Twenty-five years ago, on September 26th, 1988, Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA) was certified as the bargaining agent for full-time faculty and librarians. It would be another 18 months or so before a first collective agreement (CA) was achieved and ratified in 1990. (The first CA is usually the hardest to negotiate since employers are often not very happy about having their power curtailed by their employees working together.)
By making potentially discriminatory and arbitrary actions of employers subject to potential redress through recognized processes and protocols, especially those that are recognized under the law, is an important contribution that employees can make towards a fairer and more equitable workplace. However, it should also be noted that the strength and efficacy of a CA is determined in part by the vigilance of the membership – and not just by the Executive or a handful of the more active members of the union. By working together, it is also possible to ensure – ideally – a less stressful and more productive working environment.
Such developments are often made at great cost in the time and effort of the individuals who sacrifice their spare time to better the working conditions for everyone – and in an educational institution, like a university, that means improving the learning conditions for students as well (since it is difficult to separate out our working conditions in terms of class sizes, course selections and so on). It’s important therefore to recognize the contributions that numerous faculty and librarians have made in the past (more than 25 years) to the establishment of WLUFA, first as an association, and then as a union.
We should also recognize that the organizing work that went into establishing WLUFA took place under the impetus of changes taking place in the university sector in Ontario and Canada more broadly from the late 1960s onwards. It has changed considerably in the last quarter century, and it is certainly set to change again in the next 25 years, the need for faculty and librarians, contract and full-time, to work closely together for fairness at work and to ensure the best learning conditions for our students, will continue.
In fact, the challenges are increasing particularly in the present context, with the rise of the corporate university and the related attempts to change forms of collegial governance, the current media discussions on post-secondary education, graduate employment and financial costs that contribute to an agenda of change that might have considerable consequences for the state of Ontario’s university sector.
These issues are happening across the country. For example, just last week, at the University of Regina, the president and vice-chancellor narrowly escaped – by just one vote out of 270 or so – a confidence motion going forward because of faculty discontent over the direction of the university. That is, making budget cuts to academic programs and yet expanding the ranks of administrators and spending in other areas. The result has been a ‘damaged campus’ according to one faculty leader.
As part of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) and the national Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), WLUFA is also involved in working together with other faculty and librarians, beyond our own campus boundaries, to ensure the focus on the quality and integrity of university education is not lost in the various manoeuvrings of governments or political parties.
WLUFA is in the process of changing itself to begin meeting the challenges. Recent discussions at the Executive Retreat on September 4th and at subsequent meetings has recognized this need. As a starting point this year, there has been further developments in building WLUFA’s communications capacities by developing social media outlets, including this blog, to enable further discussion with all our members as well as trying to ensure that the voices and perspectives of faculty and librarians, whether full-time or part-time, contract or tenured, will be heard. As with any democratic organization, there will be different and competing opinions and perspectives, and I encourage you to participate in the discussions over the direction of the university in particular and the post-secondary sector in general.
It is us, contract and full-time, faculty and librarians, who will feel the impact of these changes most directly, whether in terms of our ability to deliver the best quality education at both undergraduate and graduate levels, and/or in the conditions we face in realizing our own research potential (whether in terms of the allocation of time, space, funding, personnel and so on).
As you will know from the four issues of last year’s WLUFA advocate newsletter (its first year of publication), there is serious concern over Laurier’s educational mission when the spending priorities of the Administration appear to be elsewhere.
At this point, much of our focus has been on the negotiations for a new CA for Contract Academic Staff (CAS), who have been negotiating since May. As WLUFA’s other bargaining unit, it has negotiated four CAs so far, with its first being successfully concluded with the Administration in 2001. Much remains to be done. WLUFA advocate and this blog represent part of the changing nature of our union and its membership both in terms of the threats that lie out there as well as the opportunities that await us.
Dr. Herbert Pimlott, Editor and Chair of the Communications Committee