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Produced by Belfast Association of University Teachers Issue No 12 November 1998


Contents of issue 1998-12


reddot.gif (924 bytes)The End of Collegiality?

reddot.gif (924 bytes)Convocation and the Academic Plan




The End of Collegiality?

Academics are an articulate and intelligent workforce, and good universities have sought to harness their energy and skills through involving them in decision-making in the institution. This collegiality is a traditional part of academic life and its continued survival is due to the fact that it plays an important role in the effective management of the complex institution that is the modern university. In many institutions, involvement has been recently extended to include research staff and academic-related staff. Not so in Queen’s.

Senior management at Queen’s regards itself as possessing a monopoly of wisdom which is unachievable in an institution as complex as the modern university. Recently we moved from elected to appointed Deans, although there is no evidence that election gave rise to unsuitable Deans. There is a new proposal which directly attacks collegiality: it is to remove virtually all of the elected members of Academic Council so as to leave it made up almost exclusively of line managers. It is the elected members who contribute most to the debates at Academic Council, and without this representation a major stakeholder in the University — ordinary academic staff — will feel disenfranchised.

There is no justification put forward for this cutback except the statement that it would advantageous that Senate and Academic Council be smaller, and a vague reference to the Strategic Review. Let us see what the Strategic Review actually says. On p 79-80 it complains of "poor internal communication which is perceived as being mainly top-down rather than a two-way process." and it says, "A vital part of internal communications, which is all too often lacking, is upward communication — encouraging staff to communicate their ideas for improving the performance of the University and to be willing to voice constructive criticism of downward communication which will often impact on their work." While on p 67 the Strategic Review says: "It is generally recognised that the Academic Council provides a valuable forum for representatives of academic staff to be involved in decision making and the open discussion of academic affairs." ¼ "It is appropriate, however that the role and size of Council and how it interacts with other bodies, be reviewed to make sure that it not only provides an effective mechanism to underpin and support quality and excellence in teaching and research but that it also contributes to collegiality." (my emphasis).

At present there are a total of 60 members of Academic Council elected by the Faculties. The proposal is to reduce this to a maximum of 4 elected by each Faculty. It is likely that even some of these will be effectively earmarked for assistant Deans etc. There will still be five student members and a few professors (all male) who have retained their membership from an earlier age. The bulk of Academic Council remains the ex officio members — the V-C, Pro-V-Cs, Deans, Heads of Schools, etc. On my count there are at least 47 of these. All these people owe their position, and their continued holding of it, to the University management. So the drastic reduction of just one component of Academic Council — the elected members — will radically change the balance of debate.

The effects spread beyond Academic Council. It elects representatives to other committees. If people cannot get onto Academic Council they cannot serve on those committees. Moreover membership of Academic Council is a necessary condition for other positions. For instance, although Standing Committee is composed of Senators, some of them have to be members of Academic Council.

There had been talk in the past of a slight reduction in the number of elected members of Academic Council to 30 elected by the faculties and 20 elected in a university-wide constituency. It was felt that this constituency would enable people with widespread support to bring a university-wide perspective to Council. Last year this proposal was modified to 40 + 10, and either of these would have resulted in an Academic Council of about 100, which was the size recommended in the Jarratt Report. However, the present proposal has been made without any reference to Faculties or Academic Council and reduces the size below 80, besides upsetting the balance.

It is University policy that every proposal is accompanied by an analysis of its impact on equal opportunities. It is missing from this proposal. On my count the ex officio members of Academic Council split 44 male to 3 female. Even though QUB management seem unable to appoint many women to positions of authority, the elected members of Academic Council have always contained a good proportion of women. So the drastic reduction in the elected members will re-enforce the image of male dominance.

There are also proposals to drastically reduce the size of many committees. The proposed membership of many of the top committees seems to be a handful chosen from the V-C, Pro-V-Cs, Registrar and Bursar with a couple of appropriate additions. There are usually no representatives of the consumers of the service and nobody who knows the realities of the chalk-face. So these top committees are likely to be out of touch.

The proposals for the committees and Academic Council surfaced at a meeting of Planning and Resources Committee on 25th November. It was very poorly attended. (Perhaps, like me, some members had been taken off the mailing list.) The Vice-Chancellor, two of the Pro-V-Cs and three of the Deans did not attend. At its peak, the attendance was one Pro-V-C (in the chair), two Deans, three lay Senators and me. I made all of the points above, but it was like speaking to an empty room. The only reaction was when I raised the possible breach of Statutes. I recorded my dissent, but these proposals were scheduled to go on to Academic Council on the 9th December and Senate on the 15th.

However we now hear that the V-C has intervened and the proposal concerning the composition of Academic Council will not go forward to the next meeting. We are heartened by this development. Any fresh approach should take account of the need to provide adequate representation of ordinary academic staff and pay proper attention to equal opportunities. Since Academic Council does not meet again until 21st April there is plenty of time to debate any proposal in Faculties and elsewhere.

Collegiality is an important element of academic life. You should express yourself to any member of Academic Council (listed in the Staff List) and bend the ear of any AUT Officer. We will relay your views in the meetings with QUB management soon.

Paul D Hudson

Convocation and the Academic Plan

Convocation is a University body made up of all the QUB graduates plus present and retired members of academic staff. It has its annual meeting in the Whitla Hall on Thursday 3rd December at 7.30 for 8.00 p.m. What makes the meeting of special interest to concerned members of the Queen’s community is that it will debate a motion on the impact of the Academic Plan. If you know anyone with strong opinions on the matter, you should urge them to attend.