Mark Jones, More Reasons Not to Consider Restructuring Faculty Board (11 April 2012)

1.  The “Restructuring” Initiative in Context

The Deans of Arts and Science (FAS) introduced the discussion of Faculty Board (FB) “restructuring” in early February 2012.[1]  To understand its meaning, it is important to view it in context.

For the record, then:  in the two months immediately preceding the Deans’ initiative to “restructure” it, FB had sought to check the Deans’ assumption of autocratic power in the BFA affair.  The Deans had announced a suspension of admissions to the Bachelor of Fine Art program on 9 November, not only without consulting but without so much as notifying FB or Senate.  The next meeting of FB, scheduled for two days later, was in fact cancelled, and most Queen’s students and faculty (including members of FB and Senate) learned about the suspension via Queen’s Journal or the Globe and Mail.  In its December meeting, FB passed a motion from the floor that its  Deans should “abide by the by-laws” and resume BFA admissions, “provided” that they could still suspend them “on the recommendation of the committee that has been appointed to consider the matter, and with the approval of Faculty Board and Senate” (Minutes, 9 Dec. 2011).  This was not an irresponsible or radical motion, but a reminder of established collegial processes.  Attendance at the meeting was normal; the motion was placed on the agenda and passed in accordance with the by-laws; the Dean himself participated in the discussion and the voting; and no one at the meeting, including the Dean, complained that the motion was  invalid, out of order, or impossible to comply with.  Nevertheless, within four days, and again without so much as notifying FB, the Dean declared the motion on which he himself had voted to be “irrelevant” and refused to comply with it (Queen’s Journal, 13 Dec. 2011).  When FB met in January, a FB member objected:

where the Dean’s office does not feel that a Faculty Board motion is in order, or where it believes that it cannot comply with a motion under consideration, its proper recourse is not to let the motion pass and then ignore it. The proper recourse would be to declare the motion to be out of order and let the faculty board decide whether that is indeed the case. Once the motion is passed, faculty board has an obligation to see it enacted.

This “obligation” was then traced to Bourinot’s Rules, which are supposed to have authority in FB.  The passage in Bourinot states:

The democratic right to introduce a proposition in the form of a motion, and to have a full debate and a free vote on the matter, carries with it an obligation on the part of the majority to respect its own decisions, just as the minority is obliged to accept and respect the decisions of the majority. In other words, a decision reached by due process must be recognized and observed as such by all concerned; if it calls for action, that action must be taken. (Geoffrey Stanford, Bourinot’s Rules of Order, 4th ed. (M&S, 1995), pp. 47-48) (FB Minutes, 13 Jan. 2012, pp. 2-3)

The Dean explained that he had considered the December motion to be partly “out of order” at the time, but had let it proceed because he considered it to be “highly deserving of discussion” (ibid.).  The practice of entertaining a motion and participating in the vote upon it even while believing it to be “out of order” and intending not to abide by its outcome is obviously an improper practice and violates the established collegial process of the Faculty.

In short, the pre-history of the Deans’ February initiative to begin discussing the “restructuring” of FB is by no means one in which FB malfunctioned.  It is, on the contrary, one in which Administration malfunctioned and FB responded exactly as it should have:  it objected to the violation of procedure and moved to reinstitute it.

In this context, the Deans’ initiative to discuss the “re-structuring” of FB has two notable aspects.

2.  The Restructuring Initiative as Smoke-Screen

First, it is a brilliant distraction from a situation that might otherwise embarrass the Deans.  Its genius lies in putting FB on the defensive.  The pretense is that FB should be restructured because it is “not sufficiently representative,” and is subject to “unbalanced discussions” and to domination “by special interest groups” (“Discussion Paper,” Mar. 2012, p. 1).  Given the context, this is preposterous.  In the three months before the Deans started decrying FB’s lack of “balance,” it was the Deans’ actions that were unilateral and unrepresentative; it was FB that asked them to follow their own by-laws and consult with their representative bodies; and it was the Dean who participated in a vote on a motion and, four days after it passed, dismissed it as “irrelevant.”

The “restructuring” distraction has nevertheless been successful.  Few are talking any more about how they had to learn of the Deans’ suspension of Queen’s BFA admissions from the national newspaper.  No one is talking of the Dean’s own admission that he participated in a FB motion even while privately believing it to be “out of order.”  Instead, FB is on the defensive.  We debate in all seriousness the alarming proposition that FB’s vast membership of enfranchised faculty and students renders it subject to domination by minorities.

3.  Muzzling Faculty Board

The second and still more serious aspect of the “restructuring” initiative is that of a muzzle.  Restructuring FB along the lines proposed—by radically reducing its membership and “proportioning” it on the model of our Senate—would not make it a bit more representative, but is certain to render it more docile to Administration.  The potential of faculty and students to challenge the autocracy of Deans would be vastly reduced if not altogether lost.

3a.  Why it’s not needed

To begin with, it must be seen that all the concerns that have been cited as excuses for restructuring FB can be addressed in less radical and less compromising ways.  In promoting “restructuring,” Associate Dean Lemieux has focused attention on quorum and on the danger of motions from the floor being passed by minorities.[2]  Jordan Morelli has responded ably to the concerns about quorum; as he points out, small quorums are common in legislative bodies, and are not inappropriate when membership is so open that hundreds may, if they so wish, show up and vote at any meeting.  As he also points out, FB’s Procedures Committee is even now working on a revision of by-law 17 (Notices of Motion).  Finally, he reminds us that any motion that appears, on reflection, to have been hasty or misrepresentative, can be revoked by means described in Bourinot’s Rules.  Thus “the current rules of FB provide for the remedy” to all real concerns about unrepresentative motions, without imposing any restriction upon FB’s membership.

3b.  Keep your eyes on the right balance 

Meanwhile, the ways of re-structuring so far proposed—by various permutations of “proportional representation”—are far more likely (as I show below) to increase than to rectify disproportions between represented groups. In an increasingly corporatized University structure, the “balance” to be especially guarded is that between the increasingly professionalized Administrative power and the academic expertise embodied in faculty and students.  FB’s present structure preserves that balance in ways that our Senate’s structure was meant to do but has not succeeded in doing.  Especially given the executive power and the powers of information and finance already in the hands of Administration, the ability of faculty and students to outnumber and outvote Administration on matters of academic importance is absolutely critical.  In Senate, this power exists in principle (Faculty are supposed to have 54% of Senate seats) but not usually in fact.[3]  But FB has this power in principle and in fact—whenever it needs it.

3c. In defence of April 2009 and March 2010

History shows that this power has not been abused.  Only twice in general  memory has this power been exercised by a surge in attendance at FB: in April 2009, and in March 2010, when record numbers of faculty, students, and staff attended FB.  In the first case attendance was 123, about twice the average, and FB passed a motion requiring the Dean to withdraw “proposed program ‘suspensions’” that had “not followed the bylaws of the Arts & Science Faculty Board.”  It further directed him to subject the proposed suspensions to  “appropriate procedures as specified by our Faculty Board Bylaws” (Preamble and motion of April 2009, in the FB Minutes, p. 7).

In the second case, of March 2010, there were “128 in attendance (from the sign-in sheets) and it was estimated an additional 100 were in attendance”—but Queen’s Journal estimated “more than 300.”  At this meeting, FB moved to reject the FAS draft response to Principal Woolf’s Where Next? because of problems such as “the second draft’s disregard of objections to the first draft.”   But the central plank of the motion was “That Faculty Board require the Faculty of Arts & Science to initiate an academic planning process designed to support the academic mission of the University, a process that privileges academic principles and objectives and includes substantive interaction of all stakeholders (students, faculty, and staff) among all areas and disciplines” (Minutes, March 2010, p. 5).  Hardly what one would call either a radical or an “unbalanced” motion, this was passed “with an overwhelming majority” (QJ) of the estimated two or three hundred present.

If baleful, “unbalanced,” or unrepresentative motions from the floor have ever been passed by FB, those who worry about this problem need to cite them; neither of these, nor the motion of December 2011, can be counted among them.  What these three motions do have in common, however, and what explains their appearance together in Lemieux’s Figure 3, is that all three of them object to and seek to redress autocratic decanal actions:  actions that were either taken without process and consultation, or that ignored consultative input.  Such motions may vex the Administration, but they are far from showing that FB needs to be cut down or muzzled.

3d. The Bar-Charts:  So is Senate better off? 

Associate Dean Robert Lemieux has produced bar-charts to show “a significant imbalance in faculty representation by division.”  His premise appears to be that since there are three disciplinary divisions in FB, each should have a third of the representatives in attendance at any given FB meeting.  One could question the premise, since it is not at all clear that each division has the same number of faculty and students in the first place.  And if social scientists are fewer than 1/3 of FAS members, that in itself would explain why they usually account for less than 1/3 of FB attendance.  Nor is it clear that each broad disciplinary group represents a meaningful “interest group” on any given motion before FB.  For instance, in a vote to rescind the Deans’ suspension of programs with enrolments of 25 or under, or in a vote to reject the Deans’ draft response to Where Next?, it is far from clear that any member’s “interest” will align specifically with her membership in the humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences group.  To suppose it so would be very crudely deterministic.  And unless one can show such alignment, a demonstration of disparity between humanists and social scientists in a FB meeting  proves no more meaningful “imbalance” than would a disparity between short people and tall people or blonds and brunettes.  As noted above, the balance that really requires to be watched in FB is not among the disciplines, but between the academics, taken together, and the Administrators–and about this balance or imbalance Lemieux says nothing at all.

But even granting Lemieux’s concern about disparities among the disciplines, consider his worst case:  In April 2009, his chart shows Humanists at 55%, Social Scientists at 15%, and Natural Scientists and Mathematicians at 30%.  This disparity is supposed to be remedied by “proportional representation,” the system used in our Senate. Our Senate uses a pretty finely calculated proportional representation, with the following proportions recommended by SORC:

▪                Faculty members never be less than 54%;

▪                Ex-officio members never be more than 19%;

▪                Student members never be less than 23%

▪                Staff members never be less than 4%[4]

Even actual membership in Senate does not conform perfectly to these ideal proportions:  at present, faculty have only 50% of Senate seats, ex officio members 24%, students 22%, and staff 4%.  But actual attendance on a given day can be much further off.

Though Senate has 72 seats, Senate attendance in 2010 ranged from 27 to 48 members (with an average of 40); in 2011, from 33 to 58 (average 44).  Such high absentee rates leave a lot of room for what Lemieux calls “significant imbalance.”  Thus, in October 2011, Senate attendance was 40, with 13 (or 33%) ex officio, 17 (or 43%) faculty, 8 (or 20%) students, and 2 (or 5%) staff.  Compare these percentages with the benchmarks prescribed by SORC (as Lemieux compares actual FB attendance with his ideal 1/3 for each contingent), and one finds “imbalances” worse than what Lemieux has found for FB.  In the Senate of October 2011, the ex officio (mostly administrative) contingent had 174% of the voting power it should have had according to SORC’s proportions (i.e., 33% rather than 19%), while faculty members had about 79% of what they should have had (i.e., 43% rather than 54%).  At another meeting (in May 2011), when only 33 attended Senate, and only 5 students among them, the students had only 61% of the voting power they should have had (i.e., 14% of the total vote, rather than 23%).  The disproportions extend over periods, too:  thus, in 2011, ex officio members had 26% of votes in Senate, as opposed to the 19% prescribed as their proper  “proportion” by SORC.  Faculty, meanwhile, had only 48% of the votes, though their prescribed proportion is 54%, and though they have always been meant to have a   majority of the whole.[5]

Still worse “imbalances” emerge when one considers the finer grain of Senate’s “proportional representation.”  For instance, the faculty contingent in Senate includes prescribed numbers from the different faculties and schools:   15 from FAS, 3 from Business, 2 from Law, etc.[6]  In February 2011, when none of the faculty from Law (including the Dean) attended Senate, their constituents were entirely  unrepresented.

These imbalances are far more serious matters under “proportional representation” than they are under FB’s system.  For under “proportional representation,” if your representative doesn’t bother to attend or participate, you are positively disenfranchised and out of luck.  In FB’s system, if your contingent is underrepresented, you have a right to attend yourself, to speak, to vote, and even to present a motion from the floor.  Because all faculty have this right, it can in fact be argued that they are represented by their absence when they do not show; if we do not show and vote with our hands, we have voted with our feet.  The same cannot be said of Senate, where you can be (and often are) disenfranchised by someone else’s default.

4.  If in doubt, throw it out

In sum, the initiative to “restructure” FB is first of all unnecessary.  The concerns about  “imbalance” and about motions passed by minorities from the floor are alarmist, since no meaningful (i.e., political or ideological) imbalance has been demonstrated, nor has anyone cited a single FB motion that has been unreasonably passed by a “special interest group.”  And FB’s current resources (its by-laws and Bourinot) provide ample protection against any such dangers as might be real.  Second, the restructuring idea so far proposed, proportional representation, is so far from promising to rectify these imagined imbalances that it threatens to introduce real imbalances.  It would disenfranchise members for real, and in ways they would have no power as individuals to remedy.  Third, the purported motive for the restructuring–to rectify those imagined imbalances among disciplinary groups—is a stalking-horse for a move that would significantly disempower all faculty and students vis-à-vis Administration, and thus exacerbate a real  imbalance that has already emerged in Senate (where the ex officio votes can be as many as one in three).  Fourth, the restructuring initiative has also served as a distraction from the far more serious questions raised by the events of November-December 2011, questions that do demand discussion:  like, what is the obligation of a Dean (in view of Bourinot pages 47-48) to a motion properly passed by his Faculty Board?

For these reasons, and also to avoid wasting more valuable time, I urge students and faculty who know what is good for them to vote against Associate Dean Lemieux’s motion to strike an ad hoc committee to consider a “restructuring” of FB.


[1]  Faculty Board Restructuring under Discussion (28 February 2012). As the Deans’ “Discussion Paper” notes, the discussion began on Feb. 3.

[2] Robert P. Lemieux, Notice of Motion for Faculty Board (29 March 2012).

[3] The 54% rule has been affirmed repeatedly by the Senate Operations Review Committee(s) (SORC).  See Mark Jones, “The Principle of Faculty Majority” (6 October 2011).  But as I have shown elsewhere, “Faculty had an average presence of 46% in 2010 and 48% in 2011.  Overall, there were only four out of 16 meetings where faculty had over 50%” (“Actual Attendance in Queen’s Senate, 2010 and 2011: Analysis” (8 February 2012)).

[4] SORC, “Report on the Composition of the Senate” (24 Sept. 2009), p. 2, referring to an earlier SORC “Report on the Composition of the Senate” (June 1995).  SORC seeks in 2009 “to follow, as closely as possible, the […] proportions which were presented to Senate in March 1996” (op. cit., p. 2), and invokes the 1995 proportions again in 2010 (“Interim Report on the Composition of Senate (April 22, 2010)”).

[5] Mark Jones, “The Principle of Faculty Majority” (6 October 2011).

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This entry was posted in Faculty Board Restructuring, FAS Faculty Board, University Governance. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mark Jones, More Reasons Not to Consider Restructuring Faculty Board (11 April 2012)

  1. M A Pappano says:

    Thank you, Mark, for this perceptive analysis. I plan to attend the meeting tomorrow to attempt to maintain FB as a representative, democratic body. I am astonished by the dean’s willful bid to obstruct the process of proper democratic functioning. Again, I am left wondering, what do they put in the water in Richardson Hall?

  2. Anon. says:

    Despite the April 2009 incident, there seems to be a strong correspondence between the administration’s attempts to impose its will on faculty and a development of what I could only call a hostile attitude towards faculty (v. the last Collective Agreement negotiations) and Principal Woolf’s tenure. Perhaps the arrogance of Dean Maclean and his office is solely homegrown, but I believe Principal Woolf is setting the tone. Won’t someone with tenure move non-confidence in him at the spring QUFA general meeting on Apr. 25?

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