Senate (10 Sept 2016)

Cyclic Review

The highlight of the 10 September 2014 senate meeting arose from a cyclic review. When the province downloaded evaluation of undergraduate programs on universities, Carleton created an office of quality assurance, which then created a byzantine and onerous set of procedures for programs to follow every several years in order to guarantee excellent program quality. The final reports on cyclic review go from the office of quality assurance to the senate academic program committee, and then to the full senate for approval of the report. This is usually pro forma because almost all programs are rated as being of ‘good quality’. Recommendations that programs were approved then get forwarded to the board of governors and finally the provincial government. But today one of the cyclic reviews today was not a ‘good’ rating, but one of conditional approval of a program, hence will not be forwarded the board and province. The recommendation from the office of quality assurance and the provost was to give the program twelve months to remedy deficiencies and then re-do the review process before telling the board and the province anything.

[I am intentionally withholding the name of the program with ‘conditional approval’, even though it will soon be known via senate open session minutes. I do not want there to be a stigma associated with this program. Instead, this is a problem that could easily arise with any program on campus. This blog post is therefore meant as a warning to other units on campus, who could easily find themselves in a similar quandary.]

The conditionally approved program supposedly had several related problems, such as too many courses on the books that are seldom offered and too many contract instructors. The obvious way to remedy this deficiency is to hire more tenure-track faculty, possibly including confirmation-track teaching faculty, to teach these courses. But, when the administration was asked at senate if any additional resources would be given to this program, the answer was either no or silence from the provost, vice president finance, and dean of the relevant faculty. Therefore a reprieve of twelve months seems like no reprieve at all, but simply punishment. Faculty members in that program are going to have to waste their time once again participating in another time-consuming cyclic review, rather than teaching and conducting valuable research. Given that this is a small and not very expensive program, I do not understand this reluctance by the upper administration to provide financial resources. Remember, this is an upper administration that was willing to spend roughly $50 million from reserve and surplus funds on a brand new health program, $33 million on an unneeded parking garage, and now at least a half-million dollars of university monies per year on a men’s-only football team. But somehow we cannot find the monies for one or two new tenure-track positions in an interesting old program that supposedly had some problems with cyclic review? This makes me wonder whether the quality assurance program is really doing what it was designed for versus a way for the upper administration to scapegoat the closing or merging of programs that they no longer want.

The other problem with senate voting on cyclic review for this program with a conditional recommendation is that it was not obvious what a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote actually meant. The university president, provost, and head of quality assurance gave contradictory answers to what a ‘no’ vote meant. For example, the head of quality said that a ‘no’ vote meant that his office would have to eventually re-write the recommendation regarding that program. Could this be in twelve months? By contrast, the provost said that a ‘no’ vote meant that such a new recommendation would have to be promulgated immediately. The provost then threatened that a ‘no’ vote by senate would require that senators provide explicit changes to the cyclic review recommendation, even though the motion on the floor never stipulated that. I personally did not like that the provost threatened senate, but his tack worked. The question was called immediately thereafter and the motion passed for senate to approve the conditional approval arising from that cyclic review.

Board of Governors report

Last year, several senators were adamant that reports from the Board of Governors needed to be put back on senate’s agenda. The fruits of their labours paid off at senate today when rank-and-file senators asked about minutes from previous board meetings. Someone asked whether the university community could be more involved in searches for new presidents, vice presidents, and deans, including listening to candidates for those positions present their vision to the university (not necessarily to the public). The new board chair effectively answered ‘maybe’. He said this was a good idea, but that sometimes candidates for such positions wanted to keep their identities confidential. My opinion is that if a candidate for such an important job at Carleton cares so much about secrecy, then what chance do we have for them being open and transparent once we hire them? Someone asked about how much of our extra money has Carleton committed to a new business school building, with the answer being $2.2 million, thus far. Finally someone asked about the following quote from the board’s minutes, “A question was raised regarding the outstanding debt in this budget and it was noted that this is linked to maintenance for the new parking structure, which is expensive to maintain.” Oddly, even though this quoted sentence was asked of the board on 21 March 2016, none of the five current board members who were at today’s senate meeting could answer why a brand new parking garage requires extensive maintenance. This is particularly poignant given that the head of Carleton’s department of Facilities Management and Planning keeps talking about doubling the height and capacity of that parking garage. Kudos to those senators who insisted that a board of governors report be part of senates agenda and to those senators who then used that hard-earned opportunity.

Convocation

Senate approved a motion to change the convocation dates for June 2017, pushing them back by one week so that the registrar’s office could verify who was and was not eligible to graduate. I admire the people who take the time to schedule university events. That is a mind-numbing task that is probably only partially helped by modern software. But it seems odd that this schedule was changed so close to the convocation date. Usually such changes get made a few academic years in advance.

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