Linking our Work to the Academic Plan

by julia.hanigsberg | September 8th, 2014

At last spring’s “MAC at the MAC” conference, held at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, I facilitated a discussion on how to integrate the, then draft, Academic Plan in our work across the university’s administration and operations. The goal of the talk was getting us all to think about how working in a university creates unique opportunities for thinking differently about our goals and how we do what we do. Here is an edited version of the opening talk.

The objective was to give our MAC colleagues an opportunity to use an interactive and technology-enabled forum to answer this call to action: to demonstrate our new Academic Plan values every day and to hold ourselves accountable to those values.

Academic Freedom

The first value in the draft framework of the Academic Plan is Academic Freedomdefined as, “The university embraces unequivocally freedom of thought and expression in support of teaching, learning and SRC activity within a culture of mutual respect.”

If it feels like academic freedom isn’t about non-academics, we have an important role in ensuring the integrity of academic freedom in the way we collaborate to run the university.

  • Our academic colleagues’ work is impacted by our action and support.  For example, how do the processes we administer enable scholarly, research and creative activity (SRC) or how does our computing capacity support big data research?
  • How do we ensure that the freedom of thought and expression in support of teaching, learning and SRC activity is conducted in an environment of mutual respect through, for example, the administration of policies that impact our people (eg in Human Resources and Discrimination and Harassment Prevention)?
  • How do we find ways to enable, remove barriers and simplify processes that allows our academic colleagues to truly exercise Academic Freedom (eg through procurement)?
  • How do we work with academics to mitigate risks that enable activities that support academic freedom? For example the contentious speaker series that may be “disruptive” is also an opportunity for debate and discussion or the international travel that will create an extraordinary learning opportunity for students in a war-torn zone of the world (eg through the support of the Integrated Risk Management department)?

Collegiality

Another value I explored is collegiality. The term is defined in the Academic Plan: “The university fosters a collegial environment and collegial institutions where students, faculty and staff work in collaborative ways to support the university’s shared mission.” This definition emphasizes one important part of the meaning of collegiality: that to be collegial requires collaboration, i.e. that we find means to foster mutual support. We consider this value foundational, so much so that collaboration was embedded in the Administration and Finance Vision, Mission and Values in 2010.

But there is another part of the meaning of collegiality that I hold to be equally important. That is the collegiality of governance of universities. That is the fact that universities are fundamentally, one might say axiomatically, governed by the collegium—the colleagues who make up the institution. That isn’t to say that universities, at the scope and scale in which we must operate, are not also bureaucracies in the classic sense, i.e. administered by experts, for example experts in law, finance, technology etc. And our Boards of Governors have critical accountability for the financial and administrative well-being of the institution. However, the mission of the university, as embodied primarily in the Academic Plan, is brought to life through collegiality and collegial governance. It is notable that the President, the Provost or the Board of Governors does not approve the Academic Plan. The Senate approves the Plan. We, as non-academic administrators, need to be respectful and supportive of this governance principle.

What do both these meanings of collegial mean for administrative and operational decision-making?

How do we work collegially to modify processes when possible or enhance understanding of the rationales underlying them?

How do we engage in dialogue that builds on collegial governance to evolve and strengthen our administration and operations?

Building on our Academic Plan, the “MAC at the MAC” conference was the beginning of an ongoing dialogue on bringing values-based leadership to everything we do in our work at Ryerson.

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