TRU’s board of governors sought to diffuse tension Thursday between university faculty and administration, telling media that it takes a union non-confidence vote in administration seriously and wants to address concerns internally rather than in the media.
Paul Dagg, board chairman, said there is faculty representation within the institution’s governance structure that should enable improved communication as a step forward.
TRU Faculty Association (TRUFA) released the results of a vote Tuesday indicating that 81 per cent of the 363 faculty who voted have no confidence in senior administration. A total of 740 members, including instructors, librarians, counsellors, co-op education coordinators, learning designers and instructional support faculty — were eligible to vote.
TRUFA has called for an early meeting with the board of governors as an initial step in addressing concerns. They say their voices have not been adequately considered in university decisions that affect students and programs.
“The vote is clearly a communication that significant numbers of faculty have issues,” Dagg said. “That’s something we take seriously and administration takes seriously, but there is no set process to deal with this. We will continue a collegial approach to governing while making improvements to internal communications.”
Faculty complaints have been directed specifically at Alan Shaver, president, Christine Bovis-Cnossen, provost, vice-presidents of finance Matt Milovick and advancement Christopher Sequin as well as vice-president academic Donna Petrie.
Dagg admitted that the dispute has been a little puzzling for the board. Faculty gave TRUFA freedom to hold a non-confidence vote during contract negotiations last winter. Mediation resulted in a settlement ratified by 90 percent of faculty, he noted. That was in February.
“So it would seem to me that the ratification was reasonably successful,” he said. “Government is requesting that we be very careful how we use the limited resources available to us.”
After the ratification vote, administration met twice with TRUFA to identify specific challenges with the last meeting on April 11. A week later, the non-confidence vote was begun.
“I think the recent contract talks were challenging for everybody involved,” Dagg said. Top administrator Alan Shaver was re-appointed 18 months ago, he noted. “He certainly worked hard to address communications with faculty at that time and took steps resolve issues.”
Dagg indicated that there is ample faculty representation on governing bodies.
After contract ratification two months ago, TRUFA president Tom Friedman said that the 91 percent endorsement should not be interpreted to mean that faculty are pleased with changes to the collective agreement.
“Normally — but certainly not in this case — a large Yes vote on ratification means that faculty are pleased with changes to the collective agreement,” Friedman said. “From what our members have told me, faculty very reluctantly approved the recommendations because they saw no other choice.”
Due to limitations imposed by the provincial government through the Public Sector Employers’ Council (PSEC), the changes that TRUFA felt would improve faculty involvement in decision-making and enhance student learning were not possible to achieve, he added.
At that point, Mark Brown, the mediator, urged the parties to engage within the five-year contract term in collegial discussions that were left unresolved at the table.
Dagg pointed Thursday to the need for more effective and respectful discussions to be held internally rather than externally in the media, which has been the case in recent weeks.