Congress 2016 Day 2: Governance controversies and reconciliation in the university

It was another interesting day here at the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Calgary. Two sessions stood out as particularly relevant, one on university governance and another on what universities must do to enact the principles and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The governance session, hosted by the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), presented four different takes on the growing unease in the academy with how Canadian universities are being run. Michael Conlon presented a critique of University Leadership and Public Policy in the Twenty-First Century: A President’s Perspective, by former University of Saskatchewan president Peter McKinnon. The book represents an aggressive attack on both the principles of collegial governance and faculty unions. His proposals include turning Senate into a “sounding board” (read: rubber stamp) for the president, curtailing academic freedom, and possibly eliminating tenure. In Conlon’s assessment, the book is blind to politicized nature of university administration, tacitly assuming that only administrators have the vision and insight necessary to run the university. It is a book about the consolidation of administrative power. Ironically, as Conlon observes, the existence of such a book powerfully demonstrates why faculty associations are more important than ever. As a small plug for the magazine, a version of Conlon’s critique appears in our upcoming Spring/Summer 2016 issues, which should be hitting mailboxes soon.

The other papers in the session presented intriguing views of the problems with “eCampusOntario” and how the corporatized language of “excellence” has found its way into faculty collective agreements, granting some legitimacy to what is otherwise an ill-defined term.

The Canadian Society for Studies in Higher Education (CSSHE) hosted a joint session with the Canadian Society for Studies in Education (CSSE) and Canadian Association for Studies in Indigenous Education (CASIE) on the implications of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for K-12 and postsecondary education. The event featured a large (six people) and thoroughly wonderful panel of some of Canada’s leading experts on indigenous education. The presentation covered a lot of ground on the challenges of incorporating First Nations’ people, knowledge, and culture in higher education, but is perhaps best summed up in simple phrase used by Marie Battiste, Professor at the University of Saskatchewan: “nothing about us, without us.”

More to come tomorrow.