Faculty Hiring & Due Process (17 December 2013)

This post is about lack of due process in Carleton University’s policy to fill all vacancies created by retirement of tenured and tenure-track professors with assistant professors. This policy was hinted at in my 28 November 2013 blog and confirmed by Carleton’s vice president finance at his financial town hall meeting on 3 December 2013. This policy has both academic and financial implications: We replace seasoned internationally-recognized researchers with rookies, who may or may not end up being decent researchers, all in an effort to cut salaries by roughly a factor of two. Therefore I am simultaneously posting this to both my senate and board of governors blogs.

The policy to replace retiring tenured faculty members with untenured assistant professors seems short-sighted insofar as the Harper government has opted to put more research dollars in the hands of fewer researchers. Therefore, in order to obtain more federal research dollars, a stronger institutional strategy would be to hire more mid-career and upper-career researchers that have a proven track-record of obtaining funding (thanks to Chris Worswick for this insight). Our seemingly backwards policy was announced by Carleton’s vice president finance, but I can find no evidence that this policy was approved by Carleton’s vice president research nor vice president academic. There is lack of due process if these other two vice presidents never signed off on this policy or if they acquiesced to a policy imposed by the financial wing of the university. This specific aspect of my due process complaint, however, could be easily resolved if the vice president research and vice president academic publicly state their reasons for approving such a policy of replacing academic retirees with assistant professors.

University governance is bicameral, with academic matters under the purview of senate and financial matters under the purview of the board of governors. Yet, as best I can tell, the policy of replacing academic retirees with assistant professors has NEVER been approved by either Carleton University’s senate or board of governors. That constitutes utter lack of due process. The salary savings are potentially enormous for this policy decision. And the proportion of academic work that gets foisted upon newly minted PhDs is also enormous.

The province recently imposed upon all universities a quality assurance framework. The policy of replacing academic retirees with assistant professors clearly has a huge impact on quality of our academic programs. Yet Carleton’s office of quality assurance seemingly has never analyzed this policy, making my due process complaint more insidious.

A year ago, soon after Ontario’s new premier was installed, the minister of Training, Colleges and Universities was replaced and the mandate review process rebooted soon thereafter. The mandate review process is ostensibly to help differentiate universities in the province. Carleton is clearly identifying itself as a research-mediocre university by implementing a policy of replacing all academic retirees with assistant professors. Doesn’t this send the wrong message to the province?

Before closing my critique of lack of due process, I need to add a few caveats. First, the policy of replacing academic retirees with assistant professors seems to have been a long-standing policy. The only exceptions that I have seen are appointments of full professors for senior management positions (e.g. deans, provost, president, etc.) and one superb newly-hired associate professor in geography (while this might be just a coincidence, geography is the provost’s home department). I can understand this policy of replacing retirees with assistant professors being a default position when the university is in dire financial situations. But Carleton is currently in a seemingly great financial position, except for a few poor financial decisions (mostly poor investments, including our new un-needed 35 million dollar parking garage). Second, while I do not believe this, it could be argued that our policy of replacing retirees with assistant professors may temporarily make sense as we come out of a recession and currently have a relative dearth of assistant professors at Carleton. Third, our policy could be far worse, if we replaced academic retirees with instructors, who only teach and do not conduct research. Many colleges and universities have replaced tenure-track researchers with full-time and/or sessional instructors, which I hope is a route Carleton does not follow. But my issues are with lack of due process much more than with substantive issues.

Lack of due process regarding the policy of replacing academic retirees with assistant professors is a sign of (1) poor decisions being made when there is lack of meaningful consultation and (2) the sham of purported community engagement. I can tolerate poor substantive decisions being made with full consultation and due process, but will not sit quietly when due process is discarded.

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2 comments
  1. tkunz@sce.carleton.ca said:

    Root,

    I actually completely disagree with your opinion here :-). First of all, I do know that we have hired senior faculty in the past where warranted, and it was not for senior administration positions. I don’t know if there is a formal policy, but I would agree that as a normal matter of course, we should replace retired senior members with junior colleagues for at least the following reasons: 1) the whole PTR process is only cost-neutral IF we replace senior (and more expensive) members with junior (and lower-paid members): the difference is not a savings to admin, but gets handed out in PTR installements to the rest. Our salary system may be too complex to be easy to understand, but this whole PTR process gets misrepresented by both sides in contract negotiations, as I learned when I was involved in CUASA. But the idea is that we typically progress from junior to more senior status, with the resultant increases in salary. Unless this is a way to inflate salaries (imagine all of us being senior and at the top range of salaries), this process in only neutral if there are “reductions” somewhere. 2) I am not sure where all these senior people would come from. But assume we could fill a substantial number of open positions with senior people, it also means, all else being equal, that we would have fewer position to offer to junior people. At least in my discipline there are not that many to go around right now anyways, but I do want my PhD students to have a chance to get hired just as I (and presumably you) were hired as junior faculty members and have enjoyed the job since. 3) Serving on a search committee for a CRC Tier II Chair now, my observation is that for some of the new areas/research topics, it is quite likely that you will have to look at junior faculty to branch into new areas. Arguably, you probably would want to hire only senior faculty with a proven track record in a field that we want to develop, so this may be a slightly less convincing argument. But I do think that there is something to be said for hiring young and dynamic faculty who want to build up a new area, rather than someone more set in their ways.

    Thomas

  2. Thanks to Thomas Kunz for raising substantive arguments regarding whether we should replace retirees with assistant versus associate professors. His arguments are important in any debate about this substantive issue, one which is not an “either-or” proposition. My blog admittedly did discuss some substance, even though was mostly about due process, so Thomas Kunz’s critiques were justified. But here I wish to re-focus matters.

    My original argument in the 17 December 2013 blog was mostly about due process. If a genuine open official debate had occurred on the policy of replacing retirees, I would have accepted the outcome, even if I disagreed with the substance. My problem is that this policy seems to have been decided by fiat, ostensibly by Carleton’s vice president finance and possibly other members of upper administration, with no inputs from the governing bodies that are supposed to set university policy on academic and financial matters, namely senate and the board of governors. Therefore, while Professor Kunz may be correct about substance, we can never meaningfully discuss substance until due process is established.

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