Please weigh in on Academic Faculty Committee Meeting, AASUA Town Hall, & AASUA proposals

Yesterday, at 10 a.m., the Academic Faculty Committee hosted an ad hoc meeting of its constituency, faculty members, on the proposals proceeding to a ratification vote by the AASUA membership. Those who were able to attend that meeting or the subsequent Town Hall at noon are urged to share their views here about what occurred at one or both of the meetings.

The dual “inseparable” proposals are available at

Or, rather, two of the documents relating to the proposals are available there. The “Terms of Reference,” which are still changing, have not yet been made available. Many concerns were expressed at yesterday’s Town Hall about the new “Terms” which were being made public for the first time. 

Concerns about Changing “Terms of Reference”

AASUA Council had many concerns about the original “Terms of Reference” presented to them on 15 May 2012. The new “Terms of Reference” generate new concerns. One example will probably serve to sum up the general character of the new “Terms”: they claim that the Committee will not meet confidentially unless it chooses to hold in camera sessions. The “Terms” also now indicate that members of the Renaissance Committee, who will be chosen in the first insistence only if they are deemed “disinterested” parties, can be chucked off the Committee if at any time if they prove not to be sufficiently “collaborative.” The wording about the ultimate ratification vote that will take place after the issuance of the Committee’s report in January 2014 (if the Committee is authorized to proceed with its work) has now also changed significantly. It is not clear whether the Council vote on 15 May 2012 to recommend the proposals for ratification can or should — as a matter of principle, and possibly well-established precedent — stand in the face of the changing “Terms.” 

Calls for Delay

Unless the various calls for delay to the process that have been made at AASUA Council, the faculty meeting, and the subsequent Town Hall are heeded, the ratification vote will be held sometime soon, and possibly by the end of the month. Members are calling for a delay to buy some time for the membership to get informed about, and discuss with one another, the many complexities of the proposals before us.

Concerns Aired at Ad Hoc Faculty Meeting Hosted by AFC

About 35 faculty members came to the first of the two meetings held yesterday, the ad hoc meeting hosted by the Academic Faculty Committee. Thirty-five is a low number, with a double valence: it represents a higher number than the number present at the Council vote last Tuesday (in which 24 of 30 members voted for the proposals to go forward to the membership for their ratification) yet still constitutes only a very tiny percentage of the faculty as a whole. General eagerness was expressed about the importance of asking all faculty to engage with this matter, and the meeting ended in those gathered requesting (with only one “no” in the crowd) that the AFC’s acting chair, Colleen Cassady St. Clair, continue on to the Town Hall scheduled for noon to offer a statement there expressing the discomfort of those present with the proposals before the membership.

Professor St. Clair was also asked to call for a delay in the ratification vote to give members an opportunity to get informed.

Finally, the faculty members assembled also asked for the AFC to find a formal mechanism for communicating their concerns to and inviting input from all faculty members. As it stands, the Academic Faculty Committee has no email list for communicating with the members of its constituency. This list has been requested from the AASUA membership. There will, however, be some delay in the implementation of any mechanism for soliciting input from faculty. In the meantime, would faculty members like to share their views here about the proposals? This could be especially helpful for faculty who were not able to attend because they are away doing research or presenting their work at conferences. What is here is only the barest sketch of what was discussed; and Arts Squared is meant as a forum for the sharing of ideas. It can only be as vital as contributors choose to make it.

A New Caste?

The proposals before us, which center on changing the terms and mechanisms for academic compensation, involve more than faculty salaries. Faculty are greatly concerned about the mandate for the introduction of teaching-only streams. At both the faculty meeting and the Town Hall, members asked whether faculty should not be considering whether an association that is agreeing to treat academic compensation as a problem, and to create a new “caste” of academic staff from CAST at the expense of both faculty and CAST, can really serve the interests of faculty members. As one member put it at the Town Hall, he wants to be part of a research institution. One of the likely consequences of “teaching-only streams” is that fewer of us will be paid to do research; without question, no matter how many “conversions” of CAST members to teaching-only tenured faculty occur, the new “teaching-only” streams formalize the University’s long-standing under-investment in professors who are both researchers and teachers when what we need, as one member put it, is “research-informed teaching, and teaching-informed research.” Has the University invested so much in its “Top 20 by 2020” ambition, and paid for so many new buildings, only so that we may now have faculties in which only a small percentage of the members will be funded to do research, and students will now take their courses from “professors” who are no longer, according to the humanist conception of the university, researchers as well as teachers? The “scandal” of what has occurred with the University’s quarter-century long dependence upon CAST is not resolved with these measures. It is simply gussied up in new attire. Faculty said they hoped CAST would understand that very few individuals amongst them would actually benefit from the introduction of these new positions while the CAST constituency itself was likely to be reduced.


Others went further and suggested that at this time in the Association’s history, in which the faculty now comprise less than half of the membership, these proposals constitute such a strike on us as a constituency, that the faculty should give some consideration, for the good the University as a whole, to divesting themselves from the AASUA to form their own association. It was suggested that in the name of “security” for members of one of the Association’s seven constituencies these proposals put at risk the security of us all. It is not just our salaries that are stake, but the fate of the institution as a whole.


At the ad hoc faculty meeting, in the face of numerous concerns that have been expressed about the ways in which the proposals seem to constitute a failure of duty on part of the AASUA Executive, the Executive Director claimed that the AASUA will be fulfilling its representational duty to us by providing us with an opportunity to ratify the recommendations of the Renaissance Committee in a vote after the issuance of its final report in January 2014. Many of those who spoke at the meeting spoke, however, to the inadequacy of this as a democratic mechanism. As it stands, AASUA ratification votes require only a simple majority of those who vote. Indeed, strictly speaking, only a very small percentage of the membership needs to vote to produce the outcome. And as one member noted in serious terms, and another with a great deal of humour, historically, the membership has voted “yes” no matter what propositions are put before it. But even if we had a far more stringent voting requirement — one that would ensure that the membership must be informed about issues and at least half of it turn out for a vote before anything can be decided — collegial governance requires a good deal more than a “yes” / “no” vote on propositions that have the power to bring about a radical transformation of the University as we know it. As one member put it, the AASUA is relying upon “impoverished” ideas of democracy and collegial governance. 

Look for initiatives from the Faculty of Arts in the Fall to improve collegial governance at this University. In the meantime, please help us generate public discussion of the proposals. The Town Hall yesterday concluded with one member urging everyone present — no matter what their views on the proposals — to do what they could to spread the word about the controversy that they are generating. (Only about 70 people were present for the Town Hall.)

You are encouraged to post both here and on the Whither of the U of A blog at the interests of generating as much public discussion of these issues as possible, cross-posting is encouraged. And if you are in town, please attend the second of the Town Hall meetings, just announced for Friday, 25 May, at noon, in Education 2-54. At yesterday’s town hall, it was requested that a second be held with an independent, professional facilitator as chair, which is hopefully what has been arranged.

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10 Responses to Please weigh in on Academic Faculty Committee Meeting, AASUA Town Hall, & AASUA proposals

  1. Kathleen Lowrey says:

    (cross-posted to Whither)

    Three things that have stuck with me, and a fourth that positively haunts me:

    1) Toward the close of the 10 am AFC meeting, discussion turned toward how to facilitate discussion among academic faculty of these proposed measures (which affect us disproportionately). I said that there must surely exist an email list of academic faculty at the U of A. Someone (I don’t recall who) said the AASUA possesses such a list; the current and past chairs of the AFC were both present at the meeting and asked for access to it; and Executive Director Brygeda Renke said that she absolutely could not make it available except with the express approval of AASUA Council. Which entity, handily enough, I don’t believe will be meeting again until the fall. 

2) If I didn’t already post here under my own name, I’d start using the moniker “Uncreative Academic”. At the AASUA Town Hall, the updated terms of reference for the proposed Renaissance Committee were revealed. Six “creative academics” will be carefully selected by Ian MacLaren and Chris Cheeseman to serve. I asked what distinguished “creative academics” from “uncreative academics” in that context and President MacLaren explained that it meant academics who were open-minded about the RC, who didn’t come to it with the same old negative attitudes and approaches that characterized previous negotiations. Ah. Further down, the terms of reference specified that should any committee members start behaving in a manner that is not “constructive”, they may upon the joint consensus of Messrs. MacLaren and Cheeseman be replaced. This suggests to me an anticipatory concern on the part of these two gentlemen about balking: that even the most cautiously hand-selected of prospective sausage-makers may go a bit green around the gills once they see what the factory floor looks like.

    3) Ian MacLaren said that one of the issues that the RC is going to take up is “inequity” at FEC, and specifically, the FEC outcomes of junior vs. senior faculty. He said they had crunched the numbers and that junior faculty averaged 1.13 increments over [some number of years] while senior faculty averaged 1.26 increments over [some number of years]. Now, my first private reaction to this was a warm feeling of glee, all over, from my head to my feets: having just gotten tenure a year ago, and having heard along the way more than one senior colleague assure me that I had it easy as a junior evaluee at FEC, that senior faculty had to jump through hoops the height of which I could not begin to imagine as a sheltered young pup, etc. etc. So if a vote for the RC is a vote for REVENGE… sign me up! Right? It was powerfully, momentarily distracting from the fact that the overall goal of the RC will be: fewer increments all around. And then it occurred to me that this might, just possibly, be the same kind of divide and conquer strategy used to lure other segments of the membership: such as, a vote for the RC being a vote to stick it to the professoriate, YIPPEE! Even if it’s also a vote for circumventing collective agreements to impose cuts with no promises of any specific benefits to anybody.

    4) Were I not so “uncreative”, I could probably think of a really good joke about the tremendous enthusiasm of the RC advocates for handcuff metaphors.

  2. Don Perkins says:

    I notice that the comments and analysis of the dual documents keep referring to a “teaching-only” stream, which is not strictly speaking the case. The term used in the Negotiation document that calls for the “Renaissance Committee” is “teaching-intensive.” As practiced at a number of our “comparator” institutions, “teaching-intensive” positions (which go by a number of designations) actually provide for the intensive teachers to get some compensation within their appointments for practical research, professional development, etc.–things expected of people in the CAS:T constituency, within our current collective agreement, but not actually supported substantively or substantially by the employer. They also remove much of the indignity of having to apply and re-apply year after year and term after term for the “right” to come back into the classroom and do our jobs all over again.

    More importantly, for any CAS:T reading this, or anyone else, no “teaching-only,” “teaching intensive” stream, or any other particular solution to the ongoing problem of job security for CAS:T constituents has been discussed or endorsed by the CAS:T constituency, the CAS:T Constituency Committee or its Agreement Review Committee for the CAS:T collective agreement. As chair of the ARC for CAS:T, I was as surprised (and a bit disturbed) as any to see even a “teaching-intensive” proposition as a priority item in the terms of reference for the “Renaissance Committee,” because it seemed to me to threaten the scope available to the ARC, but I am assured this is not the case. I certainly hope it is not.

    I am disturbed even more at the tone of some comments about CAST and the work we do on this campus. If we were not here, doing the work we do, with the high level of education we have attained, we would have to be invented. For one thing, (elephant-in-the-room time) we would have to be invented to keep the work and working conditions of the Academic Faculty possible. The 8-900 CAST on the U of A campus account for 40% of undergraduate courses taught, and for a high number of the large-enrollment introductory courses (two CAST in Science routinely have primary instruction responsibilities for over 1000 students each year, each, including one with a class with over 500). If we were not here, a few unpleasant options would have to be worked through: increase the teaching load of the Academic Faculty to cover 86% of courses taught and/or 86% of enrollment. Or both. Or the enrollment of the U of A would have to be reduced by something on the order of 50%–taking with it a huge chunk of the provincial operating grant, which would then be shared out to the MacEwans, etc., who, it was suggested at Friday’s Town Hall, could be looking after more of the undergraduate instruction. (Best of all would be to double the size of the Academic Faculty, and to fill half of the new positions with people already not quite on staff but in long-term temporary situations on the payroll.)

    Think of us not as pretenders trying to sneak in the back gate of academe, or as an embarrassing contamination, but as a kind of labour endowment, a piece of the research support infrastructure. We are not seasonal migrant academic workers cherry-picking our way through the orchards of academe. We are highly qualified, highly motivated professionals, merely looking like any self-respecting professionals for better conditions under which to do our work, and better compensation and security for doing it. How could we be or do otherwise?

    • Laurie Adkin says:

      Thanks very much for this, Don. All points well taken.

      • Carolyn Sale says:

        That’s a fair point, Don: the official terminology is “teaching-intensive.” This will, of course, be because the demands to do some research won’t disappear. If you examine any of the positions of this kind that exist in the States, you’ll see that the course load is crushing, and it comes with the demand that the person in the primarily teaching position maintain a research profile. This is what is so awful about the situation: as you say, the positions will be filled by highly qualified professionals, but these professionals will be kept out of fully-fledged tenure-track positions, as the University, in the name of fiscal restraint imposed by the Government, formalizes its underinvestment in professors who are researchers-teachers.

    • Kathleen Lowrey says:

      “Best of all would be to double the size of the Academic Faculty, and to fill half of the new positions with people already not quite on staff but in long-term temporary situations on the payroll.”

      YES. You can say I’m a dreamer… but this would be a set of numbers and ideas that would be worth negotiating around.

      • Don Perkins says:

        It would also, I think, be a set of numbers not to hold our breath waiting for. It is an idealist position, and while we dream the improbable dream, people in the CAS:T constituency get hit with the double whammy of lack of job security in a job they never really trained for or sought out, but that remains their foothold in an academic environment and their access to some research facilities. I’ve only ever met on person going into a PhD program who was doing it specifically to focus on an academic teaching career–and she was doing it because she could not keep her teaching job with her MA.

        So in trying to express negative thoughts about the kind of position, Teaching-Intensive or rolling-term or any of several options we might consider in our Agreement Review process, I for one wish some among the Faculty would maybe be more careful not to express that negativity so that it appears to refer to the people in the jobs as much as or more than the jobs themselves.

        And to try to be a bit more accepting of the fact that we will try to ameliorate our situation by improving the conditions as we experience them in the jobs we have now. We cannot wait for that happy day when $200.00 oil and $15.00 natural gas refill the provincial coffers. Any plan that involves waiting for better times and fuller Faculty complements has a certain Fabian element about it, perpetuating a system that undermines the energies of the “Instructor CAST(e)”, so to speak. As I said in my last comment, we will seek to improve our circumstances as we live and work them, because what other option, right now, do we have? I know that from a Faculty perspective these look like bad options, but from where we view things, they are improvements, and we would be irresponsible not to seek them.

        The stresses of the past few months and especially the debates over the past couple of weeks seem to be multiplying the ironies. I have heard angry expressions at meetings like the Town Halls that the AF should have its own bargaining unit free of the encumbrances of the other constituencies. When CAS:T (or Sessionals as they were then designated) were first placed with AASUA by the BoG, there was a strongly voiced opinion that we should not join an organization geared to the needs of the Faculty, who would simply swamp us in any vote on compensations and benefits. Now, there is a noisy segment of the AF that sees the AASUA as not meeting the needs of the AF as thoroughly as seems appropriate. I, again for one, think we are stronger working together, especially given the number and range of Articles in the various Collective Agreements that are either common or parallel.

      • Kathleen Lowrey says:

        Don Perkins (I can’t figure out how to leave a reply under your comment; it doesn’t seem to nest that way) — if I were CAST, I’d vote yes on the referendum; you’ve got nothing to lose and a slim chance of gain. that’s not advice, of course; if you want my advice (and I am sure I wouldn’t, if I were you) I’d say vote no. But the crafters of the referendum have been clever in making an offer which they have no obligation to back up to a constituency that has nothing to lose by hoping they’ll come through.

        This just underlines how much more tenured faculty should be doing to make the case for TT hires. Most of these trends have to do with forces way beyond our control. But we have a real duty to the university to noisily make the case for TT hiring keeping pace with student enrolments; we should be doing a lot more, a lot more noisily.

        The fact is, though, part of that case *is* that CAST are in a structural position in which they do not have the time and support for full research agendas; and that they do not have the leeway to take certain kinds of important risks in their teaching. It’s no insult to CAST to say so; these are exactly the constraints that make CAST want TT positions.

        I know CAST also want jobs that pay more, and that are more secure. But there is a specific case to be made for why TT positions are better for the university as a whole, not just for individuals hired into them, and it has to do with exactly the intellectual and pedagogical drawbacks of working from a CAST basis. This, again, is a *structural* issue, and not a commentary on individual CAST talents and capabilities.

      • Don Perkins says:

        Kathleen, we should probably meet informally–we seem to be moving at times in similar directions for different reasons.

        What bothers me most consistently, when I sit down to reflect on the debates of the past two or three weeks is that element of distrust that was mentioned often at the Town Hall on Friday. It exists on different levels: most pointedly between AASUA members and Central Admin; between AASUA members and their own executive and negotiators; between constituencies of the AASUA; within constituencies of the AASUA. Hard to get things moving productively or progressively in such circumstances. Also hard when the same voices will express both disappointment with or disapproval of the existing processes of dispute resolution, and distrust of alternatives proposed, saying we need to trust the existing processes. The word “complicated” came up at Friday’s Town Hall. That’s almost a euphemism, in the circumstances.

        The idea that the terms of the Negotiating document tie the hands of AASUA is partly true. The terms tie us, for one thing, to the processes written into our own bylaws–terms we have rather cavalierly ignored or overlooked in the past. But the bigger tie is to the Post Secondary Learning Act, which tilts everything in the direction of the BoG. We can get very old and very bitter, waiting for that act to change in our favour given the vertical and horizontal integration between the Eternal Conservatives and the BoG. And with the Rosy-glassed Wildcards, things would get tighter.

        So I think, on balance, we have an opportunity here to try something else to supplement the existing processes that so many have found unproductive, a something else that in the end still answers to that problematic “normal procedures.” Sometimes I wonder if the resistance is to the change from normal procedures, or the determination to resort to them in the final analysis.

        If CAST should, as you suggest, consider voting for the dual documents, it is for the same reason we all should at least consider it. The Teaching-Intensive issue is beside the point–we have an Agreement Review Committee beginning work (the regular process) anyway, that will consider language that can address issues of job security a variety of ways. In fact, because I chair that ARC, my hands are tied somewhat by negotiating protocol when it comes to getting involved in the dual documents debate.

        But consider this: even under the terms of our current Collective Agreement, which rests on all sorts of paradigms that assume CAS:T appointments are temporary solutions to a temporary problem, different Faculties and departments have concocted formal and informal ways of providing some measure of continuity for some positions. But the ways are inconsistent across the university, and across and even within faculties and at times departments, a patchwork f arbitrariness at best. And all are still subject to that other paradigm: “flexibility,” which is a mask for other issues. There is still no provision for recall if laid off or if one takes “leave” to do some professional development, no provision for seniority. Even if one’s evaluations have been at the “exemplary” level for years, if “flexibility” is waved in the air as a current necessity, if you are CAS:T, you can be gone on short to no notice.

        Carolyn Sale has held up the glowing example of abusiveness of contingent and adjunct academic labour that is the norm in the U.S. But among the ironies that proliferate at U of A these days, and on this occasion, the kinds of things we are considering at U. of A. are the kinds of things academic labour organizations in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as Canada, are promoting as solutions to the abuse, not as methods to strengthen and extend it.

        Like we say, sometimes: complicated.

  3. For those who are interested, I’ve posted notes from the second Town Hall Meeting on the AFC website along with additional comments by others.

  4. Carolyn Sale says:

    Don, thanks for helping us to take further the discussion of the “teaching-intensive” streams. Let’s keep in mind what was being said on this front at the Town Halls: if the Administration or the AASUA had wanted to solve the CAST problem, it has had many, many opportunities to do so over the last quarter-century. Why is the Administration pushing for “teaching-intensive” streams now? Because it will be cheaper to hire “teaching-intensive” professors with a research profile while it engages in a serious retrenchment from its “Top 20 by 2020” ambitions for this University as a research institution. To this let me add, let’s be clear: these positions will be as competitive as fully-fledged professorial positions. People will fly in from all over North America, and perhaps elsewhere, to claim them.

    One of the things I find most unfortunate about the haste with which this process of “negotiation” has been conducted: it kept the Academic Faculty Committee and CAST from having an opportunity to come together for a detailed discussion of this particular issue. What I’d like to emphasize: it is easy to justify NOT voting for these complex “inseparable” proposals with their myriad elements on the base of one issue alone. I trust everyone finds the opposite proposition a good deal more *complicated.*

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