Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Last updated: 11 months ago

External reviews of UBC departments find underfunding, lack of diversity

The Frank Forward Building at UBC houses the mining engineering and materials engineering faculties. File photo Carter Brundage / The Ubyssey

The Frank Forward Building at UBC houses the mining engineering and materials engineering faculties, and was found to be seismically unsound during the external review of UBC’s departments. File photo Carter Brundage / The Ubyssey

Underfunding, inadequate transparency and a lack of staff diversity are the main problems afflicting some of UBC’s departments, according to external review results.

The results of reviews of twelve UBC departments, conducted between September 2012 and August 2013, were released last week.

Reviews of the departments of electrical and computer engineering, civil engineering and materials engineering showed that the Faculty of Applied Science’s growth has been restricted by insufficient funding.

“We face challenges due to reduced government funding,” said Applied Science dean Marc Parlange. “At the moment, we need to develop other revenue streams.”

Parlange said the faculty currently has $55 million in funding, with 90 per cent from the government and 10 per cent from industrial research partnerships. To facilitate the faculty’s growth, he aims to increase funding from partnerships until it makes up 50% of the faculty’s revenue.

Women were underrepresented in these departments, an issue currently being addressed by various means, including a new equity training module in faculty recruitment.

“It’s a problem that the university at large is aware of,” said provost and VP academic David Farrar. “Sometimes it reflects the nature of the pool…. Diversity in the senior faculty also tends to represent what [student] pools look like say 30 or 40 years ago, and that has to work its way through the system.”

The department of civil engineering refused a recommendation to encourage retirement.

Farrar said that since the university stopped enforcing mandatory retirement seven years ago, there are units where nobody has been hired in seven years, either.

“That means you’ve got an aging faculty that’s not representative of the pool either from a diversity perspective or a scholarly perspective,” Farrar said.

The review also found that the Frank Forward Building is seismically unsound, and recommended renovations or “preferably” construction of a new one.

“We don’t want a building where in the event of a major earthquake … it wouldn’t allow residents time to get out,” said Farrar.

However, Parlange said there is no immediate plan for a new building, which could require securing funds of up to $80 million.

A review of the department of French, Hispanic and Italian studies pointed out frictions between the different language sections.

“To a degree that’s not optimal. The department operates as a department of French, and maybe a department of Italian. There’s a little less all-department thinking and planning,” said Arts dean Gage Averill. Averill said the new department head is now working to address this.

After the review, a new department head was hired. Averill said this was done to address “historical interpersonal tensions.”

The review also recommended “due process and transparency for … academic searches, tenure and promotion.”

Averill said that in the past three years two hiring searches for positions in the Italian department have been shut down due to problems with the search process.

“We want to really be sure that a search is conducted internationally, that everyone’s given equal treatment, that there’s nothing fixed about it, and [there's been] open and thoughtful discussion about what kind of faculty member you need for the students and student curriculum,” said Averill.

“We weren’t fully confident that the [searches were] proceeding in a fully open and transparent way, with cross-department participation, and we weren’t sure that it was… living up to our expectations for best process,” he said.

During that time period, a letter signed by multiple faculty members was sent to the Dean’s Office regarding a “personnel matter” in a search for a position in IberoAmerican Literatures and Cultures.

“The content is confidential … [so] I can’t discuss the contents, but I can state that I believe the issue raised has been resolved,” Averill said.

In the past three years, the hiring process has been changed to include associate deans on hiring searches and require all searches demonstrate how they are equitable and reinforce curricular reform. Averill said that issues with hiring were more frequent before these reforms.

Averill said he did not know of any specific complaints made about promotions and tenure, but that this was rather an issue of staff being unaware of how these processes work.

“We did want to make sure that faculty members didn’t feel that information was being kept from them,” he said.

A review of the department of zoology in November 2012 found the undergraduate teaching space is “dated and rather unpleasant.” A formal plan has now been developed for an $80-million Undergraduate Life Sciences Teaching building, which will consolidate labs in the Biological Sciences Centre, Wesbrook and D.H. Copp buildings, which have also been rated high seismic risks. According to the report, “this building project ranks among the highest priorities of UBC.”

According to Farrar, UBC tries to review each department every five years.

External reviews are completed over one to two days by three or four individuals who are typically experts in the field at other universities. Next year, the names of the reviewers will be released along with the recommendations.

Farrar said these recommendations will be presented to the next set of reviewers to check that they have been acted upon.

The full report can be read here.

This article was updated at 7:45 p.m. on January 23 to include additional information on hiring issues in the department of French, Hispanic and Italian studies.

  • John Deppe

    Are primary sources available? I’d like to read these reports.

    • John Deppe

      Thanks for the addendum.

  • Luther Blissett

    “Averill said he did not know of any specific complaints made about hiring and promotions.”

    This is simply not true. Or perhaps Gage has forgotten the collective letter, signed by something like a third of the FHIS department, about irregularities in the hiring proceses.