Reading Peter C. Kent’s book on the Strax Affair at UNB – in which the case’s denouement was significantly affected by the then-recently-released report of the Duff-Berdahl commission – got me thinking about university governance.
In Canada, university governance has mostly been run on a bicameral Senate/Board model for over a century. In 1963, the Englishman, Sir James Duff, and the American, Robert O. Berdahl, were jointly appointed by AUCC and CAUT to look into how to modernize university governance, and reduce the increasing number of conflicts between campuses and their governing boards. Their fix was essentially to strengthen Senates and make them more responsible to internal constituencies – hence the origin of student representations on Senates, and of both student and faculty representatives on Boards. By the early 1970s, essentially all Canadian institutions moved in that direction, and governance has remained largely unchanged ever since.
It occurred to me while reading about Strax that Duff-Berdahl pre-dates the existence of the two most important forces on Canadian campuses today: professionalized administrations and faculty unions. The latter don’t exist at all in the report, while the former get a very short chapter on administration called, “The President and his (sic) Administrative Group”, in which the central problem is whether or not the President uses administrators or Senate as his prime source of academic advice.
Union vs. Administration is not a modern equivalent of Senate vs. Board. Administration has grown over the past fifty years for reasons both good (increased student numbers, growth of research, need for government, public, and alumni relations to boost income) and bad (empire building, reluctance of faculty to deliver pastoral services), but growth hasn’t been designed to increase the power of the Board. Similarly, there are lots of good reasons for unions to have developed, but it wasn’t to deliver more power to the Senate. Some even seem to dream of replacing the work of Senates with collective bargaining agreements, and at some universities, where unions have taken to grieving decisions of Senate (yes, really), we’re some ways down this road already.
CAUT’s line that having a unionized faculty “enhances collegiality” is pure codswallop. Academic unions are both a symptom and a cause of diminished trust in a system which is making shared governance ever-less workable. The increasing politicization of simple administrative tasks (like producing a budget) is an example of this – see, for instance, the Dalhousie Faculty Association’s critique of university accounting practices. If relatively objective things like accounting can’t be carried out without union-administration recrimination, an institution is in deep trouble.
Bicameralism needs trust in order to work, and current union-adminstration dynamics may have killed it for good. Maybe it’s time for a new Duff-Berdahl?