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96th Council Highlights

96th Council Highlights

From April 25 to 27, a record number of almost 200 delegates and observers met in Ottawa for CAUT’s Council. Together, they examined important issues facing academic and professional staff, elected leaders, and honoured collective achievements. 

President’s remarks

In his opening remarks, CAUT President Peter McInnis encouraged labour activism. “We are political,” he said. 

Despite challenges, the academic profession in Canada retains effective academic freedom, tenure, collective bargaining, and equity protections. McInnis called for unity to defend and extend fundamental protections to international colleagues. He urged solidarity and collective action to secure the future of post-secondary education. 

McInnis also called on participants to support the Association of McGill Professors of Law (AMPL). The union is on strike to secure a fair first collective agreement. 

Executive committee elections

CAUT Council elected the following new members to the Executive Committee:  

  • Marc Schroeder (Mount Royal Faculty Association) as Representative-at-large (General) 
  • Jennifer Dekker (Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa) as Chair, Librarians’ & Archivists’ Committee 
  • Fabienne Cyrius (Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association) as Co-Chair, Equity Committee 
  • Michael Shaw (University of Manitoba Faculty Association) as Chair, Collective Bargaining and Organizing Committee 

They join the following returning Executive Committee Members: 

  • President: Peter McInnis, St. Francis Xavier University Association of University Teachers 
  • Vice-President: Robin Whitaker, Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association 
  • Treasurer: Yalla Sangaré, Association des professeurs, professeures et bibliothécaires de l’Université Sainte-Anne 
  • Past President: Brenda Austin-Smith, University of Manitoba Faculty Association 
  • Representative-at-large (Francophone): Patrick Noël, Association des professeurs et professionnels de l'Université de Saint-Boniface 
  • Representative-at-large (Quebec): Chantale Jeanrie, Syndicat des professeurs et professeures de l’Université Laval 
  • Representative-at-large (Aboriginal): David Newhouse, Trent University Faculty Association 
  • Representative-at-large (General): Claudia Steinke, University of Lethbridge Faculty Association 
  • Chair, Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee: Michael Arfken, UPEI Faculty Association 
  • Chair, Contract Academic Staff Committee: Nick Papatheodorakos, Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association 
  • Co-Chair, Equity Committee: Susan Spronk: Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa 
  • Executive Director (Ex-officio): David Robinson 

Executive Director’s report

CAUT Executive Director David Robinson discussed the financial environment facing the profession. While there are claims of deficits at several post-secondary institutions, many others are in sound shape. Government funding as a share of overall operational revenues has continued to decline. Despite stronger monetary gains in bargaining, inflation has sharply eroded the purchasing power of academic staff. 

Robinson also discussed the potential financial impact of the federal government’s announced international student visa cap. 

He outlined concerns about how the federal Policy on Sensitive Technology Research and Affiliations of Concern might affect academic freedom and target academic staff of Chinese origin. The policy broadly defines sensitive research areas and bans federally funded researchers from collaborating with designated institutions, most of which are based in China. 

Robinson discussed the Israel and Palestine situation. CAUT is helping academic staff who face repercussions over their views, in violation of their academic freedom. He also discussed political interference from the former B.C. minister of post-secondary education who publicly condemned a college instructor who was eventually fired over comments about the Israel-Gaza conflict.  

He condemned Alberta’s Bill 18, which would require provincial approval of federal research funding. 

Robinson shared updates on CAUT's international advocacy work. He discussed two UN reports on the state of the profession and academic freedom and freedom of expression. He also highlighted an OECD report on the state of academic careers that raised concerns about the growth in non-tenure appointments. 

Perspectives from Quebec

The Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université President Madeleine Pastinelli said negotiations for AMPL’s first collective agreement are crucial for all academic staff. She also said academic staff have mobilized against the Quebec government’s proposed Bill 44, which removes scientific research from the Ministry of Higher Education.  

Pastinelli also discussed the political interference of the Minister of Higher Education in Professor Denise Helly’s appointment to the board of directors of the Institut national de la recherche scientifique. She spoke about infringement upon the academic freedom of Patrick Provost, a Université Laval colleague recently dismissed over his views on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec Vice-President, Christine Gauthier, deplored the unprecedented use of AI-powered chatbots at Université TÉLUQ. The AI pilot project replaced tutors without consulting their union. FNEEQ-CSN has called for a national forum on AI in the academic workplace. It has expressed concerns over academic freedom, professional autonomy, academic integrity, and the quality of student support. 

Gauthier also drew attention to the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labour (COCAL) conference taking place in August in Gatineau. COCAL brings together North American activists who defend higher education and work to improve conditions for contingent academic labourers. 

Solidarity with the Association of McGill Law Professors

Council participants held “I support AMPL” placards to express solidarity with the Association of McGill Professors of Law whose members took to the picket lines on April 24. The placards displayed a QR code to send McGill a message demanding the university meet with AMPL and negotiate in good faith.  

Fresh off the picket lines, AMPL President Evan Fox-Decent thanked Council members for their support. On behalf of AMPL, he received a $1 million cheque for financial assistance from CAUT’s Defence Fund.  

Member resolutions

CAUT Council adopted five resolutions.

Opposing the Alberta government’s Bill 18 

Delegates unanimously voted to condemn the Alberta government’s proposed Provincial Priorities Act (Bill 18) as a dangerous attack on university autonomy, academic freedom, and ethical research practices.  

Non-confidence vote at Saint Mary’s in Halifax 

Delegates also unanimously voted to endorse the Saint Mary’s University Faculty Union (SMUFU) vote of non-confidence in the leadership of SMU President Robert Summerby-Murray and the Chair of the Board of Governors, Alan Abraham. SMUFU passed the vote of non-confidence on April 9, 2024.  

Israel-Hamas ceasefire 

Delegates voted to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and detainees unlawfully held in Gaza and Israel. The motion also calls on Canadian universities to support the Scholars at Risk and the Palestinian Students and Scholars at Risk programs. 

Université Laval bylaws   

Delegates unanimously voted to support the Syndicat des professeurs et professeures de l’Université Laval (SPUL) in its demands that the university conducts bylaw revisions to ensure that they are compatible with the collective agreement.  

Reinstatement of York University professor 

Delegates voted to call for the immediate reinstatement of Professor Lesley Wood. York University placed her on an indefinite leave in response to charges brought by the Toronto Police Services. Prof. Wood allegedly participated in a protest action to support a campaign against the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers and oppose the Israel Defence Forces’ ongoing military campaign in Gaza.

Issues arising in academic workplaces

Mental health 

Dr. Ivy Lynn Bourgeault, a researcher with the University of Ottawa, discussed the findings of a national mental health survey of academics. More than half of the academic staff who responded said they experienced a mental health problem. Academic staff tend to hide mental health issues by not taking a leave of absence. “There are no statistics [because] we self-manage [our mental health issues],” Bourgeault said. She challenged academic staff associations to reflect on collective steps needed to bring the issue of mental health to the forefront. 

Accommodating students 

Past President Brenda Austin-Smith and General Counsel Sarah Godwin facilitated a session to gather feedback on an upcoming Legal Advisory about student accommodation. Participants shared their experiences with their universities’ student accommodation programs. They discussed balancing growing accommodation needs with other rights and responsibilities. Participants focused on the increase in workload and the lack of adequate compensation or support. 

Machine learning algorithms 

Kate Cushon, the outgoing Chair of the Librarians’ and Archivists’ Committee, facilitated a session about machine learning algorithms. Participants shared misgivings about tools like online proctoring software and library databases. Cushon remarked that administrations often deploy these tools without adequate notice to students and academic staff. Participants worried about surveillance, privacy and academic freedom. The group discussed safeguarding workers’ rights through collective agreements and collegial governance. 

Capping internationalization 

President Peter McInnis and Senior Policy and Government Relations Officer Pam Foster facilitated a session about the federal government’s international student visa cap. Participants discussed the anticipated effects on their campuses. University administrations have stopped growth plans for international student recruitment. Colleges have taken a bigger hit. Participants lamented the lack of support for international students and academic staff.

Celebrating excellence and honouring our activists

Lee Lorch Award

CAUT President Peter McInnis presented David Newhouse of the Trent University Faculty Association with the Lee Lorch Award. A professor in the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies and the School of Business at Trent University, Newhouse has significantly contributed to Indigenous education and issues relating to Indigeneity. He has been a faculty member, researcher and leader for over three decades. An Onondaga from the Six Nations of the Grand River Community, his achievements in the classroom and academia have earned him national recognition.

Sarah Shorten Award

Nathalie Kermoal and Amanda Evans received the Sarah Shorten Award for their work and achievements at the Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research (RCMR). Kermoal, a Breton scholar (a people situated on the West coast of France) and a full professor, is the director of the RCMR. She specializes in Métis studies at the University of Alberta. Amanda Evans is a Métis scholar and a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta. She is currently completing a PhD in Indigenous Studies and is a coordinator for the RCMR. Her research interests include Métis work/labour and connections to land.

Academic Librarians’ and Archivists’ Distinguished Service Award

Kathleen Scheaffer of the University of Toronto Faculty Association and Rumi Graham of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) received the Academic Librarians’ and Archivists’ Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her career, Scheaffer has improved the terms and conditions of employment of librarians and contributed to labour solidarity and allyship. Rumi Graham is a long-time active member of various committees and working groups within ULFA. She has helped librarians pursue research and scholarly activities. She has defended academic librarianship and upheld workplace equity and inclusiveness.