Peer Review Dashed at LAC by Email

The following email is yet another sign that LAC management is failing to treat its archival and research professionals with respect. Recently management there made a unilateral decision to remove the peer review system for promotion. Below you will read the message regarding the demise of the Comité de promotion de la recherche historique (CPRH) / Historical Research Promotion Committee (HRPC) sent to those affected.

“The Historical Research Promotion Committee (HRPC) was established to address the career progression needs of historical researchers at LAC. We strongly believed, and we continue to believe, that leadership and the career progression of all our employees are key components to ensure that our organization is equipped to meet higher standards of management accountability.

The entire structure of our organization has changed, which means that we are reviewing all occupational groups’ professional competencies, including the Historical Research Group (HR). This will serve to identify new competencies that align with our strategic direction and that will support us in meeting our organizational needs. We also believe in being consistent and fair in our organizational approach to promotion for all of our employees—whatever their occupational group—while at the same time offering career progression tailored to particular occupations. As part of this approach, the HRPC will conclude its activities once the 2011–2012 promotion process has been completed.

We continue to be committed to the development and progress of our employees’ careers. Through a more proactive approach, we will continue to help you develop new competencies by providing learning opportunities and by creating an environment where these competencies can be put into action.”(Italics added for emphasis).

*****

The change at LAC clearly has serious career implications for those working at LAC. As a community of information workers who partners with and supports our colleagues at LAC, academic librarians at the University of Ottawa are disappointed with the decision made by LAC management. Employment is ideally a long-term relationship between employees and employers and is never one-sided. Decisions that benefit only half of the relationship have serious and detrimental effects on the other group, in this case the employees. Such decisions poison the workplace, affect morale, and cause employees to look elsewhere for employment. Perhaps the greatest disappointment in this is that LAC management is overlooking the competence and professionalism of its staff, including their ability to recognize excellence in their own peers.

For those who are less familiar with the concept of peer- review, I suggest the following quotation from CAUT’s guide to peer-review called What is Fair: Q & A on Procedures & Standards in Peer Review, “The purpose of peer evaluation is to combine expertise in the subject with fairness in judgment so that such decisions will be made for sound academic reasons, will follow appropriate criteria, and will be made by persons qualified to evaluate academic performance.” <Source>

At the University of Ottawa, we use peer review to evaluate our colleagues when they apply for permanence and promotion. While there are undoubtedly mistakes made, peer review is widely accepted in academe and should never be sidestepped in favour of other methods of review. Peer review recognizes the expertise of workers and the value of collective decision-making. It is a democratic process, not an autocratic one. A promotion obtained by any other means is simply not legitimate in the academic setting. One may argue that LAC is not an academic setting, but at one time I believe it was nearly equivalent. Let’s not forget that LAC was until recently, a member of ARL (Association of Research Libraries) just like University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and yes, University of Ottawa, among others. But one can see that now it’s basically just another government department. It’s no longer an institution that can or should be comparable to the Library of Congress, or even some of the smaller research libraries in Canada. I wonder if it will even remain relevant for serious research in the decades to come.

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