News (university council)Last night, the University of Regina’s University Council – a body made up (in theory) of all faculty members, senior administrators, and students – met for the first time in 20 years, in response to the threat of serious cuts to all departments. While no official recordings were allowed, a small prairie dog contingent was there nevertheless, frantically taking notes and trying to keep up with the meeting. Of the six motions passed, only one – a motion to suspend meetings of the Executive Council, a smaller body of University Council delegates empowered by but subsidiary to the larger body – failed to pass. The list of recommendations university president Vianne Timmons has to take to the Board of Governors, however, is still pretty extensive:

-Freezing of out-of-scope administrative hiring and non-contractual salary increases and bonuses pending an external financial review from 2000-2012;

-Development of a 3-year plan for “reducing the cost of university management, including the institution of a hiring committee (one half of which is comprised of in-scope faculty) to approve new positions”;

-Development of another 3-year plan to “[restore] the university’s academic mission to its proper place as first priority of its budgets”;

-Return to the practice of publishing an annual Budget Book, which expands upon and explains budgetary decisions – and, after an amendment, also includes all faculty, administration, and staff salaries;

-Creation of a Budget Committee of Council, focused on advising the administration on aspects of the budget as they pertain specifically to academic matters;
-a halt on structural changes to faculties and departments until the University Council approves them;

-And development of a “think-tank” to “devise strategies for effective fiscal management within this framework.”

Below the jump, some quick observations on the meeting itself.

First, if this looks like the action of a unified faculty, it’s not. Some of the motions passed with clear majorities, but others were incredibly tight, and debate on each motion stretched to the 15-minute line.

A number of dissenters against the motions seemed to be members of the Executive Council, and their remarks against the motions in many (though not all) cases tended to be exactly what you’d expect, if you’ve ever been to meetings like this – that they aren’t “efficient,” that they generate more work from all involved, that all of the details haven’t been considered. Years of covering URSU stuff meant I’d heard a lot of these arguments several times over. They never get any more compelling.

And one particularly excellent back-and-forth happened as a result of those old rhetorical chestnuts being rolled out – at one point, a speaker who identified herself as working in accounting cautioned the room that there’s a lot of numbers work involved in carrying out a particular motion. A speaker who identified himself as a physics professor explained that, in physics, they work with numbers all the time, so they’ve probably got this. It was pretty dope.

That said, some of the motions – the first one in particular – are fairly wide-ranging; shortly into the discussion of the second motion, someone from the College Ave. campus took to the mic to say that several of the staff over there are considered “out-of-scope” hires. It’s a good thing, then, that these motions are recommendations,¬†and it’s up to Timmons and the Board of Governors to figure out how to implement them.

Speaking of the Board of Governors, there’s a couple of things coming out of this meeting that concern me. First, the Board is perhaps the least transparent forum of governance on campus — so concealed behind regulations and bylaws that their members are prohibited even from identifying how many people voted for or against a motion, let alone who voted that way and why. Second, that student representation on the Board – and on the recommended decision-making bodies, and on the University Council itself – is pretty slim. Students present at the meeting were visibly frustrated about this, and though they tried as much as they could to amend student representation into several of these committees, it didn’t really pan out that way.

And, I guess, two more quick things. The first is that the barring of any official recording makes it incredibly hard to write about this meeting and made it impossible to photograph, and the rationale that members would be “afraid to speak their minds” was frustrating to hear. It’s the same rationale the Students’ Union used to use to prevent me from using my voice recorder at their board meetings, and it’s one of the rationales used to explain why the Board of Governors barred all but invited guests from attending their meetings (and why, when the Carillon tried to organize a sit-in, campus security physically barred us from accessing the boardroom). In short, I don’t buy it; it’s a rhetorical device used by people who know better to avoid accountability and to convince people who don’t know better that the media is some shame-oriented institution out to get them specifically for daring to voice their opinion. That’s not how it works, and after years of hearing that argument, I resent the implication that it is how it works. (A local TV cameraman – didn’t catch his name or his station – shouted “SHAMEFUL” and “WHAT CENTURY IS THIS?” at the faculty voting against permitting recording, which was mostly funny because it only took twelve minutes before someone in the meeting said that.

The last thing is that, for all this meeting was (in several ways) rightly critical of the way senior administration have handled financial transparency over the last several years, Vianne Timmons was a level-headed, efficient chair for the meeting. She kept things brisk and only intervened on procedural matters or when asked to clarify something from the administration’s perspective.

Anyway. More on this next issue; in the meantime, I’ve got an interview with U of R provost Tom Chase to revisit.