Last year was not an easy one for the University of New Brunswick’s president, Eddy Campbell.
With a winter term marked by a labour dispute and votes of numerous non-confidence votes against the administration, it’s no surprise that the already tenuous relationship between the administration and faculty was put under further strain.
It’s possible no one has felt this strain more than the president himself.
Going into the 2014-2015 academic year, Campbell said he plans to focus on rebuilding these relationships and developing a better system of communication to convey the actions of the university’s administration.
“The things that are occupying my attention are trying to repair our relationships with the faculty over the next little bit. They were damaged in the strike,” he said.
“For some there are some bitter feelings left behind and I think we can do a better job of involving the faculty in the allocation of resources at the university and telling them more often what we’re up to.”
But the strike and the labour disputes weren’t the only thing facing Eddy Campbell and the rest of the university administration. This past summer saw a few issues emerge that will be cropping up again over the next few weeks.
The sweeping theme through all of these issues is that of a lack of communication on the part of the administration.
In August, UNB was under threat of a court case for not releasing all of its presidential contracts since 2004.
This came about because of a Right to Information request by the Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations [FNBFA], which asked that the contracts of all New Brunswick university presidents since 2004 be released.
Although UNB released Campbell’s 2009 and 2014 contracts, the contracts of Campbell’s predecessor, John McLaughlin, were not released.
“It’s just complicated … I’m not the only person implicated in all of this. I have colleagues at other institutions and … their opinions matter so I’ve got to talk to them and for some of us, these things feel private. Not all of us grew up with this idea that everything should be out there,” said Campbell.
“So when we got asked for McLaughlin’s, my predecessor’s, contract I actually felt obliged to talk to him. And between the jigs and the reels it took a while to get a hold of him.”
As of this month, McLaughlin’s 2002 and 2007 contracts have been released and the FNBFA will no longer take their case to court.
Both Jean Sauvageau, president of the FNBFA, and Miriam Jones, president of the AUNBT, have said they are content with the information that was published.
“Well we’re very pleased that they’re finally released. Transparency in all matters, but particularly in budget matters, is very important. So it’s too bad that it took legal action to get those materials but I think it would be to everyone’s benefit going forward that we have more transparency,” Jones said.
Transparency has been a key word at UNB over the past few months, especially surrounding the revisions of the UNB Act that are currently underway.
The revisions to the Act began in February 2013 by the UNB Act Review Steering Committee but there have been concerns raised by the AUNBT,that the process has not been transparent enough.
Campbell said the process has been slow because of the amount of items in need of revision but that the Act will be published and opened to input from the university community soon.
“One of the ways of characterizing what they’re up to is like renovating an old house: once they started getting in there behind the walls they found a whole lot of stuff. And their examination of the revisions to the Act has taken quite a bit longer than we had expected,” he said.
“They are moments away from publishing the Act and seeking input from the university community and we’ll see what happens. They’re making a whole bunch of suggestions. And we’ll see what people think of them.”
It is this type of communication that Campbell hopes to foster throughout this year and beyond.
“The university, the communication, we’ve not been good at it. We could probably do a better job of telling people what our board actually does, we could probably do a better job of telling people what our senates actually do,” he said.
One way of addressing this was through the creation of a new position in the Office of the President. The position, given the title of “senior communications manager,” has been filled by David Stonehouse, who worked previously as a well-known provincial and national journalist.
“Communications is both reactive and proactive. In an ideal world you’re able to tell your story well to the world at large and there are always these things that arise, particularly in organizations our size. It’s the human organization. We make mistakes … There’s the firefighting aspect of communications but there’s also the fact that we have these wonderful stories to tell,” said Campbell.
“So that will be Dave’s role — trying to make sure that our communications and things like the UNB Act are understood.”
Another method by which Campbell hopes to improve communications is through an in-depth look at the allocation of resources within the university. The process will for a large part be driven by the university senates and will involve local campus committees.
“Our Board has said that we should seek more ways to have faculty input into the allocation of resources. They would like to see that. That is coupled in the minds of the Board to determining which parts of the university are more deserving of allocating of resources than others,” Campbell said.
“So the idea is I want advice on the allocation of resources in our budget process and I’m asking the senate in Fredericton to tell us how to do it here and the senate in Saint John to do the same there. And I will want to have an overarching committee that looks at both campuses together as a whole.”
But rebuilding after the tumultuous 2013-2014 academic year is not the responsibility of one man alone, and the AUNBT will be holding the president accountable to his promises of transparency and better communication.
“It’s an interesting time to be at UNB. I think this is an opportunity for all of us to think about what a university really is and what it should be doing. What it’s here for and what its priorities need to be,” said Jones.
“I think we can still step back, we can deal with the problems and move forward together, but I mean, I think it’s going to involve an honest assessment of the president’s role and then we can move forward after that.”
For Campbell, it’s all about ensuring the UNB story gets heard, both the moments to be proud of and those that aren’t. But it’s also about creating more moments to shine.
“When we were writing the university’s strategic plan, I liked to ask my colleagues the question “What would we look like if we were the University for New Brunswick?” And that was a really interesting way to challenge people and goodness we got a lot of really interesting answers at the far end of that. And some of them you see resonating now,” Campbell said.
“The administration, we are people of good intentions. We are trying to make this university better. We don’t have anything to hide. What I think we really do need to do is tell our story better.”