UBC to begin overdue external review of largest Okanagan faculty

Update Friday, August 3 at 5:27 p.m: Rutherford has invited faculty members to submit their recommendations for external reviewers by August 10, according to an email time-stamped at 2:49 p.m. Wagner called the invitation “unbelievable,” pointing to the lack of faculty around in the summer and the recommendation period’s quick turnaround.

Update Friday, August 3 at 2:47 p.m: The IKBSAS faculty council’s next meeting time has been announced as October 5, 2018.

UBC has announced that the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences (IKBSAS) — which includes about 50 per cent of students enrolled at its Okanagan campus — will soon be under external review for the first time since the campus was created in 2005.

UBC conducts periodic external reviews in order to “improve academic excellence” and “promote transparency and accountability.” But professors are skeptical that this review would do much for the IKBSAS, which has reported UBC’s lowest rates of workplace satisfaction since 2011.

“The school is in desperate need of outside eyes, but UBC’s been avoiding them for years,” said anthropology Associate Professor John Wagner.

The terms of reference for the IKBSAS’s $15-million endowment requires that “adequate and comprehensive internal and external reviews of the Programs are conducted to confirm progression towards and adherence to the established standards for the Programs … relative to comparable university programs in North America.”

In a 2013 submission sent to Universities Canada — a national advocacy group for universities — UBCO stated that external reviews are supposed to occur every five to six years. This document was intended as “a snapshot of the campus as it is today,” according to an introduction written by Deputy Vice Chancellor Deborah Buszard.

A UBC memorandum dated June 12, 2014 says that external reviews on the Vancouver campus “normally occur” every five years and the “time between reviews must not exceed ten years.”

But the IKBSAS has gone 13 years without one.

“Top-down approach”

An external review can be triggered by a “reasonable request” from faculty, according to Senate policy. But in 2014, UBC refused a request from the IKBSAS faculty council to conduct a review, according to an internal report obtained by The Ubyssey.

The report, written by a committee of eight professors, also made twelve recommendations. Of those, the faculty council only ratified one: conducting an external review whose terms of reference are made “in full consultation with faculty council.”

Associate Professor Ben Nilson, a co-author of the report, said that there have been many requests for an external review at faculty council meetings since then, and he wasn’t sure why it hadn’t gone ahead.

In her July 25 announcement of the upcoming review, IKBSAS Dean Barbara Rutherford promised faculty and staff future opportunities for consultation. But she also indicated that the external reviewers will be selected by UBC senior administration without outside input — a decision that was not explained in the announcement.

“The emphasis of the review is on the faculty’s achievements as well as the opportunities and challenges it may face in the years to come,” said Rutherford by email. “It is intended to assist in assessing the strengths and areas for development in teaching, scholarly activity and service and will be particularly helpful to a new incoming Dean.”

Wagner, who was also the lead author of the 2014 report, said he was disappointed by what he saw as a “top-down approach.”

“Given the grave concerns expressed over a period of several years now by Barber faculty about the structure and management of the [IKBSAS] … it seems only appropriate that faculty should be closely consulted in the creation of the terms of reference for the study and the selection of reviewers,” reads Wagner’s July 31 reply to Rutherford’s announcement.

“What we have been in most need of, and what I hope for, is a more collegial approach, a more open and transparent approach to governance rather than so many things happening behind closed doors,” he added.

Wagner requested that Rutherford honour the IKBSAS faculty council’s 2014 ratified motion to consult more closely with faculty, including on the choice of external reviewers. By the time of publication, he said he had not received a response.

The IKBSAS faculty council itself had not heard about the review until this announcement — it has not met in many months. Faculty councils, which are responsible for governance of faculty affairs subject to Senate and the University Act, do not normally meet in the summer.

The IKBSAS faculty council’s next meeting is scheduled for October 5, 2018.

“Out of the blue”

UBCO Provost Cynthia Mathieson told the IKBSAS faculty council in 2014 that UBC would not proceed with a review partly because it was an “unfair administrative burden to place on a new dean,” who they were conducting a search for at that time.

External reviews take about six months, while Mathieson denied the faculty council’s request a year before the new dean was hired.

When asked why the review didn’t begin earlier, Associate Director of UBCO’s Public Affairs Nathan Skolski pointed to Policy 23, which says reviews should be triggered near the end of a dean’s term. He said the review was “long-planned” but “several of our previous Deans had left their positions early, before the review was triggered.”

But Skolski added that the current review was being triggered “with the recent and early departure of the former IKBSAS dean.” This refers to former IKBSAS Dean Dr. Wisdom Tettey who stepped down as of July 1, cutting short a five-year term that began July 1, 2015. UBC has not yet announced a search committee to replace him.

But Tettey’s departure was similar to those of his predecessors — UBC has employed three IKBSAS deans over the faculty’s 13 years, all of whom left their positions early.

Tettey went to the University of Toronto Scarborough to be their vice-president and principal. Tettey’s predecessor, Dr. Cynthia Mathieson, stayed at UBC Okanagan but became its provost and vice-president academic.

Skolski didn’t respond to a question about why UBC couldn’t have conducted a review shortly after it moved Mathieson to its provost office in 2013, as faculty council had requested. He also didn’t respond to a question about whether the IKBSAS has implemented any other recommendations from the 2014 faculty council report.

“We are committed to the external review process,” said Skolski, “which is expected to be completed by early next year.”

“This announcement came out of the blue, so to be quite honest, I don’t see any signs that they are planning to include faculty members in a meaningful way,” said Wagner. “I am not confident that this external review will address the questions it should, at this point. ”

This article is part of the Labour Reporting on Campus project, which is a partnership project by Canadian University Press and CWA Canada Associate Members.