Last night, following in-camera meetings of the Brock Senate and Board of Trustees, Board Chair John Suk issued a statement announcing that Dr. Wendy Cukier would not be appointed as Brock’s President on Sept. 1. However, we received essentially no information about the reasons for the failure of this appointment process and no insight about how to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
For those of us who have talked with Dr. Cukier about her vision and plans for Brock, as well as those who were encouraged by her stated qualifications, commitment to action in areas such as equity and social justice, and expertise in university-business collaboration, the loss of Dr. Cukier is profoundly disappointing and frustrating. There were stirrings of optimism and hope that Brock would be revitalized and find new direction under her leadership. Instead, the sudden and last-minute loss has left many of us in a state of shock, confusion, and apprehension about what will happen next.
Indeed, there is a sense of looming crisis among many BUFA members, resulting from a perception that Brock is without coherent and integrated academic leadership. Almost all of the most senior academic administrators are new, interim, and/or from outside Brock. These include the incoming Interim VP Academic and Provost, who is a retired Dean from York University. He begins his 12-month term on Sept. 1. York’s academic and labour relations environment is substantially different from Brock’s and it is hard to imagine how someone coming into Brock from York would be able to immediately understand our local culture and issues. Further, we have a new Dean of Graduate Studies and a new Head Librarian, who were both just brought in from external institutions. The Vice-President Research is a recent interim appointment. And the VP Administration and Finance, who is not an academic, is our current Acting President. His initial appointment as Acting President expires tomorrow, on August 31, 2016.
Many BUFA members have expressed a belief that under the leadership of President Cukier, this administrative team might have been brought into focus and coordinated, in order to effectively meet the challenges of the coming year. And these challenges are many. We will need to develop a new Strategic Mandate Agreement with the province; likely have to adapt to a new provincial funding formula; address serious problems with our human rights, equity and sexual assault policies; implement broad recommendations regarding indigenous education; and address financial difficulties. Further, the Administration will need to negotiate a new Collective Agreement with BUFA.
Several critical questions face us at this time. One is to find a way to manage the immediate administrative crisis in the selection of an effective Acting President for next year. A second is to ensure a successful search for the next President, which will not again collapse at the end of the process.
In an attempt to address the first of these questions, the following motions were passed by Senate at its meeting on Monday, August 29:
That Senate strongly recommend that the Board of Trustees appoint an academic as an acting or interim president for any term beyond September 7, 2016.
The need to have an individual with academic qualifications and experience as Acting President seems obvious. Among other reasons, the Acting President must be familiar with the nature of our work in order to effectively represent the University community to the Board, the province and the public. Having a non-academic president will lower Brock’s reputation among other universities and in the broader scholarly community at a time when building our reputation is an important priority for us. It will be very difficult for a non-academic president to gain the respect of Brock faculty and professional librarians and thus to have the credibility necessary to lead effectively inside the institution.
That Senate request that the Senate Governance Committee meet to develop a recommendation to Senate and the Board regarding a Senate consultation process regarding the appointment of the Acting/Interim President.
This motion is the first step in trying to ensure that Senators have some input into the Board’s decision to appoint an Acting or Interim President. There is some ambiguity about the necessity for the Board to consult Senate for such appointments in the Brock Act, however. In addition, there is only a very short time (a few days) in which to develop this process.
That Senate strongly recommend to the Board and to the Acting or Interim President that internal academic candidates be appointed to fill any vacant senior academic administrator positions on an interim basis in the 2016-2017 academic year.
The focus of this motion is the need to appoint internal candidates to interim positions. It is likely that an internal candidate would be able to start working effectively much earlier than an external candidate, given the former’s greater familiarity with Brock’s culture, issues, people, and procedures. This efficiency is particularly important for interim positions, given the relatively short duration of these appointments.
Clearly we are in a very serious situation that will require a concerted, transparent, and collaborative effort to resolve and successfully move forward.
BUFA will continue to update you, as we obtain more information. Your questions and comments to BUFA are always welcome.
Linda Rose-Krasnor, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Psychology
President, Brock University Faculty Association
1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way, MC D402
St. Catharines, ON L2S 3A1
Phone: (905) 688-5550 ext. 3268