University senate adjourns TRU fine arts cut talks amid in-fighting over process

TRU senate delays arts cuts

In a secret-ballot vote, TRU senators opted Monday to halt discussion of the proposed closure of visual arts programs.

In a proposed resolution from Senator Craig Jones, senate decided Monday evening to adjourn talks of the potential closures until senate receives both a written notice of intent to proceed with the program closures and a written request for advice on each identified program from the university's board of governors.

The resolution also states senate will continue its consideration once the Academic Planning and Priorities Committee provides information to senate on educational losses, expected financial and other resource savings and alternative actions or cost reduction as a result of the proposed closures, a report that was planned to occur during the same meeting.

The resolution was carried with 20 senators voting in favour, 18 voting against and two abstaining.

Prior to the vote, Jones called three proposed motions he was presenting “maybe the most important decision we ever make in this chamber.”

“This is a dress rehearsal rolling out a new model of governance at this university, whereby governance is achieved by a combination of the senior executive and the deans,” Jones told senators.

“That is a very different model than the collegial and democratic governance that set out in the legislation and the policies and the practices of frankly any self-respecting university.”

Jones said visual arts faculty have been “shut out” of the decision making process, saying the dean of arts, Richard McCutcheon, never sent a written response to the proposed program closures to the board of governors on behalf of the faculty and the board never provided a written request for advice from senate.

Senator David Carter said he felt the process hadn’t been followed adequately and was concerned about the precedence being set.

“To say whether or not we agree or disagree with the program closure is not in question here — it’s that we cannot allow this to happen with this kind of procedure, and that the next procedure will follow the same precedent,” Carter said.

“From what I've heard, the follow-on of this will simply be lots of legal fees that we will be forced to fight each other in court over this because this process was not paused and backed off and not followed.”

Gillian Balfour, TRU provost and vice-president academic, said the process followed to date was being “unfairly characterized” by Jones.

“We did receive a report from the dean, which outlined alternatives to elimination and reduction, that was received by my office,” Balfour said.

“I think the tone of the potential legal action is unfounded and it's intended to inflame this particular discussion.”

Balfour said the board of governors has asked for advice from senate concerning the program eliminations twice.

"At no time in the two instances that I met with the board did they say we are not interested in pursuing this matter, but instead said they look forward to receiving the advice of senate," she said.

"To castigate the report of APPC as being something that doesn't need to be heard today is an insult to your colleagues."

McCutcheon said he sent a written response to the board on behalf of the faculty, contrary to what Jones said.

“I wish to be clear — I received a request for that report," he said. "I was given a 15-day time limit. I met that time limit as requested.”

Jones said the dean had until June 16 to provide the written response, which could have contained a case against the possible closures or alternatives.

Balfour said the response was received, but it was well past the deadline.

Senator Crystal Huscroft said she didn’t believe senators were discussing technicalities of dates, but the ability to review and assess information provided to senate.

“It's really our capacity to evaluate the impact this has on the affected parties and our options for recommendations and understanding those options in a fulsome way,” Huscroft said.

McCutcheon said he invited faculty to address the board about the potential closures and said he felt their voices were heard “very loud and very strong.”

"I asked the chair to facilitate that however they want and faculty members, quite frankly, in visual arts, chose to address the board directly through the president," McCutcheon said.

"They sent a significant and long message which I thought was good."

McCutcheon said he strongly felt an adequate amount of work had already been done on the proposed program closures.

"In my almost coming on six years here, I have never seen so many hours devoted to one topic such as this," he said.

“Most importantly, I have never once heard, except from myself and a few others, concern for the students interests and needs.”

McCutcheon said he did include two additional programs in his report to be thorough and fair, but strongly recommended they not be eliminated.

TRU President Brett Fairbairn said the decision of whether process has been adequately followed was up to the board of governors, and his job is to convey discussion and resolutions from senate meetings to the board.

“Clearly if this motion were to pass there would be little that I could convey to the board,” he said.

“I will report accurately on what the senate has done and the gist of the discussion at senate. So I will do that to the best of my ability.”

Fairbairn has previously said in a memo to senators the board may come to a decision on the proposed cuts regardless of whether or not senate provides its advice.

Addressing concerns that the board of governors never provided senate with a written request for advice, Fairbairn said this process has never been part of the board's past practice.

"It is not the board's practice and the board has given no indication of interest in establishing a new practice of using things like notice of intent to proceed or resolutions to request advice at senate," Fairbairn said.

Scott Blackford, acting general counsel for senate, said he respected that some senators may not want to hear his views, but he felt policy had been followed.

“It appears to me that it's hanging out there that the only interpretation with legal training is that the policy and formalities of policy have not been followed. I don't share that,” Blackford said.

“You called upon me to be an expert of policy and procedure for senate and I just want to be able to say that to senators.”

Carter objected to Blackford's comments, saying senate had previously denied him comment on whether or not McCutcheon's response on behalf of faculty would affect policy or senate's adherence to it.

Fairbairn chose not to chair the senate meeting, passing down that responsibility to senator Joel Wood.

Through a secret-ballot vote, senators shot down Jones’ first motion to not provide advice to the board of governors until a written request for advice with clarification on the proposed closures is received.

Senate approved Jones’ second motion to only accept a presentation from APPC with more information on impacts as a result of the proposed program closures once a written request from the board was received.

As a result, senators did not receive a presentation from APPC that was scheduled the same meeting.

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