Records and Governance

Our experiences with grievances and (often inadvertent) violations of the Collective Agreement keep bringing home to us the close connection between good record-keeping and good governance and the importance of both for collegiality. Ramneek last wrote on this topic four years ago, but examples continue to pop up regularly, where better records would have led to better governance and a healthier collegium.

Collegial governance requires trust and respect amongst all members of the collegium. The responsibilities of academic staff include teaching, committee work, and their own scholarship or creative work as well as administrative responsibilities that include the assignment and oversight of the work of other academic staff.  All academic staff are expected to carry out those tasks responsibly and accountably, within the collegially established policies and procedures.  They must be open to criticism and correction if they should fail to do so.

In 2014 Ramneek wrote about written policies and procedures: the importance of having them so that everyone knows what is expected of them, the necessity that all affected have input into their formulation, and that then, everyone follow what has been decided. For written policies to support a healthy collegial culture, however, there must be records and ready access to them.  These records can take many forms including official correspondence, the minutes of meetings, notes of private meetings, and email trails.  Official correspondence is fairly straightforward; its official character tends to dictate content and retention protocols. (See Article 34, The Official File.) Minutes and email are more variable and depend on the culture of academic units or committees and the habits of Members.  We recommend reasonably detailed minutes and the scrupulous retention of emails related to every aspect of academic responsibilities. We have dealt with issues recently where department minutes confirmed some Members’ recollection of what was supposed to happen, or where emails established that something had not happened.  In these cases the records establish a common reality.  They affirm that people are “not crazy” or simply that a stitch got dropped, and so prevent the escalation of conflict.

Elizabeth’s email protocol, for example, is to retain all correspondence with undergraduates for at two years, four years for graduate students, and for doctoral supervisions up to a decade after completion. Correspondence about the administration of grants should also be retained for a few years after the expiry of a grant.  Correspondence showing who is responsible for what in your Unit or that you have discharged a particular responsibility is worth hanging on to, as of course is correspondence from anyone that you feel reveals a pattern of behavior you are concerned about.  With respect to minutes, department culture varies widely but in general it is important that minutes be detailed enough that they record the content, tenor, and, where appropriate, the participants in deliberation, as well as “soft” undertakings, e.g. that a query will be pursued, the feasibility of a suggestion will be investigated, or a matter will receive further consideration not just motions and the outcome of voting. Revisiting more detailed minutes for the purpose of approving them reminds the members of a department or committee of the details of their deliberation and provides the basis for engagement in governance.   Rather than merely recording the outcome of a vote, good minutes may also indicate where dissent came from in a general way, if it is significant, for instance that Members in a particular subfield were concerned about a new policy.  However, it is also important to record dissent in a manner that doesn’t single individuals out as troublemakers or naysayers in a manner that dissuades others from dissenting in the future. Respecting dissent is a vital aspect of collegial deliberation.  It is also important to know that minutes may be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and therefore should limit as much as possible naming specific individuals. Good records let people deal with problems efficiently, and focus on substantive issues rather than engaging in often more destructive battle over what did or didn’t happen.

April 3, 2018

Ramneek Pooni
Grievance Officer

Elizabeth Hanson
JCAA Co-chair

Ramneek Pooni can be reached at poonir@queensu.ca
Elizabeth Hanson can be reached at hansone@queensu.ca