Why I Want to Serve on the Board of Governors

I’ve decided to let my name stand for the open faculty position on the Board of Governors at the University of Guelph. Faculty representatives to the Board are elected by Senate; voting begins April 2nd.

Why would I do this?

Power. Control. Domination.

Yeah, right.

The bicameral structure of Guelph, like most universities, means that the Board of Governors oversees “the government, conduct, management and control of the University and its property, revenues, expenditures, business and affairs. The Board is responsible for the appointment of the president and vested with all powers necessary or convenient to perform its duties and achieve the objectives and purposes of the University” (according to the BofG website).

I think I bring to this challenge an holistic perspective.

As a librarian I have engaged in professional practice in support of the academic mission, as an instructor I have experienced the joys (and frustrations) teaching and learning, and as an administrator I’ve wrestled the complexities of an extremely diverse organization. I’ve worked with faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends of the University in a variety of ways. I’m also a Guelph grad (albeit from a previous century).

However, as a former senior administrator (until recently I was the CIO and Chief Librarian), aren’t I going to be a lackey for my former administrative colleagues? Hardly. In the rough and tumble world of university administration you don’t get respect by towing the party line. My job was to tell my colleagues what I thought.

OK, enough about me. Why do this?

All academics should (must) take an active role in the governance of the institution. Universities are highly collaborative and inclusive, sometimes to a fault. However, it means (requires) that we engage with the participatory opportunities at the heart of the academic model.

I know there are some that believe the bureaucracy is stacked against faculty or students or some other group. They believe the Board is manipulated, Senate is powerless, and that the President pulls all the strings. My experience with many universities suggests that nothing could be further from the truth.

Universities are complex, messy organizations but they operate with extraordinary integrity and transparency. They are places where informed discourse (and the resulting differences of opinion) are crucial to their survival. The composition of the Board ensures a breadth of views and perspectives. This diversity a core value of any university.

Do I have an agenda? Yes. Sort of.

I believe in the old style university in a new style sort of way. By this I mean that the values which have guided higher education for a century or more need to continue to inform how we work. However, the means and the mechanisms have changed substantially (perhaps completely).

We may not easily recognize the university of the future but it will the same. It’s a bit Zen-like: to remain what it is the university must change; if it does not change, it will not remain what it is.

Serving on the Board at this time is especially important to me because Guelph (as with other universities in Ontario) is on the cusp of transformational change. Financial constraints, technological advancements, learning outcomes, research funding, online learning, and a host of other issues will fundamentally impact higher education. Some of these are significant opportunities (yes, I’m a “glass half full” kinda guy) while others are true threats to the role of the university in a vibrant, democratic society.

My voice on the Board isn’t going to be definitive on any of these issues. However, I do think my background and experience means I can bring context to these considerations. I hope I get the opportunity to contribute.

…Mike

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