Where are the Senior Academic Administrators?

For the past couple of years, the USFA has been bringing to the attention of senior academic administrators the ways in which administrative decisions are impeding the work of faculty. Chief among these is the decision, made during the early months of the pandemic, to mandate the use of Concur or Direct Travel for booking air travel (the most recent travel expense guidelines declare that airfare booked outside of these two options simply will not be reimbursed).

In December, employer representatives at JCMA, which include two Deans and a Vice-Provost, told us they were trying to get clarity on travel booking and they had communicated the USFA’s concerns to Finance and Procurement with varying levels of understanding. It seemed to us that, while slow, a resolution that would better meet faculty needs was possible.

However, now we know that a resolution through JCMA is unlikely. At JCMA’s last meeting earlier this month, employer representatives told us they have been unable to make any progress on this issue. They agree the requirement to use Concur or Direct Travel does not always make sense, and acknowledge faculty are uncomfortable signing off on Tri-Council grants when the faculty member believes incurred travel expenses are not effective and economical. However, “Procurement,” which is part of the portfolio of Vice-President Finance and Resources Greg Fowler, will not change its position, even if the Provost approves the travel expense. 

The employer suggests the Association file a grievance and that faculty take the following steps in order to have the guidelines changed:

  1. Contact your dean and provide evidence that you can get cheaper rates. Your dean can then argue booking through Concur or Direct Travel would be an inappropriate use of research funds. Deans have more leverage in this situation because they have the authority to sign off on the travel requests and expenses. 
  2. Bring the issue forward at University Council. The Vice-Presidents and President are there, and it will be recorded in the minutes.
  3. Raise this with the Research, Scholarly and Artistic Work Committee of University Council. 
  4. Raise this with the Vice-President Research and the three Associate Vice-Presidents Research (AVPR).

We encourage you to act on the above suggestions for faculty and, if you have Tri-Council funding, we suggest you contact the funding agency for information and advice.

The Association is consulting with legal counsel on filing a policy grievance related to restricting the reimbursement for travel contingent on the use of Concur and Direct Travel. 

In addition, the Association maintains its position that if expenses for approved travel comply with the Travel Policy and the provisions of the collective agreement, there should be no reason for denial of reimbursement if/when the booking was not made through Concur or Direct Travel and is prepared to file individual grievances in support of that position.

All of this leaves some very important unanswered questions:

Where are the senior academic administrators? What are they doing to improve this untenable situation?

Why are senior academic administrators impotent when there is mounting evidence that unilateral decisions being made by the Vice-President Finance and Resources are harming the research intensiveness of our university and creating an undue burden on research activities by contributing to research delays, additional expenses, lost time and/or effort due to overly burdensome administration? 

Do senior academic administrators at the U of S play a role anymore in decision-making that directly impacts the academic mission of the university and the faculty who carry out that mission?

Who is running the University of Saskatchewan?