Monday, January 28, 2013

Smartening university growth

The University of Victoria has had a history of shared governance between its administration and its community. As the web site introducing the university's strategic plan notes, “UVic prides itself on collegiality and transparency in governance,” and the strategic plan itself speaks of the university’s commitment to “collegial forms of governance that provide appropriate opportunities for all members of the university community to participate.”

Many faculty at UVic will thus be surprised to know that the university has gone very far indeed down the path of consultant-driven restructuring, out of view from the campus community. As of March 2012, consultants from the Education Advisory Board had been working with the university for about 18 months and had conducted more than 100 interviews. I’m not sure who these interviews have been with, but I’m yet to hear from one of the interviewees, or to hear from anyone below the level of Chair who has been part of these discussions.

If you are interested in these matters -- and you should be, oh, you should be -- I’d very strongly encourage you to watch the 75-minute video currently located on the Provost’s web site, in which EAB’s practice manager Dr. David Attis explains the background to and principles of the “smart growth” approach that this university appears to have committed itself.

The key background you need, before you watch the video or talk about its issues, is that the university has not publicly addressed the disjunction between the province’s budget cut, and the university’s projected budget cut. As many news outlets have reported, British Columbia has cut its contribution to the operating budget of the province’s universities (including UVic) by 1.5% for the 2013/14 year. Its contribution to the operating budget is less than 60%, making this roughly a 1% cut to the university’s operating budget, but somehow the university has turned this into a 4% cut to all academic units.

Some units, I gather, have been told already that their funding cuts are being undone, and their funding at least partially restored; others have not. This sounds like restructuring, even if it hasn’t been examined in the media the same way that Saskatchewan’s restructuring has been (by CBC Saskatchewan and by the Globe and Mail). It's this possibility that lies at the heart of people's worries about the current year's cuts.

Now, as I've said before, this presentation by David Attis for EAB isn’t all bad news for faculty at UVic, or indeed for other members of the university community. Unfortunately, however, the administration seems deliberately to have gone against many of Attis’ recommendations about process. At different points in the lecture, he speaks against salary cuts, against relying on inequitable sessional labour, against increasing workloads beyond sustainable levels, and against unilateral top-down restructuring exercises. He speaks in favour of an open, campus-wide conversation about university priorities; in favour of making faculties and departments responsible for decisions about such things as class sizes; and in favour of recognizing connections between programs.

On quite the other hand, President Turpin has led conversations at Senate and the Board of Governors in recent months where salary cuts were discussed; he has suggested at least once in these meetings that the university should consider whether a greater proportion of its courses should be taught by sessional instructors. At least some decisions about workload and section sizes appear to have been centralized in the Provost’s office. The university’s arrangement with EAB appears still to be unknown to the overwhelming majority of its faculty, 10 months after David Attis told attendees at this presentation that he had been working here for 18 months and had interviewed more than 100 people. The kinds of data that David Attis describes as critical for an informed campus-wide conversation has simply not been shared.

We should be deeply concerned about the lack of fit between the consultant’s recommendations about process, and the university’s actual process. If we take seriously this institution’s pretensions to shared governance, we ought to be acting on those pretensions to raise all manner of objections to what is being rumoured to be a fairly thorough covert restructuring of our school’s academic programs.

Of course, we shouldn’t simply take the consultant’s word about anything: we should be pushing against some of EAB’s assumptions and analysis, for example, because the whole point of collegial governance is for everyone to exercise sober second thought. For example, this presentation seems to apply to UVic some conclusions derived from finance crises in assorted American states, and seems not to account carefully for Canada’s very different approach to tuition fees. But as he explicitly says at around the 16-minute mark of the video, his job “is not to tell you what to do.” His role is to provide a process and some analysis, so that we can undertake the long, difficult task of caring collectively for our institution.

In my view, the crucial section of this presentation runs between the 16- and 25-minute marks, covering slides 11 through 16. If you have ten free minutes this week, you could hardly spend it better than by watching this section.

Attis is a strong advocate for generating and sharing lots of data, and for thinking carefully about all kinds of non-financial benefits flowing from assorted programs. For example, he notes that too many schools focus on the number of Majors from separate programs, rather than (for example) the number of non-Major students who take the courses; he notes that some programs (like Nursing) are almost invariably money-losers and yet culturally valuable enough that few schools would consider closing them. Obvious decisions can still be wrong, because what's important is simply to think carefully about everything that's on the table for strengthening the institution's future.

Slide 12 is fascinating, because it plots (based on the experience of Capital University, in Ohio) the revenues of assorted programs against their financial break-even points: Capital’s one program that generated the most revenue was Law, but it was still lost money. Slide 13 looks at how many sections the university offers where there are too few students for it to break even financially: Attis isn’t recommending that each section should break even, but that the school and its separate programs should understand its functioning at this level of detail.

Presumably the University of Victoria has put precisely this data in the hands of its administration, because without it, there’d be no data guiding whatever restructuring is underway already. What the university needs to do instead is to make this data public. It needs to respect its tradition of collegial governance, a tradition that it claims to take such pride in. As far as I know, this university has never said what its approximate break-even point is for class size. My take on the university’s finances suggests that it’s around 24 students, without taking into account the need for cross-program subsidies (whereby expensive but significant programs are quite rightly supported by cheaper programs), but I’d never call that more precise than guesswork. That’s not good enough, if we’re going to work together to keep building this university’s future.

David Attis’ closing thought was that UVic should, to the extent possible, be trying to make cuts that aren’t particularly painful: “matching supply to demand within existing quality standards.” He’s interested in having classes run closer to their caps, for example, so that as often as possible, there are lots of classrooms full of keenly interested students. Faculty should want this, too. It’d mean secure employment for faculty, for one thing, and if we’re correct in our collective belief in the cultural value of institutions like this one, it’d also mean a secure future for civilization (however we define that problematic term).

Collegial governance is where I started this post, and it’s where I want to end it. I don’t think anyone working at UVic would say it’s a bad idea to think carefully about where we’re going, whether "we" means the institution as a whole or simply one of its many separate programs. Across this campus, though, I’m hearing a deep frustration from people that they’re not being allowed to participate in this thinking. If the administration persists in declining to engage with the university community, it shouldn’t be surprised if the community declines to see the administration as true community members.

Engage with us, meaningfully and openly, and we’ll work with you to make this a better place. I promise.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Arbitration for UVic's Faculty Association

On January 21, 2013, the negotiating team for the UVic Faculty Association sent an email on its listserv that was intended to reach all faculty and librarians. It hasn't yet appeared on our website, though, so I've posted it here for anyone who might want to share it or see it outside an email context.

As the opening paragraphs note, this bulletin owes some of its approach and tone to its role as a response to the administration's announcement about mediation. I decline to provide a link to that announcement, as it simply doesn't deserve the traffic.


Bargaining Bulletin #14

January 21,  2013

The End of Mediation: Where are we, and what's next?

The bargaining process between the University of Victoria and the UVic Faculty Association has been long, and we're disappointed to report that the mediation phase of this process has now concluded without an agreement, just as the negotiation phase did. We wish that we could say simply that an agreement was not reached, but it's more accurate to say that both negotiation and mediation have failed to produce an agreement.

We had intended to produce a measured, careful statement about the mediation phase, respecting the collegial governance model that is often said to be a hallmark of UVic. Unfortunately, an administration announcement, dated January 18 and reflecting either a gross misunderstanding or a deliberate misrepresentation of what happened during the mediation, has necessitated a more rapid response.


During negotiations, the Association presented the administration with Statistics Canada data indicating that salaries here are not only significantly below the national average, but are, in fact, among the lowest of all research universities in Canada. The only two comparator universities with lower average salaries are the University of Manitoba, and the University of New Brunswick. The administration declined to discuss these data.

During the October phase of mediation, the administration offered a 2% raise in each of the agreement's two years. Manitoba had a 2.9% increase for 2012; New Brunswick has 3.5% increases for each of 2012 and 2013. If we had accepted the administration's offer, the consequence would be that UVic's average salary would be the lowest, without exception, among the 21 schools that the administration views as our comparators.  We would also have fallen further behind at least 17 of these comparator institutions: not only would our average salary be the lowest, but it would be further below the average than it is now.

During the January mediation, we indicated to the mediator a willingness to repackage our request in different ways, including a 2+2 settlement with a 2-year increase in CPI as an alternative to a percentage increase. The administration’s claim is that we presented them with a “take it or leave it offer”. This is highly misleading, whether deliberately or otherwise: at no time did we indicate that we would stop negotiations if they produced a counter-offer which came short of our proposed settlement.

Ability to pay

The Association recognizes that this university, like every public institution (and indeed every private one), faces financial pressures of one kind or another. To describe UVic as unable to pay a settlement that would prevent it from being the lowest-paying university of its kind in Canada, though, is a stretch at best.

For one thing, it means that we would need to ignore the “unexpected” surplus that this university has run in each of the last several years, which the administration was pleased to tell the Board of Governors was $20.3 million in 2011/12 alone.

Take the current 4% budget cut that is being imposed across all units, for example. The impetus behind this cut has been publicly described, repeatedly, as the province's projected cut to grants into the university's general operating fund. The province is indeed cutting this grant, but only by 1.5%, and this grant represents significantly less than 60% of revenue into the operating fund. How does the province's decision to reduce its contribution to the university's operating budget by less than 1%, lead to a 4% cut by the administration?

Fundamentally, the Association in no way accepts the administration's claims about its ability to pay a fair settlement.

“Take it or leave it”

Finally, the administration's statement declares that the Association ended mediation by presenting what the administration calls a “take it or leave it” package. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The administration opened this final day by indicating that they would be willing to discuss the outstanding non-monetary matters, but only if the Association would a prioriaccept the 2/2 offer, thus making UVic the country's lowest-paid school of its type. Even at that, their “take it or leave it” offer came with no agreement of any sort to accept any element of our non-monetary proposals (including on the promotion tenure/reappointment issues we discussed at length with the membership in past bargaining bulletins) – only a non-committal “agreement to discuss.”  So we had to agree to falling further behind other Canadian institutions in exchange for the prospect that we might (or might not) see some non-monetary improvements. In no uncertain terms, the mediator reported to us that the other side was unwilling to discuss non-monetary matters further in the absence of a monetary agreement on the administration’s terms.

In other words, from our perspective, the only side making a “take it or leave it” statement was the administration.

Indeed, the very last thing that happened in mediation was that we offered to send all non-monetary matters to binding arbitration, along with monetary matters. The administration refused. It had no interest in resolving the non-monetary matters it describes in its bulletin; it was prepared to talk about them – not to agree with our proposals, but to talk about them – only if we agreed that this university's faculty and librarians should be lower paid than if they were employed at any other comparator school in the country.

The administration's description of this final moment as a “take it or leave it” package presented by the Association is so far from reality that we call on them to revise their bulletin and apologize for this mischaracterization of the mediation process.

What's next?

In brief, arbitration is the final step in negotiations. No date has yet been confirmed, but it is not likely to occur within the next month or two.

Financial matters will be presented to Colin Taylor, who has so far been the mediator and will now become the arbitrator, and he will be responsible for a determination that may select either side's position in total, may draw elements from both positions, or may fall between the two side's positions.

Non-monetary matters are not being presented to Mr. Taylor, because the administration refused to accept our proposal that he be asked to decide on those as well. In consequence, the current Framework Agreement is being rolled over for an additional two years, with the inclusion of whatever changes were agreed to during negotiation and mediation.

As for what happens next, as in what's next for the relationship between the administration and the Faculty Association, and the Association's members, we hope you'll reflect carefully on that.

We look forward to hearing from you, and to seeing you at the upcoming General Membership Meeting scheduled for 3pm on Thursday, February 14.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Smart growth

I want to start simply with a brief note, in part because I'm too tired to know what to do with everything I'm thinking about UVic's in-progress efforts toward smart growth. The process is influenced heavily by the Educational Advisory Board consultancy practice, which appears to be led by David Attis.

Over the last few days, I've put a lot of time into following up clues from the Provost's web site, including this video by Attis, accompanying a suite of complex, valuable slides. My gut reaction is that this process could work out positively at UVic, but a few things have me really worried.

First, Attis notes several times that faculty need to be involved in this process, because faculty are the only ones with the intimate, disciplinarily appropriate knowledge to know the right questions to ask, and to answer these and other questions. At the time of his presentation, maybe 10 months ago, he mentions that he's been involved for 18 months and has done 100 interviews.

In every way that matters, I'm just another faculty member, even though I'm on the Faculty Association executive, and even though I coordinate the university's first-year composition course (the university's single largest-enrollment course, with more than 2000 students). But I work hard to stay plugged in, to know what's going on, because I'm keenly interested in the evolution and the future of this institution.

And someone else stumbled across this 10-month-old video and told me about it. That's the only reason I've now seen this video, and I'm not finding any other faculty members who know about it.

Second, this process can only work -- can only avoid generating confrontation, flashpoints, worse -- if it's handled sensitively, perceptively, and carefully by the university administration. The behaviour of the administration's representatives during contract negotiations and mediation have ... well, have not emphasized these qualities.

Third, the University of Victoria has long prized its more or less collegial governance. This "smart growth" process depends on big data, generated only through deeply searching through the university's databases, and so far, the administration has held its data close. This data MUST BE SHARED. If the administration refuses or declines to release its data into the university community, to be parsed and reconsidered and ruminated upon, the university community will see this as an assault on collegiality.

Let me repeat: the consultant's presentation describes a process that I really believe could have positive outcomes at UVic.

But the outcomes can only be positive if this university's administration is prepared to be transparent, respectful, and open. David Attis and the Education Advisory Board need to lean heavily on this administration to do this, or their good work will all go for naught -- or worse.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

UVic and its comparators

Which Canadian universities are similar to UVic, in the eyes of UVic's administration? Data is never neutral, obviously, so it's important that we look closely at their perceptions.

For several years, the Faculty Association has assumed -- and stated its assumption -- that the university's comparators are those that the Board of Governors uses for setting the salary for senior administration. There's some discussion of that original comparator list (including faculty salaries and administrators' salaries) in Bulletin #5 from March 2012.

During bargaining, though, the administration provided a considerably expanded list of comparators. It strikes me as peculiar, at best, to say that the same institutions shouldn't be used for the assessment of these different employee groups (administration on the one hand, librarians and faculty on the other). It smells a little like a class issue, frankly, a distinction simply for the sake of distinction.

Setting that aside for now, here's the administration's longer list, with asterisks marking those on the original list. I've included what Statistics Canada believes to be the 2010/11 average salary at each institution, but including Deans (to the nearest hundred dollars):
  • University of Toronto: $136,500
  • *Queen's University: $133,400
  • *McMaster University: $131,700
  • *Guelph University: $127,300
  • *Waterloo University: $127,200
  • York University: $126,700
  • University of Alberta: $126,500
  • *University of Calgary: $117,700
  • University of Windsor: $117,000
  • University of Ottawa: $115,800
  • *University of Saskatchewan: $114,800
  • *University of Western Ontario: $114,800
  • University of British Columbia: $114,400
  • *Carleton University: $114,400
  • *Memorial University: $110,600
  • *Simon Fraser University: $109,400
  • *Dalhousie University: $108,000
  • *Wilfrid Laurier University: $105,300
  • University of Victoria: $105,000
  • University of Manitoba: $104,200
  • University of New Brunswick: $103,800
CAUT has some slightly different numbers, because they seem to have been able to separate out the Deans. I can't find those right now: they barely change the rankings, though some of the gaps shift. In January 2012 we posted a bulletin discussing some of that data, but that's before we knew the comparator list was going to expand.

We're ahead of only Manitoba and New Brunswick, but we know a little extra about those schools.

Manitoba is very similar in size to UVic, and while it has no 2013 settlement yet, its 2012 increase is 2.9%. The administration's offer would thus result in a dead heat with Manitoba after the first year.

New Brunswick is slightly less than half the size of UVic, so it's not an exact comparison, but on the other hand, they're getting 3.5% raises in each of 2012 and 2013. Our administration's offer would leave us, in fact, behind UNB after the second year of the contract.

Which, to be clear, would mean that UVic's salaries would be the lowest in the country.

Friday, January 11, 2013

UVic humanities teaching loads

There's a little extra controversy this year among departments in the Faculty of Humanities here at the University of Victoria, about the different teaching loads for faculty in different departments. Now, this is precisely the kind of thing that Humanities faculties the world over specialize in, internecine sniping of one kind or another, but that's not what's going on here.

The issue is straightforward. In 2010/11, the Department of English proposed the the Dean a plan whereby they'd be able to move from a 3/2 teaching load for research faculty, to a 2/2 load (from 5 to 4 courses per year). It wasn't a perfect plan, but it really did have only a small cost to the Dean. The Dean, though, asked the department to defer for a year, so that other departments had a chance to move to 2/2 as well. Recognizing the value of solidarity, English agreed.

(An external review of the department, by the way, was what triggered the effort in the first place: the reviewers felt that the faculty's publication record and reputation meant it ought to be at the 2/2 disciplinary norm in this country for research-intensive schools.)

During 2011/12, most of the Humanities departments developed 2/2 plans that were approved by the Dean. At the end of the road, though, the Provost decided that everyone could move to 2/2 -- except English, which would have to remain at 3/2. And there was great rejoicing amongst English research professors, as you might imagine.

The ultimate reason remains somewhat obscure, but it has something to do with delivery of first-year composition, something to do with the department's use of sessional instructors, and something to do with the teaching load for regular faculty. I've written elsewhere already about the comparison between sessional faculty and regular faculty, and I've started looking at the enormously complicated question of first-year composition, but the one thing I hadn't yet done was compare English to other departments.

English is the largest Humanities department, and the Department of History is the next-largest. It therefore makes sense to compare the two of them, because if relative teaching load was a factor in the Provost's decision, the data should clearly support that. I've excluded sessional instruction in both departments, as well as individual supervisions and teaching performed by faculty members from other departments.

Here's what you find for the 2011/12 calendar year:
  • average number of sections taught per faculty member: History 3.28, English 3.49;
  • average number of students per section: History 25.80, English 24.97; and
  • average number of students taught per regular faculty member: History 84.52, English 87.08.
In other words, even though many of History's courses have larger cap sizes, 2011/12 saw only marginal differences between the teaching loads of History professors and English professors at the University of Victoria. History professors taught slightly larger classes, and English professors taught slightly more students.

Data on comparative teaching loads simply cannot be the basis for preventing English research faculty from moving to 2/2, and for allowing History to make the move.

The digging continues. Up next, some thoughts about the role of sessional instruction in different Humanities departments; the differences between literature instructors and composition instructors; and analysis of teaching loads in additional Humanities departments. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

On representation, and faculty salary discussions

If you're a member of the UVic Faculty Association, and you have even a passing interest in salary issues, you're going to want to check in with your elected representatives both to Senate and to the Board of Governors.

Some background, first.

The University of Victoria sees itself among a cohort of 21 comparator universities, on the matters of research, library holdings, and other things, including salaries for FA members. There are some slight variations depending on what category you're looking at, but it's abundantly clear that salaries for FA members are very nearly the lowest among the entire cohort. Statistics Canada says so; dig through their full annual report, if you don't believe me.

Librarians aren't right at the bottom, but they're low. Faculty salaries, though, are 20th out of 21, ahead of only the University of New Brunswick, a school half the size of UVic whose faculty have bargained for 3.5% salary increases for both 2012/13 and 2013/14.

In the spring of 2012, less than a year ago, the UVic FA surveyed all its members about priorities for the ongoing round of bargaining. Around 50% of members responded, and the results of that survey are summarized briefly here. On the salary question:
  • 56% of respondents said that the FA should "bargain aggressively to achieve something close to the Canadian average university salary";
  • 32% said that the FA should "bargain hard to improve the relative salary position of UVic Faculty Association members";
  • 11% said that the FA "should seek improvements, but should not push too hard for salary increases"; and
  • 1% said that the FA "should accept any reasonable salary proposal the university administration feels it is able to provide."
When we asked members to choose where the FA negotiating team should focus its energies, 77% ranked a scale increase the highest priority, with 11% each preferring CPI and merit increments.

At Senate last week, which by the way is an open meeting, so anyone is free to attend the open portions of sessions, one elected faculty member asked whether it made sense in the current budgetary climate to halt the payment of merit increments altogether. Another elected faculty member asked how to go about starting a conversation about salary cuts; the university's president advised that this idea should be raised with the FA President.

Let me reiterate: two faculty members elected to Senate spoke there last week in favour of reducing the salaries of UVic FA members, not just compared to other institutions but in absolute terms. Do these comments represent your views?

I'll post again soon about the university's finances, but let me leave you with a few points.

First, of course it's true that no public institution has a blank chequebook. The BC government has announced a 1.5% cut to UVic's operating grant for the 2013/14 fiscal year, so there's genuine pressure on the university's budget. However, the administration told Senate last week that this grant covers only 56% of the university's budget. Somehow this has been used to justify 4% cuts to the budgets of academic departments. Do you trust them?

Second, this institution has consistently run "surprise" surpluses, sometimes significant ones. Between March 31, 2008, and March 31, 2012, UVic's financial officers projected a cumulative deficit of $6.7 million dollars. Instead, the audited financial statements show that across this period, the university in fact ran a cumulative surplus of $86.8 million dollars. That's an average surplus of over $17 million. (Bear in mind that a 1% increase to FA salaries would cost the university about $1 million.) How do you feel about the coming 4% cut now?

And what would you like to hear your elected representatives say, next time the issue of FA salaries comes up at Senate or the Board of Governors?