I attended the last 30 minutes of the fractious most recent AASUA Council planning to contribute to a discussion about the Leadership College scheduled as the final item on its agenda. When I arrived I found that a discussion of the budget had taken over the entire session, such that the last two agenda items (a presentation about academic freedom in light of events at the University of Saskatchewan, and the Leadership College discussion to which I had hoped to add my perspective as a General Faculties Council [GFC] representative) were in the end pre-empted. I want to begin by saying how refreshing it was to be in a room where contentious issues are still discussed vigorously. This is something that does not happen at GFC. There, dissent and challenge are given a polite and faintly disinterested hearing, as if to the squeaking of faraway dyspeptic mice. What (still) happens at AASUA Council is precious and increasingly rare. Nevertheless, I left worried that precisely this capacity may soon be lost.
Elsewhere, the problematic outcome of that Council meeting has been described as a matter of “hurt feelings.” This framing is, of course, a dismissal, and an effective one. Its power comes from what I would call its double-edged sexism. Because the people who were, indeed, hurt by the discussion and its outcome were all women, the “feelings” framing suggests that this was a sentimental girly problem that is therefore unserious and not relevant to everybody. Check your pockets, non-girls: you just got robbed, too. Let me explain how.
The budget discussion revolved around whether, and how many, course releases for committee chairs ought to be paid for with AASUA funds. The deliberation (to which I contributed) raised the point that for equity reasons expecting committee chairs to do this work for the AASUA in their spare time effectively meant that the pool of potential candidates would be shrunk in familiar ways. The chair of the Equity Committee resigned during the course of deliberations, an announcement to which the President responded with remarkable equanimity and which was clearly greeted in one part of the room with smug glee. But, I hear some of you saying, so what? These are hard times: we can’t pay for everything! Fripperies go to the wall.
Oh dear. Which shell did you think the pea was under? The now-approved AASUA budget actually is hugely increased on the professional bureaucracy side. Its offices are being renovated, it is going to be hiring new staff, and we dues-paying constituents are not allowed to know the annual salary of its Executive Director. The only slashing that took place was of the rather paltry allowances on the side that, officially at least, is supposed to provide direction and guidance to the whole enterprise: the side populated by our elected representatives and the committee chairs they designate. If the professional bureaucratic side is growing and becoming more complex (and it is), the work of the constituent side must correspondingly grow and become more complex. It doesn’t matter, really, if the people doing it are hard-working single moms of fractious crews of preschool children or single 50-something men with no partners, children, housepets, nor elderly relatives for whom they are responsible. The work is real and time-consuming and our elected representatives must be resourced to do it. This is relevant to all constituents, and we can and should insist on it because our dues underwrite the whole shebang.
It’s no accident, in my view, that a budget squabble that ended in a bureaucratic triumph took over an entire session, trumping any address of substantive content (remember that foregone discussion of academic freedom, and the one about the Leadership College which is why I was there at all). What worries me is that I already know what that kind of meeting looks like. I’ve been attending them for a year now as a representative at GFC.