New staff forced to sign away options

January 16, 1998

Newly appointed administrators at a Nova Scotia university are required to sign undated letters of resignation in a management practice which would make most academics bristle.

For more than three years, Jacquelyn Scott, president of the University College of Cape Breton, has stipulated that every newly hired dean (except those without academic tenure) must sign a letter stating that he or she is resigning from the post. The undated letter can later be used by Dr Scott when she feels the administrator is not looking after the best interests of the university.

This practice is not uncommon in the private sector when the head of a company needs to guarantee loyalty. Dr Scott, a former journalist who has taught and researched changes in management, says she needed to get a university that had been on the brink of death back on course quickly. She accepted that the idea of this letter does not sit easily in a university environment but feels it is vital for academics who move into administration to accept the change.

"If you want to be a dean, you have got to give up something. You have to realise you have shifted hats. You no longer have the freedoms you had as an academic," said Dr Scott. "Your first loyalty has to be to the institution."

The university has gone from rock bottom before Dr Scott's arrival in 1993, when the bank said it did not want to oversee a university with so few financial options, to today, when four new buildings have been erected, thanks to community and corporate partners.

The small university on Cape Breton Island has always struggled with underfunding and being under served by a provincial government that blatantly favours university-rich mainland Nova Scotia.

Former Cape Breton dean, Silver Donald Cameron, said the practice could be compared to a political leader building cabinet solidarity. "You have to ensure your colleagues pursue a direction as a team."

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