Monday, February 4, 2013

100,000 reasons to smile

Dear UVic executive,

I see that the lead story today on the UVic News page is "Alumni Week: 100,000 Reasons to Smile," and frankly this has broken me. We've all recognized for some time that you seem to be misunderstanding some fundamental things about the mood of your university community, and as of today, I've had enough.

We're living through constant fear of budget cuts. Staff are being laid off (in CUPE and in PEA, which has just had its second round but seems not to deserve a press release or official statement). We're seeing job non-offers to theoretically non-continuing faculty and staff with several years of service.

And you have the gall to lead your News page with "100,000 Reasons to Smile"? A phrase, mind you, that DOESN'T APPEAR IN THE RELEASE ITSELF.

As you may know, I've blogged obliquely, more than once, about your failure to explain credibly how the province's 1.5% transfer cut (to the 60% of our budget they provide) justifies a 4% cut for each and every unit across campus: see the fourth paragraph here, for example. We're all still waiting to hear how the math works in the Administrative Services Building, to translate a 1% government cut to a 4% university cut. That's not my point today, but feel free to provide a detailed, evidence-heavy explanation. Take your time.

I'm also not talking about CARSA, the parkade and athletics facility whose cost continues to rise before constructions gets started, though I've got some opinions about that, too.

No, my point today is that clearly, you just don't understand what we mean when we say "administration."

You're absolutely right that there's grumbling across campus about there being too much administration. Some people talk about administrative bloat, some about the university being top-heavy, some about not paying enough mind to the core business of teaching and research. Many of those objections are vague, and imprecise, and harrumphing: the product of frustration rather than analysis. I suspect that's how you hear them, at least, and you're not entirely wrong if you do.

In consequence, I need to be clear about what you've misunderstood: any kneejerk harrumphing is no more than an undercurrent across an engaged, thoughtful, open campus that's deeply upset these days. When the UVic community grumbles generically about "administration," we're not talking about payroll clerks, IT support, and counselling services. We're not grumbling about the people who process students' financial aid packages, coordinate tutorial services to help students succeed, or take care of our library's holdings.

We're grumbling about you and your offices, and your unnecessarily complicated, multi-year, multi-stakeholder visioning projects which in all their vastness somehow manage to escape being genuinely transparent or responsive to the university community. This school has a president, four vice-presidents, and nine associate vice-presidents:
  • VP Research (plus AVP Research and AVP Research Operations)
  • VP External Relations (plus AVP Alumni and Development)
  • VP Academic and Provost (plus AVP Academic Planning; AVP Faculty Relations and Academic Administration; AVP International; and AVP Student Affairs)
  • VP Finance and Operations (plus AVP Financial Planning and Operations and AVP Human Resources)
Without asking someone in HR, it's extremely difficult to figure out the growth of what I mean by "administration" at the University of Victoria. If you look at the 2008 calendar, though, it seems like there were only five AVP's then, rather than the nine we have now. Is there twice as much AVP-level work to be done, five years on? I'm confident that each of these people is working full-out on whatever projects and tasks are on the position's workflow, so I'm not calling them out as workers: I'm asking what review process there has been over the last several years to keep an eye on the expansion and redistribution of roles for this university's executive.

The current round of budget cuts and staff layoffs has targeted this school's lowest paid employees. At Senate, there's been quiet wondering about whether there should be a salary freeze or pay cut for members of the Faculty Association, even though our pay is almost the lowest in Canada. The province of BC has now frozen the salaries of universities' senior executives, but UVic didn't make this decision on its own. The province forced it to hold the line on executive salaries. Has there been any thought about the size of the executive, as there clearly has for every other employee group across campus?

I encourage everyone to explore the Vancouver Sun's database of all BC public sector salaries. Naturally UBC dominates the list, with the top three earners and nine of the top ten, and lord help the Sauder School of Business if a revolution ever comes, but UVic's executive do pretty well for themselves. Each of them, in fact, has far, far more than 100,000 reasons to smile.

Our departed and departing friends and colleagues in CUPE and PEA just wish they still had jobs; those still here wish they had less fear about the security of their jobs.

And I wish that UVic was as transparent and collegial in its planning as it claims to be. Maybe some of the cuts are essential; maybe all of them are; maybe more cuts or needed. Right now, the university is simply not engaging its people. If it followed the advice of its EAB consultants (David Attis, talk some sense into them!), this isn't how it'd be going about this process. It's embarrassing.



  1. This is brilliant but it suggests that we should stop using the term "administrative bloat" and start calling a spade a spade: if Executive Bloat is the problem, we need to call it that. It is too easy for them to deflect attention from Executive Bloat to those lower levels of administration (who are presumably represented by CUPE and PEA) and use criticisms of administrative bloat to justify the lay-offs.

  2. Thanks, Jo. My view is that there may well be administrative bloat, but that the executive tends to be ready to cast a light on that possibility: their cuts haven't been transparent, in the sense that the larger university community has received no indication of what positions have been affected, and whether some areas have been taken a bigger hit, but they're open to the idea of cutting.

    Executive bloat, though, and I think you've hit upon a great term there, appears to remain in darkness.

    Maybe they're looking, maybe they're either cutting or planning cuts, but if they are, there's an absolute lack of transparency about that process as well.