Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Talking About Negotiations Part 4 - Full Time Staffing and Mobilizing to Win


Today's post contains the final segment of a talk that I gave last December on the challenges facing faculty as they enter contract negotiations in June of 2014. Part 1 dealt with the history of the college system and changes to the level of government funding it receives.  Part 2 dealt with the impacts of austerity on college students and professors.  Part 3 focused on the issue of faculty academic freedom, and its critical importance for maintaining the quality of college education.

In Part 4, I discuss the drastic increase in non-full time faculty, and the ways this leads to precarious, under-paid academic work, and also to an impoverished learning environment.  In addition, I share some insights from my visits to 23 colleges and consider how we can mobilize college faculty to make gains on the important issues of full time professors, sustainable workloads, and academic freedom.

Negotiations 2014 - Part 4

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Talking About Negotiations Part 3 - Academic Freedom


Today's post contains Part 3 of my talk about issues facing college professors as we enter contract negotiations in June of 2014.  Part 1 dealt with the history of the college system and changes to the level of government funding it receives.  Part 2 dealt with the impact that government austerity is having on college students and faculty.

Part 3 focuses on the issue of academic freedom, and explores the many ways in which college faculty's lack of academic freedom protection impairs quality education, and enables management to reduce full time faculty.  Ultimately, gaining academic freedom and intellectual property protection in the collective agreement is a crucial goal for faculty.  Without it, there is little we can do to protect academic standards in the colleges today.

Negotiations 2014 - Part 3

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Talking About Negotiations Part 2 - Rising Tuitions, Academic Freedom and Online Courses


Today's post contains a link to Part 2 of a talk that I gave at Georgian College last December.  Part 1 dealt with the history of Ontario community colleges, and changes to levels of government funding. 

Part 2 of the talk looks at how government austerity and underfunding of college education has led to increased burdens on both students and faculty.  For students, rising tuitions have led to unsustainable debt-loads and an increasingly skewed balance between work and study .  Many students work full time while also engaging in full time studies - a situation that leads to stress, health problems, and decreased academic performance.

For faculty, underfunding has led to layoffs of full time positions and to the proliferation of online courses as a management cost-cutting strategy.  Without intellectual property protection, online course delivery becomes a way to increase class sizes, reduce faculty, deliver courses using part-time faculty, and reduce "program duplication".

Finally, despite austerity for college students and faculty, the number of full time college administrators is ballooning.  Money is increasingly going to hire new managers, not to improve the quality of education.

Negotiations 2014 - Part 2

Monday, March 17, 2014

Talking About Negotiations in 2014 - Austerity and Underfunding in Higher Education


Well, I didn't expect to be taking this long a break from posting to the Campaign for Quality Education blog.  For the past two months I've been working on the Report on Education in Ontario Colleges, a document that sums up conversations with over 600 faculty at all 24 of Ontario's Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology.  The Report will be launched shortly, and in subsequent weeks I'll be posting about the various questions it raises.

However,  I'll first be sharing a talk on the issues facing college professors that was recorded at Georgian College this past December.  OPSEU's talented videographer, Anna Jover, was present at the talk, and has done her best to make me sound somewhat coherent (no small feat!).  Over the next few days the talk will be posted in four parts.

Part one of the talk deals with an important aspect of college education today - the climate of fiscal austerity and subsequent chronic underfunding of higher education.  This is a story of tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest individuals, and of federal and provincial governments' retreat from funding public services.  This context is critical if we're to understand the challenges facing post-secondary today.

After posting the talk, I will be returning to the college meetings that occurred late in 2013, and checking in with the hard-working faculty at Fanshawe, Loyalist, Sault, Seneca, and Durham.

And now, part 1 of CAAT-A Bargaining 2014...

Negotiations 2014 - Part 1

Friday, January 17, 2014

Preparing for Bargaining at St. Lawrence College

On November 13th I drove up to Cornwall to visit with the stewards and officers of OPSEU Local 417, representing faculty at St. Lawrence College.

St. Lawrence was founded in 1967, and has campuses in Kingston, Cornwall, and Brockville.  It has approximately 6,700 full time and 20,000 part time students, and boasts a nationally reknowned music theatre program.  Local 417 currently represents 195 full time faculty and approximately 250 partial load.  The number of part-time faculty is also growing steadily.

Graeme Aubert
Local 417 president Graeme Aubert has 40 years of experience as a professor.  In our discussion he talked about the college system at its founding, and of how sufficient funding allowed for faculty professional development, and a more collegial work environment.  He also noted that faculty's 1984 victory in winning the Standard Workload Form (SWF) brought workload equity to the college.  Before the SWF it was easy for management to control faculty by "playing favourites" and punishing independently minded professors with overwhelming workloads.

The faculty at St. Lawrence are beginning to experience many of the same issues that are plaguing other colleges.  Like Mohawk and Cambrian, St. Lawrence has a curriculum licensing agreement with a private college operating well within their vicinity.  Alpha International Academy in Scarborough teaches business, general arts and english programs to international students.  The curriculum was developed by St. Lawrence professors and OPSEU members, but has now been outsourced to non-members.  With no intellectual property protection, faculty's knowledge and expertise can be used to put them out of work.

At our meeting a steward from counseling talked about how the climate of cost-cutting and reduction in full time faculty is leading to increased job stress and decreased service.  One conselor saw 119 people in September and October alone, and 63% of the clients had serious mental health issues.  With growing student enrollment and a higher stress learning environment, the work of college counselors is more important than ever.  In spite of this, full time counseling positions are in decline, and those left to handle the heavy case-loads are being worn down.  At the Kingston campus alone, this past fall 3 of the 5 counselors were on long term disability for stress-related issues.

Local 417 talked about challenges in mobilizing their membership, and especially the difficulty of communicating with their large roster of partial load faculty.  In addition, the fact that St. Lawrence's campuses reflect three very different communities with distinct demographics makes it difficult to present a unified message. 

These are challenges faced by several locals, and the hard-working team at Local 417 stress the need for improved communication during bargaining.  Putting clear, factual, and relevant information in the hands of our members will enable them to get behind bargaining demands, and will lead to much-needed success at the negotiating table.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Visiting Northern College

Immediately after my meeting at Fleming College I drove through an early snowstorm to North Bay.  Having never made the trip, the blizardy night-time drive was a bit hair-raising, but I managed to make it in reasonable time (with only one wrong turn).  The following day I continued up to the Kirkland Lake campus of Northern College, a drive filled with breathtaking scenery and thankfully little snow.

Kirkland Lake is where my father grew up, so visiting town held special meaning for me.  On directions from my Dad I was able to track down the exact street and home where he was born - an old wooden house beside a bush trail.  In the fading light I managed to snap a few quick pictures, then it was off to meet with president Olayide (Lad) Shaba and the stewards of OPSEU Local 653.

The old MacKay home on Carter Avenue, Kirkland Lake
Northern College has its central campus in Timmins, a further hour and a half drive north-west of Kirkland Lake.  Other campuses are located in Moosonee and Haileybury.  Northern services a catchment area of over 150,000 square kilometres, and has 2,000 full time and 15,000 part time students.

Over a Local executive committee meeting, I heard about the challenges being faced by faculty at Northern, shared in many ways by their colleagues in Sudbury, Sault St. Marie, North Bay, and Thunder Bay.  Like the other college faculty working in the North, the stewards of Local 653 lamented a government that appears to be turning its back on northern colleges, and failing to appreciate the important role they play in social and economic development. 

Its not hard to see how Northern College faculty can feel underfunded.  From an early 1990s high of 135 full time faculty, today just 78 remain.  The attrition is slow and steady.  As full time faculty retire, they are simply not being replaced.  Instead, part-timers are hired, and now several programs don't even have one full time faculty member associated with them.

Local 653 on the picket line in 2006
Professors, counselors and librarians at Northern are also struggling with the increasing demands that understaffing brings.  Faculty are asked to sit on college committees, yet this work is unpaid, and unaccounted for on their SWF (the contract that spells out the hours and terms of faculty work each semester).  If they don't attend meetings, faculty risk losing even more input into academic decisions.  However, the extra work of participating can be exploitative when considering the already maxed-out full time workloads.

Over dinner after the meeting, I was given an invaluable insight into the unique experience of teaching in the North, and of how it has changed over the years.  Stephen Borao, a long-time professor and union member who retired this past summer, described his teaching career and the major impact collective bargaining had on it.

In 1980 Stephen was hired as a "teaching master" at the Moosonee campus, when it wasn't yet affiliated with Northern College.  Semesters began in October, to leave room for moose hunting season, and Stephen flew in by bush plane to teach an introductory business program.  Stephen taught between 20 and 24 hours a week with no direction, no support, and no feedback.  He created the entire curriculum from scratch and delivered it until the site was shut down in 1983.  Because he was a union member, he was transferred to the Kirkland Lake campus, where he spent the next 30 years teaching, went back to school on an academic leave, and became a tireless officer in Local 653.

When considering his experiences and the challenges now facing faculty at Northern, Stephen reflected on the successful struggles of the past, saying: "People think that the decent wages, benefits, and hours worked today are out of the kindness of the college.  They don't realize that these things were won by the union."

Stephen's point is well worth remembering for today's college faculty.  Collective bargaining works, and if professors, counselors and librarians stand in solidarity, we can overcome the challenges we now face, and return the college system to its original mandate - providing excellent education, social support and economic development to Ontario's diverse communities.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Negotiating Academic Input at Fleming College

In November of last year I drove up to the Peterborough campus of Fleming College.  Fleming also has campuses in Cobourg, Haliburton, and Lindsay.  Approximately 6,000 full time and 10,000 part time students study at Fleming in a wide range of arts, environment, health, trades and business programs.

Gary Bonczak
The faculty at Fleming are represented by long-time president and past bargaining team member Gary Bonczak and the officers of OPSEU Local 352.  There are currently 200 full time faculty, and approximately 300 non full time.  Before the scourge of Mike Harris, Fleming had 235 full time faculty.  Since this time, student enrollment has steadily increased, and like other colleges, today's professors, counselors and librarians are being asked to do more with less.

At Fleming I was able to meet with both the officers and the general membership.  Both discussions highlighted the challenges being faced by faculty, and also offered an interesting glimpse into how academic freedom could work in Ontario colleges.

For years Fleming was unique in that professors ran the academic areas.  Faculty teams did all of the academic planning and course development.  They managed departmental budgets, and controlled the administration of programs.  This arrangement lasted for over 10 years, and was supported by a faculty-centered VPA.  While Gary mentioned that this arrangement added to the workload of academic team leaders, it also gave faculty unprecedented control over academic decision-making.  This model played a large role in building Fleming's reputation as an institution committed to excellence.

Due to layoffs in the 1990s and a lack of full time hiring, academic leaders who retired weren't replaced, and Fleming's faculty-driven model began to show strain.  When new administration arrived who didn't share the same collegial vision, a system of Deans and departmental Chairs was imposed.  Since this time, relationships have shifted, the faculty voice in academic management has waned, and grievances have become more common.

Despite this set-back to the culture of academic freedom at Fleming, faculty have been able to make some gains, as when they negotiated the return of non-contact development time in May and June.  This is a huge gain for faculty, and enables professors to keep up with much needed course and professional development.  Clearly the administration at Fleming realized that enabling faculty to stay up to date in their professions is directly linked to the quality of education.  Sadly, many other colleges have taken this once standard development time away from faculty, replacing it with an additional two months of teaching.

Fleming's unique history shows both that academic freedom is completely possible in Ontario Colleges, and also that its lack leads to an erosion of collegial relations.  With academic freedom negotiated in the new Academic Employees Collective Agreement, professors system-wide can begin to build the kind of faculty-driven, education-focused culture that Fleming once enjoyed.  The benefits this would provide to professors, and to students, are profound.