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Academic Views

President’s Message: Job Action Task Force and Response to Bill 18

Dear Colleagues, I write to you today to address two important matters concerning all our members: the current state of bargaining and Bill 18.

Bargaining – In Preparation

As you are aware, TUCFA is currently engaged in negotiations with the Board of Governors. While the outcome of these negotiations remains uncertain, our executive committee has decided that the TUCFA office will commence immediate contingency planning for potential job action. Additionally, a Task Force is being formed to collaborate with the office in this preparatory process. This is an evolving situation, and additional details will be provided in due course. In the meantime, we welcome your suggestions and comments on this matter. Please address them to the TUCFA office at [email protected]

Bill 18 Provincial Priorities Act

Bill 18, the Provincial Priorities Act, strikes at the heart of academic freedom and postsecondary institutional autonomy.

The Bill requires that “provincial entities”, which includes universities, must seek approval from the relevant provincial minister “in accordance with the regulations” prior to “entering into, amending, extending, or renewing an “intergovernmental agency agreement”. Tri-Council research grants, as well as other funding coming directly from federal entities such as the Department of Defence, will be subject to agreements between the federal government granting agency and the researchers’ institution which govern the administration of those funds. Bill 18 gives the provincial government a level of control over researchers’ academic freedom and arguably their Charter right to freedom of expression, as well as the institutional independence of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. Quebec has its own version of Bill 18 but wisely excludes post-secondary education from its ambit. But it is not just the level of control over the nature of what research is permissible to be funded but also perhaps the manner, as both could be determined by “provincial priorities” which are established by a governmental political/ideological commissar to ensure that only politically correct and ideologically pure research is allowed to be funded. Gone will be grants based solely upon merit as determined by panels of experts in the field.

One cannot imagine a more dangerous situation both for academic freedom and freedom within a democratic society when a government purports to ideologically determine the social/political value of research before it is allowed to proceed. Such an action goes beyond attacking academic freedom and institutional autonomy and strikes at the very heart of a free and democratic society.

On April 18, I attended a meeting of the Western Regional Group of Faculty Associations from Manitoba to British Columbia which expressed its concern regarding Bill 18 by passing a motion speaking out against Bill 18.

In Ottawa on April 26th, I attended a special meeting of Alberta representatives of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. At that meeting, we collectively decided to respond to the Alberta government by issuing a letter signed by all of the representatives at that meeting requesting an urgent meeting with the minister. At that meeting, the “ask” will be to meet the minister with all of the signatories present to demand the removal of the offending words of Bill 18 which capture post-secondary education and to clearly articulate the reasons why that request is necessary, reasonable, prudent, and wise.

On that day, the Canadian Association of University Teachers unanimously passed a motion stating:

Be It Resolved that CAUT condemns Alberta’s proposed Bill 18 “the Provincial Priorities Act,” as a dangerous attack on university autonomy, academic freedom, and the ethical practice of research.

From coast to coast, our colleagues stand with us in opposition to Bill 18.

On April 27, the New York Times ran an article on Bill 18, “Alberta Draws Academia Into Its Fight With Justin Trudeau”, which reads in part:

Ms. Smith offered some insight behind the government’s thinking on the CBC program “Power & Politics,” saying that there wasn’t enough “balance” on university campuses and that she intended to complete a review of federal research grants to assess gaps. She zeroed in on journalism schools and her thoughts that not enough conservative journalists and commentators have come out of those programs. “I have been given enough indication that the federal government uses its power through researchers to only fund certain types of opinions, certain types of researchers, and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said, adding that it could mean that Alberta uses some of its “own spending power” to support that research.

The danger is clear. TUCFA is working with its sister associations to ensure that our academic freedom is protected. I will provide more information as it becomes available.

Please know that your support is crucial. We all have a part to play, and your Association urges you to engage in discussions within your networks and provide feedback to your MLA.

Until then, we stand united and strong across Canada against Bill 18.

In solidarity

Kent Donlevy,
The Faculty Association of the University of Calgary

P.S. Excellent commentary on Bill 18 has been provided by our colleagues at the University of Calgary. Here are important links: (1) Lisa Young (April 10, 2024) “Research Funding 101… And a little catastrophizing” (2) Shaun Fluker (April 25, 2024) “Bill 18 Provincial Priorities Act: Alberta Strikes Again”

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