Governance within Academic Units

Good local governance is essential to good working relations over the long haul. Many complaints that reach QUFA are due to lack of well thought out and/or proper application of local policies and procedures.

Academics are not born administrators, yet they are charged with the responsibility of collegial governance without proper tools or training. The problem is not unfixable, but to do so takes a lot of patience, selflessness, and hard work.

Each academic unit should have a set of policies and procedures that are written out and that describe criteria and step-by-step procedures for local administrative and academic purposes. This is essential because people are not identical: our assumptions, modes of being and acting, reactions, etc. differ. To make decisions in an effective, efficient, and sound manner, criteria and procedures should be thought out well in advance while heads are still cool and when there is no particular conflict or bias to influence or pressure the drafting of these.

There must be adequate opportunity for input from the whole unit in a collegial governance model, and that input should be reviewed with a disinterested eye by all involved in the decision making – keep bias and conflict out of the room as much as possible. In addition to writing out procedures and criteria to achieve something, dispute resolution and remedial processes should also be developed right away in case glitches occur, and they inevitably will. It is a good idea to use an agreed upon decision-making model because it will assist in resolving tricky issues, something like Robert’s Rules.

And finally, once the policies and procedures are developed, they should be readily available (on-line seems most sensible), followed, and they should be periodically reviewed to see whether they need updating.

The flip side to all this, discretion and arbitrariness, can easily lead to the formation of cliques and in-groups, which can lead to preferment and exclusion based on whimsy or friendship or other indefensible reasons, which can lead to dysfunction and illness, which can lead to … .

Many policies and procedures already exist on campus and your local ones will have to take those into account. For example, you might have a local process about submitting grades and it must allow for compliance with University deadlines. You will also have to establish some to comply with the Collective Agreement. One example is the election of Council Representatives. QUFA is asked about every year and so we put together a guideline for academic units to consider (see live link “Guidelines for Electing Council Representatives” under the chart listing current Representatives).

If you think I am pointing the finger at your academic unit, please be assured that I am not. You have plenty of good company on campus. There are also units that function pretty well, that take the principles of predictability, transparency, and fairness seriously, so it can be done.

Ramneek Pooni can be reached at

This Grievance Corner was taken from the April, 2014 edition of QUFA Voices.