As we begin the 2022-23 academic year, I want to express my gratitude that you have endorsed the Collective Agreement with the Board of Governors and I appreciate the faith and confidence in our recommendation and bargaining team that this shows. I salute our bargaining team for getting the best possible deal they could under the circumstances. In my view, we negotiated a better deal than any other university faculty association in this province and we could not have done better at this time. Nonetheless, I have to say that, like most of you, I am deeply disappointed with the agreement that was reached.
It is simply not good enough and we deserve better settlements going forward. Our work to secure a better deal begins today. Franky, I am tired of the rhetoric about “top-five status” because it is never accompanied by salaries, benefits, or a workload that is commensurate with such a ranking. There is no doubt that our ability to attract and retain top faculty is compromised by these challenges. Our reality is workload increases, support staff reductions, and ongoing tuition increases for students: this is not a recipe that will create a sustainable top-five university. I hope that all of us can work together to make the Administration, the Board of Governors, and the provincial government understand that this is not acceptable and that it threatens this university’s future.
Obviously, a big part of the problem is how we are treated by the government. Funding cuts are problematic and must end. However, equally debilitating is a legal environment that permits bargaining mandates to be given to the Board of Governors and prevents their disclosure. We need look no further than the salary settlement here and at the University of Alberta, the University of Lethbridge, Athabasca University, and Mount Royal University for evidence of this. Those agreements make clear the interference with our rights to free collective bargaining. I have made this point to the Minister of Advanced Education; I made this point frequently in the Alberta 2030 consultations; and I will continue to seek allies who will support us in demanding an end to this undemocratic and secretive process.
I ask the Board of Governors to join us in publicly calling for an end to this charade and in asking for a guarantee that the collective bargaining process will be respected moving forward. I intend to write to each of the candidates for the UCP leadership asking that they amend the legislation that permits this and to respect the important role that unions and collective bargaining play in the democratic enterprise.
At the very least, I ask the government to have the guts to make their bargaining directives public so that our members and the broader public know the hurdles we face and the lack of respect we receive. I will also write to the NDP asking for their commitment to end such directives and to let the Board of Governors bargain with our realities and needs in the forefront of their minds. It is not enough for the Faculty Association to say this, all stakeholders must speak truth to power on this issue. I hope that the Board of Governors recognizes the threat to university autonomy that such legislation entails and acts accordingly.
The 2021/22 academic year started much like the previous one ended, with the dominant theme being the COVID pandemic. Unfortunately, it continued to dominate affairs throughout the year. We heard from many members who had concerns about the prospects of face-to-face teaching and an extra workload that would be required if expected to deliver their courses both online and in person. We also heard how some worried about returning to in-class teaching in the Winter Term because of underlying health conditions for you or your family members. The Faculty Association forcefully raised these and other concerns about COVID with the Administration. I’m pleased that we had some positive news on this front, with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement with the Provost last fall, the main feature being providing sick time for any sessionals with COVID. We also pressed for the mask mandate to be continued and to that end I wrote to the Minister of Advanced Education asking that the autonomy of universities be recognized, and I was pleased that the Presidents of the Student Union and the Graduate Students Association supported us on this. We had some success as the mask mandate continued beyond its expiry at most other Alberta universities. But we know the pandemic will be continuing and the Association will continue to press our concerns with the Administration regarding health and safety as well as the workload concerns that arise when members are pressed to teach in multiple forms.
As we move into what will be my final year as Faculty Association President, I want to let you know that one of my other priorities is to ensure that academic staff have a stronger voice in the collegial governance process. I will be asking the General Faculties Council (GFC) to assert its right under the Post-Secondary Learning Act to provide budget advice to the Board of Governors and I will be publicly asking the President to allow the GFC to vote on this initiative. I will also be asking the GFC to approve changes to its bylaws to allow for motions to be introduced on the floor of meetings and to change the rules relating to challenges to decisions made by the chair. Currently, it requires a two-thirds vote to overturn any decision. This is virtually impossible given the large number of GFC members that owe their appointments to the Administration. One of the gains we obtained in the Collective Agreement is guaranteed representation on some of the senior administration hiring committees. Our position remains that representation of academic staff must go beyond this and include involvement on selection committees like the one that appoints the University Secretary (i.e., the administrator responsible for serving GFC and the Board of Governors). The University Secretary position must be one that serves the entire university community and not simply the Administration. The appointment process used this year did not include a single member of academic staff on the committee making recommendations for this role. I will be pressing for a change that ensures that academic staff and students are represented on any future hiring committee.
I want to again express my thanks for having been given the opportunity to serve as your President and acknowledge that I know not all of you will always agree with the approaches I take and the decisions the Association makes. We are a democratic body and I encourage those who want to have more influence on what we do to consider putting your name forward as a Department Representative or as a member of our Board of Directors. I want to close by encouraging those of you who are unhappy with our financial settlement to begin by letting your Dean hear your views. We deserve better and the Association’s Board of Directors remains committed to this goal.
Best wishes for the summer.
David Stewart, President