Marsden's "Mandate"

David Bakan (dbakan@YORKU.CA)
Thu, 23 Oct 1997 18:28:19 -0400


Marsden's "mandate"---David Bakan October 24, 1997

I am reading a copy of President Marsden's PRESIDENTIAL MANDATE FOR
1997-2002, and find several things both about it and in it that are disturbing.

In the first place, the mission of the university and the powers of the
Board, the President and the Senate are clearly delineated in the York
University Act. I do not see this "mandate" as either a fulfillment or an
improvement over what is in the Act.

Perhaps the major problem that I have with this document is that it is a
kind of prior empowerment, and an extraordinary delegation of the Board's
and the Senate's powers and responsibilities to the President.

It is true that the York Act provides that the President serves at the
pleasure of the Board and that the Board has the specific power to remove
the President. However, if the Board provides the President with prior
broad and general powers it cuts into its own powers. In my opinion, it
would be an act of dereliction on the part of the Board to so give away its
powers to the President.

By placing so much of the powers in the office of the President, the beauty
and propriety of the York Act is generally violated. The York Act gives the
responsibility for financial policy to the Board, and the responsibility for
academic policy to the Senate. These are the two basic legislative bodies
of the university.

I find it disturbing that although the document states that "The President
is responsible to the Board of Governors..." it changes the rhetoric with
respect to the Senate. The document takes away the responsibility of the
Senate for "academic leadership" and assigns it to the President. "The
President is also responsible for the academic leadership of the University
and will work with the Senate...." If the Board approves this "mandate" it
will strip the Senate of its powers with respect to determining the academic
policy of the University, transfer those powers to the President, converting
the Senate simply to a body "working with" the President..

While, under the Act, the President has important responsibilities in
servicing these two legislative bodies, and great opportunity to influence
them, nonetheless that should never come to be understood as these bodies
surrendering their powers to the President.

Item 3 in the "mandate" reads as follows: "The President shall foster sound
governance and constructive working relationships within the University..."
To this one has, of course, to say, if one reads it out of context, "Of
course."

However, within the context it has some very special meaning. "Governance,"
in the form of undemocratic conduct on the part of the past-president and
the administration, was one of the major issues of the longest faculty
strike in Canadian history. It continues to be a major problem. If the
President is to offer a plan in connection with this, it calls for more than
a platitude.

What is worse, I am afraid, is the meaning of that which immediately follows
this, for the sentence goes on "....encouraging Board, Senate and
administration to fulfill their respective responsibilities...."

I confess to gulping at what appears to me to be the arrogance of this
statement. In my mind thoughts arose such as "Who does she think she is?"
and "Who is going to encourage the President to fulfill her responsibilities?"

Item 4 indicates that she wants to "spend up to fifty percent of her time
raising the external profile and understanding of the University...and
increasing its influence in its relations with municipal, provincial and
federal governments and agencies."

I find this extraordinary. While the University has been suffering from
cut-backs being generated by government policy at the highest levels, I
cannot see how the President of York University intends to influence such
government policy.

There is one major way in which she can, but it is not something to be done
by being a half-time president at York University. That is, to do
everything in the University to promote its primary mission, which is the
advancement of learning.

And then there will be some 50,000 people associated with the University and
their friends and relatives and all enlightened people as supporters of the
University in all its relations to the government. As far as the students
are concerned, their education will be better, their incomes will be
higher, their intellectual and spiritual satisfactions will be greater, the
taxes they pay will be more, and their votes will be directed towards the
support of the University.

I would hope that the President, even as a politician, would understand
that much cannot be achieved politically without support; and that much can
be achieved with support.

Item 5. Here the "mandate" document speaks of "balanced budgets and prudent
management." As everybody knows, prudent management and balanced budget
are certainly not synonyms. At the very least they need to be considered
separately without even allowing the suggestion that they are synonymous.

Item 5 continues, saying "She shall enhance the University's
self-sufficiency through ongoing solicitation of public and private
funding...both endowed and operating, cooperative ventures and the
maximisation of benefits which can be realized from University assets."

The finances of the University entail two things, income and expenditures.
Note that in this "mandate" all the attention is given only to increasing
income and there is no mention of reducing expenditures.

Consider also "the maximisation of benefits which can be realised from
University assets." This is very worrisome to me. The record of York
University making money from its business ventures is hardly distinguished.
There is no special reason to think that York University can compete
successfully in areas outside that of higher education.

Furthermore, it is precisely because the capital of York University is being
used in non-business ways that it enjoys certain benefits. Thus, for
example, the York University Act states that "The property vested in the
University and any lands and premises leased toand occupied by the
University shall not be liable to taxation for provincial, municipal or
school purposes, and shall be exempt from every description of taxation so
long as the same are actually used for the purposes of the University."
[item 18 ]

Item 6, Accountability. Here the "mandate" speaks of "creative ways for the
University to become more accountable to the public while protecting the
necessary elements of institutional autonomy."

On this issue, the university is not merely another "institution." The
university exists because the society as a whole has an interest in having
opinion that is indifferent to public opinion . From the Middle Ages onward,
the university has had a problem with accountability. The university has
had to be protected against accountability in order that it be able to
provide the good that a university provides to society.

When the "mandate" speaks of the "public," which set of interests are
intended? There are religious interests, political interests, economic
interests, ethnic interests, ideological interests, etc. A university which
is not struggling to please these interests has to be affirmed and
protected. The only creative way for the university to be protected is for
it to announce clearly to all, that the teachers of the university are NOT
accountable in their research and in their teaching. We certainly do not
want our President to allow herself to be pressured by one or another group
in that "public" and to compromise the faculty in that way.

The document that is in front of me clearly states that this document is
"Approved by the Board of Governors." I sincerely hope that this is a
mistake.

---End of forwarded mail from York University Faculty Association List <YUFA-L@YORKU.CA>