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Angela Hildyard, Vice President, HR, University of Toronto
by Laurel Hyatt

Canada’s largest university—the University of Toronto—is also one of the oldest, having celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2002. Its student body is massive: more than 55,000 full- and part-time students.

Angela Hildyard
U of T
Its workforce is equally large, employing more than 2,800 academic staff. It also has some 5,000 support staff at three major campuses in the Toronto area, making it the 13th largest employer in the city.

The university’s annual operating budget of almost $1 billion is swelling as it undergoes major building additions and renovations in preparation for an influx of students.

It all adds up to some challenging and exciting times for the university’s human resources function. Workplace Today spoke to Angela Hildyard, Vice President of Human Resources, from her Toronto office.

WT: I often start my interviews by asking employers what their biggest human resources challenge is. For the University of Toronto, is it for the moment that you’re trying to hire more faculty to cope with the double cohort: the two classes of graduating Ontario high school students who are going to be inundating universities this fall?

AH: It’s one of our challenges. We obviously are hiring a lot of faculty, not just related to the double cohort.

We’re also facing a very large number of faculty who are going to retire over the next several years. We are looking to hire several hundred new faculty over the next four years. So to some extent, it’s related to the double cohort but also just a general renewal. That does create a major challenge for us.

WT: It’s a huge undertaking, it would seem to me. How on earth are you able to do that? You don’t want to be a little recruiting machine; these are academics that you are hiring. You’re not holding a job fair for McDonalds. How are you going to be doing this?

AH: The goal of the university is to hire the best qualified faculty and so we assume that we are going to be hiring worldwide. These may be international scholars or Canadians. They may also be Canadians who left and went overseas for a while and we have an opportunity to reclaim them and bring them back to Canada. We feel that we are in a global market, which obviously poses some significant issues for us as we deal with persuading good candidates that Toronto is a good place to live.

As we go about this process, we use tax and immigration consultants, we have spousal hiring plans, we have a family care office that will help faculty address some of their child care needs. We have equity advisors so that if there are issues that might relate to same sex partnerships, we can provide advice and information. We do in fact put a lot of energy into presenting ourselves as a good employer.

WT: Of course the U of T has an outstanding reputation: you’re one of the oldest universities in Canada and you are the largest. I would think that you would have no trouble receiving applications from qualified faculty, or do you have just the opposite problem: your standards are set so high that it is challenging to find the brightest and best academics?

AH: I don’t think there’s a problem with having a bar that’s set very high. There are a very large number of very well qualified academics here in Canada as well as worldwide.

The challenge for us is how you persuade somebody to leave San Francisco or Vancouver or maybe Sydney, Australia to come to Toronto. It’s a lifestyle issue, it’s a climate issue, it’s an issue of where their children will go to school. The calibre of academics we’re recruiting receive a lot of offers from other places, and so it’s how do we make ourselves very attractive.

One of our other goals is to enhance the diversity of our faculty. We want to bring in more visible minorities, more Aboriginal persons, more persons with disabilities, and more women into certain areas. How do we position ourselves so that we become very attractive to such candidates who will then enhance the diversity of our faculty, because we have a very diverse student body?

WT: I’ll get back to the double cohort issue. I believe it’s something like 9,000 student spaces you are adding over the next four years. Are you also hiring support staff to cope with that increased enrolment?

AH: Yes. For the most part we expect that the increased number of students will probably be at the University of Toronto at Mississauga and the University of Toronto at Scarborough—our two suburban campuses—rather than on the (downtown) St. George campus. There certainly is expected to be a significant number of hirings taking place of support staff out on the other two campuses.

WT: This ties in with the Ontario government’s SuperBuild program. They say they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to help create more spaces for the influx of the double cohort. The University of Toronto is building new classroom space, along with libraries and student residences to house everybody. In terms of HR, what effect does this expansion have on employee morale?

AH: I think it’s creating a positive buzz because it’s really great that we can build new buildings. Many of our buildings are incredibly old. They’re not in good repair as is common to most other institutions in Ontario so it’s actually very positive when you can build new space that’s created for specific needs.

There are new faculty being hired, new staff being hired, but we’re also facing a number of financial challenges because while we have more money to deal with more students we don’t have the money that we need to repair our buildings and do ongoing maintenance. We have not received inflationary increases from the government for some years so we have constant challenges on that side. It’s actually a little difficult.

Some staff, I know, get a little frustrated when we’re in a period of growth but we’re also saying, “We don’t have the money to do this” or “We don’t have the money to do that.”

WT: So you’re able to cope with the double cohort but you still have a shortfall from years of underfunding, is I guess what you’re saying.

AH: Yes.

WT: And speaking of underfunding, that’s forced universities across the board in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada to be more competitive to try to attract the best students to your campus. Are you also competitive as an employer, trying to hire the best faculty?

AH: Absolutely, we’re trying to be an employer of choice. For faculty, we’re recruiting on a worldwide stage. For our other staff members, that wouldn’t necessarily be the case. We might be recruiting nationally but primarily we recruit within the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and Ontario.

For faculty, we’re pitting ourselves against universities from elsewhere in the world. There are a variety of programs—I mentioned, for example, that we use tax consultants to help applicants see how their salary would convert at the end of the day. We look at purchasing parity of the Canadian dollar against other currencies. We work with external organizations to assist spouses to find positions both at the university and outside the university.

WT: The University of Toronto Faculty Association is considering taking the steps to be certified as a union. I understand that currently the faculty’s working conditions are covered by a memorandum of understanding, is that correct?

AH: Yes, we have a memorandum of understanding that’s been in place for about 30 years. We have a number of policies that we call frozen policies: tenure, academic freedom, issues such as that. We negotiate or discuss with the faculty association what changes there may be to those policies. We also negotiate salaries and benefits on an annual or multiyear basis. With salaries we negotiate an across-the-board increase, but we also have a merit scheme in place and so we also negotiate with the faculty association specifics with respect to the merit scheme.

WT: If faculty members take the next step and actually do sign their union cards and become certified, they would be covered under labour legislation and have things like the right to strike. If that happens, how would that change labour relations at the university, and more importantly, how would it impact your job in particular?

AH: The university has 20 different unions at the present time so we are in fact a highly unionized workplace. We have close to 5,000 staff represented by national unions in addition to our teaching assistants who are part of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees). The largest union that we have is the United Steelworkers of America, who represent our administrative staff. We’re certainly very happy to work with unions and do so on a daily basis.

If the faculty were to unionize, it would certainly add another very large group to the unions that we already have. We believe that the current memorandum is an optimal way for us to work with our faculty association. But we have no problem with unions and work very comfortably with a very large number of them.

WT: If you have 20 other unions to contend with, it would almost seem to me that that would take up a great amount of your time doing labour relations, is that true?

AH: Oh yes. Labour relations is a huge portion of what we do within Human Resources. But we’re quite fortunate at the moment—I think we’re currently negotiating with two or three of our smaller unions but otherwise we have multiyear agreements in place for all other unions. We’re not looking at significant bargaining for the next 18 months, which is nice.

One of the advantages for us in having multiyear agreements is that it does allow us to work on other issues with our employee unions. When you’re not bargaining, you can do some joint problem-solving and get some joint committees going where we can look at other issues within the workplace where it’s mutually beneficial to us to work together or to collaborate in certain ways. One of my goals within HR is to work more collaboratively with our unions and so it’s great that we’ve now got an opportunity in a non-confrontational setting to do that.

WT: Can you give me some examples of some of the committees that you’ve struck, some issues you want to work collaboratively with the unions on?

AH: With the Steelworkers we have a committee looking at career development. One of my goals, both for the Steelworkers and for the non-unionized professional and managerial staff, is to look at succession planning and career development, which I don’t think that the university has paid much attention to in the past.

We have a lot of employees in this institution and I would like to find ways to see more of them be given opportunities for promotion even if they leave the university and go work somewhere else where it’s a promotional move, I think that that is something positive.

WT: A lot of private sector employers are doing that as well.

AH: We also need to look at career development for our academics. Universities again have traditionally not paid too much attention to working with chairs of departments to see what skills or what leadership requirements there might be or what might be done to encourage these folks to move into decanal positions. For the most part, you need experience as a dean if you want to become the vice president or a provost.

So how do we work with individuals to move them through our system and make, especially for the academics, administrative positions attractive and find ways to increase the diversity of our academic administration? We are a very white administration and we need to improve the diversity.

WT: You were mentioning your efforts to hire more visible minorities. How do you do that?

AH: You do it by being more proactive in terms of where you advertise your positions and don’t assume that everyone’s going to read the same standard papers. You become more proactive in your recruitment strategy so that you increase the number of individuals who know about your positions and who therefore become interested.

Certainly for faculty appointments, we also have to look at enhancing the diversity within our graduate student pool and encouraging the graduates to be interested in an academic position. We have a fairly diverse graduate student pool but what we’re finding is that academic positions are not always attractive to all members or individuals who are taking graduate degrees, so we are looking at how we make ourselves attractive as a workplace.

WT: What direction has your career path taken? I understand you’re a professor. What’s your discipline?

AH: My discipline is educational psychology. I did my graduate degree at OISE, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. My home department is theory and policy studies in education at OISE. I still teach on a regular basis and I supervise graduate students on a regular basis.

WT: How did you move from teaching full-time into being an executive?

AH: Actually I have never been a full-time academic. I have always had an administrative role. Really I have been more of an administrator than an academic. I was an assistant director at OISE for a number of years, which was the equivalent to a vice president within that small organization. I was also the OISE Director for the 18 months before its merger into the University of Toronto.

WT: So how did you move into the HR field and get the necessary skills and knowledge for that?

AH: I’ve always found it very interesting. I think that the reason I first moved into HR goes back many, many years to the late 70s when I was a research associate at OISE and was required to be a member of a union.

I didn’t like what the union negotiated for me, so I went to complain to the senior administrators, and they said, “Well if you don’t like it, then you’d better become part of the union negotiating team.” So I did and decided, “Hmm, I like this kind of work.”

I then moved from being on the union side into being on the management side. So my interest really came out of a dissatisfaction and then learning that the only way to change it was to be part of the system, as it were.

WT: How did you move from the union side to now you’re on the other end and you are negotiating with the unions? How can you cross that line?

AH: I crossed the line very early in my career. I think I would find it very difficult to cross the line now because I think that management has to look at issues from an institutional point of view, which I’m not sure that you always do when you’re part of a union.

But I just found it very, very interesting: what’s the problem and how can you solve the problem and how can both sides come out feeling that they’ve gained something out of what’s going on. That’s always been my attitude and approach.

WT: If you had to make a choice, which would you prefer: teaching or administering?

AH: I really love to teach and that’s why I still do it. My students are always professionals and I have doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, pharmacists, and nurses in my classes. I find it to be very rewarding personally because I learn as much from my students as they do from me.

I teach online, which I love. It helps because then I don’t have to commit to being in a classroom at a specific time of day, which would be very difficult for me in my current job. But I really love using the Web to teach. I find the discussion that takes place to be very high quality, so I learn a lot and it’s fun.

When things are frustrating within administration, when things don’t move as quickly as you would like, when things get caught up within committees, it’s actually kind of nice to think, “Well, OK, I’ll see what my students are doing,” where things move along a bit faster.

WT: Would you say it’s sort of a different part of your brain that you use for that than administering?

AH: Yes, but also this is a university and that’s what a university is all about: knowledge building, creating, and sharing, so to the extent that I can remain a part of that through teaching, it’s great.

WT: A lot of people are looking at easing into retirement. Do you ever see yourself as just doing teaching at some point?

AH: I was appointed for a seven-year term. By the time I’ve completed my seven years, I will be getting close to retirement. I guess I’ll see what happens at that point in time.

But at the present time, I love administration. I enjoy the challenges. I like my colleagues very much, I respect them, and it’s very satisfying to be a part of a team at an institution like the University of Toronto. There are frustrations, but overall it’s highly positive. So I’ll stay doing what I’m doing.

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