Eduvation Blog

Liminal Moment for Labour Relations

Good morning!

This morning I’m looking forward to joining faculty and staff at Université Laval (online and en anglais) to discuss the post-pandemic future of higher education, teaching and learning.

Today is also the UN’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, and “Dynamic Harmlessness Day,” dedicated to improving the world while doing minimal harm. It’s a good day to consider pacificism, carbon neutrality, veganism, and perhaps even how we cope with confrontation and dissent on campus!

Yesterday’s Pandemic Précis (“Fourth Waves & Fourth Doses”) summarized waning COVID19 case counts across Canada, and some pitched legal and political battles over vaccine mandates. While there are still some cases occurring on CdnPSE campuses (see below), it’s telling that the biggest disruptions this Fall may not be caused by the pandemic so much as by labour relations…



Campus Unrest

After 19 months of pandemic disruption and uncertainty, and with inflation at an 18-year high in Canada, CdnPSE students and employees alike are concerned about conditions, finances, public health precautions, and exceptional approaches to campus governance…


Day of Action in Alberta

Student protests were mounted in snowy weather Friday on campus at uCalgary, uAlberta, Mount Royal and MacEwan, to protest Alberta government PSE budget cuts and to demand a freeze on “egregious” university tuition hikes. (uCalgary proposed exceptional tuition increases between 15 and 51% in May, and last week its board approved hikes of up to 32% for Engineering programs. UofC has shed 600 full-time support staff due to budget cuts.) The rallies on Friday were “an amazing start to a much bigger movement,” according to a union spokesperson.  CBC  |  Calgary Herald

“The amount they’re charging students is insane. There’s people who have to choose between buying food and paying rent and paying tuition.”Quinn Rupert, Physics student, uCalgary



NBCC on Strike

22,000 CUPE members in New Brunswick went on strike Thursday largely over wages, impacting healthcare laundry services, ambulance dispatch and ferry schedules, and forcing all schools in the province to pivot to online learning as of yesterday. Tradespeople, custodians and maintenance staff are also officially on strike at NBCC and CCNB. CUPE was seeking a 20% wage hike over 4 years, while the province is offering 8.5% over 5 years. On Saturday, Premier Blaine Higgs said he was considering back-to-work legislation for healthcare workers under NB’s Emergency Measures Act, but on Sunday the government locked out 3,000 school custodians, bus drivers, library assistants and others. “We can’t have one school where we’re not sure who is coming to work, another school where someone says they’re coming but then they don’t. We’ve got to have some level of stability and predictability.”  Globe & Mail  |  CBC  |  NB CUPE  |  CTV  |  Globe & Mail 2


uManitoba on Strike

After 3 months of negotiations, and despite an 11th-hour extension of mediation on Sunday, uManitoba’s 1,260 profs, instructors and librarians will hit the picket lines this morning, the original strike deadline set last month. Academics have been told to make their teaching materials inaccessible to students, and to set up out-of-office email autoreplies. Both sides seem to be blaming the other for rejecting their offer. UM says the union rejected a “strong offer… that would increase salaries an average of 9.5% over 2 years and substantially increase lifetime earnings of members.” UMFA president Orvie Dingwall says the administration “has chosen not to invest in the future of our faculty and our university, leaving us no choice except to strike.” UMFA previously went on strike for 3 weeks in Fall 2016, and only avoided another strike last Fall “out of compassion for students” (and thanks to a one-time pandemic stipend). Since the 2016 agreement, the province has imposed 5 years of wage freezes and UMFA is suing the province for lost wages since 2016. Despite a $94M surplus, UM faculty have the second-lowest salaries in the U15. Faculty and students insist the government must stop interfering in the collective bargaining process: on Friday, students and their dogs rallied at the provincial legislature, urging the government to “keep its paws off” negotiations and to “take the leash off” UM president Michael Benarroch. (On Saturday, Manitoba’s governing PCs chose a new premier, Heather Stefanson, although it is unlikely she will alter her predecessor’s policies.)  CBC  |  Winnipeg Sun  |  Winnipeg Free Press  |  uManitoba


Strike Looms in Ontario

Last week, mediator Brian Keller abruptly terminated mediation between Ontario’s College Employer Council and OPSEU, the faculty union, issuing a scathing report critical of the union’s “highly aspirational but not realistic” demands. “What took place was more of an exchange of statements and speeches without any of the give-and-take that one would normally expect to see in true collective bargaining.” OPSEU entered negotiations with 350 demands, including workload formula changes, faculty ownership of all intellectual property and input on academic decision-making, and a major focus on Indigeneity. (Keller recommends a new non-adversarial process, to commence by Mar 2022, led by an Indigenous facilitator.) The CEC says the union has a “strike-focused approach” with “unreasonable and unlawful demands.” (The last time the collective agreement was updated, in 2017, a faculty strike lasted 5 weeks before back-to-work legislation was imposed by premier Kathleen Wynne, and it seriously disrupted the academic calendar at all 24 Ontario colleges.) OPSEU apparently invited the CEC team to meet again yesterday, but yesterday the colleges filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Board that the union “is not bargaining in good faith,” and requesting conciliation.  CEC  |  OPSEU  |  Mediator’s Report  |  Hamilton Spectator  |  Humber News  |  Newswire


uToronto Casuals

The United Steelworkers union at uToronto is demanding paid sick days and improved job security from “the nation’s richest university” for some 3,500 casual employees. (Although casual workers are intended to be on contracts of 6 months or less, many are reportedly on extended contracts for years at a stretch.) USW wants a better path for casuals to apply as internal candidates to full-time jobs, and to “stop the overuse of temporary jobs.”  National Post


OnTech Strike Vote

On Oct 20, after 6 months of bargaining, 90% of faculty at Ontario Tech U (formerly UOIT) voted to authorize strike action if a “fair deal” cannot be reached. The UOITFA says it is pressing for action on faculty burnout, workload, mental health supports, gender pay inequity and an inadequate pension plan. In September, the UOITFA ran a “Welcome Back to Bargaining” campaign and held a “Social Media Day of Action.”  UOITFA


Not AMUSEd at McGill

The Association of McGill U Support Employees (AMUSE) has been negotiating a new collective agreement since last summer, but negotiations have stalled between the Student Housing office and the unit representing residence floor fellows. The union is seeking pay raises, an increase to the meal-plan budget, and compensation for move-in, but also wants to protect harm-reductive and anti-oppressive programming in residence, and authorization to have external guests in residence.  McGill Daily



Governance Concerns

The global health emergency drove many institutions to suspend traditional governance and implement emergency management protocols in spring of 2020. While faculty quickly accepted the need for a pivot to emergency remote instruction, concerns about administrative overreach have been simmering beneath the surface for the past 19 months, on university campuses worldwide…  


Decimation Down Under

Attacks on academic managerialism and the “neoliberal academy” have been recurring for at least 50 years, but the massive impact of the COVID19 pandemic on institutional finances has ignited a firestorm. In Australia, where strict border closures abruptly cut off crucial international student revenues, universities laid off some tens of thousands of “redundant” faculty and staff in 2020. Government measures to incentivize STEM enrolments (and penalize Arts majors with extraordinarily high tuition levels) disrupted institutional budgets and academic program decision-making. Some argue that the corporate model has resulted in more economic competition between Australian universities, massive marketing budgets, extensive casualization of the workforce, and “increasingly autocratic” governing boards. Hundreds of Australian academics protested that “universities are not corporations,” and urged government to recognize them as independent public institutions.  The Conversation

(Sound familiar? I’ll return to the ongoing saga of Laurentian U later this week.)


“Universities are not commercial corporations, councils are not boards of directors, vice-chancellors are not CEOs, and students are not customers.”Alessandro Pelizzon, Martin Young, & Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Southern Cross U



CAUT Governance Protests

Just this year alone, the Canadian Association of University Teachers has publicly expressed concern about numerous governance issues in CdnPSE from coast to coast. CAUT expressed “deep concern” over Laurentian U’s CCAA filing in February, later “condemning” the avoidable job losses and calling for the resignations of senior administrators and minister Ross Romano. CAUT “objected” to the layoff of 4 senior librarians at OCAD U, “warned” against the attack on collegial governance at Sheridan College, called for more accountability from the NSCAD board over its dismissal of the president (over this convoluted real estate matter), and “condemned” the PSE funding cuts in Alberta’s 2021 budget. CAUT went so far as to censure uToronto over what appeared to be outside influence on a hiring decision in the Faculty of Law. Just this month alone, CAUT has released an investigative report into “failed governance” at UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, and “denounced” proposed changes to Senate powers at uLaval.


US Governance Crisis

Likewise, the AAUP released a report in May arguing that the pandemic “has presented the most serious challenges to academic governance in the last 50 years,” turning “the gradual erosion of shared governance into a landslide.” The report argues that “governing boards and administrations opportunistically exploited the pandemic,” “turbocharging the corporate model,” and “suddenly began operating in a state of panic after years of fiscal mismanagement.” An AAUP survey found that nearly 10% of US institutions laid off tenure-track faculty, 17% eliminated programs, and almost 10% have declared “some or all institutional regulations no longer in force.” Force majeure clauses (as at uAkron) provided administrations with “a nuclear option that nullifies all the other financial exigency-related provisions” of agreements, and allowed policies and procedures to be ignored or circumvented, without actually declaring exigency. (The AAUP sanctioned 6 institutions in June for the violations.) “This is the beginning of a new era for higher education, not the end of a particularly difficult chapter.”  Academe Blog  |  AAUP Report  |  Inside Higher Ed  |  Chronicle of Higher Ed  |  Inside Higher Ed  |  Times Higher Ed

“When tenured faculty can simply be dismissed under the guise of a global-health crisis… tenure really doesn’t mean anything. And therefore, academic freedom doesn’t really exist.”Michael DeCesare, Co-Chair, AAUP Investigating Committee



Research/Teaching Divide

Strained university funding in Australia and the UK last year prompted many academics to speculate that the COVID19 pandemic might finally “kill off” the notional 40/40/20 tripartite roles of tenured faculty, which were already stretched, as the dominant model. Thousands of contract faculty (who perform the bulk of undergraduate teaching) were being jettisoned, campus labs were being shuttered, and remaining faculty were coping with increased workloads and scrambling up a steep learning curve for online course delivery. The “fracking of academic careers” has been underway for many years, as demand for teaching has far outpaced demand (and funding) for research, but most agree that “breaking the nexus between teaching and research is problematic.” A handful of universities have implemented high-prestige teaching-track faculty positions, while most have focused on reinforcing Centres for Teaching and Learning and continued to lean on contingent faculty and graduate student TAs.  Times Higher Ed


Neoliberalism & Governance

A Sociology prof at St Jerome’s U writes that neoliberal assumptions that faculty are “work-ready employees” is behind the pivot to emergency remote learning without training or support. (At uWaterloo, he says, “the normal supports for developing an online course include 1-2 course releases, 12-18 months of preparation time, and the help of 3 staff members.”) Corporatized universities responded to COVID19, he says, by circumventing governance structures, and prioritizing revenue over faculty safety, workload, equity and academic freedom. Requiring faculty to teach asynchronously, or to undertake the significant work of hybrid delivery, “constitutes a clear violation of academic freedom.” Marginalized profs faced additional challenges in the pandemic due to childcare, elder care, mental health or homeschooling responsibilities. Many faculty, outside of medical fields, have had “no choice but to drastically cut back on their research time,” by 50-70%.  Academic Matters

“Liminal times, in which the established social order is suspended, are opportunities, and this is an opportunity for university communities to have a broad discussion about what the university is, what we think it should be, and how to move toward that goal.” – Honor Brabazon, Sociology and Legal Studies prof, St Jerome’s U



Revival of Faculty Power?

The pandemic has meant tenured faculty at universities around the world have been faced with unprecedented anxiety over their own working conditions, academic freedom and even their jobs for the first time. (42% of faculty surveyed said their trust in administrators had decreased during COVID19.) Administrative decisions about layoffs, furloughs, vaccine mandates and the return to campus have outraged many, prompting widespread protests, non-confidence votes, grassroots coalitions, and unionization drives that some think could signal a “revival of faculty power” in governance. But all the campus “die-ins,” vocal op-eds, and court challenges may also reflect the ultimate erosion of shared governance.  Chronicle of Higher Ed



COVID on Campus

Reporting of COVID19 cases on CdnPSE campuses has been pretty uneven this Fall, and arguably less significant in a year when vaccines are widespread, but here are some that I have previously missed…

Many universities have reported occasional cases of COVID19 on their campuses, including 1 case each at UNB,Cape Breton U, and uGuelph, 2 cases at uWaterloo, and 3 cases at uManitoba. Some larger counts include the following:

uCalgary has reported 7 cases during October.

uToronto reported 12 cases on campus during the month of October, and 20 in September. (But UofT is quick to point out, there have been no outbreaks on campus this year.)

McGill reported 14 cases in October, half of them in the week of Oct 17-23. (That’s considerably better than the 50 cases during September!)

MacEwan U reported 17 cases during October.

uSaskatchewan may simply be doing a more thorough job of announcing cases, on and off-campus, or it may be a reflection of epidemiological conditions in Saskatoon, but uSask reported 59 cases in the month of October: 7 on Oct 1, 24 on Oct 8, 11 on Oct 15, 9 on Oct 22, and 8 on Oct 29.


New Mandates in SK

Saskatchewan’s COVID19 challenges this month, and uSask’s case counts, may have contributed toward the announcement last week that both uSask and SK Polytech will eliminate the negative test option in the winter term. Starting in January, students and employees must either be fully vaxxed or have an approved accommodation before coming to campus. (Once eligible for boosters, “fully vaccinated” means 3 doses.)  CBC  |  Saskatoon Star-Phoenix  |  Global




It’s not a video about labour relations or academic governance, but a powerful commercial for a private liberal arts college in Waterville Maine…


Dare Northward

Colby College didn’t bother with a Hallowe’en video last week, but instead released this 1-min commercial with dynamic visuals, compelling narration, and pulsing music bed. “If you make your way here, if you are willing to dare northward, you will find yourself in a community that is continuing to reshape the borders between the impossible and the possible, between the unaffordable and invaluable, between that which is unjust and that which is fair, between those who were once underestimated, and those who go on to become unforgettable… Nothing should come between the best and brightest, and their ability to impact the world.”  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading!

Please do drop me a line if you spot something thought-provoking or with the potential to reshape the future of higher ed.

Stay safe and be well!


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