UNB is again engaged in an academic planning exercise. Although this is a matter for Senates, it is also of concern to AUNBT members: it involves our work in the University’s core academic mission.

A good sense of history is always important, and in particular it is important for placing the current planning exercise in context. This page documents earlier academic planning processes and the one presently unfolding.

Institutional Planning at UNB 1965-68

“Shared Governance and Planning”, a presentation by former AUNBT President Jon Thompson at the Board of Governors retreat in August 2016, provides an overview of historical developments in Canada and UNB in particular. The full article is available on our History page, and can also be downloaded as pdf. The following excerpt describes the process and context of academic planning at UNB in the period 1965-68.

Institutional Planning at UNB 1965-1967

In early 1965 President Colin B. McKay appointed a Commission on the Future of the University to review almost all aspects of UNB operations, academic and non-academic and provide recommendations for the future. It was a comprehensive exercise in institutional planning and reviewed, among other things, the programs of all academic departments and faculties, the governance structure, terms and conditions of faculty employment, faculty recruitment strategies, prospects for institutional growth, space and equipment needs, creative arts, possible new programs, the role of the alumni organization, relations with governments, relations with St. Thomas University, relations with Teachers College, and parking.

The Commission was chaired by Alfred G. Bailey, Vice-President (Academic) and included two board members and five faculty members (one each from Arts, Engineering, Forestry, Law and Science), informally called the “Bailey Commission.” It submitted its report to President MacKay in early 1967, making a wide range of recommendations, both specific and general.

On governance the report said, “our debt to the Report on University Government … of Sir James Duff and R.O. Berdahl will be evident to every reader of this chapter.” It also acknowledged “indebtedness to many of the ideas expressed by the delegates of the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers in their appearances before [the Commission].” [i]

Development of Shared Governance at UNB 1967-1968

A body called the University Committee was formed in early 1967 to review the Duff-Berdahl Report and the Bailey Commission Report. It was chaired by President MacKay and included the two Vice-Presidents (Academic and Administration), four board members, six faculty members representing the University Council (a body of faculty advisory to the president – this group of six included three deans: Arts, Law, and Nursing), and three faculty members representing the AUNBT. By late 1967, the University Committee had developed a detailed draft major revision of the UNB Act. The draft Act revision was submitted to the board for discussion and approval.

When the Board approved a final draft Act revision, it asked the President to consult with Law Faculty Dean William F. Ryan on a suitable member of his faculty to convert the draft into legislative language. George R. McAllister was assigned the technical drafting task. The Legislative Assembly enacted the bill as Chapter 12 of the Acts of New Brunswick, 1968, a Public Act of the Province, with effect from July 1 of that year. The 1968 Act provided for a bicameral governance structure along the lines of the Duff-Berdahl Report, with some differences in detail.

The original UNB Act of 1859 incorporated UNB as the provincial university, converting what had been King’s College Fredericton affiliated with the Church of England into a non-sectarian institution. Between 1859 and 1968 the governing body – the corporate board of directors – was called “the Senate.” In the 1859 Act, “the University Board” consisted of the President and the faculty and was advisory to the president on specified matters. In the 1968 Act, the primary governing body was given the more common name Board of Governors while the new academic body was given the name Senate. (In this paper, the current, post-1968 terminology is used.)

The 1968 Act and all subsequent revisions set out, among other things, the composition and the powers of each of the Board and the Senate (a 1986 amendment created a second Senate for the Saint John Campus). Also included were sections setting out powers of the President, other university officers, joint Board-Senate committees, and faculty councils.

As a Public Act, the UNB Act provides legislative protection for the existence and powers of the academic bodies, as well as limits to the Board’s powers because the drafting and the amending procedures for Public Acts (as distinct from Private Acts) are overseen by the relevant ministries. [ii] The government may choose to require public consultation on proposed changes.

Prominent in the development of UNB’s bicameral system were:

  • Colin B. MacKay, President 1953-1969
  • Alfred G. Bailey, Vice-President (Academic) 1965-1969
  • Stewart McNutt, President of AUNBT 1957-1958, Dean of Arts 1965-1970
  • George R. McAllister, President of AUNBT 1966-1967, Vice-President of CAUT 1968-1969

Of particular note is MacKay’s leadership in this major transformation. He inspired confidence in both the Board and the faculty that the process was necessary for the good of UNB, and could be implemented through tri-partite committees with Board, administration and faculty representation. In achieving this end he was in effect following MacKenzie’s advice in the 1961 article cited earlier. In a recent account of UNB events during 1967-1969, MacKay’s executive assistant Peter C. Kent wrote that “UNB had been a presidential autocracy … initiative rested primarily in the hands of the president, supported by the faculty deans and other administrators.” In late 1968, just after he decided to retire at the end of that academic year, MacKay remarked to Kent, “I’m not a good democrat.” Yet he “steered the University toward a new and more democratic constitution in the design of the University of New Brunswick Act of 1968.” [iii]

Bailey was a nationally distinguished historian and poet, who had served as UNB’s first Dean of Arts 1946-1964 and led development of a large and academically strong Faculty. MacNutt was one of the five faculty members from universities across Canada on the 1960 CAUT committee that made the comparison study of governance systems (cited earlier). In addition to the UNB Act, McAllister drafted the technical language for New Brunswick’s labour relations acts. He served as UNB’s Dean of Law in the mid-1970s. Both MacNutt and McAllister served on the 1967 University Committee.


[i] “Report of the Commission on the Future of the University,” Commission chaired by A.G. Bailey, January 1, 1967 (200 pages), UNB Library Archives:HIL-SPECAR LE3.N292 U536 1967, 166

[ii] https://www.gnb.ca/legis/publications/billbecomeslaw/billbecomeslaw-e.asp

[iii] Peter C. Kent, Inventing Academic Freedom: The 1968 Strax affair at the University of New Brunswick (Halifax: Formac, 2012), 130, 195. The Strax affair was a major controversy at UNB that attracted national attention and was resolved after CAUT imposed censure on the University’s President and Board. (During his later career at UNB Kent served as Chair of the History department and as Dean of Arts.)

2013-14 (Prioritization Phase)

AUNBT Position Paper on Prioritization

(19 December 2013)

UNB management is considering undertaking a project it calls “Academic and Administrative Prioritization”. “Prioritization” could have serious implications for many departments and for UNB as a whole: for its reputation as a  comprehensive university and its viability as a centre for research and scholarship. AUNBT will be taking an active interest and we encourage all members to inform themselves on the issues and be vigilant. Information from this university and from the broader academic world will be posted here, including discussions of events and trends as they develop.

The intended general outcomes of the management project were announced in an October 2013 Senate document. It explained what “prioritization mean[s]” by citing passages from UNB’s Strategic Plan. Notably, the following criteria were highlighted: “we will support academic programs that are engaging, challenging and relevant.” All current UNB academic programs and their academic staff are subject to a variety of annual or other periodic reviews and assessments that are closely overseen by senior academic managers. Demonstrably, the programs already satisfy the Plan’s criteria. Therefore, it is reasonable to infer that the project will include an exercise that will rate some programs as more engaging, challenging, or relevant than others and that subsequent support will be allocated, re-allocated, or not allocated accordingly.

The Dickeson model

The Senate document summarizes the organizational structure and criteria for the rating exercises at five Canadian Universities, four of them in Ontario (Ryerson, Carleton, Wilfred Laurier, Guelph) and one in Saskatchewan (Regina). Each of these exercises can be seen as a variant of the Dickeson process, so called after American promoter Robert Dickeson, a former academic administrator and now private consultant on prioritization. No example other than these five is summarized in the Senate document although there are other Canadian universities either engaged in or contemplating the process (Algoma, Brock, Nipissing, OCADU, UOIT, Ottawa, Saskatchewan, St. Francis Xavier, Trent, and York) and literally dozens of examples of U.S. institutions that have undergone similar processes. More significantly, no alternatives are considered.

Historian Craig Heron (York University) analyzed the Dickeson process at the request of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). Heron’s own university implemented this process and his article is concise, illuminating, and well worth reading: “Robert Dickeson: Right for Ontario? An analysis of program prioritization”.

Prioritization in context

Why is this happening? Why now? In fact since the 1960s a variety of prioritization or other restructuring exercises have been undertaken within universities, across provincial systems, or nationally. Sometimes they have been democratic, collegial and for the common good, while in other cases they have been dirigiste in service to private instead of public interests. Examples include the 1965 Duff-Berdahl Commission, a joint enterprise of CAUT and AUCC that resulted in strengthening of collegial governance across Canada. In contrast a commission established by the New Brunswick government recommended in a 2007 report that several university campuses be converted into polytechnics. The commission’s report with its grandiloquent allusions to MIT and Caltech was issued amid considerable government fanfare, but conversion of the campuses was abandoned in the face of widespread opposition from academics, students, and the wider community.

During the decades following World War II universities with their academic freedom and trade unions with their organizational capacity were leaders in promoting effective democracy, the broad public interest, and critical thinking. For this reason both types of organization have been subjected to increasing political and economic pressure that began in the late 1970s and has continued to the present. The latter period coincides with one in which effective democracy has been increasingly weakened and neoliberal political and economic policies increasingly adopted by governments. The first major, comprehensive and lasting neoliberal attack on universities was abolition of tenure – the main protection for academic freedom – by the Thatcher government in 1988.

A general result of this trend has been accelerating conversion of the public interest into private interest. A specific result has been growing commercialization and commodification of higher education, underlying principles of the Dickeson process in particular. Other results have been the growth of managerialism accompanied by an increase in non-academic managerial staff at the expense of the academic complement and academic program resources, along with increasing privatization. A succinct, sardonic and perceptive summary of the impact on public universities can be found in “A Machiavellian Guide to Destroying Public Universities in 12 Easy Steps” by sociologist Steven Ward (Western Connecticut State University). In his blog on developments in the academic world, UBC mathematician and Board of Governors member Nassif Ghoussoub commented on the adverse effects at his own university, the University of Michigan, and British universities and concluded, “Faculty must educate themselves about the basic fiscal operations of their institutions and reassert their leadership.”

Beginning with the Thatcher government and continuing apace with governments of all political stripes, prioritization, privatization, and commodification processes have proceeded much more rapidly in England than in Canada or the United States. This may in part be because the Westminster government is unimpeded by provincial or state jurisdictions. The results have been seriously adverse for academic freedom and academic standards, as Oxford historian Sir Keith Thomas explained in a 2011 article, “Universities under Attack.” In the subsequent two-year period, the cumulative effects of successive revisions in funding, prioritization, and privatization policies by the Westminster government have brought ever more severe consequences for academic staff, programs and students. Cambridge professor of English Stefan Collini discussed recent developments in detail in an October 2013 article, “Sold Out.” Collini’s review suggests that British governments in effect have been conducting a large-scale experiment with post-secondary education. We in North America should expect that politicians and administrators here will be watching its progress with interest. Collini concludes:

In reality, the overriding aim is to bring the universities to heel: to change their character, to make them conform to market ideology. Universities must be made into businesses, selling a product to customers: if they reduce costs and increase sales, they make a profit; if they don’t, they go bust. Profit is the only indefeasible goal, competition the only effective mechanism.

If this is our vision for UNB, we need only to sit back, do nothing, and it will be accomplished.

Academic Planning 2015-17 (Stage 1 and Stage 2)

Although “prioritization”, in the specific sense of the Dickeson model described above, came to prominence at UNB only after it was presented to the Fredericton Senate in 2013, the term had been in use in a broader sense much earlier. In this broader sense, it is entangled with the concept of academic planning. Thus, in the November 2005 presentation to UNB Senates (p7), the then VP Finance stated:

To balance the budget, a series of actions involving revenue increases and expenditure decreases will be required in all aspects of campus operations. If new investments to fund new initiatives or priorities are to be made, then existing budgets will need to be managed to secure the funding. Academic planning and prioritization will be key.

An academic planning exercise was initiated at UNB in 2006-7, based on concerns very similar to those repeatedly expressed in recent years by the University’s senior leadership: enrolment, operating deficit, the need for new sources of revenue. Substantial amounts of data were collected and analyzed by academic units. A draft academic planning document was produced and discussed at a special meeting of Senates in June 2007, but no record of substantive discussion can be found in Senate records after late Fall 2007. The process appears to have been overshadowed by larger concerns: a different kind of “academic planning” exercise was initiated at the same time by the provincial government.

Premier Graham had appointed Commissioners Rick Miner and Jacques L’Écuyer to study post-secondary education in New Brunswick. The commissioners issued their report, Advantage New Brunswick, September 2007. It proposed that the existing “hierarchy of differences” be replaced by a system that would facilitate the training of workers for jobs in industry and business. Several community colleges and university campuses were to be restructured into three hybrid “polytechnics”; UNB’s Saint John campus was among them. This recommendation produced a strong adverse reaction, including by AUNBT and CAUT. Eventually, UNB’s senior leadership also came to view the Commissioners’ report as problematic. The internal academic planning process was set aside.

Ensuing years were marked by austerity measures and complement cuts that, according to VP Finance documents, over a period of 8 years amounted to a 14% reduction in the University’s (operating) expenses with significant adverse consequences for UNB’s academic programs. The following table, copied from page 14 of the April 2013 presentation to the Board of Governors by the then VP Finance, illustrates the effects on the operating budget of decisions made by the University Management Committee (as the President’s Executive Team was called at the time) and approved by the Board of Governors from 2006-7 to 2013-14 (in $millions):

The VP Finance noted in his presentation (p. 19) that cuts in faculty complement were among the main sources of the aggressive reduction in actual operating expenses by 14% ($25.5 million) over this eight-year period. The report further noted (p. 41) the reduction in faculty complement of 41 FTE positions (39 at UNBF and 2 at UNBSJ) during the last three years of this period. Consequently, there was now “little room left to adjust for current operations” (p. 19); in a bullet-point following this observation, the VP Finance suggested a way forward: “reset process”.

Although no explanation accompanies this item, Supplemental Financial Report to Senate(s) of 17 April 2014 includes a table (p. 63) showing that some time in 2013 an amount of $1 million materialized in the Strategic category of Internally Restricted Funds under the heading “Implementation of Reset Process”. The Report of the Ad-Hoc Committee on the Internally Restricted Funds does not include such a heading in the Strategic category, but lists an amount of $1 million under a different designation: “Academic Planning”.

Such is the context in which a new academic planning exercise was initiated in 2015-16. Following assurances that the process would not be a Dickeson-style prioritization, it was approved by UNB Senates. The line within the Internally Restricted Funds that had been designated “reset process”, then renamed “academic planning”, appears to have been rebranded some time before May 2016: “Funds for Prioritization Implementation”.

The 2015 template for academic unit reports was modeled on the template developed for the 2006-7 planning round, despite nearly a decade of budget and complement cuts.

The planning process revealed that the University collects extensive data on academic units but cannot guarantee reliability of the data. As a particularly interesting example, information provided by the Resource Planning and Budgeting Team suggested that in October 2011 the entire Fredericton campus had been funded by “soft” or “one time” money.

The outcome of this planning exercise was a report by each of the two Local Campus Committees. Along with the unit reports for the Fredericton campus, the LCC reports can be viewed on the University’s website (UNB login credentials required):

The academic planning process had been approved by Senates, and AUNBT maintained a distance from what was perceived to be a primarily academic matter. This is not to say that AUNBT did not have concerns about possible implications. Among other concerns, there is potential for any such process to result in competition or conflict among academic units instead of cooperation or collaboration.

Just as problematically, the administration’s technical capability to accumulate massive datasets on academic units and academic staff can create the impression that numerical measures (“metrics”) derived from the collected data are necessarily a neutral and accurate representation of reality. If used in excess, this approach can result in “governance by numbers”, a phenomenon described by Alain Supiot, eminent legal scholar and professor at Collège de France:

In our attempts to transform every singular quality into a measurable quantity, we become enclosed in a speculative circle, where belief in quantitative representations gradually supplants any contact with the realities to which these representations are supposed to refer. […] Alain Desrosières’s ground-breaking work has shown that economic and social statistics do not measure a pre-existing quality, unlike statistics in the natural science, but construct a new reality […]

Alain Supiot, The Spirit of Philadelphia: Social Justice vs. the Total Market (p. 61)

Perhaps in an effort to address these concerns and preempt unintended consequences of “governance by numbers”, page 1 of the Fredericton LCC report included guidelines on “How to use this document”:

The LCC developed its report under the shared understanding that recommendations for resource allocation refer exclusively to the allocation of additional resources.

The document is not intended as a “quick and dirty” cost cutting aid. If used in this manner, it would pose a great risk to UNB’s academic reputation.

The guidelines also stated that the report should be used in a “collegial manner, in consultation with faculty members, Chairs, Deans”; it remains unclear whether this recommendation was followed. Despite considerable labour expended by academic units and the LCCs, the reports came to be seen as a snapshot of a 5-year timeframe ending in 2013-14; contrary to the LCC’s guidelines, no updates have been made available. Both reports were proclaimed in Fall 2016 to have been only the “Stage I” of an apparently multi-stage academic planning process.

“Stage II” academic planning template was presented to the Senates in November 2016; following a tense discussion in the Fredericton Senate, the Academic Planning Committee’s motion was defeated, then amended and approved by a close vote. Departments were to provide their responses by 31 January 2017.

In this stage of academic planning, no “metrics” were to be considered or interpreted (however imperfectly). Instead, units were now instructed to file compositions on their short-term goals (1-2 years), mid-term goals (3-5 years), and where they see themselves “5+ years out”, as well as to list “ideas for structural opportunities for either campus”. This was clarified in a problematic invitation to academic units to consider “the following kinds of ideas”:

merging or re-designing small programs into larger/more attractive programs; merging a small department/faculty into a larger school/department/faculty; moving a professional faculty from the Fredericton campus to the Saint John campus […]. All suggestions will remain confidential.

AUNBT considers this approach to academic planning to be cause for concern.

  • Transparency of such a process is questionable.
  • The planning template states: “initiate discussions with units that would be directly involved.” No information has been provided on which units would be involved, or how.
  • The planning template states: “campus meetings are to be held by mid-April”. Such a meeting (“Town Hall”) was indeed held. A draft academic planning document (requires UNB login credentials) was presented at the meeting. It appears to have been constructed by copying selected sections from unit reports, and framing them in a generic yet narrow framework of a “University for New Brunswick”.
  • Emphasis on such themes as “Strengthening the regional economy”, “Building a healthy New Brunswick”, “New Brunswick-specific research and teaching” and “New Brunswick-specific applied training and research” drew sharp criticism from academic staff, who, while recognizing the important role UNB has in the province, continue to believe that pursuit of knowledge in all of its forms is an essential element of what constitutes a university where research of national and international significance is conducted.
  • The draft document was presented by an external consultant, whose role in the process requires clarification.
  • The “Stage II” academic planning template states: “Ideas compiled into master list and circulated by February 21.” 
No such master list has been circulated or discussed, unless this refers to “shared themes” presented in the draft academic planning document that was not well received.
  • The “Stage II” planning template states that the Academic Planning Committee will, by “Fall 2017, determine which ideas might be implemented, and proposals made for implementation, with a timeline.”

Although these ideas and proposals for implementation are not known at the time of this writing (8 September 2017), it appears that academic planning will proceed simultaneously with several other major initiatives at UNB: a review of roles and responsibilities of members of the President’s Executive Team, proposal for restructuring administrative services, review of the budget process, a new strategic plan, and possibly more.

These initiatives are interrelated and their impact has the potential to affect the academic mission in serious ways. It is therefore important to remain engaged and vigilant; academic staff should have a central role in shaping the future of UNB.

We encourage members to follow the “Updates” section below, contact us and voice their concerns, and to seek answers from their Senate representatives, Deans, campus Vice-Presidents, and President Campbell.

Updates 2017-2018
  • 18 September 2017. UNB campus VPs, Dr MacLean and Dr MacKinnon, sent a joint message to academic staff. The message included a new draft academic plan document, and an invitation to attend a University Town Hall on Wednesday 27 September.
  • 25 September 2017. In an email to academic staff VP MacLean circulated a corrected version of the academic planning draft report. His message clarified: “an appendix was included in our draft that contained raw text from submissions the Fredericton Academic Planning committee had received from units and individuals.  This appendix  had not been reviewed by the committee, and we have decided to remove the appendix from the draft.  We would ask you to replace the attached corrected draft and discard the earlier version that had been distributed.”
  • 25 September 2017. AUNBT removed the Sept 17 draft from its website immediately, and updated the links to point to the corrected version sent on 25 September.
  • 27 September 2017. At the academic planning town hall on 27 September 2017, concerns were expressed by AUNBT regarding the rumour that the UNB President and the Vice-President Advancement had presented an ambitious “vision” for the Faculty of Engineering at the Board of Governors retreat in August 2017, before consulting UNB Senates. The Vice-President Academic (Fredericton) responded, “Nothing is set in stone”.
  • 31 October 2017. AUNBT distributed the first of two documents on academic planning. The first involves an analysis of academic planning approaches across Canada.
  • 1 November 2017. AUNBT distributed the second document on academic planning. This document looks at academic planning processes at UNB.
  • 21 November 2017. At the Fredericton Senate meeting on 21 November 2017, there was a vigorous discussion of the proposed academic planning document. There were suggestions that the Fredericton part of the document is “on life support”. Following a complex debate, the motion to approve the academic planning document passed with significant amendments:

    that Senate approve the bi-campus component and the Fredericton-specific component of the ‘Academic Planning at UNB’ report as a provisional document and acknowledges the Saint John component of the report. The Academic Planning Committee will consider suggestions for revision advanced by chairs and deans on an ongoing basis and report on changes and improvements to the document at 6- month intervals with a mandatory formal report to Senate not more than 12 months after this motion is accepted. [Fredericton Senate minutes, 21 November 2017, p13, emphasis added]

  • September 2018. AUNBT became aware that another presentation of an ambitious academic vision had been made to the Board of Governors at its annual retreat in August 2018.
  • 25 September 2018. AUNBT sent a message to members reflecting concerns about sequencing of the University’s approach to academic planning.
  • 25 September 2018. A lively discussion at Fredericton Senate ensued. The Vice-President Academic (Fredericton) volunteered to chair a committee that would address the concerns expressed.
  • November 2018. A formal report of the Academic Planning Committee, pursuant to Motion 10,4 (as amended) at the Fredericton Senate on 21 November 2017,  is due at the November 2018 meeting of the UNB Fredericton Senate.