Faculty flunks Weingarten

By Chris Beauchamp

University of Calgary President Dr. Harvey Weingarten would be lucky to make academic probation–at least according to grades given to Weingarten by a recent U of C Faculty Association survey.

Respondents graded Weingarten’s overall performance with a grade point average of 1.54, or C-.

University administration condemned the survey as representing only a small portion of campus views.

“We have a lot of concerns regarding that survey and it’s validity,” said Roman Cooney, U of C Vice-President External Relations, adding President Weingarten will not publicly respond to specific survey results because that would falsely legitimize the survey.

As part of a confidential two-year review by TUCFA, the survey asked faculty members to rate Weingarten’s performance on a number of issues including his effectiveness in responding to the concerns of academic staff and students, his relationship to the teaching environment, and his effectiveness regarding financial matters of the university. Of the 1,957 surveys distributed to faculty members, only 314 were returned.

Anton Colijn, TUCFA President, acknowledged the deficiencies in the survey’s methodology, but defended the overall conclusions, noting the results echo views expressed to him by Faculty Association members.

“We don’t make a claim that it is a statistically valid sampling or scientifically administered,” said Colijn, noting the survey was conducted in two parts, a numeric evaluation and a written comments section. “What I have seen of the numeric results, these correspond pretty closely to feedback I’ve received from members. Morale is pretty low.”

Colijn stressed the survey is not conducted in order to be confrontational, but to express constructive feedback to senior administration.

The numeric results were distributed to TUCFA members, but copies of respondents’ written comments were given only to Weingarten and U of C Board of Governors Chair Brian MacNeill.

“The methodology of the survey is problematic for several reasons,” said MacNeill in a May 10 letter responding to concerns from the faculties of Medicine and Engineering. “One cannot extrapolate from the ‘results’ that the respondents are a representative sampling of the larger campus. And yet, year after year that is exactly how it is reported.”

MacNeill, who was unavailable for comment, also criticized the survey for being presented in a non-constructive manner, more conducive to sensationalist media reports.

“The ‘grading’ of senior leaders trivializes the feedback process and says more about its value in attracting media attention than as a vehicle for fair and responsible feedback,” said MacNeill in the letter. “Certainly no member of the faculty would find this an acceptable vehicle for performance reviews; nor should our senior leaders.”

The survey, released in April, comes on the heals of TUCFA’s April newsletter, which focused on a number of specific faculty concerns over President Weingarten’s performance, as well as the general direction the U of C is heading.

The April edition of Academic Views identified continued budget cuts, a decline in collegial governance processes and the increasing number of non-academics in decision-making positions as the three major concerns over Weingarten’s leadership.

“There is a growing division between faculty members and decision-making processes,” noted Colijn. “There is a constant drive to make processes more efficient. Up to a point, I think that’s a good idea. On the other hand, on some of the important committees, like the budget committee, there are a larger number of administrators as opposed to academic staff.

“That is a serious problem,” Colijn said.

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