UMFA, university administration at odds over performance assessment

Electronic performance indicators would circumvent collective bargaining, claims faculty union

UMFA president Mark Hudson. Photo by Chantal Zdan.

The University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) is urging its members not to engage in discussions surrounding department-level performance measures, claiming the assessments proposed will impact working conditions and should be addressed through the collective bargaining process.

In a letter to members dated Nov. 19, 2015, UMFA president Mark Hudson called for all association members to decline to engage in any activities relating to the development of performance indicators until the U of M’s policy on the subject can be properly scrutinized through formal contract negotiation, scheduled for later this year.

“The imposition of performance indicators and rote electronic performance assessment at any level has the potential to negatively impact not only the working conditions of UMFA members but also their academic freedom to pursue research that may not fit in with the university’s priorities,” Hudson wrote in the letter.

A separate letter was forwarded to U of M president David Barnard calling on the university to cease efforts to impose the policy and negotiate in good faith when faculty and administration return to the bargaining table this year.

The university’s 2015-2020 strategic plan calls for department-level means to assess research, scholarly work and creative activities. In his letter to members, Hudson noted memos from department heads, deans, and directors calling for discussions surrounding the assessments were being circulated.

Hudson told the Manitoban the relationship between the union and administration is generally professional.

However, he said it deteriorates when the administration fails to communicate with the faculty association.

“There is definitely a feeling among those [UMFA members] who I’ve talked to that they are being cut out of the loop,” he said. “There’s a sense that they no longer have an active and effective say in the governance of the university, which is an institution to which they’ve committed their work lives and their careers.”

Hudson also criticized the administration’s vague approach to announcing their new plans for the implementation of the performance indicators. He claimed administrative bodies failed to provide sufficient information on the nature and purpose of the instruments.

A further concern of Hudson’s is that the proposed performance indicators are largely grounded in software called SciVal, which requires faculty members to maintain and update academic profiles. These profiles serve to detail the research they conduct. Hudson said he believes a shift to more number-based evaluations would remove the benefits of the qualitative assessments currently in place.

He said a member’s academic freedom may be compromised under the much more competitive, numerically driven performance indicators.

“The conversation needs to take place at the bargaining table before it can take place in faculties or departments,” he said.

John Danakas, executive director of public affairs at the university, disagreed that the implementation of performance indicators at the faculty and departmental level is a matter for collective bargaining, arguing only individual performances are covered through the collective agreement.

In an emailed response to the Manitoban, Danakas said performance assessments would be conducted in a variety of ways beyond the use of SciVal software. However, he did not specify what other evaluation rubrics would be used.

Danakas said the U of M ought to look to other U15 universities for inspiration, citing the University of Toronto and Queen’s University as examples.

“The university is committed to increased accountability and transparency, responding to the general public, future students, and governments who want more specific and robust evidence of the benefits of a university education and research,” he said.

UMFA and the university administration are scheduled to begin collective bargaining in the spring, following the termination of the current contract at the end of March.