News From Your Board: February 1 Meeting Recap

—Peter Johnson, director for the Faculty of Environment

This mid-winter Board meeting kicked off with a discussion with the negotiating team about the details of the memorandum of salary settlement. As you have no doubt seen, this settlement shows evidence of the strong productive and collegial relationship between FAUW and the administration, and sets a positive foundation for future salary settlements. A well-deserved note of appreciation to the entire negotiating team for their tireless work on our collective behalf.

In addition to concluding salary negotiations, we are now entering a busy FAUW events season, with many exciting workshops, panels, and meetings over the remainder of the winter term. Of particular note are the upcoming Hagey Lecture, workshops on Navigating University Governance and Writing University Policy, the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom, and, looking further ahead, the Spring General Meeting and Tenure & Promotion workshops in April.

Ongoing topics included exam scheduling, specifically discussions with the Registrar’s Office to better understand the current timing of the release of the exam schedule, and the possibility of moving it earlier in the term. We feel that early release of this schedule will be a positive support for both student and instructor mental health.

The recently revealed ‘bug’ in Evaluate, the online course evaluation software used by the University to collect student course perceptions (which are in turn used to evaluate faculty for merit pay), caused much discussion. Though we applaud how the discovery of the bug was handled, there is much work to be done to develop a system of governance to guide the Evaluate project. We look forward to discussing how Evaluate will be used and its governance structure with the University and IST in the future.

News From Your Board – November 23 Board Meeting Recap

Sally Gunz, Past President

This is the time of year when we debrief our Council of Representatives meeting (November 14) and set the agenda for the Fall General Meeting (December 6). The former was very useful—thanks to all reps who attended. Interestingly, the exercise Shannon Dea (chairing the meeting) led reps through in terms of who knows what about FAUW and the University has informed our agenda setting for the General meeting. More later when the agenda is circulated.

Heidi Engelhardt reported back about her work on the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health. She chairs the Academic Panel. This is an important initiative and the discussion allowed for review of the interactions between this panel’s work and other initiatives on campus, and the Policy 33 review in particular.

Bryan Tolson attended a Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Council meeting in Ottawa this past weekend and some time was taken addressing issues expected to come up there.

Finally, with salary negotiations about to begin, our team (Benoit Charbonneau, Shelley Hulan and Dave Vert) is seeking guidance from the FAUW board on its mandate and, of course, it is best we treat these discussions as confidential. The team for the administration is, as with the last round, three deans but a completely new slate: James Rush (AHS), Pearl Sullivan (Engineering), and Steven Watt (Mathematics). Negotiations begin on December 1 and will run through the early months of next year. More on this in due course.

FAUW Celebrates Three Campus Champions and Six Decades of Collegial Governance

On October 26, FAUW held a 60th anniversary discussion exploring the unique relationship between faculty and the administration at Waterloo, and presented our first Awards of Appreciation to honour members of the University community who have made real differences in the lives of faculty members.

Panelists Roman Dubinski (FAUW president 1970–71), David DeVidi (FAUW president 2007–09), Lynne Taylor (chief negotiator and board member 2014–16), and Ian Goulden (dean of mathematics 2010–15) described the evolution of faculty representation at Waterloo, from the early relationship characterized by the University’s “benign paternalism” (in Dubinski’s words), through three attempts to unionize in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, to the “honest conversation” of the current arrangement.

The panelists discussed how this relationship works in practice, and how it differs from a union. The main difference is that, in our case, salary is negotiated separately from all other terms of employment. Rather than putting everything on the table (and at risk) in large-scale negotiations every few years, working conditions are continually negotiated —largely through biweekly meetings of FAUW and the administration at the Faculty Relations Committee (FRC).

This system allows us to “accomplish things you couldn’t in a full negotiation,” according to DeVidi. As audience member and 2004–07 FAUW president Roydon Fraser put it, “through honest conversation, you build understanding, and through understanding, you build, generally, good compromises.” Without the pressure of a looming deadline, Taylor explained, things move slowly, and both sides have time to give everything a “sober second thought.”

FAUW President Bryan Tolson and panelists
Left to right: David DeVidi, Roman Dubinski, Lynne Taylor, Ian Goulden, Bryan Tolson (FAUW president).

Surely there’s a catch

This system is not without its risks. Panelists highlighted the importance of having the right people on both sides. Goulden, our panelist representing an administrator’s perspective, pointed out that the provost has a great deal of influence over whether FRC is effective or just “a happy chat.” But overall, the system we have in place seems to be working.

And if it ever fails, we have the ability to seek recognition as a union. While the past union drives Dubinski recounted failed to result in unionization of faculty at Waterloo, they succeeded in encouraging the administration to make concessions and improve faculty working conditions. In fact, we have a near-unionization event to thank for the Memorandum of Agreement that governs working conditions today and which gives us a lot of the same powers as a union.

So, why aren’t we a union?

We promised that this event would answer the question “Why isn’t FAUW a union?” DeVidi offered this answer: “Most universities that unionize, there’s a galvanizing event, usually a massive clunker by some particular administration. So, I think a big part of the story is that the University [of Waterloo], compared to a lot of universities in Canada, has just been fairly well administered.”

Not all about FAUW

Following the panel, we shifted focus away from the Association and presented awards to Al Binns, director of Police Services for compassionately and discreetly helping faculty to navigate confidential emergency situations; Lynne Taylor, past chief negotiator for FAUW, for negotiating and co-chairing the 2015 salary anomalies review, and securing regular anomaly reviews into the future; and Linda Brogden, occupational health nurse, for supporting faculty members through some of the most difficult times of their careers and for her role in changing the conversation about faculty illness and mental health on campus.

FAUW Board members presenting awards to Lynne Taylor, Randy Jardin (for Alan Binns) and Linda Brogden
Left to right: Lynne Taylor, Bryan Tolson (FAUW president), Randy Jardin (accepting for Al Binns), Dan Brown (FAUW treasurer), Linda Brogden, Sally Gunz (past FAUW president).

Side note

Ian Goulden gave a great plug for another important mechanism at play in our relationship with the administration: FAUW’s Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee (AF&T), which he called “a really strong thread that runs through the University.” If you’re not familiar with AF&T and its confidential services to assist faculty with difficulties impacting their terms and conditions of employment, we encourage you to learn about it.

Quote of the day

“We’ll call them the administration. They like to call themselves the University, but so do we.” –David DeVidi

Academics on Strike: Why FAUW Stands in Solidarity

As many of you may know, our faculty colleagues at Mount Allison University and at the University of New Brunswick have both recently been on strike for different reasons.  In such situations, FAUW stands as one with our hard-pressed colleagues in their efforts to improve and safeguard their working conditions.

Background

The Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers has just ratified an agreement on 6 February, which the Board of Governors has also ratified, putting an end to their strike/lockout situation.

At Mount Allison, colleagues have explained their situation thus: “Faculty are prepared to strike if necessary to protect Mount Allison’s academic mission and its role in providing a supportive community for intellectual development and academic excellence for faculty and students.  In our negotiations, we are fighting to protect existing provisions in the Collective Agreement that uphold academic freedom and collegial governance – provisions that the administration is trying to weaken.”

FAUW’s Position

At the Faculty Association’s Board of Directors meeting on 9 October 2008, in the midst of strikes at the University of Windsor and Brandon University (MB), the following motion was passed: “That, providing its financial situation is healthy, FAUW will send $1,000 and a letter of support from the president to faculty associations that have been on strike for a week, and that the Board will discuss additional donations if the strike continues.

Consequently, FAUW has sent a $1,000 cheque to each of the faculty associations mentioned above, along with a letter of support.

Why Offer Support?

Colleagues at unionized institutions have the same concerns as we do: to defend academic freedom, collegial governance, principles of equity in the workplace, and to establish a safe and positive working environment for all members.  When administrations at other institutions see fit to erode or abrogate any of the core principles of

“If these principles are not defended everywhere, they can be eroded anywhere, regardless of whether or not the faculty operate in a unionized environment.”

academic life that are FAUW’s duty to defend at UW, it is also our duty to offer support to our colleagues at those institutions.  If these principles are not defended everywhere, they can be eroded anywhere, regardless of whether or not the faculty operate in a unionized environment.  As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, we at UW have been extremely fortunate for having an administration that has not (yet!) deserved to work with a unionized body of faculty.

This situation prevails because there has been, by and large, a practical recognition of the importance of those principles that appears to be at the core of decision-making at UW.  We at FAUW are well aware of the potential precariousness of this situation – it depends largely on continuing good will and recognition of a positive common cause on both sides.  As we know, administrators change, and with such changes comes the risk of a degradation in operational relations between faculty and the administration.  Consequently, we are eager to support our colleagues who work in adversarial contexts elsewhere, since our own good fortune can by no means be taken for granted.  Should our own relations with UW’s administrators ever degrade to the point of both unionization and a strike, we would certainly benefit from being part of an established national network of support.

Moreover, colleagues at other institutions are just that: colleagues.  Any number of them may have been or may again be at some point your own departmental colleagues.  The expansion and transmission of human knowledge to future generations are our primary tasks wherever we work as academics and therefore our working conditions are a common concern.

None of the above implies that FAUW is considering a union drive at any point in the near future – we simply don’t need one.  That being said, in the current economic and social environment, it would behoove academics to support other academics in their efforts to fulfill our duties to society. Nothing less than the future of advanced human inquiry and cultural memory is at stake.

Academia in the Age of Austerity

Part 2 – The view from other situations

I return you to the scene: 120 conference attendees, absorbing a talk on the decline of the university as a centre of critical thought and human development, while using a spoon to chip away at a perfect sphere of hyper-frozen desert effectively unsupported on a flat plate without (a) making too much noise; or (b) launching the sphere across the table at a colleague.

Borg adapting to phasers
After lunch, more discussion on the austerity excuse to rewrite Ontario labour legislation brought home the scary point that the government might adapt its strategy based on lessons learned through the zero-zero ‘consultations’and the various fights with big unions such as the ones representing teachers (in my mind, I think of the Borg response to phaser fire in Star Trek).  The most extreme case would be US-style ‘right-to-[be-exploited-in-your]-work’ legislation to cripple all collective bargaining.  Many of our neighbouring states have it already. 

Britt Hall - National Education Association, Director for Wisconsin
Britt Hall –
National Education Association,
Director for Wisconsin
When warned by Wisconsinites in May 2011 at CAUT Council, that we had one to three years to avoid taking their path, I’m sure many thought such things would be unthinkable in Ontario.  At that time, we were told that the hard-right-wing message is well scripted and revolves around a simplistic “power back to the people” message of (a) eliminating collective bargaining; (b) removing Rand formulae; and (c) requiring constant recertification.  It is a strategy of divorcing both the public and association members from association leadership.  The moral of the story, as told to us, was to learn to fight now, not after it starts, and to use every means to get and stay connected with our members.  A look back at the polling data mentioned in my previous post will convince you of how easily such legislation could slide past the Ontario public.
Maybe this is a good time to point out that if FAUW manages to get you, just once, 0.5% more scale increase than the university/government wanted to pay you, your dues are pretty much covered for the rest of your career.
A session on student perspectives was very enlightening.  We could learn a lot about organizing political dissent from the Quebec student example.  They seem to have made masterful use of decentralized support building and clear messages attuned to the general public’s sympathies.  What got lost somewhat in Ontario news reporting was that the protest was not all that much about money, but rather the forced effective change of higher education from a social good to an individually consumed service.  The metamorphosis in Ontario has been more gradual and is already much farther along, so the Quebec uprising didn’t gain much traction here. 
However, students told us they are very worried about tuition levels which result in too much debt and as many as half of all students are working too many hours at outside jobs during school terms.  They argued that tuition should be zero but I think this ignores some perverse incentives and moral hazards that might enter the picture with that much imbalance between the government and individual investment.  Still, if a university (or college) education is increasingly the franchise for adult life, then it clearly is a social good and saddling the student with an undue fraction of its cost can be viewed as a ‘youth tax.’  Tuition may yet become the galvanizing issue for dissent even in Ontario.
The last half day of this conference focused on international perspectives.  England is always a bracing example.  Recently, government there cut teaching support to universities by 80% (yes, that says eighty percent) and allowed massive increases in tuition, implementing a near instantaneous ideological shift.  They expect an average student to accumulate about $70k (Canadian) in debt and take 20 to 30 years to repay it – essentially education via a mortgage.  One effect this year has been a sharp drop in enrollment.  Whether a student carrying that much debt might go on to graduate studies remains to be seen and was not part of the consideration by government.  England is also way, way down the metrification path and, curiously, universities themselves appear far more interested in rankings than do funding agencies, students, or government.  Perhaps the next time rankings are justified in Senate, we should ask for verifiable proof that these things matter to anyone but us?
From the US perspective (courtesy of Jeffrey Williams,Carnegie Mellon), we heard about what was called a deliberate policy shift over the last few decades.  Students have been reconfigured as objects of private profit (customers).  Faculty have been reconfigured as minority players – only one quarter or less are permanent employees.  Administration has grown and become corporatized.  Buildings and grounds exist largely for self-accumulation with enticing things like luxury dorms and fitness centres.  Two-thirds of students accumulate on the order of $30k of education-related debt by graduation, essentially a form of indenture.  Universities play a role in class sorting and the class divisions which plague the country.
According to panelist Eleanor MacDonald (Queen’s), much of the cutting in Ontario since 1990 was absorbed not just in tuition hikes but in quality degradation and workload increases in universities.  We require less of students in the form of fewer assignments with less participation and less critical t
hinking, if only due to the sheer number of students in each class.  In addition to this, the corporatization and branding activities in universities are leading to subtle and not-so-subtle disavowal pressures to not talk about the deterioration.  We all are meant to be promoters and marketers of our individual units and schools.  She believes we should get involved in the democratic processes and start to talk more openly.  Since this is precisely what FAUW tries to do, I couldn’t agree more.
George Freeman