Why a union?
“What are the actual issues that faculty have with the governance of the university?”
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 Trinity Western University 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.
For a full version of this article, including responses from the Administration, go to http://www.marshillonline.com/news/ union-and-unity/.
NOT ABOUT THE MONEY
A 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 TEACHING
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.
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 and HR concerns.
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 still wait for them to be dealt with in a serious and timely manner.
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. While the University would like to provide as much information as possible on this issue, it is still 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.”
Regardless of the outcome of this unionization movement, conversations will likely continue to take place, and will likely be challenging for both sides. The administration is bound by law to be above reproach, unable to offer any “coercive” solutions that would bribe the faculty away from their feeling of needing a union. On the other side, the faculty is limited from sharing too much information for strategic reasons, to successfully present their opinion affectedly.
Alumni Association President and TWU Honourary 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.”