As we close out another term, I thought I would report to you on a few items of interest.
The Association of Academic Staff at the University of Alberta (AASUA – our sister Association at the U of A) recently had an arbitration related to a case involving academic freedom and an academic administrator. The professor involved was removed from her position as an Associate Chair due to controversy within her department related to her “gender critical” views (i.e., that biological sex is unchangeable). The AASUA argued that the removal of the professor from her position as an Associate Chair violated her academic freedom, noting that she had not taken any actions which discriminated against anyone – the removal was because of the uproar her appointment caused. The Administration’s counter position was that academic administrative positions are at the pleasure of the Administration and outside the AASUA’s and thus the Arbitrator’s jurisdiction. The Arbitrator found that he did have jurisdiction and that the AASUA had the right to represent such members. This is an important decision in support for our Association’s ongoing representation of academic administrators. However, the Arbitrator also found that the uproar related to this appointment did justify the Administration’s removal of the professor from her administrative position, noting that the Administration continued to support her academic freedom as a regular academic staff member. The AASUA is appealing this decision as a matter of the protection of academic freedom for academic administrators. We will continue to monitor this case as it unfolds. I would note that this paragraph is a very brief summary of a complicated case. If you are interested, I would encourage you to read the entire decision: https://www.canlii.org/en/ab/abgaa/doc/2023/2023canlii45765/2023canlii45765.html.
The Alberta Government recently passed Bill 5, the Public Sector Employer Amendment Act, 2023. Much of the media attention related to this Bill was about non-unionized staff in the public sector. This Bill gives the government sweeping powers to intervene in the compensation of such staff – for example, Management and Professional Staff at the U of C who are outside any union. The Opposition raised concerns that this would eliminate the former restrictions on the salary of university administrators. Former ND Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt told the Legislature:
“Now, it’s interesting to hear the [government] members … talk about leveling the playing field: oh, we’re only going to be allowing universities to compete with other universities for attraction of the top talent in the country. Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. The maximum salary for the University of Alberta president and the University of Calgary president right now is $558,750. That’s right on the government’s website, and that is the pay package that I brought in when I was minister. That is more money than the president of the University of Toronto makes. That’s more money than the president of McGill University makes. That’s more money than the university president at the University of British Columbia makes. In fact, at $558,750, the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary presidents make more money than any other university president in the entire country.
What is this government saying to the students at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary? That their tuition has to go up so that presidents’ pay packages can go up, Mr. Speaker, and that is not fair. How much are they likely to go up? Well, we only have to look to the past, and I will refer again to Indira Samarasekera, who, when she left the University of Alberta in 2015, earned more than a million dollars. That is more than the president of Harvard University makes today. The sixth-ranked university in Canada was paying their president more than Harvard University.”
But more importantly from our point of view, the new Bill 5 establishes employer organizations. That is, the Boards of Governors of all the Universities can create an organization of employers to coordinate their bargaining. Further, the Government can insist that they do this. There is no corollary for coordinating the unions or Faculty Associations. Our understanding is that the Government’s target for this new measure is not the universities, but perhaps the health care sector or colleges. However, it is a troubling development that continues the pattern of secret directives from the Government, intervening in local negotiations.
On the issue of inappropriate government meddling in local bargaining, the Manitoba Court of Appeal awarded the members of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association $19.4 Million due to that provincial government’s inappropriate meddling in the 2016 negotiations that resulted in a 21-day strike. The circumstances of that case are important, so the consequences are not necessarily directly relevant to the situation in Alberta; however, it is a significant decision in support of the Charter Right of free collective bargaining.
As a final note, I would like to take this opportunity to extend the best of the season to all members. I hope you take time over the holidays to rest and reenergize for the year ahead. With all the troubles in our world, I hope you take a moment to reflect on our many blessings. Happy holidays.
J. Kent Donlevy,
The Faculty Association of the University of Calgary