By Garry Potter
Until last Monday night I believed that the single biggest problem stopping Contract Faculty from improving their situation was the ignorance, arrogance and egoism of the full-time faculty. Most full-time faculty fail to understand that the institutionalized two-tier, two-class faculty system at Laurier and most other universities is undermining university education; they fail to understand that the very existence of a low paid under-class of professors ultimately works to devalue education and research and indirectly is thus against their own interests. That much, I still believe is true; but I now see a bigger problem.
On Monday night there was a meeting of the University Faculty Council to discuss a collective response to the ongoing governance review instigated by the administration; but also, much more urgently, there was also a motion to cancel all classes in the event of a strike by either bargaining unit. Perhaps many faculty still are not aware that in the event of a strike, the non-striking bargaining unit would be required by law to cross their colleagues’ picket line. I say, perhaps many are still not aware of this; but I wonder why not? Are you not paying attention to what’s going on with the labour issues and educational issues of your country and university?
I spoke to the motion and justified it principally as a matter of fairness to the students. But there was an obvious implication with respect to collective bargaining. Such a policy would remove one of the administration’s most powerful weapons with respect to bargaining: the use of faculty and students as potential unwilling strikebreakers.
So, it was an important meeting with profound and very practical consequences for the CAS contract negotiations. The problem I mentioned earlier of the ignorance, arrogance and egoism of the full-time faculty certainly manifested itself in terms of the numbers of them who attended the meeting on Monday. Only a small number turned up. But then probably a majority of full-timers care little about their CAS colleagues; some perhaps even think that they deserve their low pay and bad conditions of employment. Regardless, one could say though, it is not they who are likely to be on strike in the near future.
There was, as I said, a low turnout among the full-time professoriate; but there was an even lower (much lower!) turnout among CAS members.
My colleagues at Senate managed to get the quorum for a UFC meeting reduced from a previously ridiculously high number (over 500) to a reasonable ten percent. The quorate magic number was 153. We didn’t even get close. The two motions passed. The second motion, on governance, will probably have some positive effect; its recommendations will be considered. Quorum or not, the numbers of people do not matter so much in this case.
The motion on class cancellations is a different story. Instead of the powerful show of strength and support for CAS that I had been hoping for, it is likely that the administration will read the low turnout as a sign of weakness. So, my CAS colleagues, your staying home has made your bargaining committee’s job much harder. Why didn’t you come?
I have been speculating as to that. I considered fear as one possibility and then ruled it out as a reason. You were afraid that in coming to a legitimate university sanctioned meeting you would somehow be penalized? That doesn’t really make sense to me. No, I have another theory.
I’m aware that you are very busy: marking, course preps, job applications for courses next term, childcare, maybe even some research… if you could somehow squeeze it in. So attending a meeting, any additional meeting, would be difficult for you. I get that. But you know, standing on a picket line watching me and my full-time colleagues and all our students crossing it is going to be difficult too!
No, if you’d thought the meeting was really going to be important you’d have been there! You obviously didn’t. So again why?
First off, let me say that if you thought that the meeting and your attendance at it were not important you are wrong. It will have effects – and effects upon you personally – just not positive effects. I think you have just gotten extremely cynical. You know your situation here at Laurier is not good. Not to put too fine a point on it; you know you’re being screwed! But you don’t think anything can be done about it. Well, you may be right; after a time it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Antonio Gramsci famously said: “I am a pessimist because of my intelligence but an optimist because of my will.” So, my cynical colleagues, I think you need a bit more optimism of the will!