Open Letter to Minister of Advanced Education Lori Sigurdson on the Rewriting of the Post-Secondary Learning Act

23 November 2015

 

 

The Honorable Lori Sigurdson

Minister of Advanced Education

Government of Alberta

404 Legislature Building

10800 – 97 Avenue

Edmonton, AB

Canada T5K 2B6

 

Dear Minister:

We write further to your letter of 30 September 2015 to the representatives of student and faculty associations in the province inviting their written submissions in relation to the Government’s proposed rewriting of the Post-secondary Learning Act (PSLA). We assume that while provincial organizations such as the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations may have made a written submission to you that you welcome further input from faculty and students across the province on this important issue. We do not in fact know what CAFA has submitted to you on behalf of faculty associations in the province, but we write to assert the following.

  1. We assert unambiguously the right of academic staff in the province of Alberta to freedom of association. We regard the right currently bestowed upon Boards under the Post-Secondary Learning Act to designate members to academic staff associations as an infringement of the Charterright to freedom of association.
  1. We also assert unambiguously the right of academic staff in the province of Alberta under the Charter of Rights and Freedomsto strike.
  1. We assert that the right to strike cannot be waived for us by any body that represents us as our bargaining agent with the Board of Governors. As Justice Rosalie Abella noted in her majority opinion in Saskatchewan Federation of Labour vs. Saskatchewan, “a legal system which suppresses [the] freedom to strike puts the workers at the mercy of their employers.” Moreover, “the right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining, it is an indispensable component of that right.” We agree that the right to strike is “indispensable,” and therefore cannot be dispensed with by the turn to any other mechanism. “Without the right to strike,” Justice Abella notes, “a constitutionalized right to bargain collectively is meaningless.”
  1. We would like to see the Act rewritten to assert rigorously the fundamental principles of academic freedom, academic integrity, and academic independence especially in relation to funds received from private or corporate donors, and especially in relation to any research contracts with industry partners into which any university in the province enters. The Act should specify the need for all donor agreements and industry contracts to be made public so that universities are able to guarantee academic freedom and the integrity of their academic goals, as well as demonstrate their ability to protect such freedom, integrity and independence.
  1. We also call for the Act to specify additional criteria for the means by which Board members meant to represent “the general public” are selected. The “general public” cannot properly be said to be represented by members who are solely accountants, lawyers, and business managers. The new Act should specify innovative means to ensure that all members of the “general public” may be considered for appointment to university Boards and given all the support necessary to flourish as Governors. It should also specify the need for representation from Alberta’s indigenous communities.
  1. We also assert that the Act needs to be rewritten to strengthen the provisions for the shared governance of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. In particular, we would like to see the Act involve a fuller definition of the power given to General Faculties Councils to manage the “academic affairs” of the University to ensure that this power cannot be constrained or circumvented by administrators, not even through mechanisms of delegated authority. Major academic decisions such as the founding of colleges within any of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions must be taken by the principal body, the General Faculties Council.
  1. The new Act should also require Alberta’s postsecondary education institutions strictly to limit their dependence upon temporary or precarious academic and support staff, as reliance on such staff is socially unjust and undermines the political protection of tenure. To ensure that Alberta’s postsecondary institutions are run according to the principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and social justice, the Act should specify a maximum percentage, low, of temporary or precarious academic staff that may be employed as academic staff at any of the province’s postsecondary institutions at any time. We suggest that the Act follow the NAIT rule of allowing no more than 10% of the academic staff at any of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions to be hired on a temporary basis.
  1. Finally, we call upon the Government of Alberta to rewrite the “whereas” clauses upon which the entire Act depends, to define the province’s postsecondary institutions in the first instance as public goods serving the public interest. It is as public goods serving the public interest that our universities best serve the general well-being of Albertans and the province’s culture and economy.

Respectfully submitted,

Carolyn Sale, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Laurie Adkin, Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Alberta

Sourayan Mookerjea, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Alberta

James Muir, Associate Professor, History and Classics and Faculty of Law, University of Alberta

Andrew Gow, Professor, History and Classics, University of Alberta

Kathleen Lowrey, Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Alberta

Richard Westerman, Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of Alberta

Alexandre Da Costa, Assistant Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

William Ramp, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of Lethbridge

Kristine Alexander, Canada Research Chair in Child and Youth Studies/Assistant Professor of History, University of Lethbridge

Jarett Henderson, Assistant Professor of History and MRFA Advocacy Officer, Mount Royal University

Judy Davidson, Associate Professor, Physical Education & Recreation, University of Alberta

Makere Stewart-Harawira, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

Jerry Kachur, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

John R. Vokey, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge

Todd Nickle, Professor, Biology, Mount Royal University

Laura Servage, Post-doctoral Fellow, Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta

Jaimie Baron, Assistant Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Daniela Gatto, Sessional Instructor (German), Grant MacEwan University

Janice Williamson, Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Sheena Wilson, Assistant Professor, English & Cultural Studies, Campus St. Jean

Peter Choate, Assistant Professor, Social Work, Faculty of Health Community and Education, Mount Royal University

Tanya Stogre, Assistant Professor, Education, Mount Royal University

Carol Williams, Associate Professor, Women & Gender Studies, University of Lethbridge

Beau Coleman, Associate Professor, Drama, University of Alberta

Douglas Murdoch, Associate Professor, Psychology, Mount Royal University

Mark Simpson, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Lynette Shultz, Associate Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

Rhiannon Bury, Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, Athabasca University

Natasha Hurley, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Malinda Smith, Associate Professor, Political Science, University of Alberta

Brad Bucknell, Associate Professor, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta

Margaret L. Forgie, Instructor, Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge

Ondine Park, Contract Instructor, Sociology, MacEwan University

William Anselmi, Professor, Modern Languages & Cultural Studies, University of Alberta

Ev Hamdon, Doctoral Candidate, Education, University of Alberta

Marie-Eve Morin, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta

Chloe Taylor, Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies and Philosophy, University of Alberta

Jay Gamble, Instructor, Department of English, University of Lethbridge

Kirk Niergarth, Assistant Professor, Humanities, Mount Royal University

Kimberly Mair, Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of Lethbridge

Jan Jagodzinski, Professor, Visual Art and Media Studies, Secondary Education, University of Alberta

Jennifer R. Kelly, Professor, Theoretical, Cultural & International Studies in Education, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta; Jean Augustine Visiting Chair in the New Urban Environment (2015-16), York University

David Logue, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Lethbridge

Tania Kajner, Sessional Instructor, University of Alberta

Stephen Speake, Contract Instructor, Sociology, MacEwan University

Julie Rak, Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Cressida Heyes, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, University of Alberta

Adam Kemezis, Associate Professor, History & Classics, University of Alberta

Toni Samek, Professor, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta

Eddy Kent, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies, University of Alberta

Amy Kaler, Professor, Sociology, University of Alberta

Dip Kapoor, Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

Dan Johnson, Professor of Environmental Science, Department of Geography, University of Lethbridge

John Usher, Professor of Management, University of Lethbridge

Shelagh Campbell, Professor, Biological Sciences, University of Alberta

Natalie Meisner, Associate Professor Department of English, Languages and Cultures Mount Royal University

Srdja Pavlovic, Sessional Instructor, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta

Karyn Ball, Professor, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta

Kimberly A. Williams, Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Women’s & Gender Studies, Mount Royal University

Katie MacDonald, Doctoral Candidate, Sociology, University of Alberta

Andrew Holt, Associate Professor of Pharmacology & Associate Chair (Graduate Studies), Department of Pharmacology, University of Alberta

Mark Crawford, Assistant Professor, Political Science, Athabasca University

Natalie S. Loveless, Assistant Professor, History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture, University of Alberta

Joan Greer, Professor, Art & Design, University of Alberta

Anton Iorga, Doctoral candidate in Modern Languages and Cultural studies and French Instructor, University of Alberta

Aidan Rowe, Associate Professor in Design Studies, University of Alberta

Meenal Shrivastava, Professor, Global Studies and Political Economy, Athabasca University

Tracy O’Connor, Associate Professor, Biology, Mount Royal University

Lianne McTavish, Professor of the History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture, University of Alberta

Shawn L. England, Associate Professor of History, Department of Humanities, Mount Royal University

Imre Szeman, Professor, English & Film Studies, and Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies

Ricardo Acuna, Associate Director, Parkland Institute, Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta

Rachel Milner, FSO Teaching Professor, Biochemistry Program, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Alberta

SIGNATURES RECEIVED AFTER ORIGINAL MAILED TO MINISTER*

Karen J. Reschke, Sessional Instructor, School of Business, MacEwan University

Rob Shields, Henry Marshall Tory Chair and Professor, University of Alberta

*Keep ’em coming! I will send updated letter to Minister.

Posted in alberta legislation, alberta postsecondary education | Tagged , | 27 Comments

Efficiency of What? (Post by Kathleen Lowrey, Anthropology)

Professor Lowrey’s post is in part a response to the “Discussion Paper” circulated by University of Alberta President David Turpin to the university community in late October. The “Discussion Paper” may be found here.

Just as some kind of holiday is never out of season in malls, it’s always urgently time for some kind of strategic policy planning in universities. Everyone knows commercialized holiday exhortations clothe the promise of good times in a mantle of anxiety about festive inadequacy in order to sell you something. University strategic planning documents deploy the same set of tactics. They’re rather like relatives who tell you how pretty you would be if you lost of a bit of weight, or bosses who would love to promote you if they believed you were ready for the responsibility, or partners who would just like to see you manage to sustain a happy relationship with anybody less sainted and patient than themselves, they really would.

What’s going on here is what is usually going on here. When these tactics work, and they very often do, the audience for their messages is primed to supplicate. Such tactics and messaging are also addressed to a larger audience of bystanding hearers: “look at me, saying these things for the addressees’ own good; I just want to help them, benevolent soul that I am.” But shift the frame, and you see something different: something or someone that needs you — as a customer, a subordinate, a reliably flinchy source of ego-kibble — in order to realize their own ends.

Contemporary university planning documents talk a lot about declining funding and increasing costs. But their assertions about an inexorable historical trend of globally declining public funding for higher education are not true. Imagine a graph of “public money as a proportion of public expenditure spent on higher education, worldwide.” Let the x axis be time, with 1915 on the left end and 2015 on the right. Let the y axis be funding. The trajectory would be a rocket ship to the moon, still headed upwards. A ton of money is still on the world historical table, and no mistake.

How is it being spent? First, of course, lots more people are getting post secondary education than would have done so in 1915 and vastly more of them are getting public support to do it. Second, lots more colleges, community colleges, technical institutes, and new universities have been and continue to be built, heated, cooled, policed, and so on; all of this, again, is overwhelmingly underwritten by public money. Third, all of these institutions need staff of various kinds, from maintenance staff to informational technologists to librarians to…a-ha! Now we are getting somewhere.

Post secondary institutions also require teaching staff, research staff, and administrative service staff. The original model of the university, the one continually being strategically planned out of existence, had a lean and efficient vision of how get these kinds of work done. You hired threefers: faculty who were capable of and committed to doing teaching, research, and service as standard obligations of their jobs. Now, however, the most unique and precious kinds of work done by universities — teaching and research — are increasingly done by armies of precarious temporary staff earning meagre incomes. Sessional lecturers and techs and postdocs on soft money proliferate each year, but on a darkling plain, as university administrations consistently declare it impossible to track their numbers with any accuracy. Meanwhile, administrative positions also proliferate. But in this case, the compensation for such service work can be lavish indeed.

More and more administrators are hired purely outside the faculty ranks; just as we have more teaching-only and research-only staff (almost always paid peanuts) we also have more service-only staff (often paid very handsomely). Within remaining full-time faculty ranks, we now speak of “career tracks,” in which a few full-time faculty opt for the administrative ladder while most live out their professional lives in the diminishing remnant of permanent, full-time, tenured researchers and teachers. In my own experience, much of the service work available to you there — no matter how devoted your attitude to it­ ­— consists of attending meetings at which you are asked only to rubber stamp decisions taken by admin-only administrators and admin-track faculty. Protesting oils the machinery, so that administrators tell you with an indulgent twinkle in their eyes how much they appreciate your “passion” and how much they love that about the university, the truth telling of it! But unfortunately, they have to be pragmatic: which always means carrying on doing exactly what they first proposed, pocketing a nice justificatory anecdote about having earnestly considered no holds barred “stakeholder feedback” along the way. Getting mad within official channels leaves you feeling like a patsy.

Thus we are back to the condescending, masterfully misdirecting pat on the head. Is it efficient to hire three people to do what used to be the work of one, and is it cost saving to pay two of them 1/3 of what that one person used to earn while paying the third twice as much, and then hiring lots and lots of these 2.67 triumvirates but fewer and fewer of the 1.0 hat tricks, while also effectively asking these last to do only 2/3 of their jobs? I’m no math professor, but I think I can tally those beans as well as the next minimally numerate artsy type.

As to the notion that service has become its own career specialty because faculty are “too busy” to do it — it is becomingly manifestly clear that as we get shut out of real university administration many of us are finding time to organize counter-movements amongst ourselves. It begins to feel like our “real” service work, replacing the sort we are no longer called upon to do officially but which, nevertheless, we consider among the most serious duties attached to the privilege of professorship. Finally, organizing ourselves to do this work is itself tremendously energizing: evidence for the postulate that some kinds of human endeavor are not zero-sum games. This takes us somewhere very nice indeed, because it reminds us, after all, of what universities are for and how it might still be possible to run them.

 

 

 

Posted in Executive Compensation, professors compensation, University of Alberta Compensation Negotiations 2012 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Notes on Rewriting the Post-Secondary Learning Act (Draft Clauses for Open Letter to Minister of Advanced Education)

On 30 September 2015, Minister of Advanced Education Lori Sigurdson wrote to faculty and graduate student associations in the province to invite them to furnish their feedback on prospective changes to the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA). The Government’s “Discussion Guide” for the consultation notes that the Government is considering changes to labour relations in Alberta in response to the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada case Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan in which the Supreme Court “found that the right to strike is fundamental to the collective bargaining process and is constitutionally protected under section 2(d) (Freedom of Association) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” The “Discussion Guide” also notes that the current PSLA “requires that binding interest arbitration be used to settle collective bargaining disputes at public post-secondary institutions.” Under this mechanism strikes are forbidden. “[I]nstead, a neutral third party decides the dispute after hearing arguments from both sides.” The Government proposes either that the “binding arbitration provision in the PSLA . . . be repealed” so that “academic staff members and graduate students would have the right to strike” or that academic staff be brought under the Labour Relations Code, where they would “be represented by a certified trade union” with the right to strike. See the Government’s full “Discussion Guide” here.

In relation to these options, the Government’s “Discussion Guide” poses a set of nine questions that it asks faculty and graduate student associations to take up. Question 8, for example, notes that “[a]s a result of the changes being made to the labour relations model, academic staff members and graduate students will have the right to strike and institutions will have the right to lock them out, subject to the terms of their collective agreements,” and asks what the perceived impact of this will be. Question 9 asks “Is there anything else that the Government of Alberta should take into consideration in making changes to the labour relations model for academic staff members and graduate students at Alberta’s public post-secondary institutions?”

When the “Discussion Guide” was first issued, the deadline for written submissions to Bart Muusse, Legislation Manager, Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education, was 31 October 2015. That deadline has now been extended to 13 November 2015. It is not clear at this time whether the Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta will be submitting to a letter to the Government on this issue by 13 November 2015. (The Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations has submitted a document that has not been and may not be made public.) Whether or not the Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta prepares its own submission, faculty members at the University have the freedom to express their views on this matter.

Here are some public notes for an open letter to the Minister on what a few of us think the Government’s rewriting of the PSLA should include. We welcome input on the draft material below. Are you interested in signing on to such a letter, and if so what would you like to see in it? Do our notes leave anything urgent out? We would like to have a final draft of the letter by the end of the day on Monday, November 16th, with the plan of the letter with signatures going to the Minister by Friday, November 20th.

DRAFT CLAUSES FOR LETTER (these will follow a very brief orienting statement to the Minister)

  1. We assert unambiguously the right of academic staff in the province of Alberta to freedom of association. We regard the right currently bestowed upon Boards under the Post-Secondary Learning Act to designate members to academic staff associations as an infringement of the Charter right to freedom of association.
  2. We also assert unambiguously the right of academic staff in the province of Alberta under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to strike.
  3. We assert that the right to strike cannot be waived for us by any body that represents us as our bargaining agent with the Board of Governors. As Justice Rosalie Abella noted in her majority opinion in Saskatchewan Federation of Labour vs. Saskatchewan, “a legal system which suppresses [the] freedom to strike puts the workers at the mercy of their employers.” Moreover, “the right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining, it is an indispensable component of that right.” We agree that the right to strike is “indispensable,” and therefore cannot be dispensed with by the turn to any other mechanism. “Without the right to strike,” Justice Abella notes, “a constitutionalized right to bargain collectively is meaningless.”
  4. We would like to see the Act rewritten to rigorously assert the fundamental principles of academic freedom, academic integrity, and academic independence especially in relation to funds received from private or corporate donors, and especially in relation to any research contracts with industry partners into which any university in the province enters. The Act should specify the need for all donor agreements and industry contracts to be made public so that universities are able to guarantee academic freedom and the integrity of their academic goals, as well as demonstrate their ability to protect such freedom, integrity and independence.
  5. We also call for the Act to specify additional criteria for the means by which Board members meant to represent “the general public” are selected. The “general public” cannot properly be said to be represented by members who are solely accountants, lawyers, and business managers. The new Act should specify innovative means to ensure that all members of the “general public” may be considered for appointment to university Boards and given all the support necessary to flourish as Governors. It should also specify the need for representation from Alberta’s indigenous communities.
  6. We also assert that the Act needs to be rewritten to strengthen the provisions for the shared governance of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. In particular, we would like to see the Act involve a fuller definition of the power given to General Faculties Councils to manage the “academic affairs” of the University to ensure that this power cannot be constrained or circumvented by administrators, not even through mechanisms of delegated authority. Major academic decisions such as the founding of colleges within any of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions must be taken by the principal body, the General Faculties Council.
  7. The new Act should also require Alberta’s postsecondary education institutions strictly to limit their dependence upon temporary or precarious academic and support staff, as reliance on such staff is socially unjust and undermines the political protection of tenure. To ensure that Alberta’s postsecondary institutions are run according to the principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and social justice, the Act should specify a maximum percentage, low, of temporary or precarious academic staff that may be employed as academic staff at any of the province’s postsecondary institutions at any time. We suggest that the Act follow the NAIT rule of allowing no more than 10% of the academic staff at any of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions to be hired on a temporary basis.
  8. Finally, we call upon the Government of Alberta to rewrite the “whereas” clauses upon which the entire Act depends, to define the province’s postsecondary institutions in the first instance as public goods serving the public interest. It is as public goods serving the public interest that our universities best serve the general well-being of Albertans and the province’s culture and economy.

We look forward to the Government’s further consultation with academic staff and graduate students across the province on these issues, and to seeing the Government’s draft of a new Post-Secondary Learning Act.

[signatures]

* * *

Please use the comment box to indicate whether there is anything you would like to add or change, and whether you would provisionally like to sign the letter. The final letter will go to all provisional signatories for their final “yea” before it is sent to the Minister. We are aiming to have the letter to the Minister by November 18th.

Signatures welcome from members of postsecondary institutions across Alberta.

 

 

 

 

Posted in alberta legislation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

OpEd to be submitted to Edmonton Journal: Criteria for Selection of New Chair of the Board of Governors

The material below is the text of an OpEd to be submitted to the Edmonton Journal in a few days’ time. If you would like to add your name to this piece, please either use the “comment” function to indicate your desire to do so or email either Carolyn Sale (sale@ualberta.ca) or Laurie Adkin at boardchairalberta@gmail.comThe OpEd will be sent on the morning of November 16th with all signatures that have come in by then. Note: Please, if you wish, specify your institutional affiliation to go alongside your name.

As the Government of Alberta searches for a new Chair of the Board of Governors of the University of Alberta, members of the university are hopeful that the government’s choice will signal a shift in political vision for post-secondary education.

Our decades-long struggle against the incremental privatization of higher education and research has been waged not only to resist deteriorating conditions for teaching, learning, and research, but also to defend the public interests served by the work of teachers and scholars. Tomorrow’s generations will be grappling with complex problems that are global in scale but call for local responses. Universities are critical to providing the knowledge, creativity, imagination, and skills that our societies will need to solve these problems.

In past decades, the province’s Conservative governments have reduced the qualifications needed for far-sighted governance to the skills of financial management. This is unfortunate, as university Presidents, Chancellors, Provosts, and Boards of Governors must have a deep understanding of the university as a public institution whose mandate is to serve the public good.

Given this understanding of the university’s raison d’être, individuals with experience in the non-profit sector or community organizations should be viewed as equally qualified to hold university governance posts as an accountant, business manager, or lawyer. In general, we would like to see university boards reflect the demographic and occupational diversity of Alberta’s society, and include representatives of Aboriginal peoples.

Knowledge of the general political-economic challenges facing post-secondary education and the province as a whole would also be a considerable asset in a Board chair. Indeed, understanding Alberta’s political economy is essential to effective steering of any of Alberta’s public institutions; universities have a major role to play in the creation of a diverse and ecologically sustainable economy, as well as a vibrant, democratic culture.

In our view, Alberta’s post-secondary education institutions need governors and administrators who are committed to:

  • promoting and defending the University of Alberta as a public university serving the public good;
  • defending the independence and integrity of the university with regard to its public mandate;
  • drawing upon meaningful consultation with members of the university community to represent the concerns and interests of the university to the government;
  • supporting a democratic, collaborative, and deliberative governance model that includes the use of consultative mechanisms that reach beyond the usual shallow forms (such as town hall meetings, press releases, and blogs written by public affairs professionals);
  • maintaining collaborative and respectful relationships with all employee groups at the university;
  • respecting and demonstrably supporting the freedom of academics to express criticism of and their dissent from management decisions or policies affecting our work or our perceptions of the public interest;
  • building strong relationships between the university and the communities it serves;
  • acting to achieve employment equity and diversity goals;
  • defending the importance of “pure” research and teaching for its own sake in any and all disciplinary contexts; and
  • collaborating with other post-secondary institutions to improve the conditions for their common success.

Lastly, we must address the issue of conflict of interest. The close connections between governance appointees (Presidents, Chancellors, Boards of Governors) and private sector interests (particularly, in Alberta, connections to energy or construction corporations) have generated conflicts with academic freedom and integrity. When an appointee to university administration or a university board is the legal counsel, executive officer, or a member of the board of directors of a firm that funds research chairs, capital projects, or other endowments, he or she may exercise inappropriate influence over academic (and budgetary) decisions taken within the university. In other words, governance appointees should not be closely connected to large private donors to the universities.

The selection of the Board chair is a major opportunity for Alberta to begin redressing the challenges facing the University of Alberta’s ability to serve its public interest mandate. We urge the Government of Alberta to give careful consideration to the issues outlined above.

Laurie Adkin, Associate Professor, Political Science

Sourayan Mookerjea, Associate Professor, Sociology

Carolyn Sale, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies

David Kahane, Professor, Political Science

Evelyn Hamdon, Doctoral candidate, Education

Melisa Brittain

David Schindler, OC, AOE, FRS, FRSC, Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology (Emeritus)

Bill Beard, Professor, English & Film Studies

Kathleen Lowrey, Associate Professor, Anthropology

Jane Heather, Drama

James Muir, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law and History & Classics

Andrew Gow, Professor, History & Classics

Adam Kemezis, Associate Professor, History & Classics

Michael Friskhopf, Professor, Music

David Beck, Professor, Linguistics

Gary Kelly, Professor, English & Film Studies

Corrinne Harol, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies

Sandra Rein, Associate Professor, Political Studies, Augustana

Michael Lounsbury, Professor, Alberta School of Business, and Canada Research Chair in Enterpreneurship & Innovation

David Cooper, Professor, Alberta School of Business

Frank Peters, Professor Emeritus, Educational Policy Studies

Dip Kapoor, Professor, Educational Policy Studies

Makere Stewart-Harawira, Educational Policy Studies

Richard A. Rachubinski, Professor and Chair, Cell Biology

Alison Murray, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences

Manish Shirgaokar, Assistant Professor, Urban and Regional Planning

Amy Kaler, Professor, Sociology

Diane Conrad, Associate Professor, Secondary Education

Michelle Maroto, Assistant Professor, Sociology

Imre Szeman, Professor, English & Film Studies, and Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies

Jaimie Baron, Assistant Professor, English & Film Studies

Rob Shields, Henry Marshall Tory Chair and Professor, Faculty of Extension and Sociology

Tania Kajner, Educational Policy Studies

Andrew Holt, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology

Richard Westerman, Assistant Professor, Sociology

William Ramp Associate Professor, Sociology, The University of Lethbridge

Katherine Binhammer, Professor, English & Film Studies

Beau Coleman, Associate Professor, Drama

Judy Davidson, Associate Professor, Physical Education & Recreation

Jennifer Kelly, Professor, Education

Maryam Moshaver, Associate Professor, Music

Liza Piper, Associate Professor, History

Kevin Solez, Instructor in Classics, MacEwan University

Stu White, APO-Assistant Chair, Educational Policy Studies

Sheena Wilson, Assistant Professor of English and Cultural Studies, Campus Saint-Jean

Janice Williamson, Professor, English and Film Studies

Malinda E. Smith, Associate Professor, Political Science

Shannon Stunden-Bower, Assistant Professor, History & Classics

Shelagh Campbell, Professor, Biological Sciences

William Anselmi, Professor, Modern Languages & Cultural Studies

Julie Rak, Professor, English & Film Studies

Chris Westbury, Professor, Department of Psychology

Karin Olson, Professor, Nursing

Alexandre Da Costa, Assistant Professor, Educational Policy Studies

Dwayne Donald, Associate Professor, Education

Stephen A. Kent, Professor, Sociology

Natasha Hurley, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies

Mark Simpson, Associate Professor, English & Film Studies

 
 
Posted in University of Alberta Compensation Negotiations 2012 | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Sunshine, with a Great Many Black Clouds: Alberta Bill 5 (First Reading, 5 November 2015)

“Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley says the government has not heard any objections so far to the expanded disclosure rules.”

Global News, 5 November 2015

“It also bugs me that no one, it seems, wants to speak out against this obvious policy stinker. Yeah, I get it. It’s politically irresistible, regardless of where you’re located in the political spectrum. But it’s still bad policy.”

David Climenhaga, 9 November 2015

Bill 5, in which the new Government of Alberta seeks to expand the Government’s existing “sunshine list” to include many more public sector workers including professors, has passed its first reading.

There are four things that must be said about this draft Bill.

  1. The Bill provides no rationale whatsoever for the disclosures it would compel. There is not a single “whereas” clause in it. Good laws embed their rationale in their rules. This is, then, on the face of it, not a good law.
  2. As clause 2.4 exempts from disclosures those who have signed, before January 2014, a confidentiality agreement in regard to their compensation, the “sunshine” that it purports to unleash can at best be only partial.
  3. The compensation ranges for professors at all ranks could easily be made available without the disclosure of individual salaries. What does the Government imagine it gains by disclosing individual salaries by name? (See 1.)
  4. Last, and most urgently, this “sunshine list” throws no light at all upon the abiding and deepening darkness in which our universities have been shrouded for the last quarter century. At Alberta’s universities up to 40% of the instruction is being offered by academic staff members who do not have permanent jobs. These precarious academic staff members are paid significantly less for their teaching of a course than full-time faculty members, whose numbers have shrunk radically under previous governments in Alberta. In 2013-14 alone, the University of Alberta lost 400 faculty members to a “voluntary severance” program initiated in the wake of the historical cuts to postsecondary education in Alberta delivered by the Redford government. If the current Government truly wished to shed light upon compensation issues at Alberta’s universities, it would be demanding public disclosure of the numbers of temporary or “contract” academic staff members at all of Alberta’s postsecondary institutions, along with disclosure (by average only, not by individual name) of the relative pittance that they are paid thanks to the profound disinvestment in postsecondary education in Alberta pursued by successive Progressive Conservative governments. The public might then have some genuine understanding of compensation issues at Alberta’s universities. As it is, clouds will obscure the highest levels of compensation under previously signed confidentiality agreements even as a vast dark cloud will thoroughly block out what is occurring in terms of radically poor compensation for about 40% of the instructors at Alberta’s postsecondary institutions. In general, if the Government truly wishes to create understanding of compensation issues at Alberta’s universities (unclear! see 1) it should seek to shape public understandings of professorial compensation (which comes after years in which professors forego all earnings in order to obtain their advanced degrees). And it should seek to establish the necessity of investment in full-time academic staff who are fully supported in their research and teaching and have the protections of tenure.
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Confidence Game: Conflict-of-Interest, Confidentiality Clauses, and Our Public Universities

Three public cases in the Canadian academy over the last year and a half make it clear that we need radical change in how Canada’s universities are run.

The most recent of these cases came to public attention last Monday morning, when the CBC broke the news that Elizabeth Cannon appears to have been conducting herself in ways that put her in a conflict-of-interest with the public trust reposed in her as President of the University of Calgary. Working with documents that he had obtained under a freedom of information request, Kyle Bakx of the CBC reports that email communications at the University of Calgary strongly suggest that Cannon was requiring academic staff at the University of Calgary to take decisions based upon their sense of the oil company Enbridge’s importance as a donor to the University. Or, as Bakx more bluntly puts it, the documents show the university “bending over backward to accommodate the apparent public relations ambitions of a corporate patron.” In Bakx’s report, one faculty member expresses his concern that the situation at the University of Calgary “smacks of us being apologists for the fossil fuel industry.”

Academic freedom is at stake here. No academic researcher should have to take any decision whatsoever in relation to what a donor to his or her university desires. Any funds directed by an individual or a corporation to one of Canada’s public universities must come with absolutely no strings attached. This is essential to ensuring the public’s confidence, as Premier Rachel Notley has noted, in the academic integrity and academic independence of Alberta’s universities. No academic work in the public interest must in any way be influenced by what any one individual or any given corporation wants of it. As David Keith, Professor of Applied Physics and Public Policy at Harvard, claimed later on Monday, in remarks at the first night of the Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta’s inaugural Academic Freedom Week, it is clear that the University of Calgary has a very weak culture for defending faculty on conflict-of-interest funding issues, but the entire postsecondary education system in Alberta, he suggested, needs to develop a managerial culture that is less provincial. And as David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), noted at the same event, it is not surprising that a corporate donor to a university would try to exert control over the university through its funding. What is shocking: that any university would allow it. 

The specific question that needs to be asked: how was it possible for anyone at the University of Calgary to imagine that it was acceptable for Elizabeth Cannon, as the University of Calgary’s President, ever also to sit on any board at Enbridge? And receive for her presence there the sum of $130,000 annually? Whatever we may individually think about the amounts currently being paid to university presidents in Canada, surely we should all be able to have the confidence that university presidents receive their handsome compensation packages in order to be free to devote themselves entirely to the public work and public interests of the university over which they are presiding. The money paid them from the public coffers should preclude their playing any other executive role, and they should certainly not be playing any executive role for a private corporation. If a university president wishes to give some of her extracurricular time to a non-profit organization that is her (generous) choice. But it should go without saying that to agree to take additional compensation from any other source when in office as president should be strictly off-limits. The very fact that any university could sit by and be content for its president to sit on a private corporation’s board suggests our universities have been infiltrated by Volkswagen ethics.

From Bakx we learn that Cannon takes the position that as there was no formal complaint from any member of the University of Calgary community about what has been transpiring there over the last several years the public is not to be concerned. But what is the prevailing culture at the University of Calgary if its Administration and Board are content to lose star academics such as Joe Avrai and David Keith rather than address the conflict-of-interest concerns they raise? And what do the absence of formal complaint at the University and the President’s reliance upon that absence by way of defense tell us?

The overarching problem has, of course, been much analyzed in terms of the corporatization of the academy. As Thomas Docherty, professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Warwick, noted in a roundtable conversation at the University of Alberta’s Faculty Club on Friday, there is an absurdity to this corporatization. Why have business models that have so disastrously failed, most obviously in the conduct of banks and financial corporations that brought about the 2008 financial crisis, been imported to a domain that was otherwise healthy — a domain that has only been made to struggle in the face of a “vampiric” immiseration of the public sector brought about by the collusion of private corporations with government in arrangements (over matters such as low royalty payments for the extraction of material resources) that leave much wealth in private hands at the expense of public wealth? Docherty cited George Soros, one of the world’s wealthiest men, on the issue: the close and comfortable relationship of government and corporations at the expense of the public interest is nothing other than “fascism.”*

The larger geopolitical game, a dark one, appears to be playing out at our public universities as a confidence game in which not only academic researchers but academic administrators find themselves silenced not simply by the demands of corporate donors attempting to use to their advantage the immiseration of the public sector that they themselves have helped to produce by dictating that their money — money wrested from public resources! — should be used to produce outcomes they desire, but also by the importation of various aspects of corporate culture to the university. This includes the importation of the instrument of the confidentiality clause. This corporate beast has been at work producing baleful outcomes elsewhere, such as at the University of British Columbia where, this past summer, the strange resignation of its president, Arvind Gupta, after a mere year in office was claimed as a matter about which the university’s administration could say nothing. Gupta, it was said, had signed a confidentiality clause which purportedly bound both parties to silence. This did not, however, keep senior members of the UBC administration from speaking anonymously to the Globe and Mail on their views of Gupta’s presidency. Such conduct is injurious to Arvind Gupta. But it is also injurious to the public when it cannot know what drove someone to leave a top public job such as the UBC presidency.

The culture of the confidentiality clause raised an ugly head too the year before when the Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan was summarily fired by the Provost, Brett Fairbairn, when he released to the press a document entitled “the Silence of the Deans” which revealed that the deans there were told that if they publicly expressed their concerns about a program prioritization process underway at Saskatchewan known as TransformUS, their “tenure would be short.” Fairbairn, whose letter firing Buckingham accused him of “insubordination,” cited as the basis of his action Buckingham’s supposed breach of a confidentiality clause that he had signed when taking the position of Dean. The idea that any such confidentiality clause could keep Buckingham as Dean from exercising his rights to either intramural or extramural critique contradicts the principles of academic freedom as set out by the Canadian Association of University Teachers in its 2010 statement, “Academic Freedom for Academic Administrators,” which declares that

Where a decision has been achieved by consensus, by majority vote, or through the exercise of legitimate authority, that fact does not constrain members of the academic staff, including those holding administrative appointments, from exercising their academic freedom by criticizing the decision. 

In my view, as I noted in the Q&A after Robert Buckingham’s talk Tuesday night at AASUA’s Academic Freedom Week, no administrator at any of Canada’s universities should be signing a confidentiality clause that keeps them from being able to disclose to the public any concern about how our public universities are run. 

The culture of secrecy at our public universities must end. And if we (sadly) cannot count on university presidents to exercise sound ethical sense in their own relationships with corporations, then we need to legislate restraints on their activities.

We also need to change the practices by which university presidents are chosen. The current corporate-influenced vogue is for presidents to be hired in secretive processes run by head-hunting firms that refuse the possibility of there being any public aspect to the process. Why, for example, shouldn’t the short-listed candidates for a university presidency be asked to give public talks? No professor can be hired at a university without giving a public talk. Why then would a public talk not be required of those applying to fill a university’s top job? We are told good candidates would not come forward unless they were assured that the process for selecting them was entirely confidential. I submit that public universities should want to hire as president only candidates eager to give a talk for the university in which they declare what they intend to bring to and do for the public institution that they propose to lead. Such a requirement would in and of itself take us a long way to ensuring that those being chosen for the top job will act for the public interest rather than for private gain precisely because they will be chosen by the methods of democracy rather than by the methods of corporations. We might also then have genuine confidence that those leading our universities are acting for the public interest even when they are taking decisions behind closed doors.

Kudos to Kyle Bakx. We need more journalistic work that exposes the cultures of secrecy shaping our democracies.

* On this point, see also Thomas Docherty’s book Universities at War (Sage Swifts, 2014). For members of the University of Alberta community Docherty’s book is available electronically through the library website.

 

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Docherty, “Literature and Democracy,” 4 November 2015

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