From October 24-25, 2015, OCUFA’s Board of Directors met for its first meeting of the 2015-16 academic year. The focus was on setting priorities for the upcoming year and developing strategies for addressing the challenges facing professors and academic librarians in the months ahead.
A key objective of the fall Board meeting is to identify the issues that will be the focus of OCUFA’s advocacy and member support work. Recent high-profile cases of excessive administrator salaries and attempts to undermine academic decision making have highlighted the growing problem of governance at universities in Ontario and across Canada. There is a real and growing need to restore collegial governance on our campuses and to empower academic senates to act as a genuine balance to the power of administrations and Boards of Governors. It is also clear that there is a greater need for administrators to be more open, transparent, and accountable to students, staff, and faculty.
Closely tied to the governance issue is university funding. For years, we have seen the steady erosion of per-student public funding from the Government of Ontario. This has harmed the ability of institutions to offer a high-quality and affordable education to students. At the same time, decision making about how to spend the funding that is received – from all sources – is being increasingly dominated by university administrations through new budgeting processes, program prioritization, and similar initiatives. The problem therefore has two connected parts: there is not enough public investment in our universities, and the funding that is received is being allocated within universities according to opaque, top-down processes.
Given this context, OCUFA has identified two related goals in this area for 2015-16: To engage as an active participant in the provincial government’s review of the funding model to ensure that faculty goals and concerns are raised and heard; and to develop strategies and resources for member associations to support collegial governance and make boards more representative and attentive to the needs of the university and community.
To launch this work, the Board meeting hosted a panel discussion featuring two faculty associations that have had great success at governance initiatives on their campus. Larry Savage, from Brock University, spoke about how the Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA) successfully pushed back against their administration’s controversial program prioritization process and asserted Senate control of academic decision making. Kristin Hoffman, President of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA), described her association’s work to hold their administration and Board of Governors to account over Western President Amit Chakma’s huge salary payout.
Like last year, pensions will also be a major area of activity for the organization. OCUFA is currently providing resources and leadership to the University Pensions Project. This initiative brings together interested faculty, staff, and administrators to explore the creation of multi-employer joint sponsored pension plan (JSPP). The past year saw the completion of the research phase of this project. We are now in the design phase, where stakeholders will determine what this new plan might look like. Whatever the outcome of this work, the decision to join a new plan will be made by each campus through collective bargaining and a formal consent process after the final build phase is completed. For faculty associations not interested in a JSPP option, OCUFA will continue to work to develop solutions that promote the security of Ontario’s existing university pension plans.
A focus on contract faculty and faculty complement will also be carried forward into the new academic year. This will allow OCUFA to continue its work to raise awareness about the rise of precarious academic work at Ontario’s universities and to improve the working conditions of contract faculty across the province. OCUFA is committed to ensuring that every academic job is a good job, with fair pay, job security, benefits, and the resources needed to deliver a high quality learning experience to students. Over the next year, OCUFA will be working with its Committee on Contract Faculty and Faculty Complement to achieve these goals. The We Teach Ontario campaign (weteachontario.ca) will also continue to put the issue of precarious academic work onto the public agenda.
The OCUFA Board of Directors also took time to honor some exceptional faculty members across Ontario. During a ceremony on October 24th, OCUFA presented its 42nd annual Teaching and Academic Librarianship Awards to an exceptional group of recipients. The Teaching Award winners are Dr. Greg Evans, University of Toronto; Prof. Vincent Hui, Ryerson University; Dr. Pippa Lock, McMaster University; Dr. Timothy S. O’Connell, Brock University; and Dr. Trent Tucker, University of Guelph. The Academic Librarianship Award was presented to Dr. Harriet Sonne de Torrens, from the University of Toronto Mississauga.