Highlights from CAUT's 94th Council meeting
From April 20 to 22, delegates to CAUT’s governing Council met in Ottawa to discuss priorities, elect leadership, and celebrate the collective achievements of members.
- CAUT president reaffirms commitment to CCAA advocacy
- CAUT elects executive committee
- Former LUFA staff fundraise for those in financial distress
- Concern over CSIS on campus
- CAUT defends academic freedom in the classroom and on campus
- In solidarity with PSAC
- Association of McGill Professors of Law becomes CAUT member
- Lessons learned on the picket lines
- Legislation targets tenure and academic freedom in the U.S.
- Perspectives on academic freedom in Quebec
- Honouring our activists
CAUT president reaffirms commitment to CCAA advocacy
In his opening remarks, CAUT president Peter McInnis noted the Liberal government has not yet fulfilled its promise to amend the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) to exclude public institutions. He informed Council delegates that the government will announce a quick consultation on the matter and that CAUT will use the occasion to step its campaign to ensure there is no repeat of the Laurentian crisis.
McInnis expressed outrage at the ongoing attacks on tenure, academic freedom and equity in the United States and warned that we should not be complacent in Canada. Academic staff associations need strength and stamina to confront this tough reality, he said, asserting the importance of collective action to achieve wins.
He noted that academic staff in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have engaged in unprecedented strike action, fighting for fair wages, working conditions, equity and more. McInnis also reaffirmed CAUT’s commitment to support unions seeking to protect academic freedom internationally.
“Canada upholds some of most important protections of academic freedom in the world,” he said. “These freedoms must extend to international colleagues.”
CAUT elects executive committee
Absent from photo: Larry Savage (Brock University Faculty Association), chair of Collective Bargaining and Organizing Committee.
Delegates to CAUT’s 94th Council returned all members of the executive committee for 2023-2024, with the exception of Chair of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee whose term limit was reached.
Michael Arfken was elected as the new Chair of the Committee. Michael is the president and chief grievance officer for the University of Prince Edward Island Faculty Association (UPEIFA).
The full membership of the CAUT Executive Committee for 2023-2024 will be posted on the CAUT website soon.
Former LUFA staff fundraise for those in financial distress
Former Laurentian University academic staff who lost their jobs or were forced to retire as a result of the institution’s insolvency have launched a fundraising appeal for those experiencing financial hardship. The Laurentian Fired Faculty April 12 Distress Fund is seeking donations to help with basic living costs. Donations can be made by credit card online or cheques payable to CAUT c/o The April 12 Distress Fund can be mailed to the CAUT office.
Concern over CSIS on campus
CAUT executive director David Robinson warned delegates about the government’s requirement for new security risk assessments for research collaborations involving foreign companies. Robinson said that the policy is particularly concerning for academics who have research partnerships with Chinese institutions and academics or are of Chinese descent.
Robinson added that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has been contacting institutions and academic staff. He cautioned members about speaking to CSIS without first consulting with their academic staff association and CAUT to obtain legal advice.
CAUT defends academic freedom in the classroom and on campus
CAUT executive director David Robinson discussed several recent cases of academic staff facing discipline for comments or behaviour deemed to be offensive, particularly in courses addressing racism and Indigenization.
Equity efforts and free expression are not mutually exclusive, he noted, expressing concern that the debate is increasingly being framed as a zero-sum competition between these two values. Robinson emphasized that academic freedom is not a defence against legally defined harassment and discrimination, but cautioned against the temptation to censor those who are merely disagreeable or offensive.
In solidarity with PSAC
Daniel O’Donnell, University of Lethbridge Faculty Association, made an emergency motion for CAUT Council to support the strike of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). CAUT voted unanimously in favour of the motion.
Many delegates joined the picket line on Parliament Hill during a Council break on Friday to show solidarity with the public service workers. See CAUT’s statement of support.
Association of McGill Professors of Law becomes CAUT member
CAUT Council unanimously approved the Association of McGill Professors of Law (AMPL) application for CAUT membership.
Lessons learned on the picket lines
In a roundtable discussion, leaders of four academic staff associations spoke about the lessons learned during strike actions at their institutions. They underlined that solidarity from the community and other unions was the key ingredient that motivated and kept their members on the picket lines. The group emphasized the need for unions to have clear and frequent communications around their demands.
Michael Arfken, president of the University of Prince Edward Island Faculty Association (UPEIFA), stated that the key to success for their union was the ability to keep members motivated while steering the negotiation process toward settlement. The administration’s strategy at UPEI, he said, was to force binding arbitration.
Ashrafee Hossain, president of the Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association (MUNFA), said their “best weapon” was their communication and media outreach strategies. MUNFA developed key messages ahead of time to stay focused on winning the hearts and minds of students and on keeping collegial governance at the forefront of discussions.
Chantale Jeanrie, vice-president of the Syndicat des professeurs et professeures de l’Université Laval, noted that their union consulted the members ahead of time and was ready for negotiations when their collective agreement expired. The union’s demands were organized around four main pillars, including collegial governance and precarity.
Adango Miadonye, president of the Cape Breton University Faculty Association (CBUFA), recounted their union’s determination to continue striking for as long as necessary, in the face of the administration’s delay tactics, which sought to “bankrupt” the association. As many faculty members work from overseas, the union sought to accommodate this online workforce through virtual picketing.
Legislation targets tenure and academic freedom in the United States
In a keynote address, Samuel Dunietz of the National Education Association spoke about how American unions are pushing back against political threats to academic freedom in the United States. He said that Florida and Texas are hotbeds of hastily assembled, anti-union legislation, seeking to gut tenure, remove equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) offices and initiatives, and imperil academic freedom at public universities. He added that the bills are designed to erode the rights of faculty and create an alternate system where administrations have all the decision-making power.
Dunietz spoke about how Senate Bill 18 in Texas bans tenure for new faculty hires. He mentioned Senate Bill 16, which was approved by legislators, that has the stated purpose of barring academics from forcing students to adopt certain beliefs. Dunietz also noted that House Bill 999 in Florida was an attempt to shut down courses and programs on critical race theory (CRT) and gender theory. The bill also targets funding for EDI programs.
Dunietz indicated that U.S. academic unions have forcefully responded to the slate of legislative attacks on the profession by ramping up internal organizing efforts and infrastructure at the state and national levels. He added that solidarity is needed now more than ever. The ability for academic staff and higher education to innovate and be free is necessary for a free society, he concluded.
Perspectives on academic freedom in Quebec
Dyala Hamza, the second vice-chair of the Syndicat général des professeurs et professeures de l’Université de Montréal (SGPUM) spoke about the polarization of the debate on academic freedom in Quebec, in a context where the government does not officially acknowledge systemic racism. She noted that the denial of systemic racism compromises efforts to promote equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) principles, and the defence of academic freedom. This situation also means that researchers can’t effectively tackle systemic racism, she added.
“We should identify and address racism and discrimination in all its forms. We should no longer allow the perception of academic freedom as a privilege. It is a right, same as freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
Honouring our activists
The Censure UofT group received the CAUT Milner Memorial Award in recognition of their efforts defending academic freedom. The group was formed following the controversy involving a donor’s interference in the hiring of the director of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto. The group organized around the CAUT censure of the university administration and garnered attention and solidarity from academics across the country and internationally.
The members of the Censure UofT group include Melanie Newton, Joe Carens, Mohammad Maile, Ariel Katz, Anver Emon, Alissa Trotz, Deb Cowen, Audrey Macklin, Ruth Marshall, Abigail Bakan, Melissa Williams, David Schneiderman, Denise Reaume, Judith Taylor, Jeffrey MacIntosh, Samer Muscati, Vincent Wong, Emily Albert, Trudo Lemmens, Rupaleem Bhuyan, and Malavika Kasturi.
Kathleen Nichol of Brandon University and Chantal M. Dion of Carleton University received the Sarah Shorten Award for their achievements in advancing women’s equity. Kathleen Nichol is recognized for her work towards achieving gender equity at Brandon University and Chantal M. Dion for her work on the advancement of women at Carleton.
Council voted unanimously to present the Equity Award to Dawn Moore of the Carleton University Academic Staff Association (CUASA). Moore was described as a champion for equity and for fighting for marginalized groups.
Council voted unanimously to award an honorary CAUT membership to retiring Speaker Ted Montgomery, in recognition of his contributions to the academic labour movement and longstanding service to CAUT.