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Lessons from Laurentian
Apr 20, 2021

LUFA and OCUFA are calling for the resignation of Senior Laurentian University Leadershipand Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano who they claim were complicit in creating the university’s financial crisis. The result of the crisis is that Laurentian has terminated 83 professors, eliminated 27 positions through attrition and retirement, and cut 70 programs. Laurentian faculty recently ratified a Collective Agreement “under duress.” Members were told the University would close if members did not vote in favour of a 5% cut in salary and a two-year salary freeze (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/laurentian-faculty-collective-agreement-1.5986953). 

At a time when the financial exigency clause was needed, it was nullified. University Leadership, with the blessing of the Ontario Government and the Minister of Colleges and Universities, used insolvency to bypass the Collective Agreement’s financial exigency clause. As LUFA President Fabrice Colin said, “It now appears that this was the outcome that both Laurentian’s senior administration and Minister Romano were working toward.” 

There have been strong allegations of corruption committed by the senior administration at Laurentian and calls for an investigation into the university’s financial management. Laurentian University is the first publicly funded Canadian university to declare itself insolvent. 

Laurentian declared insolvency in February just as it was on the verge of being unable to meet payroll. It has debts of nearly $100-million from a building spree that didn’t produce enrolment gains and it ran deficits in the range of $2-million to $5-million a year for several years, according to its court filings. It also spent millions in grants earmarked for research to keep the lights on, owing in part to the practice of having just one bank account where incoming funds from various sources were mixed. (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-laurentian-fires-professors-slashes-programs/)

There is a need for universities to have institutional autonomy. However, institutional autonomy should not be about the independence of a privileged elite at the university diverting public fund towards expenditures for which they were not intended, it should be about the institution’s right to collectively decide the academic mission. 

The crisis at Laurentian University was not caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While Senior University Leadership bears much responsibility and should be held accountable, the crisis at Laurentian is the result of ongoing political will to do little to support post-secondary education in Ontario. Chronic underfunding by the Ontario government and legislated tuition cuts with nothing to offset lost revenue have led to the situation at Laurentian. Provincial governments across the country need to accept their responsibility in creating financial crises at Canadian Universities and choose not to be part of the cause.


Important Event: Laurentian University Phone Bank
Apr 13, 2021

The insolvency process at Laurentian University is moving swiftly and will conclude mid-April. Without intervention, this closed-door process—intended for private sector corporations—will determine the future of this public institution, key employer, and cultural hub in the region. 

The federal government needs to work with the government of Ontario and provide emergency funding to save Laurentian University.

Join your colleagues on Wednesday, April 14 at noon for a virtual phone bank to call on Member of Parliament Corey Tochor and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland to standup for the importance of post-secondary institutions, particularly in rural and remote communities.

In just 30 minutes, we can show our support for our colleagues at Laurentian and put pressure on the federal government to provide the funding required to save this vital university. 

Register today by email to johanne.brassard@usask.ca.


Laurentian University – an Update
Apr 12, 2021

From CAUT President Brenda Austin-Smith:

“Today, lay-off notices were issued to tenured and contract academic staff members of Laurentian University Faculty Association (LUFA). Although the details of the mediation agreement at Laurentian University remain confidential, Radio-Canada has reported that more than 60 programs are being cut. We also know that LUFA worked tirelessly under enormous pressure within an incredibly short timeline to save as many jobs as possible, defend the principles of tenure, academic freedom, and collegial governance, and seek accountability for the financial crisis.

CAUT advocated for emergency funding in meeting with MPs from all parties, engaged members to undertake MP outreach, and worked alongside the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations to support and amplify local organizing efforts, and assisted LUFA in media outreach. 

The program cuts, job losses, and the decision by Laurentian University to sever ties with the federated institutions endanger its unique tricultural and bilingual mandate and its place as a northern centre of research and education excellence. It is devastating for staff and students, and the community.

We will continue to:

  • Press the provincial and federal governments to step up with emergency grants and increased core funding to support Laurentian’s tricultural and bilingual mandate. A significant immediate investment in the University is needed to stabilize programming, to retain staff and students from the region, and signal that both levels of government are committed to the continuation of Laurentian’s important mandate and a thriving north.
  • Call for accountability and improved collegial governance and guard against intrusions on institutional autonomy.  There needs to be more oversight of governance from the academic community. The Board of Governors must include greater campus representation — including academic staff and students — and fewer corporate and provincial government appointees. Governance and accountability must be improved by bringing the provisions of the Laurentian Act up to the standards of other university statutes. 
  • Work to ensure that normal processes and procedures in cases of financial exigency are followed. The failure of financial transparency and accountability and the administration’s refusal to use the tools and procedures that would have avoided this crisis are a betrayal of all stakeholders.

This is a heart-breaking, outrageous process and outcome. It did not have to be this way. Together we must unite to support our colleagues and strive to address the failings that led to this crisis – of public policy and governance.”


The status of academic labour relations in Canada: not so good
Nov 20, 2017

University of Manitoba

One year ago today, members of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association ratified an agreement after being on strike for three weeks. Seeking provisions on performance indicators, workload, and powers of Deans, UMFA members had voted 86% in favour of strike action. A further issue of deep concern was that the Pallister government had directed the university to extend its collective agreement by one year at 0%. As UMFA President Mark Hudson pointed out, such directives represent “illegitimate government interference in a constitutionally protected process of collective bargaining” and that the province had “unnecessarily endangered a complex negotiation through this misguided interference,” thereby jeopardizing the educational goals of the 29,000 students at U of Manitoba. UMFA made significant gains: the new collective agreement included workload protections, enhancements to collegial governance, and fair assessment practices.

Nonetheless, UMFA has charged the university with bargaining in bad faith during their contract negotiations because the provincial government had instructed the university to rescind a proposal that included wage increases, and replace it with a one-year agreement with a wage freeze. Their unfair labour practice complaint is proceeding.

Academic Labour Relations in Canada today

This fall has been particularly troubling with a number of strikes and strike mandates resulting from similar disputes in Canada over collegial governance by faculty members, fair workloads, compensation, the collective bargaining processes that help to protect those rights for academic faculty members, and the effects on students and their academic programs when these values are threatened.

Laurentian University

In September the Laurentian University Faculty Association received a strike mandate from its members with 91% of those voting in support of job action. Major issues in the labour dispute for LUFA included increased workload without extra supports to compensate, transparent governance with meaningful participation by faculty members, and a rollback in salaries. “Faculty are over-worked and under-supported,” the union said, “the university must enable us to provide a high-quality education to our students. We think the university should be run openly and transparently, with our meaningful participation. Our goal is to protect and promote a positive, enriching learning environment for our students.

LUFA president Jim Ketchen commented that “For over 35 years, LUFA and the university administration have, through our collective agreements, worked together to offer positive and enriching education to our students… LUFA wants to protect Laurentian’s learning environment from proposed rollbacks.”

After a 10-day strike, members of the Laurentian University Faculty Association ratified a new contract.

Teaching Faculty at University of Ontario Institute of Technology

The academics who are not in full-time tenure-track positions find themselves in particularly precarious working environments. Teaching Faculty Members at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, a small unit of teaching-intensive faculty with the highest teaching workload in Ontario, voted 85.7% in favour of taking strike action this October. Workload and work/life balance were the bargaining priorities for Teaching Faculty at UOIT, who had been negotiating for months to address their lack of job security, unreasonable workloads, and lower pay than tenure-stream faculty. Their mandate was simply to be treated fairly and equitably compared to their tenure-stream colleagues. “Is teaching excellence a priority at UOIT?” they asked. Just a few days ago on November 15, the Teaching Faculty unit was finally “heard” by the University and an agreement was ratified by both the membership and the Employer.

College Faculty in Ontario

After a five-week strike was ended over the weekend with back-to-work legislation, part-time college faculty in Ontario are returning to work today. The CAAT-Academic Divisional Executive of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union were striking for the right to academic freedom in their collective agreement, full-time employment, and a seniority system for their members who do not have full-time employment (70–80% of college faculty are contract and just 20–30% are full time).

Unlike universities in the province and other post-secondary institutions in Canada, Ontario’s public colleges concentrate both academic and administrative decision-making in administration rather than faculty. Contract faculty are particularly vulnerable to attacks on their integral role in the university. “Academic freedom—what should be the foundational value of every university and college—has never existed in the Ontario college system,” they explain, and as a result, “management exerts total control over academic decision-making. The impacts on students of how academic decisions are made—and who makes them—are far-reaching.”

Contract faculty sought equitability and fairness: there is no seniority system, and contracts are offered every 4 months. The employer’s proposed deal would increase the ratio of contract faculty, and OPSEU argues that colleges are using precarious work as a tool to cut costs, something that leaves students in an unfair situation where they’re now “paying more for reduced access to securely employed and fairly-compensated faculty who can focus on students’ needs in the short and long term.” OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas has stated, “We don’t want a Walmart model of education. It’s not good for students, and it’s not good for faculty.”

Acadia University Faculty Association strike mandate

On November 14, the Acadia University Faculty Association issued a strike deadline of Monday, November 27.

“After months of trying to get the university to bargain productively for a fair and equitable collective agreement, we have no choice but to call for legal strike action,” said AUFA President Stephen Ahern.

AUFA began negotiations in late March, but reached an impasse in June when the board refused to discuss key faculty proposals. AUFA filed for the assistance of a provincial conciliator in early September. After conciliation stalled on the first day, AUFA members voted 81% in favour of strike action.

The major outstanding issues for AUFA include restoring full-time faculty positions, addressing pay equity, achieving salaries in line with regional averages, and gaining a commitment to fundraise for a campus childcare centre. The board has rejected these proposals while asking for significant concessions, including clawing back the compensation of part-time faculty.

Collegiality

Many of these disputes contribute to a threat against collegiality—the participation of academic employees in academic governance. Collegiality depends on academic freedom, fair workloads, and treating academic employees as conscientious professionals whose expertise and participation in academic matters is both valued and exercised.

“At a time when the importance of academic standards is higher than ever, it is untenable that faculty remain marginalized from academic decisions,” wrote Kevin MacKay, Vice-President of OPSEU Local 240 last June. “The time for collegial governance, for elected, faculty-majority senates in each college, and academic freedom for individual faculty, is now.” Today is a sad day for Ontario college faculty. USFA stands in solidarity with all faculty members who are fighting for and defending these fundamental principles of collegial governance.