President’s advisory committee to look at workplace satisfaction at university
According to interim president Dennis Cochrane, last year’s search for Dean of Faculty and Dean of Research didn’t go as planned.
Not only did no women apply, but there was only one applicant for each position.
In fact, the university decided not to hire anyone for either position because of the low numbers. Instead, two interim positions were delegated for the year now filled by Dr. Martin Kutnowski as Dean of Faculty and Dr. Gayle MacDonald as Dean of Research.
A new President’s Advisory Committee on Structure and Climate at St. Thomas University was created to deal with this issue.
But the committee has more than the equity of senior administrators on the brain.
According to Dr. Shaun Narine, political science professor and one of the president’s three representatives on the committee, during the committee’s first meeting, Cochrane indicated that there was “some level of…unhappiness and discontent within the faculty and that this revolved around the search for the new…deans.”
In a phone interview, Cochrane said he wonders if these positions are simply unattractive to potential candidates. At most universities there are separate deans for every department – arts, social sciences, sciences, engineering – but because STU is only an arts school, there is one dean to deal with over 160 faculty and staff members.
“I’m just guessing here, but there are probably many, many reasons why people don’t want to be dean,” Narine said.
“I would never seriously think about applying for dean…just because I have other things I want to do with my time and in my career and working in administration is never one of those things.”
According to an email sent out to faculty and staff on Nov. 1, the advisory committee won’t just be looking at how to fill the deans’ positions. It will also consider structural issues such as job satisfaction, work-life balance, co-worker relations and individual job characteristics and responsibilities.
The committee is made up of nine representatives with at least one from the Board of Governors, the Senate, the Faculty Association of the University of St. Thomas (FAUST) and president Cochrane.
Students’ Union president Ella Henry is the only student on the committee, serving as a Senate representative. She says the structure and climate of the university affects faculty as well as students.
“There are things within the structure of the university that students see and can recognize,” she said. “And there’s also a lot of students who work for the university, so a lot of the issues that faculty or staff…would have concerns about in terms of workplace environment [so would] students working for the university.
“So it’s important to have some student representation to bring that to the forefront.”
The committee isn’t sure what the biggest concern is. While equity – especially among senior administrators – seems to be the most apparent one, Narine says it’s too soon to tell what any of the issues are and if the committee has the power to resolve them.
“We all have our impressions on what different issues might be,” he said. “But to what extent are those impressions coloured by personal biases or personal perspectives?
“Until we know what the issues are, we won’t really know whether they’re fixable or not.”
And according to Narine, we don’t even know if these issues are unique to STU. But he does say they may be brand new.
“I’ve only been here for eight years, but people on the committee who have been there longer than I have…told me that over the past decade at St. Thomas, there’s definitely been a shift in attitudes in job satisfaction,” Narine said. “Something has changed.”
The committee has sent out proposals for external surveys for faculty, staff and students. According to Narine, within the next couple of weeks there will be four to five separate focus groups for female and male faculty members.
According to Henry and Narine, the committee is hoping to have its recommendations ready for the president by January or February in order to re-post the deans’ positions for next year.
“Certainly I think the issue of culture, climate and structure… doesn’t change overnight,” Henry said. “But the point of this process is to identify some of the [things] that over the long term…can change.
“And I think even showing a willingness to engage in that process and to start having some of the discussions and to start making some smaller changes shows that the university is open to making some of the larger ones.”