Governance: Associate Deans and the Hiring Process for Faculty

{Preamble: When I took on the role of President of the Faculty Association, I decided that the governance of our university would be the foremost issue on my agenda.  In my mind, the best universities in the world have strong input from their faculty into core decisions made by their administrations, and so UBC should be using a strong collegial governance model that includes this key feature. This post is the first in a series on governance: Faculty members from several departments raised the issue of Associate Deans sitting on departmental hiring committees with the Faculty Association.}

How would your department react if the Dean were to sit in on its hiring decisions?  What if the Dean were to send an Associate Dean to be part of the discussions instead?

In the 2010 round of bargaining for our Collective Agreement, the Administration presented a late proposal to add Associate Deans to Appendix A, the list of positions excluded from the bargaining unit.  When this became part of the Collective Agreement, Associate Deans became “management.” Consequently, they ceased to be covered by our Collective Agreement and ceased to be members of the Faculty Association.

Even though Associate Deans are “faculty” in the traditional sense of the word, and as defined under BC’s Universities Act, they are no longer peer participants in the key processes for appointments, tenure and promotion,  and merit and PSA that are laid out in our Collective Agreement.

An Associate Dean who goes up for a promotion to Professor would still be put through the usual process for this promotion, but this is a choice by the Administration to respect the nature of such academic decisions rather than an obligation they have arising from the Collective Agreement.

Additionally, Associate Deans are no longer eligible for CPI, merit, or PSA;  in fact, as mangers, their salaries are frozen by a Provincial directive.

As you can imagine, many Associate Deans were upset by this new state of affairs, as were many of the Deans.  I learned from my conversations with Deans that many of them were under the (false) impression that the Faculty Association had tabled this proposal in bargaining even though the proposal actually had come from the Administration.

The Administration disputes that the removal of Associate Deans from the bargaining unit means Associate Deans can no longer participate in the standing committees for appointments and for promotion and tenure in their own departments.  The Administration would not dispute that Deans are excluded from these committees.

In my mind, an Associate Dean is not independent from the Dean for the purposes of any procedures in the Collective Agreement because his or her first duty is to the Dean.

I recently learned that there is no policy that covers the appointment of Associate Deans, which means they can be hand-picked by a Dean with no other input into their appointment to this position.  Thus, Associate Deans could be viewed as avatars of their Deans.

This is a technical point, but an important one. Simply put, Associate Deans have a managerial role in our Faculties that precludes them from acting as regular faculty members in many circumstances. In particular, they have a conflict of interest in many of the decisions that are made at a departmental level because a Dean has a conflict of interest in such departmental decisions.

Decisions related to hiring are arguably the most important decisions made in departments. Certainly, to judge candidates for a tenure-track hire requires in-discipline competence, and so the appointment process is driven by judgments made by faculty in departments.

We expect hiring decisions to be made without interference from the Dean, and a process to do this is clearly established in Part 4 Section 5 of our Collective Agreement. Deans are not completely removed from the hiring process, of course.  Part 4 Section 5.10 states that the role of the Dean is to ensure that the faculty in departments have followed procedures and that their choices are consistent with the evidence presented.  That is, a departmental decision is only a recommendation to hire until the Dean has completed his or her review as defined in Part 4 Section 5.10 (a).  Once the Dean has sanctioned the outcome, the Head may make an offer to the candidate.

The Dean’s review is separate from the process carried out by a departmental standing committee.  This committee is comprised of eligible members of the department.  Faculty members in Appendix A, such as the President, the Deans, and the Associate Deans, are not eligible to be members of this committee.

For practical reasons, many departments choose a subset of the eligible faculty to act as a “search committee” to review candidates’ files, to seek input from the whole department, and to recommend a list of candidates to interview.

Some Deans are appointing Associate Deans as non-voting members to these departmental search committees.  However, any “search committee” is entirely in the purview of the department because its existence is connected directly to the powers and responsibilities of the departmental standing committee set out in our Collective Agreement. Even as non-voting members, the presence of Associate Deans on these committees constitutes unwarranted interference with the right of the faculty in a department to decide independently who should be hired.

The Faculty Association has filed a grievance to stop Deans from appointing Associate Deans to departmental search committees.

It is the Head who oversees the departmental consultation process, and the Dean should not have any direct presence, including through Associate Deans, on the departmental standing committee, and therefore on the search committee.

The Administration believes Deans have a right to put Associate Deans on search committees, even though they acknowledge that they have no right to put Associate Deans on the departmental standing committees.

One of the reasons given by the Administration to support their position is that it is the Deans’ role to ensure equity issues are properly considered in the hiring process.

Equity is the responsibility of all faculty members, all of whom are highly sophisticated professionals.  Deans may promote procedures that incorporate strong equity principles through pre-hiring meetings with the departments or the search committees.  Certainly, such meetings could be (and are, in practice) conducted by Associate Deans for the Deans. Such meetings should be distinct from meetings called to review candidates.

In Faculties that do not have departments, the equivalent of a Head is designated to oversee these processes.  This designated Head-equivalent should not be an Associate Dean because the Collective Agreement asserts that the procedures in non-departmentalized Faculties should mimic those in a Faculty with departments. In particular, for an initial appointment, there must be a collegial faculty committee that is independent from the Dean since that committee would make a recommendation for the Dean to review.

Before the Associate Deans were excluded in 2010, it was common practice to have an Associate Dean oversee hiring processes in some non-departmentalized Faculties, and this was not in violation of the Collective Agreement at that time. Things have changed, but some Deans are not following the changes made in 2010 to the Collective Agreement.

Is it possible for a faculty member who is an Associate Dean to participate in hiring decisions in their own departments as a department member and not as an Associate Dean?  Technically, no.   The individual Associate Deans do not get to declare when they are rank-and-file faculty members and when they are management.

One might imagine a world in which Associate Deans could take part in hiring decisions as colleagues in their own departments, but this world does not exist under our current Collective Agreement.  The Administration would have to table a proposal during bargaining to change this.  They have not done so in the two rounds of bargaining since the Associate Deans were excluded from the Faculty Association.

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