University Council motion in support of rejecting the active/inactive researcher designation

Members of the Research, Scholarly and Artistic Work Committee of University Council have voted to put forward the following motion to University Council. There is a notice of the motion in this month’s council meeting agenda:

“It is recommended that University Council support in principle a) the rejection of the use of “active/inactive” designations for researchers and b) the request that the Integrated Planning and Assessment Office and all other administrative units abandon the concept of and metrics associated with the designation of individual faculty members as “active” or “inactive” researchers for all planning and budgetary allocation purposes.”

For the last few years as part of university budgetary processes (RCM and TABBS), individual faculty members have been designated as “active” or “inactive” researchers. The USFA has registered its strong opposition, particularly to the use of the inactive researcher designation and have been repeatedly assured by the University that the practice has ended only to subsequently learn that it has not. All too often, researchers are incorrectly designated as inactive. An inactive designation can penalize not only units by reducing operating budgets, but also faculty whose research activity does not conform to the narrow and ill-informed definitions created by Senior Administrators with little or no recent research experience. These designations not only damage morale, it is the USFA’s view that they create an environment of blame and shame. Essential research contributions are not limited to the few categories of activity that have been defined for determining “active” versus “inactive” faculty, and can include such processes as oral dissemination, unpublished reports, patents, grant writing, editing journals, and so on. Community-based, Indigenous, and publicly engaged research are especially marginalized by the construct.

RSAW Committee has identified the following points in support of their motion:

  1. There is no definition of “RSAW” that informs the construct of “active/inactive” researcher. Rather than defining the construct first and then asking how it can properly be measured, the existing metric (based, in part, on SCOPUS) fails terribly in capturing the full range of RSAW activity at a U15 university. It lacks construct validity.
  2. Metrics of activity used by Institutional Planning and Assessment (IPA) include only a few of what constitutes RSAW activity for most, if not all faculty.
  3. The Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) policy at the U of S, which does define “research,” includes “preparation of various research products and creative works” in that definition. However, IPA does not include “preparation” as a metric of research activity. IPAs construal of research activity is not compatible with RCRs definition. 
  4. The “active/inactive” construct when employed, identifies and potentially stigmatizes individual faculty members. The label can affix to individuals and last long after exoneration. The designation of “inactive” researcher could be used to scapegoat, in which resource allocation to the unit is linked to this negative status and individuals are made to feel as though they are responsible for decreases in unit funding.
  5. Faculty designated “inactive” may experience efforts to increase teaching loads, which creates conditions counterproductive to RSAW and further stigmatizes individuals and damages units by reducing RSAW as an overall element of funding.
  6. While Deans and Executive Directors are empowered to override an “inactive” designation from IPA, no consistent application of this power is evident. Suggestions have emerged from some units that this power is being unfairly wielded, and that in some cases faculty have left the university because of the lack of recognition of their RSAW.
  7. Some fields of study are not covered by the metric, leaving those faculty members entirely dependent upon their Dean or Executive Director to judge their RSAW. This represents a discriminatory application of the construct.
  8. The contrast of “active/inactive” and its metric exists outside the Collective Agreement and collegial governance processes, yet represents a de facto evaluation of faculty.
  9. Collegial processes currently in place to assess RSAW are effective in ensuring that a disciplinary-specific, local level assessment of activity is considered. These processes include those linked to tenure, promotion, assignment of duties, and salary review. Every faculty member is reviewed every year, and RSAW activity is an element of that process. A curious contradiction is evident in that the people who know best about an individual’s RSAW activities, their peer colleagues, can see their judgement contradicted by the imposition of IPAs metric assessment.
  10. The IPA construct is largely dependent upon a commercial business, SCOPUS (from Elsevier) to generate data on research activity. There are clear biases evident in the way in which SCOPUS scans for and credits RSAW activity, with non-science disciplines being disadvantaged.
  11. A key reason provided for “active/inactive” designations is that the metric is used for resource allocation within the institution as prescribed in the Saskatchewan Universities Funding Mechanism or SUFM. However, the Saskatchewan Government does not prescribe the use of its formula for internal resource allocation. Further, it does not call for the designation of individual faculty as “active” or “inactive.” This mechanism for funding Saskatchewan’s universities measures research according to only two considerations: number of graduate students completing; and Tri-Council funding. By its own admission, measuring research activity is “problematic.”

We encourage you to attend University Council meetings and to discuss your views with your unit’s Council representative. While only members of University Council are eligible to vote on motions, Council meetings are open to anyone interested in attending and you need not be a member of Council to speak.

The University Council agenda package and meeting materials, along with guidelines and instructions for the meeting, are online and can be found at