The winter term has now come to an end and we have met the challenge of fall and winter terms delivered predominantly in an online format. This was demanding and you should be proud of the work you have done. Unfortunately, the pandemic has not yet receded into the background and we are faced with serious questions about the fall term and the teaching responsibilities that will accompany it. Most of us have concerns about fall teaching assignments and are worried about the safety of all members of the university community. Concerns have been expressed about the process by which courses have been assigned and the absence of choice in the selection of teaching modalities. We have raised these concerns with the Administration and in particular with the Provost and will continue to advocate for a process and outcome that provides the maximum level of choice for academic staff. We will be working to negotiate a Memorandum of Agreement relating to fall teaching and the pandemic shortly.
The 2020-21 academic year was as busy as it was unique. The Administration presented new plans for the University entitled Growth through Focus which went through a number of iterations following feedback from academic staff. A Framework for Growth will be going before the GFC in June as a means of moving forward with this agenda.
The Government of Alberta has released its plan for the future of post-secondary education in the province and has noted the problem with funding for this sector without really acknowledging the damage done by the sustained budget cuts their policies have inflicted. There are many issues of concern in this document. There is an increased focus on vocational education as well as measures planned to enhance corporate influence. The impact of proposals on governance have yet to be determined and this is an area where attention is due.
The continuation of budget cuts in the March budget was extremely disappointing. The budget with its cuts fails to recognize the contributions of academic staff and the importance of post-secondary education to the future of the province. Budget cuts may well increase reliance on sessional instructors and enhance the state of precarity in which these highly trained and valuable colleagues work. Questions about workload must also be raised in a context where unions are devalued and inappropriate government involvement in the collective bargaining process continues. We lament and oppose the job losses that have affected our colleagues in AUPE, losses which diminish greatly our sense of community at this institution and which unquestionably have a negative impact on education. Negotiations on a new contract continue and we will continue to issue bargaining updates to ensure that members are informed about the issues and timing. I want to express my appreciation to our Chief Negotiator Hamid Habibi and the team which includes Trevor Tombe and Sheila Miller, along with Don Kozak as resource person to the team.
In light of these challenges, we worked with the Calgary section of Public Interest Alberta on a drive-by protest at the McDougall Centre in March, a Social Media protest in early May and will be working with them on a town hall on May 27 discussing “Post-Secondary Education and the Alberta Brain Drain”. The link providing more information on this event and registration information is provided here and will be available on our website where we will try to keep you updated on upcoming events. www.stoppsecuts.ca/brain_drain_town_hall
I want to remind you of the situation faced by our colleagues at Laurentian University where more than a hundred members of academic staff have lost their jobs, over 60 programs have been closed and the university’s unique role in providing bilingual education and serving the indigenous peoples of Northern Ontario has suffered a terrible blow.
These circumstances have been aided by that university’s use of bankruptcy protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). We are supporting CAUT, OCUFA and LUFA in calls to see that the academic staff who lost their jobs receive priority for severance payments in the bankruptcy proceedings and that university administration and the provincial government are held accountable for the decisions that have left Laurentian in this position. CAUT has a link providing information on Laurentian which will help keep you up to date on this issue. https://www.caut.ca/content/laurentian-university-take-action
The Association has also been busy with an unprecedented number of grievances, investigations and upcoming arbitrations. Our grievance advisors and our staff work extremely hard on these demanding matters. This is the hidden work of the Association. It takes an extraordinary amount of time and resources but is extremely important to our members and to their rights.
Unquestionably these are challenging times and the uncertainty about fall teaching looms above us all. We appreciate the support and attention that members provide in these circumstances and look forward to working with you to see us through this period. Thank you for the work you have done this past year, work which has, without doubt, continued to assure a high-quality education experience for students and strengthened the University of Calgary.
David Stewart, President