The University of British Columbia’s current failures of academic governance may have been publicly signalled by the sudden resignation of President Gupta on 7 August, but the crisis of administration extends well back into the University’s recent past and down into the lower chain of command. In fact, the President’s resignation is just the tip of the iceberg. The failures and crises extend from the President’s Office through the deans down to the bloat of middle managers, assistant and associate deans. Most noticeably, UBC has been skirting and fumbling around Canada’s Federal Contractor’s Program to appoint its middle managers. One might conclude that favouritism, if not nepotism in cases, is common while searches bound by the Federal Program of employment equity are rare. For this rank of middle managers, appointments are made with no procedures and hence there is no input from faculty members or the wider academic community and reappointments are made with no evaluation or review.
Unlike policies governing the appointment of department heads and deans, which are regulated by searches and reviews, there is no University policy to regulate the appointment and reappointment of assistant and associate deans. UBC has 97 policies but suspiciously none to regulate the hiring of these middle managers. Why is this? And unlike other universities (e.g., Simon Fraser, Toronto), at UBC the deans have liberty to appoint middle managers at pleasure or whim. The result is a bloating of the assistant and associate dean ranks from 47 in 2000 to 72 in 2015— ostensibly all without searches or regard for policy. With no policies or searches to regulate or monitor qualifications, the result is a mixed bag and questionable levels of competence.
Faculty members were expecting President Gupta to clean up a mess. Cleaning house, he predictably ran into the resistance of status quo. The provosts and middle managers preferred to leave well enough alone. Consider this for instance:
On 19 September 2014, a few months into President Gupta’s appointment, I submitted a request to the Board of Governors to form a policy for hiring and reappointing assistant and associate deans. Basically, the request was to reign in these at whim appointments, curb the bloat of middle managers and align with fair hiring practices. Refusing to address the request, in October the BoG bounced it to University Counsel, which proceeded to ‘consult’ with the Provosts, Vancouver and Okanagan. On 12 January, I was told by University Counsel that the two Provosts, “who would be the Responsible Executives for such a policy do not consider this to be a priority.” In other words, employment equity does not apply to a large and bloated subset of management within the University. On 23 February and 30 March 2015 I followed up with renewed requests to the President’s Office. The President advised re-routing the request back to the Provost’s Office. I hesitated until the announcement of the Provost, pro tem. Sadly, unwilling to shake up status quo, on 24 June the new Provost repeated the old: “I also do not see it as a priority at this time.”
Although the provosts, and by prerogative the deans, do not consider employment equity and fair procedures “to be a priority” in the appointment of the University’s managers, for the balance of the University faculty and staff, this remains priority.
Bounced around the President’s Office for nearly a year, this basic request to align administrative appointments with hiring guidelines and peer universities has come full circle. The middle management bloat at UBC coincidentally began with President Piper’s initial appointment. Now, looking back and wondering how we got here, requests to deal with the administrative crisis are piling up, higher and deeper. Now, with President Piper back in office, this specific request lands on her desk, regardless of how and where it has been bounced.
With the Faculty Association of UBC calling for the resignation of the Chair of the BoG, perhaps this faculty governance body will make good on its responsibility to form meaningful policy. Top down or bottom up, its time to clean up UBC’s administrative mess, failure by failure, crisis by crisis. Sorry to say provosts, this actually is a priority.