Rae Days, Internal Strife, and the Corporatization of the Universities
The 1990s were a period of difficultyand upheaval. In 1991, a severe economic recession began, brought on by a slowdown in the U.S. economy and inflation-fighting tactics in Canada. The government in Ontario swung wildly from left to right, with the Progressive Conservatives replacing the New Democratic government mid-waythrough the decade. The turmoil took its toll on OCUFA, too, as the organization struggled to deal with a variety of internal challenges.
From Rae Days to the Common Sense Revolution
In 1990, Ontarians elected the province’s first NDP government, ushering in what many hoped would be a new, more progressive era. By 1992, however, with the economy stalled and deficits climbing, Premier Bob Rae began a program of budget slashing and austerity, culminating in the implementation of the Social Contract in 1993.
Under this initiative, public sector unions were forced to implement $2 billion in wage cuts centred on a forced 12 days of unpaid leave (“Rae Days”). Public sector collective bargaining agreements were re-opened and re-negotiated. And faculty associations were forced to negotiate five per cent wage cuts; those that didn’t comply had a settlement imposed upon them.
In 1995, things went from bad to worse for faculty. Ontarians elected Mike Harris’s Progressive Conservatives, whose so-called Common Sense Revolution promised a more “corporate” approach to the public sector and public programs. The results were immediate and harsh: In 1995, university funding was cut by 16 per cent, programs were slashed, performance indicators were created and applied, and tuition rose sharply as the government allowed universities to increase fees by as much as 20 per cent.
Public reaction to the turmoil was clear. Days of Action were held across the province from 1995 to 1998, and many unions and faculty associations went out on strike.
Within OCUFA, internal turmoil mirrored the external upheaval. Faculty associations grappling with government-imposed cuts debated how well OCUFA was serving their needs. A few associations either pulled out of the organization or threatened to leave. At the Board and staff levels, high turnover and sharp differences in opinion bogged the organization down.
By 1997, however, a fundamental shift had begun. A new Board executive and reinvigorated staff sharpened the organization’s focus on its key priorities: lobbying the government on behalf of faculty and serving the needs of members. Election-readiness workshops, conferences, and major new research efforts began once again. OCUFA’s executive reconnected with member organizations, travelling around the province to hear their concerns. And new working relationships with a number of student and staff organizations helped strengthen and extend OCUFA’s message.
I think that when there are difficult times, you demand more of your provincial association. When tenure is being threatened, tuition is increasing, and you have a premier who devalues — not just doesn’t respect, but devalues education — then you want to see that your provincial organization is very vocal; you want to pick up a newspaper and see their name.
OCUFA President, 1997–2000
At the end of the day it’s really easy to work with people whose hearts are in the right place. OCUFA, more than most organizations that I’ve been associated with, has a basic fundamental level of civility that allows people to put personal differences aside and really work together effectively.
OCUFA President, 1995–97
It’s always been a place where I felt like I could use the resources, like policy briefs and analysis, that were done. And so in that sense, I think OCUFA provides really important services and intellectual tools for our faculty associations and for faculty members individually. I’m really appreciative of that.
Former Board member and Status of Women Committee member, OCUFA
From my perspective, OCUFA has been really up-front and quite courageous in many instances and has gone to bat for faculty associations when it wasn’t entirely clear what the outcome might be.
Former Chair of Collective Bargaining Committee, OCUFA