A trio of sessions covered defence of collegial governance, lessons from bargaining remotely, and Francophone associations fighting back; all within the context of the pandemic.
Defending Collegial Governance
This session discussed administrations’ use of COVID-19 to bypass collegial processes and assume final authority for academic decisions. Session facilitators Robin Whitaker and Marc Schroeder, co-chairs of the CAUT Ad Hoc Working Group on Governance, urged participants to not allow their institutions to trample on shared governance rights.
“At the beginning of the pandemic everything was rushed, but we’re past that. There’s no excuse at this stage for shutting us out of governance,” noted Whitaker. “In fact, the current situation makes it even more vital that we’re involved in making decisions at our institutions. The pandemic has exposed problems in governance that already existed. We can use this opportunity to identify areas of democratic deficit.”
Jean-Charles Cachon, Secretary-Treasurer for the Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA), discussed the administration’s unilateral suspension of admissions to 17 programs last summer.
“The members were angry and mobilized massively. We managed to pull together student groups and faculty, and to reach the community. There were influential people who became active with us,” he said.
With CAUT’s assistance, LUFA is now initiating a judicial review, claiming the suspension of admissions without the agreement of the Senate is a violation of the Laurentian University Act.
Min Sook Lee, President of the Ontario College of Art & Design Faculty Association (OCADFA) described a deterioration of collegial governance at the institution since COVID. When the Board of Governors tabled an austerity budget, OCADFA helped form a campus coalition to fight back.
“Operating budgets are fundamentally political exercises. We wanted to demystify budget processes for our members, and created a budget primer,” she said. “Our coalition is offering an alternative budget as a vision of a university we can fight for and champion together.”
Lessons from Bargaining Remotely
The bargaining environment during the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and requires new ways to engage members in order to make gains at the table.
Larry Savage, Chief Negotiator for the Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA) stressed the importance of organizing membership support.
“Many think that having the best arguments will win the day. That is certainly not the case in bargaining, which is why sustaining member engagement is critical,” he said. “That’s because so much of what influences outcomes in our sector arise from things that happen beyond the bargaining table.”
BUFA teleconferenced with members, and developed video and text-based bargaining backgrounders released on a weekly basis to members.
“We ramped up. After each session with the employer all members received a detailed summary of what had been discussed and these bulletins were not there just for information but to frame issues and as calls to action for members,” Savage noted. “We decided for the first time to use flash polls and actively solicited a constant and multi-directional flow of information.”
University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) President Michael Shaw said meeting attendance grew through their negotiations, perhaps in part due to the ease of remote access.
“We tapped into the creativity of our members and our social media engagement went through the roof.”
Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA) President David Westwood said the Association pivoted to negotiating issues that had not been a major priority before COVID, such as online teaching.
“We had a robust set of priorities, but we reimagined our agenda when COVID became the focus. Our administration very clearly tried to capitalize to get concessions they’d been tabling for years,” he noted. “We were able to mobilize quickly, kept members engaged, had better than ever meeting attendance, and polled with huge turnout. Members were angry, and we had the biggest strike vote in our history.”
Larry Savage said it’s important to realize that the uncertainty and anxiety due to COVID affect both sides in a negotiation.
“Understanding that these emotions are not exclusive to the union membership is really key. Senior administrators are equally, if not more-so, concerned about future enrolment, and the risk of a labour dispute.”
Francophone Associations Fight Back
Representatives of Francophone academic staff associations discussed their campaigns to protect minority language rights against threats from both governments and institutions.
Guillaume Durou, an Assistant Professor in Sociology at the University of Alberta and Treasurer with the Association Canadienne Française De L’Alberta (ACFA) at the threatened Campus Saint-Jean said “we were anticipating cuts, but nothing so drastic.”
In May, the Association launched an online campaign pushing back against the proposed institutional budget cuts of 13 per cent and a wall of silence from the Conservative Kenney government, which has ignored requests to meet with ACFA.
Over 1000 letters from concerned community members were sent to the Kenney government demanding redress along with an open letter published in La Presse was co-signed by over 900 Canadian and international scholars. In August, ACFA brought legal action against the University and Alberta government for chronic underfunding as a violation of past agreements and Section 23 Charter rights for instruction in French.
In New Brunswick, a coalition has come together to push back against underfunding and further budget cuts to the sector.
Roger LeBlanc, an associate professor at the Université de Moncton, and Vice-President External of the academic staff association, noted that his institution is expecting $10 million in cuts over three years, including funds to French-language nursing programs that serve the Acadian/Franco population.
LeBlanc says the cuts will have a direct impact on the province’s ability to fight the current pandemic and future crises, and ignore the role that post-secondary institutions play in serving the community and the preservation of culture and language. “Those who come to study at the university, stay after they graduate and contribute to the province’s economy.”