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 http://www.aasua.ualberta.ca/en/CompensationNegotiations.aspx.
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 http://whithertheuofa.blogspot.ca/2012/05/todays-academic-faculty-committee.html. In 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.