Meeting with the Head or Dean?

What do you do if a department head or dean asks to meet with you about a potentially serious matter?

Some Members wonder what they should do if their dean or department head asks to speak to them about a potentially serious matter. How should they prepare? Should they bring a colleague? Should they call QUFA? This instalment of Grievance Corner addresses these questions.

There is a longstanding tradition at many universities in which a faculty member may bring an academic colleague to a meeting with a head or dean (other than for meetings that are routine, e.g., annual performance reviews). This tradition is designed to provide a member with some support; the colleague acts as a witness if the matter at issue may be regarded as critical of the faculty member.

With the formalization of labour relations at many universities, this practice has declined and has been replaced by assistance from the member’s faculty association. However, QUFA Members should keep in mind that there is nothing in our collective agreement to prevent a Member from taking a colleague for moral support to a meeting with a department head or dean.

Here are some other things to consider if you are called to a meeting with a department head or dean:

  1. Always ask about the reasons for the meeting. Without this knowledge, it is difficult to know how to proceed.
  2. Whether the answer is forthcoming or not, ask if it okay to bring an academic colleague or a representative from QUFA.
  3. If the answer is no, speak with QUFA.
  4. During the meeting, with or without a colleague or QUFA representative, you should feel free to say at any point that you wish to leave the meeting and continue it at a later time if you are unprepared, surprised, or experiencing pressure.
  5. It is not appropriate to be at a meeting without assistance if there is more than one person on the other side, especially if that other person is taking notes.
  6. After the meeting, you should commit to writing your understanding of the discussion.
  7. You should regard a first meeting as an opportunity to hear about any concerns the department head or dean may have and to seek clarification of particular points. It is usually best not to provide extensive responses at this stage, especially if you do not feel ready or comfortable. Post-meeting reflection is a good thing.
  8. There are some provisions in the collective agreement that explicitly give you the right to bring a QUFA representative. Article 20, which deals with Discipline, is one.

(We note here that the University has had more frequent recourse to Article 20 than QUFA. There is thus a heightened awareness of the possibility of serious consequences for Members that can arise from meetings that may provide reason for the university to decide later on a discipline investigation.)

QUFA’s role is not necessarily adversarial. Often, QUFA can be of assistance in resolving matters before they become adversarial. At the same time, QUFA has no wish to interfere where there are positive relationships of trust between Members and administrators. QUFA’s preference is to see a return to the more cooperative labour-relations environment that characterized our earlier history.

Phil Goldman can be reached at goldmanp@queensu.ca.

This Grievance Corner was taken from the November-December, 2012 edition of QUFA Voices