In Support of the Strategic Plan

George Freeman, FAUW Past President

Since I am on both Senate and Board of Governors and have been involved in discussions of Ontario university politics for five years, I do support the strategic plan in its present form and suggest another approach for Senate and individuals who don’t like the wording of the ‘over the next five years’ paragraph in the ‘transformational research’ section of the plan.

George Freeman
George Freeman

My understanding of history would be that top-down direction of research (not development) has ultimately failed every time it has been tried (excluding some serendipitous fall-out which can come from any research activity). Having not seen much inclination from Waterloo administration to make that mistake, I wouldn’t worry that the strategic plan is a surreptitious move in that direction. I have been around Waterloo for a long time. I was at one of the first meetings, perhaps fifteen years ago, of the thing which ultimately became the nanotechnology piece of what is called quantum science in the plan. I participated in research discussions with the Research Institute on Aging back in 2006. I feel like water research has been amorphously congealing at Waterloo since my time as an undergraduate student in the 1970s (perhaps deriving from the puddles of 1957). My point is that these research areas became strengths from the ground up – because of Waterloo faculty interests and abilities and pursuits. It would be a fool’s game to strategically move into a research area without significant prior faculty buy-in and engagement and expertise. Thus, I would say the ‘transformational research’ section of the strategic plan, where it mentions specific research, is highlighting and celebrating a few current strengths from the thousands of research agendas we follow. In a time frame as short as five years, significant resources already have been, or are being, directed to those areas, plan or no plan. Everything else in that section is about supporting research generally and came from consultations with all stakeholders at a scale I would say has never before been seen on this campus. Fifteen years from now, I believe the highlighted research will look quite different.

My understanding of publicity would be that the plan is out there, has made its primary impact, and is now yesterday’s news as far as the public is concerned. If Senate wants to change the word ‘including’ to ‘including, but not limited to’ or some longer version of that – or to delete the paragraph – the only public news is the conflict between our Senate and our Board. That kind of exposure will not help us as faculty in anything we wish to accomplish and I would go so far as to call it a conflict based more on circumstances than overt actions.

Nothing is perfect. Waterloo is a big complex place in an environment of constant change trying to preserve proven academic principles which are under vicious attack in the public sphere. Meetings of Board and of Senate are costly, important events and people have other lives, especially in the summer. An administrative upheaval occurred, during the plan preparation, with the resignation of Sallie Keller, our previous Vice-President, Academic and Provost (VPAP). I believe Geoff McBoyle, our present VPAP, even put Waterloo ahead of his own well being (through lack of sleep) getting the plan out in time. If you want to understand the urgency, and the political risk, subscribe to the OCUFA news feed or spend some time reading the HEQCO website. If you have a particularly strong stomach, check out the Ontario government’s Productivity and Innovation Fund to which the university had to respond in September. The attacks and misunderstandings seem to come daily, some well planned and well funded, and some seeking essentially to dismantle the structures which make universities work to the benefit of society and change them to the benefit of other interests. I don’t think we have much political space for generic arguments. Had it been noticed in time, I’m convinced that the paragraph which bothers people would have been altered without a second thought by the Board or administration. The political goal, I think, is to look tremendously successful in things to which the public can easily relate and project our confidence that this will only get better in the future, ensuring their prosperity. Our story has to be as simple and immediately absorbable as the almost-completely-false but intuitively comfortable stories of some of the influential people attacking us.

Anything said in the document can, of course, be picked up by someone with an intent to push their own interests over yours. This happens sometimes with the faculty-level strategic plan in my faculty, for example. That’s where our full participation as faculty members in collegial governance comes in. FAUW has worked with the administration to become a permanent part of the Senate Long-range Planning Committee. Keeping that committee active is a good place to be involved in actual strategy.

“Get involved with FAUW activities. If someone in the public misinterprets the plan, set them straight or direct them to someone who can.”

Speak up in your department, faculty, or university committees. Regardless of what any plan says, most resultant actions need approvals before they can happen. Get involved with FAUW activities. If someone in the public misinterprets the plan, set them straight or direct them to someone who can. Most of what happens at Waterloo passes through public meetings in open session (or should). You could have attended, for example, every significant discussion of the strategic plan by the Board and heard first hand what each governor said (nothing about specific research directions in my recollection). My advice for Senate on the plan would be that we come to a understanding (recorded in the minutes) with the administration about the meaning of the one controversial paragraph. As a senator, I can be rightly upset about how the plan traversed its Senate approvals, but at some point I believe I have to look for the best solution in the context of what actually happened rather than a worst-case interpretation or an idealistic stance for its own sake.

As a public document, I believe the plan serves us well in this time and place. It makes us unique to the point of being anomalous in Ontario (on yet another front for Waterloo). As an internal document, it captures what people said they wanted, plus or minus. Internally, I consider the planning process much more important than the resultant plan.  How about externally?  What I believe we want to do, ideally, is load up our external Board members and other supporters with enough ammunition on Waterloo’s beliefs, and accomplishments under those beliefs, that they can sell our case in the corridors of power and money where they operate. If they are successful, this aids the case that Waterloo is a worthwhile investment and that it is not a target needing political meddling. When we go asking for support, it won’t matter so much that
they remember how successful we are in water, quantum science, or aging – it will only matter that they remember we are successful on a certain scale.  I believe this is the ‘branding’ for Waterloo which people are seeking.  It’s hard to make such an impact on outsiders without specific good examples.

The Senate needs to worry mostly about academic credibility, academic planning, and the motivations of faculty and students.

As always, I think the Board and Senate are voting on somewhat different things. The Board needs to worry mostly about risks of various kinds and about garnering support for the university. This is a high-level oversight role, not day-to-day management.  The Senate needs to worry mostly about academic credibility, academic planning, and the motivations of faculty and students. When a big resource movement is contemplated, these worlds mix a bit but mostly they seem to move along somewhat separately at the university level (unless you are a president or other high-level administrator). Where you really want a sharp eye out, I think, is your department and faculty and how the plan is interpreted into specific actions.

There’s also a bit of talking past each other going on between the Board of Governors and the Senate, I believe.  When the Board talks about a strategic focus on three areas, it is talking about the first three sections of the plan, namely ‘experiential education for all,’ ‘a uniquely entrepreneurial university,’ and ‘transformational research.’  These are the areas where Waterloo stands out on the Ontario and international stages.  The other five are in great shape at Waterloo but don’t represent as much of a competitive advantage in promoting this university. The government is serious about universities needing to understand and promote their strengths (differentiation), although we don’t know as yet exactly how that translates into funding decisions. Nevertheless, I think it is prudent for Waterloo to be in the game and ready.

I just got back from a meeting of Ontario members of boards of governors of universities, on the topic of what universities will look like in ten years, at which we heard from the Governor General of Canada, the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (both the Minister and Deputy Minister, separately), and several speakers and panels comprised of people experienced as university presidents, university board chairs, employers of university graduates, students, and education trend watchers or reporters. I would call it the most intense discussion of Ontario universities that I have ever participated in outside of a conflict environment. Based on my understanding of what was said, what is misunderstood, and what needs to be done, Waterloo’s strategic plan positions us extremely well (in fact, all three of Waterloo’s targeted areas, namely experiential education, entrepreneurial focus, and truly transformational research, were specifically mentioned as urgent priorities by many participants). There are real changes afoot and Waterloo looks well placed to be agile.

Bottom line is that I support the plan and urge Senate to take a non-confrontational route to reaching an understanding of its meaning.

Changes to UW’s Strategic Plan: Up for Approval at Senate

David Porreca, FAUW president

This week’s blog post outlines a series of serious concerns a number of Senators have expressed concerning the version of UW’s Strategic Plan that is intended to be discussed for approval at the next UW Senate meeting on November 18.

University of Waterloo Strategic Plan Header

First, it is important to outline the principal differences between the latter and the version of the Strategic Plan that Senate voted on electronically in the wake of the 21 May 2013 meeting of Senate. The two versions are set out in the table below, both taken from the “Research” section of the Plan [changes are boldfaced]:

21 May Strategic Plan language 18 November Strategic Plan language
Increase the worldwide impact and recognition of University of Waterloo research


  • Enable conditions which support research excellence and impact
  • Identify and seize opportunities to lead in new/emerging areas
  • Increase interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research at the global, national and local scale
  • Strengthen the relationship between research and teaching at the undergraduate level
  • Build wider awareness and understanding of Waterloo’s research productivity and impact
Increase the worldwide impact and recognition of University of Waterloo research

Over the next five years:
Waterloo will allocate current resources and align future resources to support areas of research where we have the greatest potential for world leadership, including quantum science, water and aging.

Primary Objectives:

  • Be recognized internationally for excellence and innovation in education, research and scholarship
  • Enable conditions which support research excellence and impact
  • Identify and seize opportunities to lead in new/emerging areas
  • Increase interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research at the global, national and local scale
  • Strengthen the relationship between research and teaching at the undergraduate level
  • Build wider awareness and understanding of Waterloo’s research productivity and impact
  • Seek global awareness of Waterloo’s research and teaching expertise

The motion that was voted on electronically by senators after the 21 May meeting reads as follows:

“You will be asked to vote on the following motion:
Resolved that Senate support the adoption of the strategic plan in the version posted at the following link [link to 21 May version no longer functions], and that Senate recommend to the Board of Governors that it adopt the strategic plan in that version.
Do you support this motion? Choose yes or no. “

Would the latter version have been resisted strongly at the electronic vote had it been included in the original?  It would seem so, considering how much reaction the new version is getting now that attention has been drawn to it, and Senators are becoming alert to the implications of the new language on several levels:

  1. The quoted passage from the new plan is not harmless language, where the key word is “including.”  Here are a couple of passages from the KW Record article “UW to focus on research as it strives for international recognition”

    “Hamdullahpur said there are many researchers at Waterloo whose work does not fall into the three research areas of special focus: quantum science, aging and water. There won’t be any threat of taking resources away from one scientist to give to another, he said. Rather, projects that fall within the priority areas will get preferential treatment with any new money that is raised.”  [emphasis added]

    “A new strategic plan for the university calls for it to develop internationally renowned and “world-changing” research, with special focus on the three key areas of quantum science, aging and water.”

    Conclusion: the suggestion heard at Senate that these three areas are only “examples chosen from many” is not consistent with the statements attributed to UW’s President in these press reports. So, is the intention to pour resources into these three areas at the expense of other world-class research on campus, was the President misquoted, or was a false impression given to Senate?

  2. The implication of  “world leadership” in the new version is itself troubling on at least two levels:

    a) The simple fact of singling out three areas in particular inevitably invites the reaction that “there are other, lesser fields.”  Anyone with links to a not-named field may feel that UW is not interested in what they do.  This has an effect not only on the morale of researchers, but also on potential donors interested in contributing to the not-named fields: would they still choose to support UW’s endeavours?

    b) There are numerous fields of extremely worthwhile inquiry to which “world leadership” cannot logically apply.  Examples include local history, the study of local ecosystems, the safety of local water supplies and local climatic conditions. The best possible research in these fields cannot conceivably be supported by the new language in the Strategic Plan.  Will scholars in these fields find themselves at a disadvantage in the resource allocation game as a result of the new version of the Strategic Plan?

  3. Focusing on a small number of things that one does well may well work in other realms of human endeavour (e.g., running a business, or playing a musical instrument), but it is a recipe for significant harm to an institution whose very name – a university – implies that it studies “the sum of all things,” or the “whole community”.

Therefore, it would behoove Senators to take their jobs seriously as guardians of the academic integrity of our institution.  If harmful ideas at the strategic planning stage are not resisted, how will we be in a position to stand up against them when the time comes for implementation?  The only reason that Senators are getting to vote on this new version of the Strategic Plan is thanks to the diligent attention – and serious concern – of a number of faculty and student Senators.  Otherwise, UW would be saddled with a plan that was modified at the urging of the Board of Governors, without the rest of our academic community’s knowledge or consent.

Consequently, an amendment to the motion for approval of the Strategic Plan will be put forward at the next Senate meeting to change significantly or delete entirely the paragraph beginning “Over the next five years…”, and Senators are invited to consider their votes carefully.

Unless, of course, the Strategic Plan is a document not to be taken too seriously at the day-to-day operations level….

Tenured Positions Under Threat at St. Paul University

On Saturday May 25, we received the following message from the Professors’ Association of St. Paul University in Ottawa.

“The administration of Saint Paul University is threatening to fire an unspecified number of tenured professors to make up a deficit in the budget for the coming year.   Last week they began by firing a professional librarian who holds a permanent appointment.  There is no financial exigency clause in our Collective Agreement that would allow this.”

David Porreca, President of FAUW, responded to Mme. Chantal Beauvais, the Rector of St. Paul’s with this letter.

Dear Mme Beauvais,

I am writing to you as the President of the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo, as it has come to my attention that Saint Paul University is planning to cut a number of tenured faculty positions. I urge you to reconsider this decision, for a number of what I believe to be good reasons:

  1. The principle of tenure precludes the casual firing of faculty members. The basic premise of academic freedom is at stake, and your administration is setting a noxious example that, if adopted elsewhere, sounds the death knell of academia in Canada. In my view, selling physical infrastructure is preferable to firing people, especially people with tenure.
  2. As a result of your administration’s recent actions, Saint Paul University finds itself without a professional librarian at this point in time. Consequently, the academic activities of your institution no longer have the support they need, which can only have deleterious consequences on the work of all those concerned: both students and faculty members. Therefore, I urge you to reinstate the Librarian whose position was terminated last month.
  3. The collective agreement your administration has with faculty members does not have a “financial exigency” clause. Therefore, by actively terminating positions, your administration is in clear breach of the collective agreement.
  4. Saint Paul University is well-recognized for the strength of its Theology program, both in terms of the research conducted as well as the teaching and training of new generations of theologians. As a Medievalist myself, I have a keen appreciation for the work that, historically, Saint Paul has done in this field. It is truly a tragedy that your administration has seen fit to torpedo one of your institution’s greatest strengths in this manner. Do you really want to be remembered as the administrator who gutted one of the best Theology programs in the country?
  5. At the University of Waterloo, our budgeting exercise is transparent – not as much as we as a Faculty Association would like, but nevertheless enough to allow us to consider critically the manner in which our University is run. From my understanding, there is a lack of transparency in your operations, such that your Professors’ Association is unable to assess whether your administration’s chosen course of action is really necessary. Instead of firing people, it would behoove you to construct a well-argued case to your faculty members and staff in order to get their support in any restructuring that may indeed be necessary, rather than imposing it by diktat.

From a purely human perspective, I would also urge you to put yourself in the position of those people whom you are terminating: they have devoted their entire careers to making Saint Paul University the excellent institution that it is. Do they really deserve to be treated in such a heavy-handed way? Is there really not a more humane way to resolve your budgetary concerns?

Yours most sincerely,

– David.

For more background on the situation with faculty at St. Paul, you can read this fact sheet put out by the Professors’ Association of St. Paul University.

Redefining the Scope of Academic Freedom

Principal Threats to Academic Freedom

David Porreca, FAUW President

This is the second entry in the series of posts on academic freedom stemming from the CAUT general meeting in Ottawa last month, this one focusing on attempts to redefine academic freedom in increasingly restrictive and less useful ways.  By way of example, I shall compare and contrast the definitions of academic freedom as expressed on the one hand by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), and on the other by our colleagues at St. Jerome’s University in their collective agreement.

In terms of context, university presidents across Canada adopted the AUCC statement on academic freedom unanimously.  The SJU-ASA wording has been held up at CAUT meetings as a model of brevity and comprehensiveness.  The fact that both are almost exactly contemporaneous adds to the relevance of the comparison.

To facilitate comparison, here is the language adopted by both groups presented in a table, side-by-side. I’ve numbered the paragraphs in the AUCC Statement for ease of reference:

AUCC Statement on Academic Freedom
(25 October 2011)
St. Jerome’s University Collective Agreement (effective: March 24 2011)
I. What is academic freedom?

1. Academic freedom is the freedom to teach and conduct research in an academic environment. Academic freedom is fundamental to the mandate of universities to pursue truth, educate students and disseminate knowledge and understanding.

2. In teaching, academic freedom is fundamental to the protection of the rights of the teacher to teach and of the student to learn. In research and scholarship, it is critical to advancing knowledge. Academic freedom includes the right to freely communicate knowledge and the results of research and scholarship.

3. Unlike the broader concept of freedom of speech, academic freedom must be based on institutional integrity, rigorous standards for enquiry and institutional autonomy, which allows universities to set their research and educational priorities.

II. Why is academic freedom important to Canada? 

1. Academic freedom does not exist for its own sake, but rather for important social purposes. Academic freedom is essential to the role of universities in a democratic society. Universities are committed to the pursuit of truth and its communication to others, including students and the broader community. To do this, faculty must be free to take intellectual risks and tackle controversial subjects in their teaching, research and scholarship.

2. For Canadians, it is important to know that views expressed by faculty are based on solid research, data and evidence, and that universities are autonomous and responsible institutions committed to the principles of integrity.

III. The responsibilities of academic freedom 

1. Evidence and truth are the guiding principles for universities and the community of scholars that make up their faculty and students. Thus, academic freedom must be based on reasoned discourse, rigorous extensive research and scholarship, and peer review.

2. Academic freedom is constrained by the professional standards of the relevant discipline and the responsibility of the institution to organize its academic mission. The insistence on professional standards speaks to the rigor of the enquiry and not to its outcome.

3. The constraint of institutional requirements recognizes simply that the academic mission, like other work, has to be organized according to institutional needs. This includes the institution’s responsibility to select and appoint faculty and staff, to admit and discipline students, to establish and control curriculum, to make organizational arrangements for the conduct of academic work, to certify completion of a program and to grant degrees.

IV. Roles and responsibilities

1. University leadership: It is a major responsibility of university governing bodies and senior officers to protect and promote academic freedom. This includes ensuring that funding and other partnerships do not interfere with autonomy in deciding what is studied and how. Canada’s university presidents must play a leadership role in communicating the values around academic freedom to internal and external stakeholders. The university must also defend academic freedom against interpretations that are excessive or too loose, and the claims that may spring from such definitions.

2. To ensure and protect academic freedom, universities must be autonomous, with their governing bodies committed to integrity and free to act in the institution’s best interests.

3. Universities must also ensure that the rights and freedoms of others are respected, and that academic freedom is exercised in a reasonable and responsible manner.

4. Faculty: Faculty must be committed to the highest ethical standards in their teaching and research. They must be free to examine data, question assumptions and be guided by evidence.

5. Faculty have an equal responsibility to submit their knowledge and claims to rigorous and public review by peers who are experts in the subject matter under consideration and to ground their arguments in the best available evidence.

6. Faculty members and university leaders have an obligation to ensure that students’ human rights are respected and that they are encouraged to pursue their education according to the principles of academic freedom.

7. Faculty also share with university leadership the responsibility of ensuring that pressures from funding and other types of partnerships do not unduly influence the intellectual work of the university.

Article 2 – Academic Freedom 

2.0 The Parties agree to uphold, protect, and promote academic freedom as essential to the University’s objective to serve the common good through searching for, and disseminating, knowledge, truth, and understanding, and through fostering independent thinking and expression in academic staff and students.

2.1 Members possess the individual right, regardless of prescribed doctrine, to academic freedom, which includes the right to engage in the following without institutional censorship or reprisal provided the Member complies with relevant legal considerations and any related policies required by law:

(a) examine, question, teach, and learn

(b) disseminate opinions on any questions related to the Member’s teaching, professional activities, and research both inside and outside the classroom

(c) choose and pursue research, creative, or professional activities without interference or reprisal, and freely publish and make public the results thereof

(d) choose and pursue teaching methods and content;

(e) create, exhibit, perform or adjudicate works of art

(f) select, acquire, disseminate, or critique documents or other materials

(g) criticize the Association, Employer or any other organizations, whether corporate, political, public, private, institutional,
as well as society at large

(h) engage in service to the institution and the community

(i) participate in professional and  representative academic bodies; and

(j) recommend library materials relevant to the pursuit of learning

2.2 Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the Member. Academic freedom makes intellectual discourse, critique and commitment  possible.

2.3 Academic freedom does not confer legal immunity and carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a responsible manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research and teaching on an honest search for knowledge. In exercising their legal rights, Members shall not be hindered or impeded by either Party in any manner contrary to this Agreement.

2.4 In any exercise of freedom of expression, Members shall not purport to convey an official position of the Employer unless so authorized by the Employer, President or his/her designate.

Some unsettling observations result from this exercise in contrast:

  • At I.3, the AUCC appears to be suggesting that academic freedom is a lesser right than freedom of speech, whereas the opposite is true.  Would freedom of speech prevent one from being fired for criticizing one’s corporate employer?  Only academic freedom allows the professorate to have a say in how it and universities are governed.
  • The AUCC statement (III. 2) purports that academic freedom is “constrained by the professional standards of the academic discipline and the responsibility of the institution to organize its academic mission.”  Besides the ambiguity inherent in the statement “professional standards” (which ones? set by whom? isn’t obtaining tenure a high enough bar to qualify one as having “professional standards”?), I doubt any academic discipline could agree internally on a set of “professional standards” – disagreement is precisely the point of having academic debates. 
  • Anyacademic who criticizes their employer would be in breach of academic freedom according to this section (III. 2) of the AUCC statement.  Indeed, aside perhaps from certain branches of philosophy, there is no academic discipline that deals directly with issues of university governance.  So, if a mathematician sees fit to publish a critique of her/his employer – clearly something guaranteed by the SJU statement (2.1 (g)) – the AUCC would view this individual as being in breach of academic freedom since none of the “professional standards” in mathematics have anything to say about university governance. If the criticism came consistently from the same department, could administrators use the AUCC statement to justify the targeting of that department because it hinders “the responsibility of the institution to organize its academic mission”?
  • The previous point is made all the more ominous when read along with the next point (III. 3), which places in institutional hands the task of appointing faculty, determining curricula and so on.  This statement would be acceptable if it recognized that “the institution” and “the faculty” are one and the same, based on the principle of collegial governance.  It is not at all clear, however, that this is the understanding implied in the AUCC statement.  The separation of “the institution” from “the faculty” is a pernicious sub-text to the AUCC document, the barn door through which academic freedom can be wheeled out on a gurney.
  • At IV.2, the AUCC makes a strong case for institutional autonomy and administrators acting in the institution’s best interests. As public institutions, however, universities have a responsibility to the public good, and it is the latter that academic freedom ultimately aims to protect and foster.  Not much is said explicitly of the public good in the AUCC statement.
  • Despite its considerably greater length, the AUCC statement says nothing about protecting faculty members who criticize corporate entities, governments or their own institution.
  • At IV.3, we read: “ Universities must also ensure that … academic freedom is exercised in a reasonable and responsible manner.”   Who determines what is “reasonable and responsible”? I’ve rarely seen such unsettling Orwellian language in an official statement, and it takes very little imagination to figure how such a statement could be abused to the detriment of individual faculty members or even whole departments.  Universities are in the business of learning about the world and transmitting what is learned to subsequent generations at the highest possible levels of attainment.  Being a general rights defender is not part of the ‘central mission’ of a university, although an institution should be willing to defend the rights of its own constituents (as McMaster University has done in the recent cases brought against one if its librarians, Dale Askey).
  • At IV.7, the AUCC invites faculty members to join the university administration to prevent “undue” influence by funding or other partnerships on university-based intellectual activity.  What would qualify as “appropriate” or “due” influence, and how would those boundaries be defined?  The qualifier is unnecessary and unsettling.  Better would have been to emphasize the importance and value of curiosity-driven research.

In light of the above, I invite our President to renounce the AUCC statement, since it effectively erodes and fails to defend basic principles of academic freedom that faculty members need to do their jobs.

The Casualization of the Academic Workforce

Principal Threats to Academic Freedom

David Porreca, FAUW President

The Canadian Association of University Teachers – the umbrella organization representing 68,000 university faculty members and librarians nationwide – held its 74th Council April 25-28th, in Ottawa. I attended representing FAUW.  Among the many issues and concerns that were discussed from Thursday to Sunday, threats to academic freedom in Canada loom large.  The ten items below were identified as the principal threats to academic freedom currently prevalent in Canada.

  1. Casualization of the academic workforce
  2. Redefining the scope of academic freedom
  3. Undermining the concept of tenure through permissive contracts
  4. Discrimination and harassment of members of marginalized language groups
  5. Loss of custody and control of faculty members’ records
  6. New donor agreements and collaborations
  7. Contracting out of academic work
  8. Policies on “respectful workplace” / “civil discourse”
  9. Diminution of civil liberties
  10. Restriction of trade union rights

Over the next several months, but interspersed with items of immediate interest, a post about each of these threats will appear on this blog, beginning today.

Although other jurisdictions have advanced far more along the path of casualization than we have – over 70% of university and college teaching in the US is done by contract academic staff – UW finds itself particularly vulnerable to this trend. The research-intensive focus on our campus leads full-time faculty to want to reduce their teaching loads to leave more time for research.  In fact, in the ten years I have been a faculty member at UW, my own department has gone from a 3-3 to a 2-2 teaching load to accommodate more time for research. I know of many other departments where the regular teaching load is even less.

From my perspective, the idea of a university is encapsulated by the dynamic interplay between teaching and research, between faculty members and students at all levels.  Favouring one to the detriment of the other does a disservice to the idea and ideal of what activities a university should undertake and emphasize.  Students deprived of being taught by researching faculty are not getting what they are paying for.  Faculty members who limit their interaction with students whenever possible in favour of their research are at risk of missing out on the stimulating effect that transmitting their expertise viva voce can have: explaining complex concepts to a new audience often leads to clarification in one’s own mind, not to mention the useful feedback once can get from clever, critically-minded individuals from a younger generation.

The above observations lead me to ask: Who is doing all the teaching that used to get done when full-time faculty members taught more courses?  Part of the answer resides in regular curriculum revisions that, in many cases, aim to reduce the full-time staffing necessary to deliver academic programs.  These revisions, unless undertaken with the utmost care to avoid such an outcome, will tend to adversely affect the students’ experience compared to programs delivered, let’s say, a generation ago.

If teaching loads are being reduced and curricula remain viable and strong, inevitably the other part of the answer to the question posed above is ‘sessionals’, also known as ‘contract academic staff’ (or, at UW, as ‘adjuncts’) These people are practically by definition a casualized category of individuals who in many cases are parachuted in to cover gaps in what departments promise to teach in the course listings of the academic calendar.  This trend toward casualization is particularly threatening to academic freedom and the quality of teaching students receive because those sessionals whom increasingly we entrust with the teaching of our students do not have tenure.  Therefore, they are much, much more vulnerable than tenured faculty members to threats and pressures to modify what they teach for the sake of conforming to whatever ideological or personal flavour du jour that happens to prevail in their academic unit or institution.

One of the more pernicious knock-on effects of this casualization is a reduction in the professional consideration accorded to professors in their workplace and in society at large.  On a local level, attempts to exert more control over the working lives of academics (e.g., through changes in practice over scheduling, or increasingly onerous accountability measures ranging from travel expenses to teaching curricula) are being resisted by FAUW on behalf of its members whenever possible. On a provincial level, we can see the end result of the process of de-professionalization in the treatment accorded to Ontario’s primary and secondary school teachers by our province’s government.

Essentially, our students deserve better than to see their university education be casualized and therefore become more conformist and less questioning of corporate or political agendas.  Above all, we owe it to ourselves to resist casualization by emphasizing publicly and forcefully that we are purveyors of an essential public good: an educated citizenry that has witnessed the exercise of academic freedom, so that everyone’s civil liberties can be defended effectively when they come under threat, as they increasingly have been over the past 12+ years.

In related news, the contract academic staff at SJU have recently voted to join the SJU Academic Staff Association as a separate bargaining unit.  How long will it be before their UW counterparts feel compelled by circumstance to do the same?

Senate Follow-Up

David Porreca, FAUW President

Last week’s post by George Freeman received more hits than all our previous postings combined. In response to several comments I received both personally and in the comments section, I had promised to provide a summary of the discussion that actually occurred.

I note, however, that the draft version of the minutes to the last Senate meeting are now available. I hereby invite all faculty senators to look over the text provided in the minutes and make sure the wording reflects the tone and content of the discussion as you recall it occurring.

Upcoming Events

There’s much afoot in the Faculty Association, and we want to do our best to keep you informed. Over the next month there are a number of key meetings and workshops happening, Head past the jump to find out more about the Council of Representatives meeting, the Spring General Meeting, and the Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee’s promotion workshops.

Council of Representatives

The Council of Representatives is designed to ensure clear communication between the FAUW board and our members. Traditionally meeting twice annually, the council discusses issues that come from the department level, and checks on how FAUW is addressing the concerns of the members directly.

The next meeting is on Wednesday, March 20th, so make sure to let your representative know about some of the challenges you’re facing here at UW.

Spring General Meeting

Our Spring General Meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 9th from 11am-1pm in MC 4059. The Faculty Associations financial statements will be presented, and each of our committees will report on how they’ve been carrying out their mandate since the Fall. There’ll be a report from David Porreca, the president, and plenty of opportunity to ask questions and get feedback on issues.

Academic Freedom & Tenure Workshops

Peter van Beek, chair of the Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee, will be offering the following workshops around the Spring General Meeting.

For Tenure-track Faculty

The probationary contract period and applying for tenure can be intimidating! The biggest risks you face are those stemming from uncertainty on your part about the expectations of your peers and of university policy. These workshops are designed to provide critical information on how to succeed and to ensure you know where and how to get your questions answered. The workshops complement the Documenting Your Teaching for Tenure & Promotion workshop presented by the Centre for Teaching Excellence.

Faculty recently hired to their first probationary term
Tuesday, April 9, 2:00 to 4:00 pm – MC 4059

Faculty applying for probationary contract renewal in 2013
Wednesday, April 10, 9:00 to 11:00 am – QNC 1502

Faculty applying for tenure in 2013
Wednesday, April 10, 12:00 to 2:00 pm – QNC 1502

For Tenured Faculty

Applying for promotion to full professor
Tuesday, April 9, 9:00 to 10:30 am – MC 4059

Tenured faculty who are considering applying for promotion in 2013 or the near future should attend this workshop for advice on Policy 77 and clarification of what is expected from peers and from the university in the promotion process. This workshop will walk you through the process step by step and will provide explanations of formal policy as well as practical tips to help you succeed.

The Limits of Academic Freedom

Peter van Beek, Chair, FAUW Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee
Should a psychologist who is a “scientific” racist be defended? What about a historian who is a holocaust denier?  A biologist who is an advocate of intelligent design?  A physicist who denies anthropogenic climate change?  An engineering professor who fiercely challenges the university administration when they propose to open a satellite campus in a country with a questionable human rights record? And finally, what about an ethnic studies professor who, days after the 9/11 attacks, characterizes those who died in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns”?  Should that faculty member’s right to speak and write be defended?
In other words, what are the limits to academic freedom?  That was the topic of a conference organized by the Harry Crowe Foundation that David Porreca, George Freeman, and I attended in Toronto recently on a cold January weekend. Below are some of the highlights that I took away from the conference. However, let me first put forward a disclaimer: Although I have been a faculty member for almost twenty-five years and I chair the Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee, to my major discredit I came to the conference pretty much a blank slate on this topic. My learning curve was steep.

In what follows, the CAUT is the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the “national voice for academic staff”, and the AUCC is the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, a “unified voice” for university presidents. As may be surmised from their descriptions, the two associations sometimes have fundamentally different points of view on topics, academic freedom being one of those.
The CAUT has an elegant one-page policy statement on academic freedom. Our Memorandum of Agreement, which governs the conditions of employment for faculty members, has a statement on academic freedom that is quite closely based on the CAUT policy statement. To oversimplify, academic freedom has four main components: freedom in research and publication, freedom to teach and discuss, freedom of extramural expression (the freedom to critique society and the government), and freedom of intramural expression (the freedom to criticize the university and the university administration).
The AUCC recently adopted a less elegant policy statement on academic freedom that received much criticism at the conference. Quite shamefully, in my view, the AUCC statement omits both freedom of extramural and intramural expression.  Some of the most controversial conflicts over academic freedom in the past have revolved around extramural and intramural expression. Bertrand Russell was dismissed in 1916 by Trinity College, Cambridge, for his public criticism of the government. Harry Crowe was a professor of History at United College (now the University of Winnipeg) who was dismissed from his academic post in 1958 because of his criticism of organized religion and the university administration. And lest one think that these conflicts are of the past, Ignacio Chapela was denied tenure by the University of California at Berkeley in 2003 (ultimately granted in 2005), perhaps due to his intense criticism of adeal between Berkeley and Novartis, a Swiss biotech firm. The university collected a total of eighteen letters from external evaluators! My understanding is that collection was continued until a negative letter was finally received.
The AUCC statement also emphasizes institutional autonomy and institutional academic freedom, as opposed to academic freedom being a right of an individual faculty member.  It also emphasizes the role of professional norms in academic freedom (i.e., academic freedom more narrowly defined as belonging in one’s area of expertise and where the discipline sets the standard of inquiry). While professional norms might be a way of shutting up those anthropogenic climate change deniers that I find so annoying, professional norms can also be used to snuff out dissent. Academia is replete with orthodoxy and fundamentalism, and those who own the podium are often reluctant to share the power or to allow critical voices. Several panelists at the conference referred to an excellent speech by Harry Arthurs on why it does not make sense only to allow professors to speak on their “areas of expertise”.  Interestingly, not all university presidents support the AUCC policy.  David Naylor, the President of the University of Toronto, released a public statement distancing himself from the AUCC policy and (although correlation is not causation) subsequently resigned from the AUCC Executive. Patrick Deane, President of McMaster University, also clearly distanced himself (me judice) from the policy during his presentation at a panel during the conference.
Much more could be said, as there were panels on academic freedom (AF) and professional norms, AF and institutional autonomy, AF and religious belief, AF and equity, AF and the law, and AF and the growth of university-industry collaborations. But I am wary of going on too long, so let me leave further discussion as a possibility for the future.