Union and Unity
On October 3rd, Mars’ Hill broke the news that certain discontents among faculty led to an initiative to bring in the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) as a mediator between the TWU Administration and its faculty. On November 1st, TWUSA hosted an information meeting for students to hear from both faculty and administration on the issues, concerns, and details of the unionization process. Last week, Editors Chris Montgomery and Cameron Reed met with several faculty and administrators to answer the question that many are still left asking: “What are the actual issues that faculty have with the governance of the University that prompted them to pursue a union?” So as not to add more names and faces to this debate, we have chosen not to run the names of the professors interviewed.
Not About the Money One misconception many have is that faculty are attempting to increase their salaries. Each faculty member we interviewed who is in favor of unionization emphasized that salary is not the primary issue behind the unionization drive. “We come to this university not for pay, but because we like what it stands for,” is the shared perspective. While some of the faculty’s requests may require an increase in department spending, a specific increase in salary was not mentioned.
Priorities of Professorship One issue that many pro-union faculty members did cite was frustration with the numerous mandated responsibilities of their professorship. The professors we spoke with certainly love to teach. However, faculty are required to balance several additional responsibilities—research, committee attendance, public lecturing, journal publishing—along with lecturing in class each day. Faculty who cite this concern feel they are “working out of the corner of [their] desk” as they attempt to balance all of these jobs.
While some would like to dedicate even more time for research, others would like to focus more on teaching. The former are asking for additional relief from their course load in order to remain relevant in their highly competitive fields and not be left behind by other universities. The latter are asking for less emphasis on research requirements so they can focus on their teaching without the added stress of needing to be published. Overall, both groups would like their work environment to better accommodate their particular academic priorities.
Since June the university has been in the process of creating a new Associate Provost of Research position to provide faculty with better support for their extra-curricular endeavors, and are working to meet this need. Additionally, over the last few years the amount of course relief given to faculty for their responsibilities, such as research or sitting on committees, has increased incrementally. The multi-million dollar science research wing that was added onto the south end of Neufeld in 2011 could also be pointed to as another tangible result of the administration’s prioritization of research capabilities.
Communication Channels Another main concern of faculty has been confusion over the grievance process—how professors’ needs and issues are dealt with on a situational basis. Until a few years ago, the primary route of faculty grievances was directed through the Faculty Association (FA). Faculty presented concerns to this body of peers and the chair of the FA would meet with the administration in the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC) where these concerns were presented.
This process changed in 2010 with the introduction of the Senate: a new faculty-led body designed to deal specifically with academic concerns. While the Senate now addresses concerns about academics, the Faculty Association continues to addresses concerns about administration. “Academics” refers to everything related to the professors’ relationship with both their students and their area of study. “Administration” refers to the nitty-gritty details of employment contracts, HR concerns, and details such as how many paper clips they are allotted each year. Okay, maybe not that last one.
While both the FA and Senate provide more specialized avenues for communication and problem solving, there remains uncertainty among faculty as to what those roles look like in praxis. Some are worried that the FA has “fizzled out.” Because the FA can only suggest concerns and does not really hold any authority, many have come to see it as a waste of time, having voiced concerns in the past but are still waiting for them to be dealt with in a serious and timely manner.
It was pointed out that in addition to the FA and Senate opportunities, conflict resolution mediation is available at any time through the Faculty Human Resource website. Nevertheless there seems to be some discrepancy as to the efficacy of these channels.
Tenure Status The status of tenure at the university was another concern contributing to faculty being in favour of unionization. Generally, “Tenure” is a title given to long-serving professors at post-secondary institutions as a guarantee of further employment, barring any gross misdemeanor or blatant disregard for policy. Some faculty expressed concern that tenure is not being honored as such by the university.
Bob Wood stated there is no difference in both the way tenure is awarded and its symbolic and practical meaning for faculty at TWU, as compared to other universities in Canada. The current 60-page Faculty Contract outlines every aspect of the faculty’s job—their printed guidebook for life at Trinity. Page 28 reveals a possible point of contention: “A tenured or continuing appointment is an institutionally granted privilege that is not intended to secure indiscriminately the permanent employment of the tenured faculty member, nor in any way to weaken the ability of the University's Board of Governors to sustain the University's mission or the scholarly and spiritual quality of its task, nor to make termination of employment unduly difficult where there is just cause for dismissal. Faculty service at T.W.U. must always retain the character of ministry. Rather, tenure is an expression of confidence designed to encourage the development and promote the ongoing of a stable, Christian, academic community.”
Multiple sources on both sides of the issue have indicated that there have been occasions in the recent past where tenured professors have been ‘let go’ with little explanation to the rest of the faculty. Wood explained that the University has provided as much information as possible but is legally obligated to keep the justification for these dismissals private.
Similarly, some faculty raised concerns regarding the current university policy of reviewing employment contracts on an annual basis. It was phrased by one faculty member that this means they are required to “essentially prove to the university on a yearly basis, why they should still be employed.”
In response Bob Wood outlined the current procedure surrounding faculty contract renewal: “There are different categories of faculty, so the contracts look different. The contract outlines your job title, salary, teaching load, and what course reliefs you may have. These things can change every year so annual review is necessary.”
New Employment Contract The last of the major subjects of contention that have led to the current unionization drive are issues over the new Faculty Contract itself. In 2010, a small committee was formed (of which Bob Wood was a part) to re-evaluate and reform the old Faculty Handbook, which basically comprised their employment contract. The result of this long-overdue process was the current, more streamlined Faculty Contract, which now “emphasizes policy over procedure.”
Many non-profit organizations that have a significant employer body have moved in recent years to what is called the Carver Business Model, summarized by Dr. John Carter: “In contrast to the approaches typically used by boards, Policy Governance separates issues of organizational purpose (ENDS) from all other organizational issues (MEANS), placing primary importance on those Ends. Policy Governance Boards demand accomplishment of purpose, and only limit the staff's available means to those which do not violate the board's pre-stated standards of prudence and ethics.” Although it has provided a more distinct framework for an otherwise complex work environment, this shift has raised many questions among some faculty as to how specific details of their employment contract are to be worked out. Critics of the Carver Business Model are not limited to this campus: “[Carver’s] model features a well-designed system and ignores human nature. Despite the well-crafted policies, the clear role separation, the focus on ends, board effectiveness can be made or destroyed by individuals and their behaviours, skills, motivations,” Ruth Armstrong writes in an article for Front & Center.
Furthermore, some faculty do not feel that the ratification process was adequate—that a completely new employment contract was forced upon them without an opportunity for their approval. According to administration representatives, at the time of its revision the newly formed contract was presented to the chair of the FA to be reviewed by the rest of the faculty. As administration did not receive any complaints in response, the contract became official.
The new document is much more specific regarding how faculty members are to perform their employment duties. Take the university’s exam policy for example. Who should be responsible for invigilating the exams? Who is responsible for marking them? This seems to be an important issue, one that would be necessary to outline in an employment contract. The new Faculty Contract states on page 40, “If an instructor is unable to supervise his or her own midterm or final examinations, arrangements should be made for another instructor to invigilate the exam. Teaching Assistants or faculty secretaries should not be asked to supervise students when they write examinations.” Contrastingly, the old contract does not even mention exam invigilation. However, questions remain among some faculty as to whether these details are properly suit the diverse and particular needs of such a large employment body.
Regardless of the outcome of this unionization movement, conversations will likely continue to take place, and will likely be challenging for both sides. When this movement towards unionization was first presented to Bob Wood, he was legally barred from continuing any further employment conversations with faculty, as a third party became officially involved. The administration is bound by law to be above reproach, unable to offer any “coercive” deals or solutions that would bribe the faculty away from their feeling of needing a union. On the other side, the faculty are limited from sharing too much information for strategic reasons, in order to successfully present their opinion in an effective manner.
Alumni Association President and TWU Honorary Doctorate recipient Bob Kuhn offered Mars’ Hill his perspective. As a lawyer involved with the landmark Supreme Court case involving the BC Teacher’s Association a decade ago, he has seen the university go through difficult times. In light of this new challenge, Kuhn exhorts that now more than ever, “this is an opportunity to show the power of Christ to the world.”