AASUA and “Hurt Feelings”: The Real Story is About Bureaucracy (Post by Kathleen Lowrey, Anthropology)

I attended the last 30 minutes of the fractious most recent AASUA Council planning to contribute to a discussion about the Leadership College scheduled as the final item on its agenda. When I arrived I found that a discussion of the budget had taken over the entire session, such that the last two agenda items (a presentation about academic freedom in light of events at the University of Saskatchewan, and the Leadership College discussion to which I had hoped to add my perspective as a General Faculties Council [GFC] representative) were in the end pre-empted. I want to begin by saying how refreshing it was to be in a room where contentious issues are still discussed vigorously. This is something that does not happen at GFC. There, dissent and challenge are given a polite and faintly disinterested hearing, as if to the squeaking of faraway dyspeptic mice. What (still) happens at AASUA Council is precious and increasingly rare. Nevertheless, I left worried that precisely this capacity may soon be lost.

Elsewhere, the problematic outcome of that Council meeting has been described as a matter of “hurt feelings.” This framing is, of course, a dismissal, and an effective one. Its power comes from what I would call its double-edged sexism. Because the people who were, indeed, hurt by the discussion and its outcome were all women, the “feelings” framing suggests that this was a sentimental girly problem that is therefore unserious and not relevant to everybody. Check your pockets, non-girls: you just got robbed, too. Let me explain how.

The budget discussion revolved around whether, and how many, course releases for committee chairs ought to be paid for with AASUA funds. The deliberation (to which I contributed) raised the point that for equity reasons expecting committee chairs to do this work for the AASUA in their spare time effectively meant that the pool of potential candidates would be shrunk in familiar ways. The chair of the Equity Committee resigned during the course of deliberations, an announcement to which the President responded with remarkable equanimity and which was clearly greeted in one part of the room with smug glee. But, I hear some of you saying, so what? These are hard times: we can’t pay for everything! Fripperies go to the wall.

Oh dear. Which shell did you think the pea was under? The now-approved AASUA budget actually is hugely increased on the professional bureaucracy side. Its offices are being renovated, it is going to be hiring new staff, and we dues-paying constituents are not allowed to know the annual salary of its Executive Director. The only slashing that took place was of the rather paltry allowances on the side that, officially at least, is supposed to provide direction and guidance to the whole enterprise: the side populated by our elected representatives and the committee chairs they designate. If the professional bureaucratic side is growing and becoming more complex (and it is), the work of the constituent side must correspondingly grow and become more complex. It doesn’t matter, really, if the people doing it are hard-working single moms of fractious crews of preschool children or single 50-something men with no partners, children, housepets, nor elderly relatives for whom they are responsible. The work is real and time-consuming and our elected representatives must be resourced to do it. This is relevant to all constituents, and we can and should insist on it because our dues underwrite the whole shebang.

It’s no accident, in my view, that a budget squabble that ended in a bureaucratic triumph took over an entire session, trumping any address of substantive content (remember that foregone discussion of academic freedom, and the one about the Leadership College which is why I was there at all). What worries me is that I already know what that kind of meeting looks like. I’ve been attending them for a year now as a representative at GFC.



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21 Responses to AASUA and “Hurt Feelings”: The Real Story is About Bureaucracy (Post by Kathleen Lowrey, Anthropology)

  1. Makere says:

    Thanks Kathleen, this is the most comprehensive explanation so deaf (well actually its probsble that I’ve missed some in the last few frantic days). If AAUSA, which is our last bastion for the defense of academic freedom, is functioning like this, there’s indeed huge cause for a ‘revolution’, as such. I’m hoping that it happens.

  2. Cressida Heyes says:

    An increasingly centralized bureaucracy that accrues resources to itself under less-than-transparent terms, while saying it just can’t manage the small beer that might help those living in the institution operate more equitably and democratically. It’s all horribly familiar, isn’t it? Important post.

  3. M. Smith says:

    The resignation tendered at Council was a matter of principle. It was the right thing to do. That august body was rejecting a basic principle of equity-as-fairness and the consequences disproportionately impacted women, minorities and junior faculty. It was an ethical stance and it was meant to draw attention to the disjuncture between rhetoric and practice and my own commitment to basic principles of justice. Many universities are demonstrating leadership, modeling innovative approaches to equity, diversity and inclusion, and their administrations and faculty associations are working collaboratively to advance nextgen praxis in this area. At the UofA we’ve been at this since 1989 and “Opening Doors” came in to effect in 1994. Is the association a partner in this effort? How are the leadership and our representatives on council opening doors, creating a more inclusive (and for whom) and respectful workplace? Regrettably, at that last meeting there was no big thinking on display, no high-minded commitment to doing the right thing by those who led the charge. That some choose to resort to sexist discourse as this article addresses further illustrates the challenge; they should know better. Matters were not helped by those who knew better but remained silent. Perhaps they will learn that there are consequences, including to their own credibility. Good people wisely walked away. The executive and the council have struggled to become more diverse and inclusive bodies. They’ve taken a step backward and are less diverse now as female, Aboriginal and mid-career members stepped down. Rightly so. We are first and foremost scholars and as scholars our teaching, research-informed contributions and our time are precious and not to be taken for granted. To be clear: All units are susceptible to cloning and gender biases, which are reproduced as much by women as by men. As well, there are smart and caring colleagues remaining who are committed to equity and diversity in more complex and pro-active ways rather than waiting until there is a crisis, some form of harm or the filing of a grievance. As to the garden-variety sexism and even aggression on display this is nothing new and it suggests the council needs to get its own house in order. Both the executive and council would do well to undertake an equity and diversity workshop. Some folks routinely mis-use the language of equity and misconstrue the principle of diversity-with-equity. Surely all of us can do better and it is in our collective interests as colleagues to do so. For your readers I would recommend the following:
    (Ironically). Malinda S. Smith, “Report on Perpetual Crisis?: Diversity with Equity in the Academy” (March 2013 report for the AASUA): http://www.aasua.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/MalindaSmith_Report_PerpetualCrisis_DiversityWithEquity_18Mar2014_FIN1.pdf
    Curt Russell, ‘Cloning’ does not explain the lack of women at the top,” Guardian Professional, 9 Jun 2014: The future is bleak for women in leadership positions due to our unconscious urge to favour men: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/jun/09/cloning-not-explain-lack-of-women-leadership-higher-education
    Adam Grant. Why So Many Men Don’t Stand Up for Their Female Colleagues: The traditional explanation is sexism, but even those who genuinely want to see more equality sometimes fail to speak out. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/04/why-men-dont-stand-up-for-women-to-lead/361231/
    Joya Misra, Jennifer Hickes Lundquist, Elissa Holmes, and Stephanie Agiomavritis. The Ivory Ceiling of Service Work: Service work continues to pull women associate professors away from research. What can be done? American Association of University Professors. http://www.aaup.org/article/ivory-ceiling-service-work#.U5rVkdq9KSM
    “The language of equity and diversity in the academy” Ideas-Idees Blog (19 Jan 2011): http://www.ideas-idees.ca/blog/language-equity-and-diversity-academyx
    What next? I invite readers of this blog to attend, “Unsettling Conversations, Unmaking Racisms and Colonialisms,” 17-19 October 2014, Faculty of Extension, Enterprise Square. More details will be launched here (soon): http://www.criticalracenetwork.com

  4. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    [Comment edited at author’s request]

    Thanks for these thoughtful responses, and special thanks for all the links. I’ve been thinking more about secrecy related to the mis-use of the language of equity. These really shape the present crisis at AASUA. Almost everything the bureaucratic side does is confidential, because they handle employment contract issues. So every time they come and say “we need more funds” they can (and do) invoke the language of “risk” (fund us properly or you’ll all be screwed and / or get sued!) without much disclosure about what they are up (because, again, confidentiality and risk). It’s a bit like the relationship of the NSA to Congress.

    Regarding the mis-use of equity language, on the one hand vis a vis sexism, racism, etc. those of us deeply interested in these things have our doubts about how well those banners are being carried on the University side *and* the Association side. At the same time, though, equity language can be invoked as a way of turning away inconvenient claims. It’s a perfect vehicle, actually: you can alienate white men with “oh sorry equity” talk and then at the same time not support equity advocates actually pressing for equity to such an extent that equity is stalled or advocates are mis-characterized and then it is possible to say “see white men we are reasonable after all if extremists are unhappy we just have to allow them to take their marbles and go home.”

    Meanwhile, you sweep up the middle, jettisoning and alienating interested and committed constituent reps and growing growing growing your bureaucratic budget which has to be used for secret things you aren’t free to talk about because RISK and WATCH OUT BEES. In a certain light it is rather marvellous.

    • M Smith says:

      Social media is not ideal for this kind of important, nuanced discussion. Yet, it is an important venue for broader public engagement to advance notions of diversity with equity and inclusion. Let me clarify a point: There is a profound difference between decisions made out of “frustration” and principled decision-making or evidence-based decision-making. There is also a distinction to be made on the research and nextgen innovative practices on equity, diversity and inclusion [recommended site: http://www.theinclusionsolution.me/what-is-inclusion-part-2-inclusion-starts-with-i/%5D. None of us are outside this process of critical diversity and inclusion practices. Each of us are responsible and accountable as are our associations – faculty, staff, students – and the broader society in which we engage. It is also important to recognize that the gendered dimensions of equity discourse don’t always work as we think they do and these dimensions cannot be reduced to “them” and “us”. In a recent article in The Guardian by Curt Rice — a professor at the University of Tromsø, who leads Norway’s committee on gender balance in research – he notes that cloning and especially gender biases are evident as much in female as male scholars, staff and students. This is key to understanding the persistence of inequity in the academy, on corporate boards, NGOs: . WISEST work in the area of #STEMequity disciplines, as the Harvard Implicit Project all focus on implicit biases for good reason. Similarly, Professor Philomena Essed at Antioch University has a very helpful book, Clones, Fakes and Posthumans. Cultures of Replication , in which she discusses social and cultural cloning and makes clear that we – collectively – have the tendency to engage in cloning behaviour and thus a holistic approach requires self-study, self-knowledge, mindfulness and institutional commitment to counteract it. This will not happen overnight and indeed there will be frustrations (as in life generally). There is an equity and diversity continuum (TWI) – http://www.twiinc.com/what-we-do/the-equity-continuum/ – one that ranges from denial (level 0) to compliance (level 1) to the business case (level 3) to integrated equity (level 4) and inclusive and equitable (level 5). Where are we, as an association and an institution, on this scale? Where would we like to be? How will we get there? Level 0 is associated with denial. We can and must do better not just rhetorically but in our everyday practices.

  5. Margaret says:

    Wow. Kathleen, were we at the same meeting? Much of the debate was around the general confusion cause by the fact that the people arguing for the release time had no proposal in place and no answers for questions as to how the AASUA was going to deal with potential shortfall in other areas, such as legal opinions and costs (the main budget item slashed to make room for the releases – was going to be cut by $50,000

    The legal opinions and costs become particularly important when as we enter a new year of negations and with Bills 9 and 10 looming,

    No, wait – Kathleen you were only at the meeting for 30 minutes so perhaps you didn’t hear the recent legal advice that forthcoming govt legislation, if passed, can be applied retroactively to our pension. Fighting this kind of thing is not something to be left for renegades on blogs few people read, or by amateurs (even Gordon Swaters didn’t anticipate this!) – it needs to be dealt with on a professional/legal front. Its the same with the grievances over the VSP. And with the ongoing issues with intellectual property rights. And so on. These are not mindless “bureaucracy” expansions, but are necessities in the view of the majority of us who voted the proposal done.

    And your account makes no mention at all of the fact that the bulk of the comments in the debate were *in support* of release time for at least some of the Chairs, but the problem was that no reason was given as to why they all need the same release time year after year. Especially since one of the Chairs himself said that release time is *not* necessary for his position. Not all the groups are the same size and the extent to which this or that committee is tied up in initiatives varies from year to year. Its too bad the proponents of the release time didn’t do their homework and present their argument well. Fortunately, Council did encourage them to come back with something. Kathleen, you kind of neglected that part in your “report.”

    It was obvious to me, and I suspect to other councillors, was that the sensible thing to do is to provide release time on a flexible and rotating basis, in accordance with initiatives and events that change from year to year.

    Your overgeneralized reference to “bureaucracy”in your post obscures the fact that other items in the budget that would have been slashed (for the release time) do provide direct support for political action by Chairs and other Executive Members of AASUA: travel to conferences, meeting costs, communication. I guess that lumping these expenses, along with the $50,000 for legal costs/consultation all under the same perjorative “bureacracy” is much simpler for you than having to actually create an argument as to why each one of them is expendable. But it does not make for a well-grounded understanding of what the issue was.

    I find your complaint about the length of the debate extremely odd. The only reason the debate took as long as it did was that the President kept giving air time to the ill-prepared proponents of the release time, who persisted in speaking endlessly without giving the rest of us any reason to support the motion. Had he closed down the debate earlier than he did, I am 100% certain that the people who now complain about the lengthiness of it would have complained about not having had a full chance to have input. (I can see the headlines in the blog now: Minority Voices Silenced at AASUA!)

    Finally, for one who complains about the playing of the “feelings” card, it is unseemly for you to be going on about someone smiling smugly in a corner of a room. That’s a cheap shot that has not justification whatsover.

    (and note to others: if you want to learn more about council, perhaps get your news from someone who spent more than 30 minutes a year at the meetings).

  6. Arts Squared says:

    I wish to note that a comment posted very late last night will not be published. The comment, offered under the name of “Margaret,” involves an attack on Professor Lowrey. The minutes for AASUA’s Council meeting of 5 June 2014 show that there was no Margaret in attendance at the meeting, and ArtsSquared does not support commentary of the kind that “Margaret” offers from writers not prepared to put their names to their remarks.

    • Kathleen Lowrey says:

      Hmmmm. Since it involves me I’ll bite! If it’s not vulgar or something — though I actually think the AS policy is a good one — might we see what “Margaret” has to say?

  7. Makere says:

    Good lord. Attacks hiding behind pseudoymns.. What a sad indictment.

  8. Arts Squared says:

    Further to Professor Lowrey’s request, the comment from “Margaret” has been approved.

    • Makere says:

      What troubles me about this comment is that we don’t know who ‘Margaret’ is. The comments may or may not be justified, but without the context of ownership of voice, it’s very difficult to gauge the realities of the situation. How can proper debate occur without ownership and transparency ? Of course the answer is, it can’t. Yes I’m concerned that the issue of pensions didn’t get addressed. Frankly I find the proposal to remove our pensions, if that is the goal, not only disturbing but frankly terrifying. Whilst I’m happy to keep on working well past the traditional retirement age, in a climate where the security of tenure has also been removed, it’s unnerving and disquieting to say the least. And the time will come when I can do longer serve the position well, as it will for all of us. It also raises the question of positions for younger scholars. Whichever way it’s cut, this is extremely troubling. So now that we’ve hopefully dealt with the petition, thanks entirely to Carolyn’s hard work and generosity of time and energy, I’m wondering what exactly AASUA’s position is re the pension issue and where it goes from here. Apologies for mixing several topics into this one comment. This question is probably out of order or out of context, and no doubt my priorities may be faulty, at least from the perspective of those of you who are ten to twenty years younger than me. All that not withstanding, I’m interested to know where AASUA stands re pensions and what, if any, actions it plans to pursue. And I’d like ‘Margaret’ to own his or her voice, please.

      Thanks, Makere

      Sent from my iPad

      • Kathleen Lowrey says:

        Yes indeed the concerns raised by Margaret (pensions, ipr, VSPs) for which we need legal advice are worrying. They’ll never go away (they might get worse, say, if Wild Rose wins next time or if the next U of A President is even more of a crusader for “creative disruption” & the like) and that’s why we have an Association to advocate for us. But just as the risks invoked by Margaret loom, and the Association’s bureaucratic staff and funding needs grow apace, so we need to grow the capacity on the elected constituent rep side to guide and direct the Association. We’re always going to be making choices about how a limited pot of funding gets spent. But there can come a point where the bureaucratic side really slips from our control, and my own worry is that we are at that point right now and have to make choices about how to make sure our Association stays under our calm, direct, conscious, and collective control. This is more, not less, urgent because of real challenges. I think we have to be calm and careful in the face of scare tactics: DO IT THIS WAY OR NO PENSION FOR YOU is a compelling argument in a certain way, of course, but if we jump when it is rattled at us we might not be making good long-term choices that involve *everything* we care about (pensions included).

        I could of course be wrong. I don’t want to use the tactic of fear-mongering myself. In fact I just want us all to pay attention to that tactic, recognize it when it is deployed, and think about some of the many things from which it can distract us.

  9. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    Dear Margaret,

    Thank you for this additional information, it is much appreciated, as you are right, I was only able to be there for the last 30 minutes. You seem to have access to lots of information that I do not, so let me begin by asking a two sets of questions and then I’ll explain why it is so important to make the support of constituency chairs a standing part of the AASUA budget rather than doing so only on a “flexible and rotating basis”.

    First, as you so trenchantly observed I am very unclear on several points regarding the AASUA budget. Can you tell me what funds are currently available in the unrestricted reserve fund? Can you tell me what funding the AASUA normally budgets for legal costs (and how this is budgeted: is it all one budget, or is there one fund for “legal opinions” another for “arbitration” and so forth) and whether we our current allocation is at, below, or above the levels in recent years (say, over the past 5)? Forgive me if I phrase my queries ignorantly, I will be the first to admit my confusion.

    Second, I would be particularly interested to hear more about a special fund mentioned at the Council meeting: a recent (since 2012) “gift” from the Provost of $100,000 that can only be used for release time and the like for the Association’s officers (specifically, and correct me if I am wrong here, only the President Kevin Kane, the Vice-President Heather Bruce, and the Treasurer Loren Kline). I am glad, “Margaret”, that you are someone who is apparently in a position to know quite a lot about this because I very much hope I misunderstood what I heard at Council and would be relieved if I could stop worrying about it. Why are the Association’s officers taking gifts, especially with strings attached, from the office of the Provost? Might this relate in any way to the relatively quiescent approach on the part of the Association’s officers to a set of recent assaults by the Central Administration generally and the office of the Provost specifically on the University’s faculty (here I am thinking of the Renaissance Committee, MOOC hype, the Leadership College, and the Administration’s vocal support for the decisions made by the President and Provost at USaskatchewan)? Finally, is it not at least somewhat unfair for indirectly elected AASUA officers whose release time is generously paid for by the University administration to make budget decisions about funds provided by dues-paying constituents that relieve their directly elected lower-ranking colleagues of the same?

    I could pose other questions, but those are the ones that press upon my mind most insistently. Thank you for coming forward here – even pseudonymously – to share what you know. I look forward to continuing this very interesting dialogue with someone evidently well positioned to know what she is talking about! What a treat.

  10. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    That comment was so long I thought I’d start afresh to offer my explanations about why I think it is so important that supporting constituency chairs be built into the AASUA budget. I think I have sufficiently explained in earlier comments why our elected representatives be empowered to direct and guide the workings of a growing bureaucracy that in some respects cannot help but be opaque. The reason this support should be built into the budget gets back to equity in two ways that perhaps the Council did not fully realize. Providing this support for constituency chairs on an ad-hoc basis puts almost everyone who might occupy those important roles in a very awkward position. If they have to “make a case” for themselves, this means that some kinds of people will have to parade information that really is properly none of the business of their AASUA colleagues: “oh, you have a developmentally disabled child? Are single-parenting two children and have a problematic relationship with the co-parent? How bad is the dementia of that elderly relative of yours, and can you document it for us? Naked in the street, huh?” It also means that other kinds of people will never ask for it even if they could use it, knowing they haven’t got a sufficiently persuasive back story (“what are you whining about, single dude with no kids?”). Finally, as we have lamentably seen in this case, personal animus (or favour) may play a disproportionate role in how resources get allocated from year to year. This will inevitably create resentments and disincentives to service. That’s a bad outcome, that may look like “fiscal restraint” in the immediate term but in fact undermines the long term capacity of the AASUA to fulfill its own mandate.

  11. Margaret says:

    Kathleen, the legal items in the budget were explained in the document. Perhaps you should get a copy and read it.

    Its just a simple fact that the money to fund all the releases would be taken out of the legal and other costs which I mentioned in my previous posts. Since it is a democratic organization, it was up to Council to make that decision and they made the right one.

    And what every gave you the idea that the “gift” of the release time has anything to do with the Exec’s behaviour? They get that release time whether the Central Admin or the AASUA pays for it. Even Jeremy said he got it, before the “gift” started. The only difference now is that you’re not paying it out of your fees.

    As for asking for release time for other members of Council, do you really believe it would be a case of people pleading their personal circumstances? If so, what in the current or even past Executive’s behaviour would ever have made you believe that would be the case? I am genuinely interested to know why you are suspicious of these people, especially given what was actually discussed at the meeting: every single person who spoke to it was going on the assumption the release time would be based on the projects the person is engaged in.

    In some years the Equity person might get MORE release time to work on a particular report. In other years, a CAST person might get more release. You just didn’t think through the possibilities and the default position on your part seems to be to assume nefarious motives on the part of the AASUA leaders.

    Thank you for acknowledging that your judgements were based on just 30 minutes at the meeting. I hope your readers will take that into account when reading them.

    P.S. I don’t have access to extra information. I am just an elected council members who attends meetings and keeps up on things.

  12. Arts Squared says:

    “Margaret,” could you please explain why it is that you are not using your real name? I wrote to the email address you provided last week — a non-U of A email address — and have not received a reply. You identify yourself as a Councillor — an elected representative, then, of a department at the University of Alberta — and you speak as if with authority. And you clearly enjoy using Professor Lowrey’s first name. Why, then, are you not sharing your identity? What is there to hide?

    In a scholarly community, your name should be attached to your claims. Your own understanding of the situation is, let me suggest, not in fact as sound as you would believe; the money in question would not, for example, come from “legal” funds. I suggest you take a look at the financial statements from last year, and ask questions at Council about the “Reserve” funds and operating budget surpluses. As a Councillor you should indeed know a great deal more than a member who takes the time, out of interest in the Association’s work, to show to even part of a Council meeting.

    I wonder too why it is that neither of your comments shows any interest in the question of what is actually at stake in the budgetary decisions in terms of a vision of the Association, equitable resourcing of constituency committee chairs, support of the policy-making standing committees, preparations for bargaining next year, or work on the part of the Association that might help prevent grievances. You seem very interested in attacking Professor Lowrey from behind the screen of “Margaret,” and, sadly, not much interested at all in the really important issues at stake. The “right” decision would arise from moral and ethical attention to those larger concerns.

  13. Arts Squared says:

    Note to Readers: The latest comment from “Margaret” has been removed out of respect for the Board of Governors at the University of Alberta.

  14. Laurie Adkin says:

    Dear Makere, I wouldn’t characterize this as a “slanging match,” although some strong feelings are being conveyed. Actually, I’m finding it quite instructive as to the different perspectives about what is at stake in the decision to provide support to committee chairs on an ongoing basis, and how this might be done. Quite notable, though, is a lack of agreement or shared understanding of what the financial situation of the Association actually is, suggesting that more information needs to be provided to Council members. Sometimes, telling people to “read the document” does not really answer their quite valid questions. The information may not have been presented clearly, or it may be incomplete. Or it may have been provided without adequate time for people to analyze it and seek clarifications before they are called upon to make decisions. What I have been hearing from various Council members is that there has, indeed, been ongoing difficulty in obtaining certain kinds of budget or financial information from the Officers. In the interests of transparency and accountability, I hope that the Officers will be very responsive to such requests. This ought not to be an us (the informed) versus them (the uninformed) situation; we are all in this together.

  15. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    I wish I saw fewer parallels between university admin’s approaches to budgetary matters and AASUA admin’s, but as I read this very interesting article I couldn’t help thinking about how much the points made in it apply to both:


  16. Brad Bucknell says:

    Here is an interesting link regarding tuition increases in Canada.


    This may speak to some budgetary issues and their management.

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