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Auditor General’s claims about OSAP inaccurate and irresponsible

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The recent Ontario Auditor General’s Report on the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) should concern Ontarians. In its analysis, it misrepresents the value OSAP provides to students and families and draws premature and inaccurate conclusions based on incomplete data. Most alarmingly, it dramatically oversteps the expectations of the Auditor General’s office by making recommendations seemingly intended to pave the way for government cuts to student assistance for low-income families.

In response, Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations President Gyllian Phillips wrote a letter to the Auditor General detailing why the report on OSAP is both inaccurate and irresponsible.

The grants that OSAP provides help tens of thousands of Ontario students attend university and college without taking on unreasonable student debt that will weigh them down for decades. Programs like OSAP operate as both financial assistance and as long-term policy levers to shift the perceptions and expectations of low-income families.

The fear of taking on more debt is a well-documented barrier for those considering a postsecondary education and any analysis based on only a single year of data (as is the case with the Auditor General’s Report) could not possibly measure the effectiveness of the program.

Contrary to the Auditor General’s flawed claims, there is ample evidence to suggest that, in the long term, increasing the amount and availability of non-repayable grants are the best means to remove the financial barriers faced by students wishing to pursue a postsecondary education.

Further, the Auditor General glosses over one of the defining equity policy goals of the program: to reduce the debt of those students forced to borrow money to afford a postsecondary education. As the previous government came to understand, the high levels of student debt being taken on by low-income students is an equity issue government must address.

The criticism that only two per cent more students are attending university or college because of the new grants programs is also misleading. If the stated goal of OSAP is to increase access for low-income students, properly measuring the effectiveness of this initiative would require dis-aggregated data that demonstrates if the proportion of low-income students has increased. The Auditor General does not have the data to make that case.

In fact, the higher than anticipated uptake for the program signals the opposite. If one were auditing the program based on whether it was achieving its stated policy goals, surely increased uptake would be a positive outcome. Since the program is income tested, it should be inferred that the 25 per cent increase in uptake is, in fact, from families who would otherwise be incurring high levels of debt.

The new grants program was specifically designed to address the fact that Ontario has been a national laggard when it comes to non-repayable student financial assistance. A significant portion of the funding for these new grants was reallocated from existing ineffective financial assistance programs and tax credits. In effect, less money is being wasted on red tape, and more money is being invested in making university and college a reality for thousands of students. That the demand for the program has exceeded expectations demonstrates the real financial struggles Ontarians face paying for a postsecondary education.

Tuition fees in Ontario are the highest in Canada and continue to increase year after year. Each time the provincial government allows tuition fees to rise, they increase the financial burden of pursuing a postsecondary education and create more demand for student financial assistance through OSAP.

The recommendations made in the report on OSAP extend beyond the jurisdiction of the Auditor General’s office, the mandate of which is to conduct audits and value-for-dollar analyses of government programs. As a result, this report veers heavily into policy analysis and encroaches on a public policy debate best left to elected representatives, academic and policy experts, and the communities impacted.

Given the flawed data and inappropriate recommendations, this report represents an ill-informed political pronouncement rather than an expert opinion rooted in the principles of value-for-dollar auditing.

Due to its historic independence and vigilant accounting, the office of the Auditor General has garnered a great deal of respect, influence, and trust. This latest example of the Auditor General blurring the lines and expanding her mandate into areas outside her jurisdiction undermines this trust and distorts an important policy discussion.

Brescia Faculty Association consolidation approved in nick of time

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Congratulations are in order for the Brescia Faculty Association (BFA). The BFA managed to organize Brescia contract faculty and get them consolidated into the main bargaining unit just two days before Bill 47 passed. Introduced by Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, Bill 47 wiped consolidation language from the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

The previous Ontario government introduced the now deleted consolidation language in 2017. It made it easier for the province’s unions to streamline and strengthen their bargaining units. Despite the objections and delay tactics of the Brescia University College administration, the Ontario Labour Board determined that the BFA’s application was in order and approved the consolidation of the existing unit with the new unit.

The BFA follows the University of Ontario Institute of Technology Faculty Association (UOITFA) as only the second faculty association granted consolidation between the passing of Bill 148 in 2017 and Bill 47 in 2018. All new consolidations can only result from negotiations with the employer.

Both faculty associations saw an opportunity and, by moving quickly, were able to organize new contract faculty members into their existing bargaining units.

UWOFA makes progress on use of SQCTs and fairness for contract faculty

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The University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) has reached a four-year agreement with the Western University administration. The agreement includes significant advances towards expanded job security provisions for contract faculty and important improvements and clarifications on the uses of Student Questionnaires on Courses and Teaching in the faculty appointment, evaluation, tenure, and promotion processes. The union also achieved across-the-board salary increases competitive with other faculty associations.

Les professeurs s’inquiètent de l’annulation soudaine de l’université de langue française

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Le récent énoncé économique du gouvernement de l’Ontario en automne dernier a révélé que les progressistes-conservateurs ne financeraient plus ni n’iraient de l’avant avec l’université de langue française devant être construite à Toronto. Dans le cadre d’une tendance devenue inquiétante pour ce gouvernement, l’annonce a été faite sans discussion avec les intervenants du secteur, notamment les professeurs et les étudiants et, ce qui est encore plus inquiétant, sans consulter la communauté francophone de l’Ontario.

Le Conseil de planification pour une université de langue française et le gouvernement provincial précédent avaient passé plusieurs années à consulter les Ontariens et à élaborer une vision pour la nouvelle université censée être un établissement autonome créé par et pour les francophones. L’« Université de l’Ontario français » devait avoir pour but de servir le centre et le sud-ouest de l’Ontario, là où la population de francophones de la province connaît la plus forte croissance.

L’annulation du projet de l’université de langue française est surprenante, en partie parce que Doug Ford lui-même avait promis pendant sa campagne électorale que le projet irait de l’avant. Après l’annulation du financement de trois campus d’expansion et une directive menaçant de réduire le financement des universités qui ne disciplinent pas les voix dissidentes sur les campus, le gouvernement progressiste-conservateur de Ford remet en question son soutien aux universités publiques dynamiques de l’Ontario, à la liberté d’expression et à la population francophone de la province, qui compte plus de 600 000 personnes.

Il est très inquiétant que ce gouvernement annule l’université de langue française qui avait été promise, sans consulter au préalable les étudiants, les parents et les professeurs francophones. Cette décision témoigne d’un manque de respect envers la population francophone minoritaire de l’Ontario, et la frustration des francophones est justifiée.

En réponse à l’annonce de Doug Ford, les délégués réunis à la 85e assemblée du Conseil de l’Association canadienne des professeures et professeurs d’université (ACPPU) ont adopté à l’unanimité une résolution condamnant la décision du gouvernement conservateur ontarien d’annuler le projet de l’Université de l’Ontario français sans avoir consulté la communauté franco-ontarienne. Une lettre par l’ACPPU a été envoyée au premier ministre ontarien Ford qui souligne ces inquiétudes. 

Les professeurs de l’Ontario s’inquiètent du fait que le gouvernement continue de prendre des décisions de cette ampleur à huis clos et en secret. L’annulation de l’université de langue française fournit une autre preuve que le gouvernement de Doug Ford n’est pas disposé à écouter les Ontariens, mais qu’il s’est plutôt engagé à poursuivre un programme idéologique malavisé et irresponsable.

Faculty concerned with abrupt cancellation of French-language university

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The Ontario Government’s recent fall economic statement revealed that the Progressive Conservatives would no longer be funding or moving forward with the French-language university set to be built in Toronto. In what has become a disturbing trend for this government, the announcement was made without any discussion with sector stakeholders, including faculty and students, and, more distressingly, without any consultation with Ontario’s Francophone community.

Conceived as an autonomous institution that would be created by and for Francophones, the French-language University Planning Board and previous provincial government had spent several years consulting with Ontarians, and developing a vision for the new university. The “Université de l’Ontario français” was meant to serve central and southwestern Ontario, home to the fastest growing population of Francophones in the province.

The cancellation of the planned French-language university was a surprise, in part, because Doug Ford himself had promised during his election campaign that the project would go ahead. Following the cancellation of funding for three extension campuses and a directive threatening to cut funding from universities that fail to discipline dissenting campus voices, Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has called into question its support for Ontario’s vibrant public universities, free speech, and the province’s Francophone population of more than 600,000.

It is deeply concerning that this government would cancel the promised French-language university without first consulting Francophone students, parents, and faculty. The decision marks a distinct lack of respect for Ontario’s minority French-speaking population, and Francophones are justified in their frustration.

In response to Ford’s announcement, delegates attending the 85th Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Council meeting this past weekend unanimously adopted a motion condemning the Ontario Conservative government for canceling plans for the Université de l’Ontario français without consulting Franco-Ontarians. The CAUT has written a letter to the Ontario Premier expressing these concerns.

Faculty across Ontario are alarmed that the government continues to make decisions of this magnitude behind closed doors in secret. The cancelled French-language university is further evidence that the Doug Ford government is not interested in listening to Ontarians, but is instead committed to pursuing an uninformed and unaccountable ideological agenda.

Announcing the OCUFA Fellowship in Higher Education Journalism

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The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) is excited to announce the $10,000 OCUFA Fellowship in Higher Education Journalism.

In recent years, there has been a marked shortage of informed investigative reporting on Canadian higher education issues in the Canadian media. The OCUFA Fellowship in Higher Education Journalism is intended to help address this gap, and support those wishing to pursue in-depth journalism on higher education.

The Fellowship is open to full-time, part-time, and freelance journalists, including students, who wish to pursue an investigative research project in the area of Canadian higher education. Applications focusing on any topic within this area are welcomed, including public policy, labour relations, the academic labour market, governance, financing, teaching, research, librarianship and information management, demographics, education quality, free speech and academic freedom, equity and diversity, indigeneity, and reconciliation.

The deadline for applications is January 25, 2019. The Fellowship is valued at $10,000 and administered by OCUFA, with the first half payable at the start of the project and the second half upon completion. The winner will have to complete and publish and/or broadcast the project within a year of being granted the Fellowship. OCUFA will not exercise any editorial control or judgment over the work produced.

To learn more about the fellowship and to apply, please visit:
https://ocufa.on.ca/awards/journalismfellowship

York University faculty associations secure commitments to equity and benefits in new agreements

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The York University Faculty Association (YUFA) has reached a three-year agreement with the York University administration. As part of the settlement, YUFA achieved a commitment from the university to hire six Indigenous faculty over the life of the agreement, and to work with the faculty association to undertake an equal pay exercise for women, racialized and Indigenous faculty members. YUFA achieved across-the-board salary increases competitive with other faculty associations and benefits improvements for active members and retirees. Additionally, the faculty association secured a commitment to index long-term disability and pensions to the Consumer Price Index, improved parental leave provisions, and increases to their Trans Health Fund.

The Osgoode Hall Faculty Association (OHFA) reached a three-year agreement with the York University administration. OHFA gained increases to the anomaly fund and a commitment from the university administration to review faculty salaries with the goal of addressing disparities for self-identified females, members of racialized groups, and Indigenous faculty members. The faculty association secured benefits improvements for active members and retirees as well as long-term disability and pension indexation to the Consumer Price Index. Finally, OHFA also achieved across-the-board salary increases competitive with other faculty associations.

Advocacy Day introduces new MPPs to faculty priorities

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On November 13, faculty from across the province gathered at Queen’s Park for a day advocating for stronger public funding for postsecondary education, fairness for contract faculty, and good jobs.

The day started with a breakfast reception attended by numerous MPPs and their staff. The reception featured remarks from David Piccini, the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities; Chris Glover, the NDP critic for colleges and universities, and Mike Schreiner, the Leader of the Green Party.

During the day, faculty met with more than 35 MPPs representing all political parties, many of whom have universities in or adjacent to their ridings. With a new government in place and many new faces at Queen’s Park, this fall’s advocacy day provided an important opportunity for MPPs to learn about faculty priorities, including:

  • protecting and expanding public funding for postsecondary education in Ontario to promote quality and accessibility;
  • delivering fairness for contract faculty and committing to supporting good jobs on university campuses; and
  • moving away from punitive university funding models based on performance metrics and urging greater consultation with faculty about university funding frameworks.

As in previous years, faculty gathered in advance to strategize and prepare for their meetings. OCUFA representatives also had a strong social media presence throughout the day, reporting on their meetings with MPPs and the issues they discussed.

Advocacy Day facilitated many important conversations. It is hoped that these conversations with MPPs will continue, not just at Queen’s Park, but also in the ridings where faculty live and work.

Michael Conlon hired as next OCUFA Executive Director

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Michael Conlon will be the next Executive Director of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. Dr. Conlon comes to OCUFA following four years as Executive Director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia (CUFA BC). He brings with him decades of experience, expertise, and knowledge working in the university sector, including in labour and government relations. Michael will officially take over as Executive Director on January 1, 2019.

Dr. Conlon’s hiring follows the announcement that longtime Executive Director Mark Rosenfeld will be retiring from the position to pursue other projects, including organizing the 2019 Worldviews Conference on Media and Higher Education.

OCUFA sets good jobs, university funding, and capacity building as priorities at 156th Board Meeting

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On Saturday, October 20 and Sunday, October 21, OCUFA held its first Board of Directors Meeting of the 2018-19 academic year. The weekend oriented new board members to OCUFA and allowed members to discuss the results of the 2018 provincial election and what it could mean for Ontario’s universities. With that context, members reviewed OCUFA’s priorities for the academic year: good jobs, university funding, and capacity building. On Saturday, during a special lunchtime reception, board members and colleagues celebrated the winners of the 2018 OCUFA Teaching and Academic Librarianship Awards.

Priorities

The election of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative (PC) government will mean new challenges in the years to come. With announcements requiring universities to draft free speech policies and cancelling funding for expansion campuses in the GTA, the Ford’s government has shown they not only have different interests than the previous government, but do not believe in consulting with sector stakeholders or the public before making significant decisions. OCUFA’s priorities for the 2018-2019 year have been strategically framed in ways most likely to gain traction with the new government, and particular attention has been paid to areas where the new government is most likely to be active.

Good jobs

Advocating for good jobs has been one of OCUFA’s long-term goals and has taken on particular urgency in recent years as the nature of academic work has shifted dramatically. Research suggests the number of courses taught by contract faculty at Ontario universities has doubled since 2000 and at least 58 per cent of faculty are now working on contract. With full-time faculty hiring lagging behind student enrolment, workload and faculty complement have also emerged as key challenges. Delivering fairness for contract faculty and committing to faculty renewal will create more good jobs on our campuses and ensure students have access to the quality learning experience they deserve. To this end, OCUFA intends to:

  • continue to advocate for decent work reforms to employment and labour law (including a vacation pay increases, improved consolidation provisions, better leaves, and equal pay measures) and stand up to this government’s regressive attack on workers’ rights;
  • continue working as part of the Fight for $15 and Fairness to speak up for workers, including faculty;
  • advocate for fairness for contract faculty, and work toward fostering solidarity between full-time and contract faculty;
  • defend existing full-time faculty complement and respond to any cuts or freezes;
  • continue working with opposition parties to keep the need for faculty renewal on the agenda; and
  • continue to pursue initiatives that support good pension plans and benefits that respond to the interests and concerns of faculty associations and their members.

University funding

Strong public funding for universities is necessary to support excellence in teaching and research, and accessible postsecondary education for Ontarians from diverse backgrounds. Yet, over the past few years, the Ontario Budget has not included any new public funding for universities. As a result, Ontario’s universities continue to trail the rest of the country in per-student funding for the eighth consecutive year. Given the savings the current Progressive Conservative government claims are needed to balance the budget, proposals to cut postsecondary education might come sooner than later. Already, the government has announced the defunding of four university campuses, the latest being the proposed new francophone university. Faculty at Ontario’s universities are already trying to do more with less and further cuts will threaten the quality of education available to students. The new government has also indicated a strong interest in expanding outcomes-based funding and it is likely that the component of “at risk” funding tied to performance outcomes will increase. With that in mind, during the next year, OCUFA intends to:

  • advocate for stable, consistent, and adequate base funding for Ontario universities;
  • increase engagement with members and other sector stakeholders to push back against outcome-based funding;
  • advocate for meaningful consultations at the provincial and local level as part of the Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) negotiation process; and
  • support faculty associations in responding to the third round of SMA negotiations to ensure faculty voices are included in local consultations.

Capacity building

Ontario’s university faculty face serious challenges in their workplaces, including too few faculty to do the work, and too many precarious jobs at underfunded universities. OCUFA continues to support member associations with capacity building strategies that can be leveraged to produce stronger unions and a university labour movement able to more effectively tackle these problems. This includes building committees and networks within faculty associations that bring together contract faculty and sessional members who are directly impacted by precarious work, and building solidarity between contract and full-time faculty members.

Reflecting on the new political reality in Ontario

During a special presentation, Doug Nesbitt, founding editor of RankandFile.ca, detailed the resistance to the populist PC government of Mike Harris in the late 1990s. Nesbitt, drawing on academic research he has done for his PhD, spoke about the lessons learned from the Harris years and how they could inform the political strategies employed by OCUFA. The presentation was followed by a session in which board members broke out into groups and engaged in substantive discussions about how they believe Ontario’s faculty can most effectively influence the current Doug Ford government.

Celebrating excellence in teaching

Finally, a special luncheon gala celebrated the recipients of this year’s Teaching and Academic Librarianship Awards. Since 1973, these awards have recognized the exceptional contributions made by professors and librarians to the quality of higher education in Ontario.

The 2017-2018 Teaching Award recipients are:

  • Michelle Craig, Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto
  • Robert Fleisig, Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Practice and Technology at McMaster University
  • David Hutchison, Professor in the Department of Educational Studies and Director of the Centre for Digital Humanities at Brock University
  • Fiona Rawle, Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga
  • Frankie Stewart, Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Ryerson University

The luncheon featured a keynote address from Nana aba Duncan, host of CBC’s Fresh Air, who shared thoughtful and touching stories about her experiences in postsecondary education. Attendees were also shown the premiere of a new video profiling former Teaching Award winner Milena Head.

The next OCUFA Board of Directors Meeting will be held February 9-10, 2019.

The Ontario Government’s fall economic statement: What faculty should know

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On Thursday, November 15, the Ontario Progressive Conservative Government released its fall economic statement. The 155-page document offers an update on the status of Ontario’s finances and contains numerous government announcements across many different sectors. Also known as the mini-budget, the fall economic statement outlines some of the government’s plans for the public sector and offers insight into upcoming budgetary decisions.

As expected, the recurring themes in this year’s statement are provincial deficit and debt levels and the need to create efficiencies to limit government spending. Of particular interest to faculty and campus community are the announcements regarding public sector bargaining, pensions, executive compensation, and university free speech policies. You can read OCUFA’s full summary and analysis of these announcements here.

The statement also announced the government’s cancellation of the French-language university that was set to be built in Toronto.

Conceived as an autonomous institution that would be created by and for Francophones, the cancellation of the planned university was a surprise, in part, because Doug Ford himself had promised the project would go ahead. Following the cancellation of the three extension campuses in the Greater Toronto Area, this continues a concerning trend of the government cutting funding for new university campuses without any consultation.

After years of planning for the French-language university, the decision to pull the plug on the project was made without input from sector stakeholders or members of the francophone community. It is alarming that the government has chosen to make these decisions behind closed doors in secret. This is further evidence the Doug Ford government is not interested in listening to Ontarians, but is instead committed to pursuing an uninformed and unaccountable ideological agenda.

CCPA report finds majority of all university faculty appointments are contract positions

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A new report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives provides yet more evidence that Canadian universities heavily rely on precariously-employed contract faculty. According to data obtained through freedom of information requests to all 78 publicly-funded Canadian universities, more than 50 per cent of all university faculty appointments across Canada are now contract positions.

Read the report.

Why are Ontario’s public universities and colleges members of business lobby group?

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A number of Ontario universities and colleges are paying members of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) – the business lobby group advocating for the rollback of fair labour laws, including paid sick days, fair scheduling rights, and equal pay for contract, part-time and casual workers, in addition to the cancellation of the $15 minimum wage.

Given the devastating impacts Bill 47 will have on our campus communities, why are universities and colleges members of this organization? As public institutions committed to expanding knowledge, should universities be supporting a group that spreads misinformation and advocates against basic protections that benefit thousands of students and campus workers?

The majority of Ontarians support decent work laws because they understand their benefits. Universities and colleges should publicly distance themselves from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s efforts to undermine fair labour laws and reconsider their memberships with this organization.

Below is a full list of the public colleges and universities in Ontario who are members of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce:

  • Brock University
  • Centennial College
  • George Brown College
  • Humber College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning
  • Niagara College
  • Ryerson University
  • Seneca College
  • St Lawrence College
  • University of Guelph
  • University of Toronto
  • University of Ontario Institute of Technology
  • University of Windsor
  • Wilfrid Laurier University
  • York University

Ottawa faculty, students, and campus workers rally at Minister’s office

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On Friday, November 2nd, students, faculty, and campus workers in Ottawa visited the constituency office of Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, to speak with her about the impact Bill 47 will have on postsecondary education. More than 50 participants from the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Saint Paul University, Algonquin College, College La Cité, and OPSEU Local 470 attended a rally in front of her office.

“Bill 47 will result in the continued rise of precarious work on our campuses, which will undoubtedly have consequences on the quality of education,” said Susan Spronk, President of the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO). “About half of the professors who teach at the University of Ottawa are working on part-time contracts, making about half the salary of full-time professors for similar work, with reduced capacity to host regular office hours, provide detailed feedback on students’ assignments, or write letters of reference. This is unfair to both contract faculty and students.”

Speakers also noted the devastating implications that repealing equal pay laws, fair scheduling provisions, paid sick days, and the $15 minimum wage will have on campus communities.

As part of the rally, participants attempted to deliver a pledge to the Minister, asking her to vote against Bill 47. However, even though it was constituency day, when MPPs are supposed to be in their riding offices meeting with the public, Fullerton’s office was closed. Attendees ended the rally by leaving the Minister a note and phone message asking her to call them back.

Watch a video of the rally.

The rally in Ottawa is part of a series of actions taking place across Ontario since the introduction of Bill 47. Check out 15andfairness.org/events to join an event near you.