“Lies,” “Misinformation,” and “Brave Research”: The Dangers of Kenney’s “War Room”

Last Friday, in a press conference in which he provided very little by way of actual detail, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made it clear that he intends to use taxpayer money to the whopping tune of $30 million in various activities including paying “consultants” to target environmental groups and individual activists that he charges with spreading “lies and misinformation” about the oil industry in Alberta. It all remained vague. But in the course of the press briefing the Premier revealed the “war room’s” clear dangers when he spread his own “lies and misinformation” with his claim that the “explicit goal” of the environmental activist Tzeporah Berman is to “shut down” Alberta’s oil industry “right now.” It is true that Berman calls for a swift transition to a sustainable economy based on renewable resources but she herself could not possibly have been clearer, consistently, in key venues in which she has addressed this matter, that she is not calling for a shutting down of Alberta’s oil industry overnight. (Listen, for example, to her speech to the Alberta Teachers’ Association last Fall — a speech she was only able to give after being met with numerous death threats.) Kenney’s “war room” would silence Berman, who is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, because she is urging a cause that is not consistent with his political agenda — a cause that is not, as he would have it, about “landlocking” Alberta’s oil but about saving the planet and humanity (small matters he did not see fit to mention).

At the same time, the Premier touted the work of Vivian Krause, standing on stage behind him, as “brave research.” Ms. Krause’s “research” on the funding of environmental groups in Canada elicits wildly divergent characterizations. The Calgary Herald declares it to be “impeccable,” while The Narwhal notes that most of her claims have been “debunked.” What is clear: the “research” is funded by the oil industry, including CAPP. And while Krause accuses Canadian environmentalists of being foreign-funded, Krause herself, it appears, is or has been funded by at least one foreign group, the D.C.-based Atlas Network.

That a democratic government will use taxpayer money to fund a propaganda campaign defending an industry — an industry that, as Laurie Adkin (Political Science) noted in her remarks on today’s CBC Alberta at Noon program, is fully capable of defending itself, and already does so on an “enormous” scale that no environmental organization can begin to match — should alarm us all. All democratic jurisdictions need to be able to count on their governments to act in their interests, not the interests of an industry, and as much as the Premier would have us believe that the interests of Alberta’s oil industry and the interests of Albertans are one and the same this, too, is untrue. Taxes should never be used to fund propaganda on behalf of corporations. They should not be used now, in our moment of ecological crisis, to defend an industry, that has, whether we like it or not, a relatively short life remaining. We cannot do without the industry yet. We have much work to do to transition to a sustainable economy based on renewable resources. But we will have to do without the oil industry in Alberta sooner rather than later, if we are to meet the challenges of ecological crisis, and we must not allow the defense of an industry that cannot, in the end, survive result in any form of action that is undemocratic.

To protect Alberta’s oil industry, Kenney would have his “war room” target views that threaten his agenda. And that agenda, as Professor Adkin suggested today, is not truly about the economy. If it were, the Kenney government would be making different policy choices — choices that would involve ensuring “jobs and secure livelihoods” in a new global economy, and would focus on crucial matters such as ensuring sustainable agriculture for Alberta and safeguarding our water supplies. Instead — to extend upon his unpleasant military metaphor — Kenney would have Albertans pay for rhetorical artillery designed to suppress the information that others are marshalling in their various appeals to us to act while we still can to save Alberta’s ecology. Kenney’s aggression against those dealing in ideas and information that don’t serve his agenda — including facts that Albertans need to come to grips with if Alberta is to remain, along with the planet, inhabitable across the rest of this century — involves a very real danger. It is likely to create an intellectual climate antithetical to the public good, and particular forms of research.

Truly “brave” research in this moment in Alberta’s history will not be research funded by corporations to serve corporate interests, or anyone’s short-term ideas of what political power is for, but research oriented to the devastation we are wreaking, and how to save ourselves and the planet from it. The overwhelming amount of that research will be research — in science, engineering, the social sciences, the humanities, and environmental science — funded by the public, for the public good. It will, in short, be academic research. Albertans should prepare now to protect that kind of research, along with full-throated dissemination of it, from the ill-judged “war” to which Kenney has committed. 


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AASUA Ratification Vote: What is a Pair of Zeroes Worth?

This is a public version of a letter posted to the AASUA Members’ Forum on 7 April 2019. 

Dear Colleagues,

I have already written to you about why we must not ratify the Gender Pay Equity MOA. I now write about why we also need to vote “No” on ratifying the tentative agreement.

  1. The tentative agreement does not contain gains that make up for agreeing to take a 0% ATB for two years.
  2. The tentative agreement contains several very significant noxious elements.
  3. To ratify the agreement as is would be to weaken us as we go into successive rounds of negotiation across the decade.

This ratification vote comes down to the question of how much members believe they deserve in return for agreeing to take a zero across-the-board ATB settlement for two years (2018-19 and 2019-20). A zero ATB has, of course, a differential impact across the membership. Full professors will feel the zeroes the least; our precarious members will feel them the most. The question is what is fair across the Association’s seven constituency groups.

With this agreement — our first “common” collective agreement under the new labour relations regime — we set the foundation for bargaining over the next decade. It is our responsibility as the academic staff at the University of Alberta to ensure that this agreement is one that establishes a healthy foundation for the future of the academic staff and the institution.

The tentative agreement before us is, as it stands, simply not good enough to justify our agreeing to zero ATB for 2018-19 and 2019-2020. Nor is it a good foundation for bargaining over the next decade. Here’s why.

I.     The tentative agreement lacks essential things.

Academic Freedom. Faculty members made clear during the bargaining consultation process of spring 2018 that one of their highest priorities for this round of negotiations was to strengthen our academic freedom protections to the level of most other academic staff associations in Canada. The employer has refused to grant academic freedom language that includes explicit right of intramural critique. The Lead Negotiator reports that the employer did not wish to extend such powers of critique to APOs. In the academic freedom language before us, however, APOs are explicitly excluded from all of the provisions of the article, yet the employer still refuses to allow for explicit language of intramural rights. That right of critique is an essential component of academic freedom and the foundation of collegial governance. It is unacceptable that the following clause is NOT part of the tentative agreement:

Academic freedom ensures that members have the right to freedom of expression, including the right to criticize the administration of the institution or the Association.

Management Rights. The tentative agreement contains a new provision, in Article 4, “Management Rights.” The purpose of a “Management Rights” clause is to constrain the employer’s actions to that which is “fair, reasonable, equitable, and non-arbitrary.” It is also to ensure that the employer cannot make changes to the working conditions of its staff outside the collective agreement. The agreement before us has the first provision and not the second. Article 4.4 requires merely “consultation” with the Association should the employer wish to introduce or change any policy or procedure that affects the working conditions of academic staff. This is insufficient. The agreement must require the Association’s agreement to any such change before it can be implemented.

II.    The tentative agreement lacks significant gains that might merit two years of Zero ATB. 

As part of the Bargaining Planning process, the Association identified major gains that it would seek at the table to offset the predicted request from the employer for a 0% ATB. Bargaining is an iterative process, and it was always generally understood that the team could only gain so much. The problem is that the tentative agreement before us contains virtually none of the significant gains for which elaborate proposals were prepared. Key items we sought and did not get were:

Conversion & Complement. The single most important thing we might have gained for our pair of zeroes is a conversion process for the appointment of long-serving members of the Academic Teaching Staff to academic faculty positions. At the same time, we need to protect the faculty complement against attrition. The team went to the table with a set of sophisticated proposals to achieve these two things in tandem. These are exactly the kind of gains that might have made two years of zero on the ATB front acceptable to our members as they simultaneously involve essential fairness to members of the Academic Teaching Staff while securing something crucial to the flourishing of the University, a robust faculty complement. This is precisely the kind of gain the employer, with its eye on both the short- and long-term health of the institution, should have wanted to grant.

Workload. The team also went to the table with innovative “workload” provisions that would have given the academic staff, within their respective groups and units, control over key workload issues. The tentative agreement contains only the bare minimum that the employer should have granted on this front. To get an idea of what a good workload clause looks like, check out those at Queen’s or Western. The one approved for our team was even better.

Key Supports. The team also went to the table with a cluster of requests for various kinds of support for the work of the academic staff. These varied across constituency group. For faculty, the most important of these were sabbatical provisions. The tentative agreement should have presented us with new language in which sabbatical is an earned entitlement, and, consistent with our comparator institutions, the rate of pay for the first sabbatical should have been 100%, and subsequent sabbaticals, 90%. This is the kind of gain of longstanding consequence that two years of zero ATB should have purchased, with the employer’s happy acquiescence, since such provisions are standard and important support for the academic mission. We also sought “assisted” leave for other groups. As you can see from the table in clause 8.01, we gained nothing on that front. Key supports also could have come in the form of the improvements to the benefits plan, most urgently the extension of benefits beyond the faculty. We gained nothing on this front.

Salaries Anomalies Process. This is totally missing. The tentative agreement before us would allow for a massive increase in the SAF (Salary Adjustment Fund) without creating an anomalies fund, matched $ for $ with the SAF, to deal on an ongoing basis with salary inequities. The employer should not have the discretion to compensate some members as it wishes even as it refuses a cost-of-living ATB for all, and offers no adequate remedy for resolving, on an ongoing basis, gender and other pay inequities.

Employment Equity. Finally — and by no means least amongst this set of concerns — is the absence of any article on employment equity. This is an inexcusable omission in 2019.

We have members who would have liked to be bargaining for other big things, such as changes to FEC. In this round, however, the team could negotiate only for priorities approved by AASUA Council. (The membership has not yet given Council a clear consensus on what it desires of FEC changes.) The point is that the less we get in this round, even for two zeroes on the ATB front, the harder it is to build towards other gains in the next round.

III.    The tentative agreement contains things it should not.

Finally, I need to note that the tentative agreement before us contains several noxious elements. The most urgent of these are:

Contracting Out. In the LOU (“Letter of Understanding”) on page 69, the tentative agreement gives the employer the right to contract out services that would result in the loss of jobs to our members. This LOU flies in the face of the instructions to the team, which required “Job Security” issues to be amongst the highest of priorities at the table. Many of our members are on precarious appointments. The tentative agreement should contain provisions that strengthen the job security of our members. Not only have we not gained the job security provisions across groups that the team was mandated to achieve, we have before us a provision that allows the employer to contract out in ways that could lead to job losses for our members. 

Non-Disciplinary Suspension (7.18 and related MOU). It is Orwellian to refer to any suspension of a member as “non-disciplinary.” By definition, any suspension is disciplinary and should entitle the member to all the rights in the “Discipline” article. The employer should not be able to suspend any member of the academic staff without the member’s access to processes of appeal. All suspensions must be grievable.

USRIs. The evidence of gender discrimination in student evaluations of instruction is decisive, and the evidence on discrimination by race increasing. The tentative agreement before us should contain language prohibiting the use of USRIs in employment decisions. This is exactly the kind of concession the employer should have been eager to grant: here it had the chance to do the morally right thing at no cost to itself.

Post-Tenure Review Process. The tentative agreement before us leaves in place a post-tenure review process (familiarly referred to as the “0D” process). We are almost unique among Canadian universities in having post-tenure review — the University of Calgary joins us in this illustrious regard. No agreement in the country should contain a provision that is a fundamental offense against tenure. Here the employer had an opportunity to agree to eradicate, at no cost to itself, something that the agreement should never have contained.

I must note that none of the three lists above is exhaustive. I have simply sought to identify the most urgent problems and the key gains missing from the tentative agreement before us. No one is arguing that the employer should have been willing to grant us all the major gains we sought. But the employer should have been willing, for two years of no ATB increase, to agree to a package that featured things essential to any good agreement; no provision that is demonstrably discriminatory; and at least language on other non-monetary items up to the norm in other academic staff agreements across the country.

We have heard from the team that they could not gain anything more because every time they declared to the employer’s representatives at the bargaining table that they had to be able to “return to the membership with more” they were met with “blank faces.” Now, with a tentative agreement before us, is the moment for the membership to show that the team was telling the truth every time they made such a declaration. Now is the moment for us to return the team to the table in a position of strength by sending as clear a signal as possible that we require more in return for accepting two zeroes on the ATB front.

When the ratification vote opens at 9 am on Tuesday, I’ll be voting “No” in the hope that we may return the team to the table to get us a better deal. I hope you will join me in doing so.

As I have said repeatedly from the outset of this process, our only real strength at the table is the force of the membership behind the team. At this moment, the membership has the opportunity to supply that strength with the simple act of refusing to ratify this agreement and sending the team back to the table to get us a better deal — a deal that gets us at least a few of the things showcased above. We need a decent agreement now, to set us up for success in future rounds, starting with the very next. We need, in short, an agreement that allows members both now and in the future confidently to declare that for a pair of zeroes on the ATB front in 2019, we got a few things that truly mattered — things of long-standing consequence for the academic staff, and things of real importance to the health of the University.

Some have argued that perfection is the enemy of the good. That’s true. But the agreement is not good, and in many respects it is very bad. The only chance our team has to get a better agreement is a resounding vote from the membership that we will not ratify this one.

Yours for a more democratic, more effective, member-run Association,





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Open Letter: Why AASUA Members Must Not Ratify the Gender Pay Equity MOA (7 April 2019)

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Turpin Statement, Questions Remain: Why was event cancelled, and video suppressed?

We finally have a statement from President Turpin aiming to clarify his Election Act statement of 1 March 2019. Unfortunately, this second statement does not clarify the crucial issue.

It is good that the statement explicitly notes that academic staff and postdoctoral fellows have the right to

. . . engag[e] with political parties, their candidates or other political party representatives in conducting teaching and research, including their public service and public discourse work.

But neither the cancelled event at the Ronning Centre at Augustana nor the video that was pulled down involved academic staff members doing that. They involved political scientists at the University of Alberta doing the job of analyzing the political landscape in Alberta and offering their views on it. These are core activities of the University protected by academic freedom and in no way to be constrained or suppressed by either a provincial or federal election.

In President Turpin’s view, were the event and the video permissible activities? How, then, was the event cancelled and the video suppressed? The University community needs absolute clarity on this matter.

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President Turpin’s Communication of 1 March 2019 | Ronning Centre Event Cancellation Notice (21 March 2019)

I’ve been asked to provide the text of David Turpin’s communication as University of Alberta President (1 March 2019) to Deans, Chairs, and Directors. I gather some Chairs put it immediately into wider circulation while some did not, so the text is still not in everyone’s hands.  I also provide the cancellation notice for the Ronning Centre “Coffee and Conversation” event that was not held as scheduled on 21 March 2019.

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David Turpin Communication to Deans, Chairs, and Directors at the University of Alberta, 1 March 2019:

Continue reading

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Turpin Communication Undermines Academic Freedom, Curtails Free Speech

Earlier this week, Alberta Politics blogger David Climenhaga published a blogpost in which he noted that a University of Alberta event at the Augustana campus had been cancelled as a result of a communication that UAlberta president David Turpin had circulated to “unit” heads (Deans of Faculties, Chairs of Departments, and Directors of Centres). The cancellation of the event shows that at least one faculty member at the University has been misled by the President’s communication into believing that the University may not host political conversations of any kind during the period leading up to the election. This is wrong. Whether the President intended it or not, his communication has resulted in academic freedom infringements with widespread implications for all Albertans.

The communication pretends simply to pass on information related to Alberta’s new Elections Act which prohibits postsecondary institutions from taking any partisan position on political matters. The Elections Act also prohibits institutional funds from being used to donate to political campaigns.

The Elections Act protocols make sense. Universities should not take positions, as an institution, on any political campaign, and institutional funds should of course not be used to donate to political campaigns. That would be a clear abuse of public funds for special interests.

The problem with Turpin’s communication is that while reminding “unit” heads of these protocols it fails to speak positively about academic freedom protections and the rights of all members of the University community to free speech. The institution may not take political positions. The individuals, however, who comprise it are entirely free to do so. President Turpin’s communication should have expressly stated this. It should also have expressly stated that the communication was in no way intended to infringe upon the academic freedom rights and responsibilities of academic staff.

In failing to make these essential points, Turpin’s communication has sown widespread confusion across the University’s campuses, and created the climate in which it was possible for a faculty member, uncertain about its implications, to cancel an event for the Ronning Centre at the Augustana campus in which Alberta politics would be discussed.

No faculty member at the University of Alberta should feel the pressure, no matter how subtle, to curtail their academic activities as a result of President Turpin’s communication. And no academic discussion about Alberta politics should come to a halt at any University of Alberta campus because of the provisions of the Elections Act.

The bringing of such an event to a halt is an offense against the academic freedom of the faculty member who had planned the event. All faculty members at the University are free to engage with the election as they choose, both in the course of research and teaching activities and as citizens entitled, along with all others, to free speech.

When any faculty member feels the price to curtail these activities, both the University community and Albertans more generally pay a price — a very heavy price, that involves losses to democracy.

The mission of a university is to produce and disseminate knowledge. To do that, its academic staff depend upon the rights and responsibilities of academic freedom, which require them to share with the public the results of their research within established protocols. Academic staff also have, as part and parcel of their academic freedom protections, rights of extramural and intramural critique — rights to criticize the institution, as well as rights to speak up publicly, in any forum of their choosing, on any issue of importance to them.

The premise of these rights is that democracy depends upon robust debating of all ideas — and our universities are crucial institutions for the most rigorous forms of democratic debate.

President Turpin’s communication is a problem because it creates a very narrow sense of what kind of discourse academic staff at the University may engage in during the election period. It declares

While the university encourages individuals affiliated with the institution to be engaged in the political process and to vote in the upcoming election, the use of public university resources for political or campaign purposes is prohibited.

Nowhere does the communication positively assert academic freedom protections or free speech rights. The clause I’ve just quoted in fact implies that the University “encourages” only voting in the election and some other nebulous engagement in the political process. The communication does not characterize the University as a place of free speech on political matters. Nor does it does clearly state that this free speech extends to all members of the University community including non-academic staff and students. And nowhere does it state that the communication is not in any way intended to constrain the academic freedom protections of academic staff.

There are some very confusing discussions occurring right now amongst academic staff in which it is claimed that it is the Government, not the University, that is acting against academic freedom. Even if this is true (which I seriously doubt), it is the responsibility of the University to educate the Government.

It is also the responsibility of the University not to mislead the members of the community into believing that they cannot participate as fully as they wish in democratic conversations about the election, and influence its outcome. The institution may take no position. Every one of its members is entirely free to. It was a serious error of judgment for Turpin to permit a communication to be issued in his name which could possibly have allowed for any misconstruction of these crucial points. And if the University’s Government Relations Office is encouraging faculty members to cancel their events or otherwise curtail their activities, it is actively infringing upon academic freedom protections.

When the free speech of academic staff is suppressed, we all lose, for we lose the expert opinions and expert shaping of discussions in which academics are trained.

President Turpin should immediately issue a clarifying statement to the entire university community so that there is absolutely no confusion about the free speech rights of all members of the community, and the special rights and responsibilities of the academic freedom protections of academic staff. This election needs to be decided as a result of the proliferation of free speech, and not even the slightest hint of the suppression of it — certainly not at any of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions.


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Read this! Dutch Study on “Baseline Grant” System for Research Funding (Guest Post by Andrew Gow)

Dear colleagues,

I urge you to read this thought piece on our current research funding model. It presents a simple and cost-effective alternative to our current labour-intensive method of allocating funding. The potential results are surprising.


Just as our local FEC process grinds endlessly to produce average outcomes almost identical to the pay scales at York University, where salaries are based on seniority and progress through the ranks (with a very few salary outliers at UofA, namely the very productive and the very unproductive publishers), so too does the research granting culture of Canada and many other countries devote endless time and human resources to picking winners, when — as this article suggests — research money could be allocated quite fairly and with minimal effort by simply distributing it evenly across those eligible to apply for it, and allowing them to spend it on the existing approved items, accumulate it for one big project, aggregate it with their colleagues, or turn it back into the pot. While anonymous double-blind peer review might guarantee standards, it also licences anonymous, unaccountable abuse and gate-keeping, factionalism, and innovation-blocking. Our candidacy, thesis defence, and hiring processes alone ought to be sufficient guarantee of scholarly credentials to be trusted with research funds.

Best wishes,

Andrew Gow

History & Classics

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