It’s possible: Despite their long history, universities aren’t immune to change. Digital technologies have fundamentally altered how people relate to factual information. Being resistant to commoditization, our teaching and research costs are mostly in personnel. Increasingly, research spans disciplinary boundaries and is collaborative. Global problems, especially with the environment, are becoming local and urgent. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission charges us to better include Indigenous scholars and ways of knowing. The ever-growing body of scholarship on teaching and learning gives evidence as to how university teaching should evolve.
The university is always adapting and responding to challenges like these. Participation in the distinctive university apparatus called collegial governance affords faculty members influence in that process.
How collegial governance works at Waterloo
The University of Waterloo is organized on a
bicameral model. Loosely, this means that our Board of Governors looks after
the institution as a nonprofit corporation with an annual cash flow of about a billion
dollars, and our Senate looks after the institution as an educational community
of about 40,000 scholars (faculty, students, many staff).
It’s not a total separation of interests,
however. To manage finances and risk, our Board must know the higher-education
sector, its value and values, its trends, and Waterloo’s distinctive roles in
it. To manage academic programs and policies, our Senate must promote academic
initiatives that show an attractive cost-benefit and risk-reward tradeoff.
Tensions are part of the model: autonomy versus dependence, academic freedom
versus responsibility, individual versus group ambitions, etc.
On October 26, FAUW held a 60th anniversary discussion exploring the unique relationship between faculty and the administration at Waterloo, and presented our first Awards of Appreciation to honour members of the University community who have made real differences in the lives of faculty members.
Panelists Roman Dubinski (FAUW president 1970–71), David DeVidi (FAUW president 2007–09), Lynne Taylor (chief negotiator and board member 2014–16), and Ian Goulden (dean of mathematics 2010–15) described the evolution of faculty representation at Waterloo, from the early relationship characterized by the University’s “benign paternalism” (in Dubinski’s words), through three attempts to unionize in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, to the “honest conversation” of the current arrangement.
In my 22 months’ experience as FAUW President, I have had the opportunity to attend a number of meetings with my counterpart colleagues from other institutions at the provincial level under the auspices of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA – of which our own Kate Lawson is President) and at the federal level under the Canadian Association of University Teachers(CAUT). At these meetings one thing inevitably stands out to me in the starkest possible terms: how differently UW operates as compared to other institutions.
Generally speaking, the tone of interaction between faculty representatives elsewhere and their institutions is one of chronic mistrust and by-default antagonism. By contrast, UW manages to operate smoothly, with open and constructive dialogue on issues and concerns happening through well-recognized, well-respected and effective channels (e.g., Faculty Relations Committee (FRC), FAUW’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee (AF&T)).
In my experience observing other large organizations both academic and non-academic, institutions end up with the unions they deserve, initially as a result of poor management. UW somehow has avoided such pitfalls.
So, what makes UW operate so differently? I’ve been puzzling over this question and have the following speculations to offer, most at the intersection of faculty working conditions and financial considerations: