UVic appoints acting senior academic administrators with limited faculty consultation

Campus News

Faculty association concerned about state of ‘Petch Procedures’

uvic michael williams building
File photo by Belle White.

High-level academic administration personnel changes are accumulating at the University of Victoria with little consultation with faculty, according to the Faculty Association and emails from university administration. 

For the next two years, students and faculty will experience the academic leadership of Acting Vice-Provost Susan Lewis and Acting Associate Vice-President Academic Planning Elizabeth Adjin-Tettey, who began new terms on July 1. Both appointees will remain in their positions until June 30, 2023. 

These appointments come with the President’s support after consultation with academic and administrative senior leaders, but no consultation with wider faculty or the Faculty Association, the union that represents approximately 850 academics at UVic.

Acting roles extended without consultation

Typically, academic leadership appointments must be approved by 60 per cent of faculty who participate in a ratification vote. Because Lewis and Adjin-Tettey have been appointed to “acting” roles — meaning they are filling a position while a search for a permanent candidate takes place — they are an exception to this rule.

Marks says that under the Faculty Association collective agreement, faculty have the right to “serious consultation” on the appointment of senior academic positions at UVic.

“It seems that the senior administration over the last few years has been preferring to use these acting appointments so that they don’t have to have any consultation with faculty,”’ said Faculty Association President Lynne Marks. “This is an important principle and an important right.” 

UVic maintains that they have followed the usual processes and applicable policies in regards to appointing acting roles, and that the President, on recommendation of the Vice-President Academic, holds sole responsibility for appointing appropriate candidates.

“The Faculty Association has never been part of the consulted group in making these appointments and there is no requirement to do so under any policy or existing practice,” said Karen Johnston, associate director of public affairs for UVic in an email to the Martlet. “The practices of administration in these appointments has been consistent and unquestioned until recently.” 

Lewis, who was already Acting Vice-Provost prior to this announcement, had her term extended. Adjin-Tettey, who comes from UVic’s Faculty of Law, was appointed to Lewis’s former position of Associate Vice-President Academic Planning. Lewis is expected to return to her ratified term in that role, which runs from 2020 to 2025.

The office of the Vice-President Academic and Provost (VPAC), where Lewis and Adjin-Tettey play key roles, determines the academic direction of UVic. All deans, the university librarian, and the head of UVic’s medical science program report to VPAC, which also manages faculty relations and student affairs. 

Lewis’s and Adjin-Tettey’s appointments were first announced by Vice-President Academic and Provost Valerie Kuehne on June 21. 

Kuehne was ratified for a five-year term as Provost in 2015 by a faculty-wide vote, with 81 per cent in favour. No such vote will happen for Lewis or Adjin-Tettey in their current roles, as they were appointed as acting administrators. 

“Maintaining qualified and experienced incumbents in these positions is critical during the pandemic and to support the transition of a new Provost in July, 2022,” said Johnston regarding the decision. 

The VPAC office itself is also going through an unusual period of holdover. Kuehne is holding an extended Provost appointment. Her term was set to end in June 2020, but 14 months later, Kuehne is continuing to act as the university’s number two during a time of presidential transition and a global pandemic while a search for a new Provost is underway. The Provost is the second-highest academic authority at UVic after the President.

By the end of her term, Lewis will have served almost three out of five years of a full term of a Vice-Provost without having gone through a ratification vote.

While a search for a new Vice-Provost was initiated last February, that search was cancelled after the introduction of UVic’s inaugural Associate Vice-President Indigenous, Qwul’sih’yah’maht Robina Thomas. With a new high-level administration position dedicated to Indigenous-university affairs, there is now an overlap of mandates.

“Going forward, the responsibilities held by the Vice-Provost position will need to be reviewed, revised and the search re-launched by the next Vice-President Academic and Provost,” said Kuehne in an email to faculty. 

Where did the Petch Procedures go? 

Introduced by former UVic President Howard Petch in the 1970s, the Petch Procedures are a unique and obscure part of UVic governance that gives a measure of power to faculty to approve or deny the appointment of many senior academic positions. Among other things, the Petch Procedures describe the appointment ratification procedures of department chairs, deans, and some vice-presidents that Petch strongly advocated for: to begin their terms, they have to maintain a 60 per cent approval rate amongst faculty members that vote in the ratification process.

Acting chairs and deans can be appointed unilaterally for six months, with a ratification vote to come after. But there is no limit as to how long other senior academic positions can be fulfilled by people in an “acting” role, including the roles of Acting Vice-Provost and Acting Associate Vice-Presidents — the positions that Lewis and Adjin-Tettey have just been appointed to for two-year terms. 

In the 1980s, the faculty association and administration had a much more collegial relationship. 

“40 years ago, the pathways were well-trod between the different buildings and you’d just find the right path and you go and you knock on the door,” said Cassels in a 2020 interview for the Faculty Association newsletter. Cassels went on to describe the changing relationship between the two over the following decades, from collegiate understanding to something that he describes as more of a “industrial relations relationship.”

Regardless of how things are now, the Petch Procedures remain largely unchanged. The unofficial moniker given to the bundle of appointment and reappointment policies holds a special place in the minds of the Faculty Association. 

“UVic is remarkably safe from governance by top-down executive order, a practice (common in many universities) that fosters cynicism and apathy among the professoriate,” wrote Professor Emeritus and former Board of Governors member Eric Sager in an essay on the importance of the Petch Procedures.

A statement released by the UVic Faculty Association last September raised concerns about the lack of consultation with faculty regarding recent appointments of senior leaders at UVic, which they saw as a possible erosion of the values of the Petch Procedures.

“We’re concerned that [the Petch Procedures are] being undermined,” said Marks. “If we don’t take a stand about it, it’s easier for the administration to continue doing acting appointments where they just announce them and don’t ask [faculty], don’t consult us, don’t involve us in any way.”

For positions where ratification votes do take place, failure to reach the required percentage of votes in favour means the prospective candidate is not appointed and a new search must begin. This year, a proposed candidate for the Dean of Fine Arts did not pass ratification. A search for a new candidate is still underway.

“While the Administration has not done anything that explicitly contravenes [the Petch Procedures], and we have no concerns about any of the individuals appointed, the Association wishes to express our serious concern about the announcement of four senior administrative positions, applied with no consultation beyond the senior administration,” said the UVic Faculty Association in the statement. “This suggests a troubling direction for UVic’s governance at this time and we hope the Administration will seek a more collegial path going forward.”

This comes after the Faculty Association had a meeting with the President and Provost last year to express their concerns over the lack of consultation on pandemic-related changes that impacted faculty. University administration assured them they would see greater consultation going forward, said the Faculty Association. 

Now, two more senior leaders have been appointed without consultation. 

Johnston said that UVic is following and will continue to follow “long established processes pertaining to the appointment of these positions.”

Marks says that the Association is looking into various ways to remedy this recent trend of undermining the Petch Procedures, and mentioned the possibility of legal action. “We are concerned that this is a long-term, troubling precedent.”