Governance: It’s Broken — Let’s Fix It

Created 26 September 2012 01:09

By Robert F. Clift, Executive Director, CUFA BC
September 26, 2012

For the past 11 months, I’ve been part of the fight against the changes in university, college and institute governance contained in Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act (2011). This is no particular surprise — it’s part of my job. What is exceptional is how offended I felt, personally, by the government’s legislation, which became law on March 29, 2012.

Certainly, my democratic beliefs and ideals were offended by the obvious attempt to muzzle elected members of boards of governors. But this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered something like this in my 20 years working on behalf of university academic staff.

Nor was I particularly offended by the clumsy attempts of politicians to justify this unnecessary legislation. This is an occupational hazard in government relations work.

What really offends me is the realization that underlying the ham-fisted legislation and the political double-talk is the fact that some politicians, some members of boards of governors and some university and college administrators are so frightened by opinions contrary to their own that they would sacrifice our fundamental freedoms of thought and speech for their own convenience.

It offends me that these timid mice have the power to shape the future of institutions essential to our democracy. Essential not only in facilitating economic and social equality, but also essential in preserving, promoting and exemplifying our fundamental freedoms of thought and speech.

Responsibility for one of our primary democratic institutions has been put in the hands of people that neither have the depth of knowledge nor the depth of commitment to properly exercise that responsibility.

What’s even worse is that we handed it to them.

It’s understandable that the pressures of teaching greater numbers of students, of chasing shrinking research dollars, and of suffocating under greater administrative loads have distracted us from governance, in its many forms. We thought it was something we could leave safely to others. We thought wrong.

Over one generation, a mere 20 years, university and college administrators have gone from being the people who facilitated the work of academics, to the people who want to control it. Increasingly, this class of technocrats is not even drawn from the academic ranks. Many come from outside academe and attempt to impose their simplistic models of administration and management on our unique organizations.

All because we thought governance was too much effort — that it would look after itself.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Faculty, staff and students still wield considerable power on campus, if they choose to use it and focus their efforts.

To facilitate what we hope will be a renaissance in university governance, CUFA BC has been investing time and money to develop resources to model academic governance for the 21st century, and to support those people who will take up the challenge of transforming our current, dysfunctional, models.

By the end of October, we will launch academicgovernace.ca – a new website dedicated to putting teaching, research, freedom of thought and freedom of expression back at the centre of university and college governance.

Later in the fall, CUFA BC will launch mini-websites to directly support elected members of university boards of governors and to monitor any questionable activities of university board members appointed by government.

CUFA BC’s agenda is absolutely clear — university and college governance in BC is broken and with the support of faculty, staff and students across our campuses, we’re trying to fix it. We hope that you will join us in that effort.