closest Atlantic peers and some other U15s (using their terminology for employee groups):
So the university website puts Dalhousie’s proportion of faculty (1 in 6) at less than half of the lowest ratio reported by these seven universities.
Universities do vary in terms of who they count and how. The University of Victoria is unusually detailed about its count and it has close to a 1:1 ratio of academics to non-academics: it recognizes instructors as academics but separates them from faculty and many of its academics are precariously employed. And some of these universities are reporting slightly different years, though they’re all the most recent available.
Even recognizing such variations, there seems to be a general trend in those universities that put this information clearly on their websites: at least one-third of their workforce is faculty. If Dalhousie were in a comparable range, we would have over 800 more faculty colleagues. Take a moment to think about what even half that would mean to our academic programs, our students, our research, our workloads—and the province, given the role of universities in driving economic success and other social benefits.
Let’s move beyond staff-to-faculty ratios. If Dalhousie had the same ratio of faculty to full-time students as Memorial, a similarly sized medical university in the region, then Dalhousie would have 1,444 faculty. (You can see this at a granular level—I checked some comparable units and numbers of professors at the two universities are either similar, as in Biology, or Memorial has more, as in Social Work.)
Our ratio also affects the university culture. Five to one, Human Resources and myriad other units are not dealing with us. Five to one, our Collective Agreement is irrelevant to the work of the administration. In policy development, planning, and so on, we’re not a significant cohort. Our Collective Agreement is just one in five at Dalhousie.
According to Research Infosource’s 2017 data (and using the university’s 999 figure), Dalhousie has over 25% more research income than Memorial, even though it has over 25% fewer faculty, and more than three times the research income of UNB, even though it has less than twice as many faculty. Since faculty numbers are differently calculated, let’s look at this from the perspective of total employees: York University (the second-largest university in Canada by undergraduate enrolment) has 7,000 faculty and staff to Dalhousie’s 6,000, but less than two-thirds the research income of Dalhousie.
Again, these numbers may be differently calculated; moreover, disciplines are highly variable in terms of whether external research funding is needed and how much, so the discipline mix is always a factor in research income. But these and other calculations all point in one direction: we are doing more with less. #DalProud, indeed.
“Five to One” is a song about revolution, recorded just weeks after anti-war protests at the Pentagon: “They got the guns, but we got the numbers,” sang Morrison. We’ve got numbers, too, like those I’ve detailed above and last month, as well as many others collected by the DFA over the years (with more to come!).
DFA concerns about workload and fairness are not rooted in speculation, or belly-aching, or faculty failure to organize their time. Workload problems are real and they are discernible in the numbers as well as palpable in our daily experience, especially for our limited-term colleagues. We are less than “one in five” doing the work that in other universities is done by over one in three.
I invite your comments and feeback by email at Julia.Wright@dal.ca.
Julia Wright, DFA President 2019-20
I started reading more on the DFA website in the early 2010s when I chaired my Faculty’s working group on Finances. Those materials, along with other readings and various consultations for our working group, led to my understanding of spending at Dalhousie as “buckets and troughs”: all resources go into buckets; resources then get poured into different troughs, until they’re more or less full. If one starts to run low, skim some from the other troughs. Pouring slop from a bucket is never a finely tuned calculation. It’s a metaphor, of course, but one I’ve
found useful because it grasps the lack of detail in the information we get. It’s hard to know why, for instance, every year there are tuition increases but cuts to Faculty budgets (the so-called BAC Cuts, named for the Budget Advisory Committee)—and every year the university ends with a surplus.
This year, there was $6 million left in the buckets—enough to erase the .5% cut to Faculties in the 2019-20 Budget and reduce tuition increases. (They’re not, of course.) It is the annual BAC Cuts that make faculty renewal more difficult, driving our continuing reliance on precarious and under-resourced LTAs as well as less easily tracked forms of workload creep for everyone (larger class sizes, more committee obligations, fewer unit-level staff, less resources for research). And, of course, there’s the scrambling for ERBA, the Enrolment Related Budget Allocation. It’s the only regular BAC mechanism by which a Faculty budget allocation can increase and it basically works like this: if you manage to teach more students after your budget is cut then you will get a bit more money the following year that will offset that next year’s cut. Both ERBA and the BAC Cut normalize Faculties doing more with less.
The DFA has noted repeatedly in recent years that academic spending as a portion of the university’s overall budget has declined significantly. Here’s the April 2018 Review of Dalhousie Finances:
In 2016-17, the proportion of the total operating budget spent on the Academic Responsibility Centre was approximately 9% less than in 2002-03. In 2002-03, Dalhousie used just under 74% of operating funds for the Academic category. In concrete terms, this means that Dalhousie would have had an additional $43.2 million to spend on the University’s core mission if the percentage had remained the same in 2016-17 as it was in 2002-03. (p. 2)
It’s easy to see how big a difference that might have made in supporting faculty renewal, reducing tuition fees, and even addressing uncompetitive salaries at Dalhousie and pay equity across all ranks and groups. And there’s more: “Over the past 15 years, nearly half a billion dollars has been diverted from every funding envelope into the Capital fund, and more than $215 million flowed from operating budgets to acquire capital assets” (p. 2). (See the DFA’s last BAC Submission on restoring funding to the academic mission now that the building boom is starting to wind down.)
The budget and collegial governance used to be a lot more tightly linked than they are now, as my last President’s Message briefly noted. Senate even used to have the power to gather information and make recommendations on university budgets, while duly recognizing that budgets were finally in the hands of the Board of Governors. Here’s a taste of the sort of discussion that used to happen at Senate about these budgets:
Mr. Bradfield asked if interest on the capital debt is charged against the operation fund. Mr. Mason stated that interest on the operating accounts is charged to the operating account, but that interest on the capital fund [is] only charged to that fund during the construction phase. He stated that he did not believe it was possible to charge the interest on unfunded capital to the capital account. (Minutes, January 1987, p.5)
Later that month, “The entire meeting was devoted to the presentation and consideration of the 1987/88 Budget Book Summary and related matters” (p. 12).
There are a lot of interesting passages in these Minutes, some very familiar (especially those on fiscal concerns in the face of provincial funding shortfalls), and others less so: “The President... reported an intention to cut back in the President's Office” and “reviewed the cost of maintenance, repairs and furnishings” of the President’s house (p. 15). Imagine! In our own period of austerity and annual BAC cuts to Faculties, the President’s Office budget allocation increased dramatically, from $2,998k in 2009-10 (p. 10) to $4,200k in 2015-16 (also p. 10). That’s a 40% increase over six years.
Here’s what we used to have. In the 1983 Senate Constitution, the Senate Financial Planning Committee’s tasks were detailed and included the following: “monitor and report on the financial aspects of the development, administration and expenditure of the university’s annual budget, making policy recommendations where appropriate”; “respond to such specific requests for financial information, analysis and reports as it may from time to time receive from the Academic Planning Committee” (p. 7). As late as last decade, there was a Senate Academic Priorities and Budget Committee (in place from 1996) that was to “act as a principal advisor to Senate . . . in the conduct of academic, and financial planning,” as well as “be involved in the preparation of the annual budget so that it reflects the University’s academic priorities” (Constitutional Provisions Governing the Operation of Senate [January 2005]: 27). The BAC has been around since 1992, so it isn’t that BAC replaced the Senate committee. It’s just gone.
Now, instead of Senate scrutiny leading to even the president being accountable for his spending, we have surveys and town halls in which urgent calls for help cannot be effectively heard and few of us have enough information to effectively analyze what we are being told. We don’t even know the basis for that cool-million-dollar price tag for facilities in the 2019-20 budget (p. 14). What items were costed, and for how much, to lead to that oh-so-very-round figure? Will fifty small fixes yield more benefit to the academic mission than three expensive fixes? Who is doing that analysis, and on what principles? If there’s money left over, where does it go? This isn’t pocket change—a tenth of this amount could make a significant difference to an academic program struggling to maintain its course offerings because of unreplaced retirees.
Skimming the same percentage from all Faculties every year and slopping six- and seven-figure sums at vague, campus-wide projects don’t generate much confidence in evidence-based decision-making. Nor do they allow meaningful discussion about academic priorities and university spending overall, or even a basic risk-benefit analysis to know when, and where, a further small cut may be so damaging that it isn’t worth the short-term savings.
In the common phrase, budgets are about priorities. At a public university, shouldn’t evidence-based, transparent, and accountable budgets dedicated to the academic mission be the priority?