English Matters

Guest Post: Academic Communities and the Role of Collective Bargaining

[The following is a guest post opinion piece by Ann Martin, ACCUTE campus representative for the University of Saskatchewan.  In some ways, this piece serves as a follow-up to her post from last year, “Of Insubordination and Academic Freedom.”  As with all guest posts, the views expressed are the author’s own, and Ann asks us to add that, “The views expressed in this opinion piece are not intended to represent the perspectives of my colleagues in the Department of English.” –Jason]

The March 2015 issue of University Affairs includes an excerpt from University Leadership and Public Policy in the Twenty-First Century written by Peter MacKinnon, former President of the University of Saskatchewan and current President of Athabasca University. “Collision Course”1 is an important piece, whether in light of recent court decisions that have a direct effect on university governance and labour relations, or in terms of President MacKinnon’s historical sense of academic community and the role of collective bargaining.

Particularly striking is MacKinnon’s critique of “The importation from the industrial world of a model of employer-employee relations that would have been seen at one time as anathema to the idea of a community of scholars.” While it’s not clear which community of scholars is referred to here, it made me think of Virginia Woolf’s allusion to Pendennis and “Arthur’s Education Fund,” which, she writes, made “the noble courts and quadrangles of Oxford and Cambridge often appear to educated men’s daughters like petticoats with holes in them.”2 Such communities of scholars have so often existed according to those whom they exclude, so that members may pursue their research, teaching, and administration in privilege, be it at home or in the colonies.

Of course, Three Guineas was published in 1938. But history is not, it appears, on President MacKinnon’s side. In early February, the University of Saskatchewan withdrew its appeal of a ruling by Queen’s Bench Justice Laing, which upheld Arbitrator Sims’s earlier decision that the Board of Governors was not obligated to follow the President’s personal recommendations on the award of tenure. This is an apparent departure from MacKinnon’s view that “rules and procedures for awarding tenure and promotion should remain squarely in the purview of the governing bodies,” and it reaffirms collegial processes rather than further enactments of Presidential veto.

A Supreme Court ruling from late January might also gloss President MacKinnon’s stance on labour relations and academic work. In its decision on the unconstitutionality of Saskatchewan’s Public Service Essential Services Act, the court has prevented the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan—two provincially designated “Public Employers”—to determine unilaterally which employees would be allowed to strike, should no agreement on the definition of “essential services” be reached through collective bargaining.

The right to strike and the right to peer review of career progress are forms of academic voice and agency, and I would argue that they have taken on added importance in the wake of the AUCC’s 2011 Statement on Academic Freedom. While that statement reaffirms academic freedom in its relation to teaching and research, it omits any reference to the rights of faculty who participate in processes and discussions of university governance. I cannot help but wonder the extent to which this omission may have affected my University last Spring, when a tenured faculty member was fired for insubordination relating to his administrative duties.

That said, in the weeks and months which followed Robert Buckingham’s firing and rehiring, a more redemptive process of transformation ensued. Ironically, it was characterized by “the give and take, the push and pull, and the concessions sought and made” that President MacKinnon views as antithetical to “good governance.”

But it is the function of the University—of tenured faculty, marginalized faculty, staff, students, community partners, administrators, and Board members—to engage collectively in such push-and-pull discussions. These debates are not empty struggles for power. They are central to the University as it represents an historical process, and at the core of the on-going determination of who may participate in an academic community and with what means.

Notes

1. http://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/collision-course-collective-bargaining-university-governance/

2. Woolf, Virginia. Three Guineas. 1938. A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. Ed. Michèle Barrett. London: Penguin, 2000.115-365.

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