AUNBT Comments on Administrative Services Review

14 September 2017

In April of 2017, consulting company KPMG submitted their final report on administrative services at UNB. On July 5, 2017, members of the university community were invited to comment. Subsequently, we invited feedback from our members. This summary reflects the serious concerns we have about the administrative services review (ASR) process and the KPMG report.

The review process and the KPMG report raise serious issues of accountability and leadership:

  • The report proposes few solutions that have not already been considered through various top-down exercises, actions, or reviews, including the ad hoc one-time provost appointment in 2006, the 2014 Senior Administrative Roles and Responsibilities Review (SARR), and the 2013-2015 attempt to revise the UNB Act.
  • The ASR process and KPMG report have been used as vehicles to make recommendations about the responsibilities and functioning of the President and Vice-Presidents, and creation of a provost, that are significantly different from those in the SARR report without providing reasons for so differing. For example, the SARR Report, authored by three experienced and successful university administrators, did not recommend or even mention the position of a provost.
  • The KPMG report misrepresents current administrative organization at UNB (omitting key bodies such as PET and Deans Council), and continues the process of marginalizing Senates by excluding them from organizational charts at the same time that it outlines a central role for the Board of Governors. This extends the inappropriate representations on the UNB website, where Senates are shown as peripheral entities related to the institution’s organizational structure only through the University Secretary.
  • In its recommendations, the report continues and extends administrative efforts towards greater managerialism and corporate-style governance that would further weaken collegial governance and participation. It is of particular concern that the organizational model from which Senates appear to be excluded “was subsequently reviewed with the President for final amendments and edits to ensure consistency with the strategic direction of the University.” (p.49 of the KPMG report)

The report is deeply flawed methodologically:

  • It uses an inappropriately small set of comparison institutions that is not representative of UNB’s special two campus model, while ignoring other and better structural fits (such as the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses at UBC).
  • It purports to base its analysis on interviews but limited these to senior administrators, ignoring front-line departmental and faculty-based administrators, as well as faculty, staff, and students.
  • The ASR process is poorly integrated into other campus-wide initiatives, including academic and strategic planning, and the forthcoming searches for a new President and several Vice-Presidents. This suggests that the review is not being driven by the academic mission but rather by a desire to consolidate administrative authority and control at the expense of our existing collegial rights and organizational structure, including deans and department chairs.

The recommendations of the KPMG report would not solve institutional problems and if implemented would instead increase them:

  • The lack of integration of bicameral, collegial governance (particularly Senates and Faculty Councils) in the institutional vision presented is inappropriate.
  • The consolidation of services under a shared service model, including centralization of reporting of departmental and faculty-based administrative support will not improve academic or administrative functions; faculty in universities that have implemented such models report increased conflict within and among units, reduction in the quality of support services, and an increase in workload for faculty members and department chairs (such as at the University of Saskatchewan, p.i-iv).
  • The removal of the President from core activities of the academic mission of the University to focus on external issues would increase the lack of connection of that office with the campus communities, and would compound already serious problems of morale and trust.
  • The recommendations would entrench the removal of the VP Advancement from articulation with the academic and finance VPs. Such a model has been in place for some time, and it has had a detrimental effect on the University’s core academic mission. Ongoing operating funds have been redirected to the VP Advancement while academic units faced complement reductions, and it is possible that substantial “one-time” expenses on marketing in recent years could soon become ongoing.
  • The recommendation for a provost position would expensively increase the layers of administrative control in one Canadas’s smallest comprehensive universities, and would significantly change the relationship between the senior administration located on the Fredericton campus and the VPSJ and the Saint John campus. The report does not provide a compelling justification for a provost.
  • Both the particular set of institutional comparisons and the recommendation to restructure the senior administration would result in diminution of academic autonomy and administrative services at both UNBF and UNBSJ.

AUNBT Response to the SARR Report

29 January 2015

 

INTRODUCTION

The Senior Administration Responsibility Review (SARR) at the University of New Brunswick, commissioned by its Board of Governors, is a welcome first step in addressing the significant management issues facing UNB at the present time.

The recommendations put forward by the distinguished members of the SARR Committee — Drs. Sheila Embleton, Peter MacKinnon (chair), and Tom Traves — contain an explicit list of 16 recommendations. In addition, it is clear that the panel steps beyond its limited mandate to provide commentary that directly addresses concerns of accountability, transparency and collegiality as they affect the core mission of teaching and research.

The Committee’s brief summary of the Review concludes that the “administrative structure and processes of UNB are preventing the University from reaching its potential.”

AUNBT agrees with this summary, and strongly recommends that the necessary structural changes suggested by the Committee be implemented, prior to undertaking major changes to the UNB Act or a program prioritization exercise.

We say this because we believe a flawed administrative structure without clearly delineated responsibilities, processes and accountability, obviously cannot inspire the trust of faculty, staff and students who collaborate on the frontlines of education and research in the Province.

RESPONSE

In this AUNBT response we comment on each of the recommendations in the Review (SARR Report), and on the implicit suggestions and commentary the reviewers provide in making their recommendations.

We highlight with reasons the recommendations and comments we consider positive for UNB’s core mission of teaching and research.

RECOMMENDATION 1: “We recommend that the Vice-President Saint John be re-designated the Principal of UNB Saint John reporting to the President of the University, and that the Principal normally act as President in the latter’s absence.”

We agree with the Committee’s stated goal of seeking “broader engagement between the two campuses” and concur that “this recommendation symbolizes and advances this goal,” though we suggest that, despite precedents at other institutions, the title of “Principal,” is not appropriate for UNB Saint John for various historical reasons, unless it is an addition to the designation of VP (i.e.: VP-Academic SJ and Principal, UNB Saint John Campus).

As the Committee itself suggests, the question of who becomes acting President in the latter’s absence is a secondary issue and as such, one obvious option would be to simply rotate between the two VPAs. That being said, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the senior administrator of the smaller of the two main campuses, already responsible for a significant proportion of the daily operations at UNB, should be considered an appropriate temporary proxy for the president should the need arise.

RECOMMENDATION 2: “We recommend that the Vice-President Fredericton be re-designated simply Vice President Academic, with responsibility for academic matters on the Fredericton Campus. Non-academic responsibilities should be reviewed and reassigned to other administrative units, as appropriate, to ensure this Vice-President’s focus and mandate are primarily academic.”

We agree with the committee that it is important that there be one Administrator in charge of the Academic mission on each campus. This role should include working collegially with the academic complement, reviewing programs, and seeking funds in response to program needs. We further agree with the recommendation that the office of VPA–Fredericton needs to be refocused on the academic mandate. We would resist any suggestion that there be one such office for both campuses, as with few exceptions, comparable programs function independently on each campus, overseen by the appropriate Senate.

We fully concur with the Committee’s observation as to an essential quality of the President and Vice-Presidents, that “…Canadian Universities… require more than full-time commitment from dedicated leaders” (McKinnon et al. 2014:2)[1].

RECOMMENDATION 3: “We recommend the title of the Vice-President Finance and Corporate Services be restored to that of Vice-President Finance and Administration as it was originally known until recently at UNB and is commonly used in Canadian universities.”

We agree with this recommendation for a change of title for the reasons of sensitivity given. However, it is more important that the role of this office be structured to respect the Committee’s vision that UNB is a collegial rather than corporate organization, a consideration which goes beyond the title. The Committee has itself addressed this issue in their Recommendations 5 and 6.

RECOMMENDATION 4: “It is recommended that the Dean of Graduate Studies report to the Vice-President Academic at UNB Fredericton and to the Principal of UNB Saint John. It is further recommended that the Dean have a dotted line reporting relationship to the Vice-President Research.”

We agree with the Committee’s characterization that “[t]he research mission is vital to the success of UNB and to those its serves, and graduate programs are vital to the success of that mission.”

This recommendation directly connects the roles of the VPR and VPA(F) and VPA(SJ). It is our view that this connection is central to delivering strong graduate programs, and important to UNB’s research mission. As such we think the Dean of the Graduate School should report to both the respective VPAs and the VPR, as suggested by the Committee.

RECOMMENDATION 5: “The President, with the support of the Board of Governors, should reorganize the University’s financial management systems, processes and personnel to achieve effective University-wide budget preparation, monitoring and reporting outcomes under the responsibility of the Vice-President Finance and Administration. The Assistant Vice-President (Financial and Administrative Services) at the Saint John campus and the Assistant Vice-President (Resource Planning and Budgeting) at the Fredericton campus and their staffs should report directly to the Vice-President Finance and Administration. In the reorganization that follows upon this recommendation the academic leaders (Principal in Saint John, Vice-President Academic in Fredericton and Vice-President Research) must retain sufficient staff to sustain their capacity to manage their own budgets and ensure effective decision supports in their office.”

We agree that the financial management systems need to be reorganized, particularly in light of the ongoing surpluses resulting from reductions in resources for the academic mission.

We fully support the Committee’s view that “the academic leadership of UNB must ensure that the University’s budget priorities fulfill the institution’s mandate” and that the process needs to be “more inclusive and transparent to the University community.”

We would point out that UNB already has some infrastructure in place, such as the Budget Committee, which might be effectively utilized. We would also caution that any and all new governance initiatives must be developed within the existing collegial, bicameral structures.

RECOMMENDATION 6: “We propose three changes to the existing university budget process which we believe will make it more transparent and enable the University community to engage with the development of the annual budget on an iterative basis. Academic priorities must, of course, drive the budget process… For academic priorities to be considered, however, there must be clear academic strategic needs articulated across the university in academic plans clearly stated by the Vice-President Academic and the Principal after appropriate consultation with their academic colleagues. Secondly, while the Saint John campus has a well-developed campus budget process that feeds Saint John priorities into the University-wide budget process, there is no equivalent process in Fredericton… Finally, we take it as a given that effective budget planning in a university environment requires adequate consultation with the University community through an iterative process… …we believe that the communication process should start occurring earlier… Better communication will educate the entire University community about the University’s financial status and prospects, invite campus comment and suggestions about emerging priorities and tentative decisions, and provide greater confidence across the University with the final budget decisions that emerge from this process”.

We agree specifically with the Committee that “Academic priorities must, of course, drive the budget process,” and in general with the spirit of their comments in this recommendation.

The Committee considers the UNB(SJ) budget process to be “well-developed” and “feeds priorities into the campus-wide budget process.” But they find that there is no “equivalent process in Fredericton.” We regard the latter as a major failing of the administration led by President Campbell and the office of the Vice-President Academic Fredericton.

In light of the reduction in resources for the core mission of teaching and research over the last 5 years, we consider this to be a central issue that must be addressed immediately. The Committee’s recommendations provide a good starting point for the immediate reallocation of necessary resources back into faculties.

We do question the wisdom of subsuming the Saint John budget process, which the Committee considers to be working, within the Fredericton process, which they characterize as flawed. We would note the need for both extensive discussion and unprecedented financial transparency before considering a closer amalgamation of the two processes.

RECOMMENDATION 7: “We endorse the current initiative to hire a senior communications professional specifically to support the Office of the President in its communication needs both on the campuses and beyond the University”.

We disagree with this recommendation. We do not consider the current problems at UNB to be due to poor communication (either abilities or capacity), but rather to a lack of transparency and collegiality on the part of the senior administration: in effect, to an unwillingness, rather than an inability, to communicate. We would further stress that communication cannot always be unidirectional.

Regular Town Hall meetings with the president and VPAs, combined with collegial and open decision-making processes would obviate the need for more internal communications professionals than are already in place at UNB.

RECOMMENDATION 8: “To support deeper understanding of pressing issues and priorities, encourage informed input to vital decisions and build University-wide networks of committed officials, the President should annual organize a two-day retreat, perhaps a subsequent day-long meeting as well, for senior academic and administrative leaders from both campuses”.

We disagree. Retreats have become fashionable for senior administrators, complete with an emergent business niche that provides “tour operators” for retreats.

We consider such activities to be entirely replaceable by effective, ongoing collegial communication. Both the Deans’ Council and senior administration meet quite regularly, and there is no reason why both groups cannot meet together once per term. And while it is true that there ought to be more interactions between people both within and between campuses, we would rather see resources put into initiatives that would foster such interactions among the whole UNB community.

RECOMMENDATION 9: “The Deans Council in Fredericton, chaired by the Vice-President Academic, should from time to time invite Vice-Presidents and other senior administrative staff to discuss issues related to their portfolios and hear about academic leaders’ concerns. The Direct Reports Council in Saint John, chaired by the Principal, should also from time to time invite Vice-Presidents and other senior administrative staff to discuss issues related to their portfolios and hear about academic leaders’ concerns”.

We agree with these recommendations. Our suggestion of regular meetings between the Deans’ Council and the senior administration, as mentioned in our comments on Recommendation 8, above, provides a possible ongoing mechanism.

RECOMMENDATION 10: “The President should establish a University-wide Strategic Academic Innovation Committee to examine and assess UNB’s academic initiatives and practices regularly and to consider and promote, as appropriate, evolving new approaches within higher education that could enhance learning and research outcomes at the University. The three senior academic leaders at the University – the Vice-President Academic at UNB Fredericton, the Principal of UNB Saint John and the Vice-President Research – should be members of the Committee, but the majority of the appointees to the Committee should come from the faculty ranks on both campuses and the Chair of the Committee should be a faculty member respected for his/her knowledge and innovative spirit. Initiatives from this Committee should feed into the University’s annual budget discussion. Members of the Committee should be appointed by the President upon the recommendation of senior University academic leaders and should serve for three-year terms”.

While we agree with the principles of increasing transparency and improving collegiality, we are significantly concerned with the possible powers of such a committee. We are concerned that this recommendation could be used to support what is commonly called a prioritization exercise. We would regard the initiation of any such exercise, and any process that might contribute to it as inappropriate and possibly irresponsible until the significant issues facing the University community are adequately dealt with, only some of which are encompassed by the Committee’s mandate and report.

RECOMMENDATION 11: “Academic labour relations support is a specialty requiring unique knowledge and skills and this capacity must be developed within the Office of Human Resources to provide appropriate advice to deans and vice-presidents on both campuses, as required. When the new academic collective agreements require negotiation, this capacity should be available to facilitate or lead the process on behalf of the University. While the administrative home for this capacity resides within the portfolio of the Vice-President Finance and Administration… its clear mandate is to service the needs of campus academic leaders as required. Collective bargaining strategy should be determined by the Vice-President Academic and the Principal under the oversight of the President and the Board of Governors Human Resources Committee which establish their mandate. Ongoing supervision of the bargaining process should fall to the Vice-President Academic and the Principal. Advice to achieve positive outcomes should be sought regularly from among deans and other senior academic leaders who operate under the terms of the Collective Agreement”.

We concur with the Committee that academic labour relations at UNB require consideration. The Committee’s discussion suggests current staff in the Office of Human Resources either do not possess the required “knowledge and skills” or, alternatively, on direction from their administrative superiors, they refrain from using their expertise and ability to help resolve disputes or bargain effectively.

We disagree that there is any need to hire additional administrative staff to work toward a more positive labour relations environment. This is an aspect of corporatization that we think does not belong in a University.

Current staff should be replaced if lacking in knowledge and skills, or if not lacking, their administrative direction should be changed.

We also think that effective collegial, inclusive and transparent decision making processes, with clear accountability, would help to develop more positive labour relations.

RECOMMENDATION 12: “It is recommended that the University Management Committee (UMC) be renamed the President’s Executive”.

We agree with the committee’s observation that the University Management Committee “may not be optimally constituted to exercise managerial duties”.

We also agree that the President ought to meet with the other senior administrators on a regular basis. It may not seem that the name given to this group is important, though we prefer the Committee’s suggestion of “Executive,” with its suggestion of administrative functions, over the current designation and its focus on management over governance.

More important than the name, however, is the willingness of individual senior administrators to work collegially with faculty in an overall University decision-making process.

The President’s Executive should make public its meeting agendas and decisions on all academic and administrative matters in a timely manner.

RECOMMENDATION 13: “It is recommended that the Senates in Fredericton and Saint John be chaired by respected senior faculty members nominated by committees of the Senates constituted for this purpose, and affirmed by the Senates’ memberships. The President will continue to attend all meetings, provide a regular report, answer questions, address issues and participate in the deliberations of the Senates”.

We agree with this recommendation, for the reasons stated by the Committee.

RECOMMENDATION 14: “To assist effective communication and understanding of academic developments across both campuses and aid efficient decision-making on University-wide academic concerns, UNB should establish a Joint Senate Executive Committee with representatives from both campus Senates to provide campus updates on planning, new initiatives and forthcoming proposals. From time to time, when University-wide standards or regulations are under review, this Committee can act as a clearinghouse for essential information and coordinate required joint actions”.

We agree, and would add that such an arrangement is long overdue.

RECOMMENDATION 15: “Following the publication of the Shared Services Report, the University should adopt a strategy of reviewing key administrative services with a view to implementing changes that will cut costs and improve the quality of administrative support on both campuses. Such reviews should proceed in a discrete fashion with an initial focus on those services most likely to yield positive results”.

We have not yet seen the Shared Services Report to which the Committee refers, and trust that it will be made public shortly.

With regard to sharing services between the campuses we would offer the following considerations:

Efficiency and cost saving cannot be the sole motivations for changes. Other principles need to be articulated and maintained, such as campus culture and cohesion, and community responsibility. Furthermore, employees in similar roles on the two campuses are in some instances organized by different employee groups, which may have an impact on attempts to centralize. There is a widespread perception on the Saint John campus that centralization means relocation to Fredericton with a consequent loss of jobs, autonomy, and convenience for those in Saint John. We were happy to see these concerns to some extent acknowledged by the Committee, particularly in their remarks that the VP Finance and Administration would need to have a presence on both campuses.

RECOMMENDATION 16: “UNB should actively explore the substantial opportunities to leverage its academic resources currently available on both campuses. In the larger university world, UNB is a mid-sized institution competing with much larger institutions. To subdivide its resources unnecessarily weakens its competitive capacity. The Strategic Academic Innovation Committee… should analyze the opportunities identified above as well as other ideas that emerge from across the University community in this connection. Separate initiatives should be launched to explore the benefits of integrating the operations of the Library, Information Technology Services and student recruitment on both campuses within single organizational structures”.

These recommendations relate to administrative and academic synergies, and while we encourage the spirit of the recommendation, as with Recommendation 15, we have some concerns. Efficiency and cost saving should not drive academic “synergies.” Indeed, the use of the term “synergies” is problematic if it is used to mask what may be, in fact, concentration, amalgamation, or centralization. Any such initiatives would of course have to be discussed within the existing structures of faculties and senates, and in full recognition of the history and development of the bi-campus nature of UNB. Most importantly, and we refer back to our remarks about Recommendation 10, we strongly state that such potentially radical changes cannot fruitfully take place in the current atmosphere at UNB.

CONCLUSION

Finally, we are pleased to note that the SARR Committee did not recommend establishment of an additional senior administrative post such as a Provost or similar office. UNB is significantly smaller than the home universities of the Committee members and does not need and cannot afford yet another senior administrator. Under the UNB Act the President as chief executive officer has ample authority to supervise the existing Vice-Presidents with the support of the Board of Governors in order to ensure that UNB begins to move forward toward the “Overarching Goal” of the 2010 Strategic Plan.

[1] The growth of managerialism in administration and the disconnection of VPAs from students is a significant concern, and we feel that the VPA positions need a strong connection to the academic project. While we understand that administrative duties may preclude full teaching, we encourage consideration of mechanisms to allow the VPAs to maintain a connection to the classroom, such as co-teaching, even if it requires replacement of some more socially oriented student engagements, such as student drop-in hours.