For several months, OCUFA has been working to protect faculty rights in regards to two new pieces of legislation – Bill 8, The Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014 and Bill 10, Amendments to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act. Bill 8 extends grants the Ontario Ombudsman authority to examine the university sector, while Bill 10 increases the ability of the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) to collect data from the sector. Through a campaign of face-to-face advocacy and letter writing, we believe the government now understands faculty rights in respect to these Bills, and is working to address our concerns.
OCUFA was concerned that Bill 8 did not recognize, in sufficient detail, the bedrock principle on which universities are founded – that of academic freedom, the freedom to teach, learn, study and publish without threat of reprisal and discrimination. We have discussed our concerns with senior officials at the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and are pleased that the Bill now contains express reference to academic freedom and its importance in guiding any Ombudsman investigation at a university.
We were also concerned regarding how collective agreements and other similar agreements and policies at universities, and their diverse rights of grievance, arbitration, appeal and review over matters important to our members, would work together with the Ombudsman processes. We were pleased to learn in our discussions with Ministry officials that the provisions of the Ombudsman Act, which require rights of appeal to be exhausted before the Ombudsman undertakes an investigation, include the various rights of grievance, arbitration, appeal and review typically found at universities.
We look forward to assisting the provincial Ombudsman and his or her staff in any way possible to ensure that the extension of the Ombudsman’s authority is well-supported and well-informed about the, often unique, aspects and realities regarding the administration and operations of Ontario universities.
In terms of Bill 10, we were concerned that the proposed amendments to Schedule 5 of the existing MTCU Act would allow for a sweeping collection of personal information about professors and academic librarians that could then be shared with the Ministry of Education and the federal government. While the apparent purpose was to allow collection of student information to track enrolment and transfer activities, the wording was so broad that academic and other university staff would also be subject to personal information collection.
We know that universities already provide a wealth of aggregated data to government about both academic staff and students and it was not clear why the government was seeking additional authority. We were prepared to offer amendments to ensure that intrusion into the personal privacy of our members was limited to information that was clearly justified and necessary for the ministry and government to properly administer university funding, undertake planning, etc.
After a number of meetings and an exchange of information with senior ministry officials, we have been assured that no new personal information on faculty members will be collected by the ministry. The need for the proposed amendments to Schedule 5 primarily rests on the fact that the TCU Act does not confer the necessary authority to collect data needed for a variety of student-focused initiatives. We were told that aggregate data on academic staff is sufficient for ministry officials to fulfill their duties.
We were also assured that the process for any plans for expanded data collection would engage government legal staff, the Ministry of Government Services, and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner in active discussions regarding the need for any additional personal data. Also, we were assured that any personal data shared with the government of Canada would be limited to joint funding arrangements, such as training agreements.
Bill 8 and Bill 10 are now in committee, and will likely be passed in the coming weeks. We will continue to monitor the implementation of these Bills, and their ongoing administration, to ensure that faculty rights continue to be protected.