Ono intervenes in Senate dispute over faculty influence in hiring executives

President Santa Ono intervened in a dispute between faculty members and Senate last month, ensuring that rank-and-file faculty members will continue to have a say in choosing candidates for senior administrative roles at UBC.

The disagreement arose after a group of professors expressed displeasure with the Senate’s approval of an amendment to Policy 18 at its October 18 meeting. The policy sets out the rules for selecting members for the committees that choose people for high-level administrative positions, including Vice-President Academic, Vice-President Research and Innovation, and others.

The dispute came down to two words.

Previously, Policy 18 required that faculty members be appointed to the search committees “by” Senate. Any faculty member was eligible to become a member, if they could secure Senate’s approval.

But at the October meeting, Senate approved an amendment changing the language to read “by and from” Senate, meaning that faculty members chosen to sit on the search committees must also be senators.

The change stripped rank-and-file professors of the ability to participate in the decision-making process for major appointments.

“While the Committee is fully supportive of faculty involvement in administrative appointments, it is of the opinion that this is best accomplished through active faculty participation in the formal senior governance structures of the University (Namely, the Board of Governors and Senates),” Senate’s nominating committee wrote in the docket.

Faculty members swiftly made their disapproval known.

A group of professors, including philosophy professor and senator Alan Richardson, sent emails directly to President Ono voicing their opposition. Nancy Langton, president of the UBC Faculty Association, argued in a private meeting with the president that the change was unacceptable.

“This proposal removes true faculty representation on search committees covered by Policy 18,” wrote Mark MacLean, professor of mathematics, on Twitter. The outpouring of opposition seemed to work and Ono set about striking a balance.

In a memo obtained by The Ubyssey, Ono presented a compromise. He would accept the amendment proposed by Senate, but would use his powers of appointment as president to “add two members directly elected by and from the faculty to each search committee formed under Policy 18.”

“I hope that all parties will find this solution equitable and this will allow UBC to move forward in continuing to select the best people to lead us into our next century,” Ono wrote in the memo.

He followed through with his promise on November 10 when he approved Senate’s amendments, adding the requirement for additional faculty representatives. The amendment will now go to the Board of Governors for approval at their December 5 meeting.

Struggle for representation

The dispute over Policy 18 reflects a broader struggle over faculty representation in university governance.

Many faculty members believe that Senate does not fully represent their interests, and that rank-and-file professors must constantly struggle to make their voices heard at the highest level of the university’s administration.

“UBC is in a state where it does an awful lot more work in its consultations with students than it does in consultations with faculty,” MacLean, who was the former president of the Faculty Association, said.

MacLean believes the problem stems from the fact that the UBC Senate is not a true faculty Senate, like those of some major American universities. Because its membership includes a wide range of individuals — a combination of students, alumni, administrators and faculty — the connection between Senate and the faculty is diluted.

“The Senate is not as vibrant a representative body for faculty as maybe it was at the dawn of the university,” MacLean said.

Nassif Ghoussoub, who taught at UBC for decades and is a former member of the Board of Governors, agrees wholeheartedly. Ghoussoub said there is a huge divide between rank-and-file faculty members and those who are in administrative positions, such as deans and associate deans.

He believes it’s important to have faculty members who think independently of the administration.

“I’ve been on enough committees at UBC to see how often they are stacked so that their pre-determined choice for this or that position is chosen,” Ghoussoub said.

Faculty will have their say

When it comes to decisions about faculty representatives, such as those for the search committees under Policy 18, MacLean believes that professors should get the chance to vote.

“I know the diversity of my colleagues well enough that there are very few major decisions I would make without asking them and getting a vote, particularly with representatives,” said MacLean. “If you’re going to have representatives on a major search, I think my colleagues should vote on it, the same way students vote on it.”

At the very least, Ghoussoub said, faculty should have a chance to express their interest in being considered for posts. Both agree that the Senate should not determine who is going to represent faculty on its own.

Ultimately, MacLean and Ghoussoub were happy with the president’s compromise.

“I think it was a very quick and obvious way to go and a very sharp decision,” said MacLean. “It respects the need of Senate to be represented in these processes as the formal academic governing body of the institution. It also respects the need to better include faculty.”