Peter Eglin, Sociology
January 1, 2015
We live under corporate rule
As Noam Chomsky points out, we live in a “plutonomy” (an economy for the “one percent”) and a “plutocracy” (rule by the “one percent”) where the plutocrats are corporations and the rest of us are increasingly a precariat.
The plutocratic goal is to grow the plutonomy while lowering the costs of doing so. The principal attack is on the pay, benefits (notably pensions) and unions of workers, including disciplining the population by fostering economic insecurity and attacking social programs.
This applies to the public sector in general and the universities in particular which are looked upon as a trove of public treasure waiting to be looted, and a site of resistance needing to be disciplined – those pesky unions with their collective agreements, those pesky senates with their democratic model of collegial self-governance.
Visible consequences are the increasing use of precarious workers, temps properly so-called, comprising a growing precariat more commonly known at Laurier as Contract Academic Staff (despite their being faculty); the growing layers of administration; the growing burden of fees and debt for students; and the corporatization of research and teaching.
The money is being withheld
Since the onset of the neoliberal phase of capitalism in the 1970s, federal funding of Canadian universities (via the provinces) has declined steadily from about 85 percent to around 50 percent, lower in Ontario, and about 40 percent at WLU in particular. Student fees have correspondingly increased at Laurier to 53 percent of university operational revenue, effectively semi-privatizing the otherwise “public” university.
Is there a shortage of money? According to a July 2012 report in The Guardian, cited by Robert Chernomas in the October issue of the CAUT Bulletin, “the world’s super-rich have taken advantage of lax tax rules to siphon off at least $21 trillion, and possibly as much as $32 trillion, from their home countries and hide it abroad – a sum larger than the entire American economy.” In the same month, the Atlantic reported that American non-financial corporations have nearly $5 trillion sitting on their balance sheets. Turning to Canada, Chernomas writes, “According to Statistics Canada, private non-financial corporations increased their cash holdings to an extraordinary $630 billion (or nearly one third of Canada’s GDP) in the first quarter of this year.”
So there is no shortage of money. Indeed, according to its 2013-2014 audited, public, financial statements, WLU’s assets of $674 million exceeded its liabilities by approx. $150 million, while its operational revenues of $333 million topped its expenses by almost $20 million. Previous years tell a similar story. Yes, there’s a sizeable debt, a deficit in the pension plan (that many argue was caused by the University administration taking a pension contribution holiday some years ago), limits on tuition fee increases and the prospect of fewer students and no new government money. But is there a crisis requiring rationalization of university operations? And if indeed provincial government policies are squeezing universities should not universities fight back?
Universities are growing their administrations and cutting education
Acceding to, if not embracing, the neoliberal mantra coming from the plutocracy via government, what university administrations and boards have been doing is growing the administration (the fat, so to speak) and cutting the staff-supported academic function of the university – the part that brings in the money. Indeed, According to Benjamin Ginsberg, author of The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, the growth of administration (in US universities) cannot be explained by increased demand for administrative services arising from increasing numbers of students and faculty, nor by growth in government-mandated equality-enhancing programs requiring record-keeping, nor by the reluctance of faculty to serve. No, he says, it is “primarily … the result of efforts by administrators to aggrandize their own roles in academic life.”
But since, as I have said, universities are unusual institutions in having more or less democratic self-governance by the full-time faculty through the Senate, and since they often have, as here, reasonably effective unions protecting the salaries and working conditions of said full-time faculty, the lowering of the costs and the disciplining of the workers require administrative, managerial innovation. Thus we get the IPRM – a means of lowering the costs and disciplining the full-time (and so-called part-time) faculty by working around both the Senate and the Collective Agreement. And, if you can get the faculty to disarm themselves, all the better.
The IPRM Project is illegitimate: 12 Points
The University and the Senate
- What makes the university distinctive is that it is an academic institution. To adapt the words of What Are Universities For? author Stefan Collini, the “governing purpose” of universities is not to “contribute to the economy” but to extend and deepen human “understanding of ourselves and the world,” through “open-ended [free, independent, disciplined and critical] inquiry.” This work is carried out collaboratively among faculty and students through research and teaching.
- The principal bearers of the university’s academic mission are the faculty. The administration serves the faculty, not the other way round.
- The principal organizational expression of faculty self-government is the body known as the Senate.
- On Senate are represented all the constituencies that bear on the academic function of the university, but faculty form a majority both on Senate as a whole and on its committees.
- Faculty are elected to the Senate and its committees.
Planning and the Senate
- The IPRM project is a planning process with two parts: program prioritization and resource management. Its Report recommends which of the university’s academic and administrative programs are to be enhanced, which maintained and which phased out, and it proposes a budget model–described as a “governance model, not an accounting mechanism”–for managing resources. The planning then includes both academic and resource allocation planning.
- According to the Wilfrid Laurier University Act, which establishes WLU as a legal entity and sets out its structure of governance, the Senate has the power to “undertake, consider and co-ordinate long-range academic planning” (19(i)) and to “consider and recommend to the Board of Governors policies concerning the internal allocation or use of University resources” (19(j)). And this, according to the Senate website “would include recommendations to modify or terminate an academic unit.”
- Therefore, because both academic planning and resource allocation recommendations are properly done or made by Senate, it has an Academic Planning Committee and a Finance Committee. That’s what they are there for. Senate nevertheless recognizes that the final decisions on resource allocation – the money decisions – are made by the Board, as stipulated by the Act.
The IPRM project and the Senate
- Senate did not “undertake” the IPRM project. It was undertaken by the President.
- The IPRM has not been “considered” by Senate and its committees. All the “considering” has been done by administratively created bodies (the Planning Task Force [PTF] and its three subsidiary teams, the Academic Priorities Team, the Administrative Priorities Team and the Resource Management Team [RMT]) not under the jurisdiction of Senate. Elected faculty do not form a majority on the PTF nor on any of the Teams. Senate was given the opportunity to approve the process by vote and did so. But what can such an “approval” mean if in doing so Senate has abrogated the very powers assigned to it and it alone in the Act? That Senate gets to “comment” on the Report at the end of the process before the Board of Governors decides simply makes a mockery of the Senate, the faculty and the Act. That Senate gets to “implement” the Board-decided recommendations of the Report only makes the mockery more perverse.
- The IPRM project was not “co-ordinated” by Senate. It has been co-ordinated by the senior administration assisted by American consultants.
- The IPRM project usurps the role of Senate, and thereby the faculty, in university academic planning and resource allocation. It is therefore illegitimate, and should be rejected.
The IPRM Project is supplanting faculty self-governance
Since the enhancing, maintaining and phasing out of programs are activities that the WLU-Act-mandated institutional infrastructure has always carried out and is doing so now, why erect a parallel structure to do this work? The answer, I suggest, is to further cement what Benjamin Ginsberg calls The Fall of the Faculty in favour of The All-Administrative University. The IPRM Project has divided the university, with the three arts faculties voting against it in their divisional councils. In a survey of WLUFA members 85 percent of over 200 respondents “expressed a negative opinion of the process.” Principled opposition can be found alongside misguided “constructive engagement,” not to mention craven self-interest and pragmatic opportunism. What I wish to make clear, however, is the usurping of academic decision-making by administrative fiat carried out, quite deliberately, by administrative innovation with the help of co-opted faculty. The bottom-up, democratic or collegial approach of traditional academic decision-making is being supplanted by a top-down managerial approach that (having been instituted after consultation with faculty) can represent itself, in a classic propaganda move, as “bottom-up.”
In keeping with the administrative bloating that has already characterized Laurier over the last decade, the IPRM project has set up a parallel administrative structure whereby its Planning Task Force has supplanted the Senate, its Academic Priorities Team has supplanted the Academic Planning Committee and its Resource Management Team has supplanted the Senate Finance Committee. Since elected faculty do not form a majority on any of its bodies, the IPRM structure has successfully supplanted the faculty (with the assistance of faculty) in favour of the administration in making what are in the first place academic decisions essential to the integrity of the university as an institution whose mission is to extend and deepen human understanding of ourselves and the world through free inquiry.
The roles of Senate and Board are being reversed
The IPRM Report reveals that further non-Senate-mandated bodies called implementation committees are to be set up to, yes, implement the recommendations contained in the Report. They include a Graduate Issues Committee to supplant Graduate Faculty Council. Moreover, the RMT report further recommends the establishment of a non-Senate committee called the Budget Committee, further sidelining the Senate Finance Committee. If this weren’t bad enough, the Report recommends institutionalizing this new administrative structure so it’s here for good.
Furthermore, the flow diagram setting out the steps in the adoption and implementation of the IPRM Report and its constituent recommendations has a most curious path (corroborated by the answers to the FAQs on the IPRM website). Having been made available to the Laurier community for comment in a town hall meeting and online, the Report went before Senate for “comment” only; Senate could make no decisions about it. The Report is now to go before the Board of Governors, which is to “decide.” Just what the Board is to decide is not at all clear – something about approving the program ranking categories, but not necessarily the rankings themselves?
Then things become really murky. On the one hand, the Report’s purveyors say that the Report’s recommendations must come back before Senate for implementation, but implementation is not decision. On the other hand, the Report itself recommends that the aforementioned implementation committees be set up without reference to the Senate. Whatever it is that Senate is supposed to do in this wonderland, what is to be noted is that the Act-mandated order of academic decision-making in which academic matters together with their resource implications come first before the Senate for decision on the academic matters, before those resource implications are decided upon by the Board, is here reversed. To what end? Effectively to achieve an administrative fait accompli, an administrative coup, to which a more-or-less deposed Senate can merely acquiesce.
And what is it in the end that the Laurier academy is being manoeuvred to accept? It is the business model of competitiveness, entrepreneurialism and managerialism, derived from a larger neoliberal agenda that includes corporate-driven research and proletarianization of the faculty. It is, in short, the wrecking of the university.
If this process – so fundamentally at odds with university governance that it will forever change the nature of WLU – is to be stopped, fellow members of the university must step up and stop it. It will not stop by itself.
Chernomas, Robert. “Rallying the Neoliberal Administrators.” CAUT Bulletin, Oct. 2014, A2.
Chomsky, Noam. “How America’s Great University System is Being Destroyed.” 4 February 2014: http://www.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/chomsky-how-americas-great-university-system-getting
Collini, Stefan. What Are Universities For? Penguin, 2012.
Ginsberg, Benjamin. The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Kristofferson, Robert (President, WLUFA). Letter to the WLU Board of Governors, 12 September 2014. http://www.wlufa.ca/iprm.
[i] Many of the points made here I learned from listening to colleagues, notably: Kari Brozowski, Debra Chapman, Penelope Ironstone, David Monod, Herbert Pimlott and Garry Potter. Thanks also to Arletta Murray and Sue Ferguson for helpful editing.