So anyone out there

who pays attention to universities in Canada knows that UNB is undergoing a rolling series of motions of non-confidence in the upper management: four faculties and counting. The New Brunswick newspaper is in an uproar. Someone, somewhere, called in the cavalry. And UNB president H.E.A. “Eddy” Campbell has embarked on a gruelling campaign to win hearts and minds.

Here’s my thing: the main difficulty, as I see it, is that President Campbell implies that the problem, the only problem, is communication and if they — the employer — just communicated better with us — the employees — we —the employees — would be less discontent. He does not appear to have considered that our disagreement might not be with not being told what is going on, but rather, with what is going on itself. He doesn’t need to talk to us more; he needs to listen to us, even a little bit. We don’t want to hear more about our employer’s plans to turn UNB into Walmart U or a Center of Excellence for the New Brunswick Economic Sacrifice Zone; we want them to stop all that before it’s too late and to listen to us for a change. We have our own ideas about what we should do.

Which, as far as many of us are concerned, is almost anything other than what our employer is currently doing.

It has gone well beyond a problem with communication.

At no point has President Campbell mentioned university governance. And that, really, is the only issue. If governance at UNB was working as it should, the adamintine lack of transparency, the colourful Powerpoint budgets, the secreted millions, and the slow, inexorable elimination of the academic staff would be addressed. They would have a forum in which to be addressed. A forum, not an echo chamber.

We don’t have “questions,” to quote President Campbell. We already have a pretty clear sense of what is going on, indeed a better sense than our employer if some of their public statements are any indication.

As should be clear from the many responses.

“Administration,” “management,” or something else?

Along with other right-thinking people, I have always believed that one should call a person or group whatever they tell you they want to be called. It’s not always straightforward or easy, and one will make mistakes. Those names may change, and the rest of us must gamely try to keep up. But as a fundamental principle of respect, society ought to acknowledge the right of groups and individuals to name themselves.

What, then, to call those people over in the administrative offices?** For decades, centuries even here at UNB, they have been “the administration.” However, they refer to themselves, with characteristic flair, as the “University Management Committee” or UMC, and who are the rest of us to argue? As it turns out, we probably should argue. Whatever they call themselves reflects their vision of the university and the way they intend to interact with the rest of us.

The issue recurred just now while reading a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the pernicious belief that students are “customers”:

Education is created, not consumed, but we cannot expect students to believe that when every message from academe itself tells them that they can just buy it.

In addition, any short-term power that students gain over their professors by introducing a controlling commercial metaphor into the classroom dynamic is more than mitigated by the losses. Faculty members respond to the student-as-consumer by teaching defensively, fearing the management that we formerly referred to as administration. But administrators administrate on behalf of the faculty. Employees delivering customer service get managed. [emphasis added]

This passing reference to administration cum management caught my attention. “[A]dministrators administrate on behalf of the faculty. Employees delivering customer service get managed.” Well I know which sounds better to me and it is not the UMC.

Our collective agreements call us “the union” and them “UNB”, which has always rankled with me as I was here before most of them and, gods willing, will be here long after they have giddily moved on to positions with more reports. The Dalhousie Faculty Association had a wonderful “I AM Dal” campaign that squarely falls in the wish-I-had-thought-of-it-first category, a campaign to highlight the central position of academic staff and students within the institution, to proclaim their shared ownership, and to contest leaving the power to define with one small segment of the Dalhousie community.


Indeed, in our own small way, some of us made the same point, with less typographic flair, during our job action.


Naming is important. Should we call them “the administration” in the hope that perhaps they will decide to live up to the label? Should we call them what they apparently want to be called — management — or would that make us complicit in, or at least resigned to, the ongoing degradation of the University? Or should we drop the euphemisms and recognize, with our use of language, that people capable of threatening to cut off our children’s medical benefits and of hiring an outside security force during a strike are to all intents and purposes on the same continuum as the Cripple Creek mine owners with their Pinkerton guards? CAUT would have us call them, in the spirit of calling a spade a spade, “the Employer.” Some colleagues have, in the past at least, found this a little too, well, industrial. No doubt recent events have clarified things.

Me, I’m mourning the loss of administration. And am I the only one who has noticed that there is no longer a link for “University Governance” on the UNB website? It has been replaced by “University Leadership.” Is “governance,” specifically “shared governance,” to join “administration” in the quaint old storeroom of past glories? Or will the university community exercise its right to name?


**I hope it is clear from the context that I am talking about senior administration.

Governance, professors as workers, and solidarity

Faculty on Strike.” Lennard Davis & Walter Benn Michaels. Jacobin: a magazine of culture and polemic (Feb 14 2014): “On February 18, the tenure track and non-tenure track faculty who make up the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union UICUF Local 6456 will walk out of the classroom and onto the picket line for a two-day strike.” Issues include salaries and governance:

To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed.

But are professors really workers?  When we were organizing, the administration kept telling us we weren’t — we were professionals. And, in fact, at UIC, we belong to the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which does indeed describe itself as a “Union of Professionals.” If you’ve done any work on the history of professionalization, you know that one of the original points of the whole concept of the professional — as it applied to ministers, doctors, lawyers and professors — was to distinguish them from workers….

But what we’ve all begun to realize is that, whatever it meant in the late 19th and early 20th century, in the 21st century that distinction is pure ideology. Professionals are workers — and professors are workers….

… the Administration has been helpful, treating us as badly at the bargaining table as they treat UIC’s other unions.

Have been dipping

into the vexed issue of program prioritization for these last several days and was reminded by two colleagues that this is merely the latest bandwagon on a very wide road. There are any number of examples but one will suffice: our administration’s infatuation with Michael Shattock and the so-called Warwick model. Have to say, the UNB public relations juggernaut lost a wheel when they chose the title for this talk. Wonder what alternatives they considered? “University Planning Via Coin-Toss“? “Picking a Number in the PSE Lottery“? “Pin the Tail on the Strategic Plan“?


In case there is anyone here

who is not a regular reader of — which would be weird, but people contain multitudes — we have started a new page over there to focus on program prioritization. I know, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it? But that is the buzz phrase so there it is. “Program prioritization” is the rationalization of university programs and departments. It is widespread, it employs lots of expensive consultants, administrators love it because it uses simple metrics and many Powerpoint slides, and it is truly horrifying. On the plus side, as an issue it is extremely galvanizing to anyone who gives a fig about education. Interesting critiques are being produced and people are drawing together to defend universities as public institutions. Read Jon’s overview, follow some of the links, then meet me back here to strategize about what to do. Once this pesky bargaining round is resolved, I mean.

Catching up on news

The measure would allow Florida officials to accredit individual courses on their own — including classes offered by unaccredited for-profit providers.
“We’re saying the monopoly of the accrediting system is not designed for the world of MOOCs or other individual courses,” said Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes, the bill’s sponsor.

[See also “United Opposition,” Ry Rivard, Inside Higher Ed (March 28, 2013), about a similar bill in California.]

Let’s call a spade a spade — the proposals being imposed on post-secondary institutions have absolutely nothing to do with improving an educational model, nor are they based on any empirically-tested reformation program that has been successful elsewhere. These initiatives are being enacted for two very specific reasons — budget mismanagement and an impending labour shortage.

  • Saint Louis U. Threatens Faculty With Copyright Suit Over Campus-Climate Survey.” Peter Schmidt. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 2013): “Efforts to measure the mood of Saint Louis University’s faculty members might in fact have worsened it, as the administration has threatened a faculty leader with a copyright lawsuit if he circulates his own version of a survey about the campus climate.”
  • Under California Bill, Faculty-Free Colleges Would Award Exam-Based Degrees.” Allie Bidwell. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 2013): “A bill being considered this month by the California Assembly would create a fourth division of the state’s higher-education system that would provide no instruction and would issue college credit and degrees to any student who could pass a series of examinations.”
  • AAUP Calls on Colleges to Calculate Adjuncts’ Work Hours Fairly.” Nick DeSantis. The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 2013): “The American Association of University Professors on Tuesday issued a statement calling on colleges to devise “fair methods” for calculating the working hours of adjunct instructors, after the Internal Revenue Service issued proposed rules earlier this year that sought to advise colleges on how to do so for the purpose of providing part-timers with health benefits.”
  • United Opposition.” Ry Rivard. Inside Higher Ed (March 28, 2013): “[F]aculty representatives are concerned California lawmakers are preparing to hand over untold thousands of students to for-profit companies that have not proven their courses can pass muster.”
  • Dal faculty wants more funding for programs, less for new buildings.” Clare Mellor. The Chronicle Herald (March 27, 2013): “Millions of dollars are being diverted from academics at Dalhousie University to pay for shiny new buildings, says its faculty association.”
  • Alberta demands universities streamline programs, co-operate on transfer credits.” James Bradshaw. The Globe and Mail (March 27, 2013):

The five-page draft letters [detailing government plans] come only two weeks after Premier Alison Redford’s government slashed schools’ operating grants by 7 per cent as part of its recent hard-luck budget. As universities grapple with the fallout, Thomas Lukaszuk, the new advanced education minister and Deputy Premier, is open about capitalizing on the cutbacks as a “catalyst” for changes to the system.

Alex Usher

is way, way wrong today.

Don’t get me wrong, university senates are great. I am a long-time senator myself and every now and then — once or twice anyway — we have managed to accomplish something in the face of the Empire administrative voting block.

But faculty unions: faculty unions are the circled wagons around our profession, our last best hope.

Academia pleads for aid