USFA e-Letter: University’s Appeal implies the Agreement fetters Board’s rights under the Act

Last week the University announced that it would appeal the decision of Justice Laing, claiming that its intention is to seek clarity on governance of the university. What University administrators now seek is to determine whether the University of Saskatchewan Act supersedes the Collective Agreement. We are perplexed with this decision because the Board just accepted the 2014-17 Collective Agreement that confirms our mutual respect for and confidence in our collegial processes, and because the series of court cases at issue have been about the tenure/appeal process — not about governance.

This summer the University appealed Arbitrator Sims’ earlier decision on the denial of tenure for one of our faculty members because of a “presidential veto” in 2009. Sims had concluded, after reviewing the Act and the Collective Agreement, that the president’s personal recommendation to the Board for the award of tenure was not required, and that the Board was not obliged to follow the president’s recommendation before considering an application for tenure submitted by one of the committees assigned the power to recommend tenure pursuant to the Agreement. Justice Laing found in favour of the USFA in September and upheld the Sims decision.

The University’s statements last week in its news release and attached Q&A create a troubling inconsistency in messages: supporting the new Collective Agreement but wanting to know it has the authority to override it.

In negotiations, we were pleased to arrive at a mutually agreed acknowledgment of established collegial processes, which we placed in the first article of the Collective Agreement. The new Collective Agreement also saw the Board of Governors agree to reverse its delegation of authority over tenure decisions to the president. We trusted the employer’s sincerity, and so we asked our members to ratify the Agreement. We felt it was time to move on and, as President Barnhart himself stated in his address to the campus community on September 9th, “people are proud of our history, proud of this university … and it’s time for us now to rebuild and to restore that pride and that trust.”

To truly restore trust, the University might reconsider this decision to “know with certainty whether the Act or the collective agreement governs the university” (Q&A #9). The governance of our University for the past one hundred years has included a successful application of both the University Act and the Collective Agreement. The USFA has no dispute over the authority of the Act. The issue in the courts to date has been whether correct procedures were followed, and whether the President must transfer the recommendations of collegial committees to the Board for approval.

How many additional hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds will the University spend in legal fees in an attempt to prove that the Act supersedes the Collective Agreement when that was never in dispute? Why would University administrators “continue to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary” (Q&A #10) to seek final authority over tenure? And at what cost?

The USFA Executive has requested a meeting with the Interim President and Provost to discuss this matter, with hopes of better understanding the motivation for and goal of the appeal.