Academic Freedom in Ontario’s Colleges (Part Two)

One of the curious details of this round of negotiations is the fact that it’s being carried on concurrently with the contract negotiations for Ontario’s high school teachers.  And in those negotiations, I think we can sum up the Ontario government’s current negotiating position as “Accept our offer, or we’ll criminalize your rejection of it”.

Certainly one detail that’s buoying the government’s position in its negotiations with OSSTF (and, presumably, college faculty) is the fact that the Catholic secondary school teachers’ union (OECTA) and the French secondary school teachers (AEFO) recently agreed to two-year deals that saw wages on the salary grid frozen, and a 1.5% salary cut in the form of three unpaid days off.

Worth noting, though (and almost completely unreported by the media, which focuses almost entirely on easily-digestible financial issues), is the fact that those two unions did manage to make some tangible non-monetary gains in the areas of Academic Freedom and Job Security — two areas that were ranked as very high priorities at the College Unions’ Contract demand-setting meeting back in April.

With job security, if I understand correctly, OECTA’s new contract specifies that new full-time hires must come from the pool of experienced contract teachers.  As for Academic Freedom, the new contract gives the teachers control over testing in their classrooms — a legal backgrounder describes the contract as granting “autonomy for teachers in applying diagnostic assessment“.

Are these significant gains?  Well, let’s note that the Catholic school boards seem to think so — two of the boards have refused to consent to the deals struck by the province, and are trying to overturn those deals, on the (seemingly valid, in my opinion) grounds that the school boards — not the province — are the teachers’ employers.  More specifically, they say that the province’s deal “strips the boards of important hiring and managerial rights”.

So, to recap, the province has currently offered the high school teachers a contract that includes salary grid freezes, offset with gains in academic freedom (in the from of testing), and job security (in the form of binding full-time hiring provisions).

And, to recap, the province has offered the College professors a contract that includes salary grid freezes, with no  gains in academic freedom (since faculty would continue to have no power over testing) and or in job security (since the security language proposed by the College management’s bargaining team would not concern the staffing of new full-time positions, and would also be easily circumvented by managers).

And so, amazingly enough, if the province got its way with its proposed contracts for both secondary school teachers and college faculty, we would end up with a situation where Elementary and High school teachers would actually have more academic freedom than College faculty, as specified in their Collective Agreements.

Which returns me to a theme that I had discussed before — how should we understand Academic Freedom in Ontario’s Colleges — and why faculty and students both need it.  I spoke on this issue at an OPSEU-sponsored symposium in June, and I’m posting Part Two of  my remarks below.  You can find Part One of my remarks (posted earlier) here, and I’ll also encourage you to check out Marcus Harvey’s keynote speech on Youtube.  I also note an 2009 FAQ backgrounder on Academic Freedom from OPSEU here: The proposed contract language is out of date (from the last round of bargaining), but the first two pages offer some useful context and explanations.

My thoughts below.  As ever, feel free to respond at

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Part Two: The Fallacies that Underpin Our Current Lack of Academic Freedom

Currently, without academic freedom for college faculty, the model of educational decision-making power at Ontario colleges rests upon a false dichotomy: The notion that the content of education is divorced from its modes of delivery. 

To clarify, one of the preconditions of colleges’ grant degrees was the stipulation that 50% of the students’ classes be taught by faculty with terminal degrees in the field.  Clearly, PEQAB believed that it was essential (or at least 50% essential) to have trained, experienced experts deliver the curriculum to the students. At the same time, however, PEQAB did not feel that it was essential to have such experts shape the curriculum of those classes, or the class’ learning outcomes, textbooks, mode of course delivery, length of classes, or modes of evaluation.

The content of education was understood – or misunderstood – as independent of and unaffected by its form. And as a consequence, the vast majority of college professors currently have no official power or shared power to shape any of those decisions, and we can only appeal those decisions according to workload standards, not academic ones. 

The logic here resembles that of the shop floor, by which professors are understood as the manual labourers conducting a narrowly-circumscribed set of tasks, with no say in how the machinery is designed, nor the purposes it serves.

The false distinction between the form and content of a class upholds a second contradiction that shapes management-faculty relations: the college management’s belief that the same professors who allegedly possess the expertise and qualification to determine how material is taught are also simultaneously understood to lack sufficient ability or judgement to have the power to decide what material is taught.

One particular example of this false distinction between a class’ structure and its content concerns the determination of how students are evaluated in their classes. Currently, managers hold the exclusive power to determine, for example, whether students are evaluated using essays or using multiple-choice tests. While professors are understood to have the necessary expertise to decide how to deliver content in the classroom, the current model understands them as unfit to decide how best to appropriately evaluate the quality of the students’ learning and performance, and their role in the decision-making process is therefore merely a consultative one.

I chose this particular example because it led to a specific moment in the last round of bargaining that was, for me, particularly enlightening about the college management’s view of faculty. One of the union’s proposals was to have modes of evaluation determined collectively by the faculty teaching each course, with managers invited to decide if 75% of the faculty weren’t able to agree upon how the students in the course should be evaluated.

On CBC’s MetroMorning I heard a representative of the college management claim that that particular proposal would prove wildly expensive to the colleges. His reasoning would be that all faculty in all courses, in an effort to work less, would choose to give written assignments to their students (and thereby teach fewer students), regardless of whether, say, essays were appropriate to the subject matter, or an effective way to evaluate students’ understanding of it.

I’m not sure which confused me more – the idea that the people who are described in the colleges’ marketing material as being uniquely qualified to responsibly teach college courses are somehow unable to be trusted to select the best method of evaluating those students, or the misguided notion that making students write essays instead of multiple-choice tests somehow leads to less work for the professor.

But again, denying professors the academic freedom to effectively impact decisions about how to evaluate students rests upon a hard and fast distinction between what is taught and how it is evaluated – a distinction that is false (and probably nowhere less so than in the field of writing) and one that in my opinion finds no support in any educational research that has been performed since the 1970s.

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Follow-up: Apparently my comments at the beginning of the post (on the secondary and elementary school negotiations) covered ground that was already clearly discussed last week on the Union’s negotiations website,  That posting, moreover, has the additional benefit of discussing salary negotiations among University faculty and secondary school teachers.  I recommend that you check it out.

Strike Authorization Vote Called (and One More Nursing Facilitator Reaction)

Welcome back, sports fans! 

Well, judging from the increased number of page-views over the last couple of days, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ve already heard that the Union’s bargaining team has requested that the OLRB conduct a Strike Authorization Vote among the Union membership.

No word yet on when that vote might be conducted (although it was requested for Sept. 6).  But you can get all the details on the bargaining team’s official announcement bulletin (which features an impressively fulsome description of the conciliation process, to boot). 

That bulletin also includes a breakdown of some of the major issues at stake in negotiations, which I’ll try to look at in some detail (and/or glibness), in future posts.

Today, though, I wanted to wrap-up some thoughts on what I believe to be the most important issue currently on the bargaining table — the introduction of a new “Clinical Facilitator” job category, that would radically restructure the instruction in programs that feature on-site, clinical, or practicum instruction.  It would take a significant amount of teaching away from professors, and assign it to facilitators who lack job security, overtime, benefits, or an hourly rate that compares to faculty wages.

I communicated my initial impressions of the job category here and here, so instead, I’ll turn the attention to an e-mail that I received from a Nursing professor in a Southwest Ontario college: 

I read this news of a proposed Nursing Clinical Facilitator with great trepidation and angst. It seems as if we have seen this before. I think the last time they were called “technicians”. Some colleges tried this in the early 00′s but quickly found this ineffective and problematic.

I agree with the comments that a very large disconnect will occur between classroom and theory in nursing. In addition, the College of Nurses of Ontario has already discussed the possibility of converting those registered nurses who do not “practice” nursing any longer into a special category that will strip these nurses of their privilege to return to clinical practice without a refresher program. This fact alone has some nurse educators, like myself, questioning whether they will remain in teaching if this occurs. I value my clinical expertise too much to throw it away to teach exclusively in a classroom. Clinical is what I enjoy, and I can make the connections between theory and practice for my students.

Clinical teaching is exhausting and carries a very high level of responsibility: Not only do you have the eight students to monitor, but also the eight to sixteen patients that the students are assigned to provide care for. In addition,before clinical, you have to spend 3 to 6 hours of researching the patients’ condition, then there is the double-checking of skills, medications and documentation before you leave the clinical area. Once you get home, there are anecdotal notes to write on each student’s progress, and the marking of clinical worksheets and assignments.

If the students do an 8 hour shift. You are there early and late, making it a 9-10 hour day for the teacher. In addition, the marking etc. is another 8-10 hours per week in a degree program. No one in their right mind would do all that for an hourly rate that is less than what they make at the hospital, where there is no preparation or homework to take care of, outside the hours of your shift.

The simple fact of the matter is that when people do not feel adequately compensated for their work, they put less effort into it. This will result in a significant decrease in the quality of clinical experience that nursing students receive. This translates into less competent nurses looking after you and your loved ones. Do you really want this for your health care system?

I’m struck by one of the points that this contributor started off with — it seems to be one that I hear over and over again, to do with the problems that come when the colleges try to disconnect of theory and practice.  In short, the introduction of Facilitator positions would almost enshrine that disconnect, since a reduced number of professors would be left to teaching “theory” in the classrooms, while a substantial number of (worse paid) facilitators would be teaching the “practice”, on site.

Now, I tend to focus on practical arguments over principled ones, so my first reaction to this division of labour was that it would probably have a negative impact on students, who currently benefit from the fact that the people who teach them in the classroom are often the same people who supervise them, on-site.  (In fact, I’ve heard both faculty and Chairs of programs with on-site practicums make these very claims.)

And yes, I think that it would disrupt the educational process to disjoin theory and practice in the way that the College management’s bargaining team proposes to do.  But the more I think about it, the more I’m pushed away from the simple question of practical effectiveness, and towards a more abstract philosophical principle:

Ontario Colleges pride themselves on providing practical education.  The vast majority of College programs are designed precisely to combine theory and practice. The effort to divorce the two by creating two separate job categories to administer the instruction of each represents a disturbing abnegation of the very mandate of Ontario College education.

As I’ve said before — and as this correspondent reiterates — our work is important because the work of our graduates is important.  Nursing faculty are important because nurses are important.  And nurses are important because patients are important

And I think that neither professors nor students nor patients nor colleges are well-served by the effort to blithely remove professors from the clinical setting.  I don’t think that there’s a Teaching hospital on earth that would take such steps where the instruction of future doctors were concerned.  And I think that the onus is on the Colleges — and perhaps the province — to provide an educational and professional justification for what must be understood as a radical change in the instruction of future nurses.

Nursing Clinical Facilitators: Your Responses

Welcome back, sports fans! As you may know, we’re in our (three-week long) halftime break in the ongoing Collective Agreement negotiations between the College Employer Council Wheat Kings and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology [Academic] Division) Dynamo.

The first half was a rather, um, defensive affair, and the College management team seems to have adopted a strategy reminiscent of last season’s Philadelphia Flyers, in their refusal thus far to negotiate “monetary” issues like salary, benefits (like sick leave) and workload.

In response, as you may know, the Union’s team has requested the introduction of a referee, ideally with the goal of spurring the proceedings on, somewhat.

Granted, the College management team did cap off the first half by introducing one particular strategy that reminds me of a match that I remember seeing in Wisconsin, a couple of years back. That would be the proposal to create a new job category, to do the work of teaching Nursing students in clinical settings – work that is currently done by professors in Nursing programs.

And as my last report indicated, these new Nursing Clinical Facilitators would lack job security and benefits, would potentially be scheduled to teach more hours than full-tie faculty, and would receive no additional money for hours spent preparing or grading.

I’ve had the pleasure of receiving three e-mails in response to my begging last post, and I wanted to devote today’s post to them.

The first response comes from a Nursing prof at a College in Southwestern Ontario. In addition to raising concerns about the effect of Nursing Clinical Facilitators upon the academic standards of degree programs, she also raises an important point of the academic effects of excluding on-site teachers from the students’ classroom experience:

[T]hese facilitators won’t have the same knowledge of the curriculum and therefore won’t be able to integrate all aspects of the curriculum in to the clinical experience.

[As well,] they will be taking away work which we truly love—being in the hospitals with the students and patients.  The College of Nurses expect that nurses are maintaining their competency and being in the hospital allows us to do so.  By taking this away, we may be in jeopardy of losing our competency—something we don’t want to see happen.

We need to make sure that this new classification is not allowed—how can we get this message to all members?

A worthy question indeed. I suppose one possible way would be to click on the button at the bottom of this post, but no doubt there are better ways, as well. I wonder if the College of Nurses of Ontario might also have some opinions about this development, regarding its effects on both students, nurses, and nursing faculty?

Our second response comes from a professor at a different College in Southwestern Ontario. She writes that this kind of parcelling out of work formerly done by Full-time faculty…

 …is really nothing new…it’s just a new twist on what management has been doing (and frequently getting away with) to not hire full-time faculty. Simply take someone’s full-time position and break it up into smaller pieces and then hire part-time people to fill them. 

Most recently, when a member of our Local Executive left the College, management refused to hire another Full-time faculty member as a replacement. Their argument was: “But [the professor] only taught 2 courses, so we are not going to replace [him/her] with a full-time professor”. In actual fact, the rest of the professor’s teaching load (which had been bought by the Local) was given to part-time/partial load professors. So here comes another grievance.

It’s obviously true that full-time positions have been parcelled out to contract faculty long before Nursing Clinical Facilitators were proposed, but I do think that this represents a very real and dangerous innovation, for two reasons:

a) It narrowly and unreasonably treats only those who teach in classrooms as being “real” professors (with others, whether they teach on-site or in clinical settings or workshops being relegated to the status of “facilitators”), and 

b) The College management’s proposal completely severs the salary of Nursing Clinical Facilitators from academic comparator groups. These employees would be doing the work of Ontario’s full-time faculty (or more), but paid like Ontario’s part-time nurses. 

Both of those points have in common the fact that the College management’s proposal for Nursing Clinical Facilitators deliberately – in its wording and its details – ignores the value of these educators’ experience and expertise as teachers.

Our last response comes, tellingly, from a prospective applicant to a Nursing degree program:

I found your article very intriguing, as I plan on going back to school for nursing and, after the degree, to try to get a job teaching massage (as I am currently an RMT). Are the college teachers not in a union? I don’t understand how they will let this slide, as there isn’t a chance I’d allow that as a full or part time professor/teacher.

Are college teachers in a union? Yes.

Are we united? Time will tell, but letters such as these might have an impact.

Are we a community? I’m hoping so, which is why I invite you to send me your opinions, at

How to Turn an $80,000 Job into a $40,000 Job.

[Tedious disclaimer: These are my personal thoughts based exclusively upon a reading of the College Employer Council's “College Proposal on Nursing Clinical Facilitators”, dated July 11, 2012. The opinions expressed herein are strictly my own.  Any misinterpretations or errors of fact are therefore my own fault, and will be corrected as soon as they are brought to my attention.]

Okay, well, it appears that the College Employer Council’s bargaining team has still yet to present its proposals regarding salary, benefits, and (I assume) workload, despite the fact that we’re almost halfway through the scheduled dates for negotiating the upcoming Collective Agreement.

I do note, however, that the college management team has provided the details surrounding its latest vision for nursing teachers, on its website. I’d urge you to take a look, noting that almost all of Ontario’s colleges appear to have nursing programs, so the proposal would have far-reaching effects for all of our communities.

I’ll take a stab at providing a bit of context. The following points are based on my casual understanding of the work of Nursing profs. I may be off on some of the details, and I ask you to please politely correct (at the points in which I may be in error.

Currently, students enroll in nursing programs (both diploma- and degree-level), and faculty teach them in their various courses. In addition to their classroom courses, students also complete at least one on-site practicum, which takes place in a clinical medical setting. There, they get the experience of working as part of a nursing team, and apply their classroom knowledge to a workplace setting.

The practicum has many advantages, and I probably don’t need to say any more about its important role in complementing the instruction that the students receive (either previously or concurrently) in the classroom.

Up to now, those practicums have been taught by faculty. In the case of full-time faculty, the practicum course would  — like any course — be part of the faculty member’s workload, and the faculty member would be assigned time (according to the Standard Workload Formula) to prepare for the course, and to evaluate the students. Partial-Load faculty, on the other hand, wouldn’t receive the benefit of SWF calculations, but they would still be paid according to the salary scale, which currently runs anywhere from $78.75 to $136.62 per contact hour (a figure which incorporates — however inadequately — the time spent on preparation and evaluation).

In its proposal, the College Management seeks to take the practicum teaching out of the hands of those professors entirely, through the creation of an entirely new job category: Nursing Clinical Faciliator.

A Nursing Clinical Facilitator would do exactly what the faculty who teach the practicum courses in Ontario’s colleges do right now: Prepare, teach, supervise, and evaluate students in their clinical placements, and work with the health personnel in those settings to ensure a successful learning (and nursing) environment.

So what’s the difference, you ask? Well, as the infomercial used to say: Price is the difference

Let’s start with some facts provided from the College Management proposal: Instead the annual salary that a Full-time faculty member receives; and instead of the (related) hourly wage that a Partial-Load faculty member receives, a Nursing Clinical Facilitator would only receive an hourly rate from $29.36 (the minimum) to $42.44 (the maximum, which is achievable after “25 years” of experience. Memo to God: Please tell me that’s a typo that I’m reading).

As well, instead of the “class prep” time and evaluation that’s measured on the SWF for full-time faculty (and worked into the hourly rate of Partial-load faculty), Nursing Clinical Facilitators (NCFs) would be paid for an additional 30 minutes per contact hour, to cover both preparation and evaluation, regardless of the number of students.

By way of comparison, a Full-time faculty member currently receives at least 40 minutes of prep time per contact hour for one of the practicum courses taught (and 21 minutes per hour for any additional sections of the same course taught in a semester).

And that’s just prep; additional time would be provided for evaluation, according to the number of students in the class, and the modes of evaluation.

But, as I said, NCFs would only be granted credit for 30 minutes of prep and evaluation for each contract hour. So tacking 50% on to the hourly rate, would result in a rate ranging from . . . $33.76 to $63.66 for the NCF with 25 years’ experience.

That’s less than half the hourly rate earned by Partial-load faculty.

NCFs would also not get vacation or benefits. Instead, they’d be given an additional 13% on top of their “straight time hourly rate” (or only 9% if they’re contributing to a pension plan) to cover those things.

I’m interpreting “straight time hourly rate” to indicate that the premium for vacation/benefits would be paid only for contact hours, not for the (half-)hours attributed for preparation and evaluation. So, doing the quick math, salary plus vacation plus benefits comes to a grand total of an hourly rate that ranges from $47.86 to $69.18 per contact hour. That’s all-in, including preparation, evaluation, “complementary functions”, benefits (or the lack thereof), pension (or the lack thereof), and vacation (or the lack thereof).

About 60% of the pay of Partial-load faculty, who get benefits in addition.

Furthermore, NCFs would be permitted to work a maximum of 24 contact hours per week, for a maximum of 30 weeks per academic year.  That’s a maximum of 720 contact hours per year, which is 72 more than the maximum that FT faculty can be assigned without overtime.

(Which leads me to the following marketing slogan — “Nursing Clinical Facilitator: All the workload of a full-time professor; all the pay and benefits of a part-time nurse.” Catchy?)

So, just to sum up, a Nursing Clinical Facilitator would be doing work currently done by Full-time or Partial-load faculty – work that includes preparation, teaching, and evaluation of students, potentially for more hours than full-time faculty members could be assigned throughout the course of a year…

…all for a maximum final annual take-home pay of $34,459 to $49,809.

For the people who teach our nursing students.

In hospitals.

Often for a degree program.

Who have years of training both as nurses and as educators.

With no benefits.

(And be sure to subtract about 3% from that if you want to pay into a pension plan.)

But wait (as the infomercial says), there’s more…

The management proposal would have the starting step for NCFs be the pay step that s/he would be paid at “pursuant to the Ontario Hospitals’ central collective agreement with the Ontario Nurses’ Association”. Of course, NCFs wouldn’t actually be members of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, so OPSEU would, um, no longer be their exclusive bargaining agent, but I digress.

I’ll leave you to guess how many steps the Ontario Nurses’ Association college agreement will credit one with for years of college teaching experience. My guess is none.

And while we’re talking about salary steps, I notice that new steps would be granted for every 1500 hours of service. (Remember that 720 maximum contact hours per academic year rule, above.)

Lastly, I note that Nursing Clinical Facilitators could be laid off on 30 days’ notice, and would also have the unique ability to lose their jobs to senior colleagues, without the right to bump junior ones.

And would there be a chance of being bumped by senior colleagues? Well, Nursing Clinical Facilitators would clearly be teaching practicums that are currently being taught by Full-time or Partial-load faculty. More teaching done by NCFs means less work for those faculty members. Which means less need for them.

And while Article 2.01B in the proposal claims that “No professor or instructor shall be laid off, reclassified, or displaced from their classification as a direct result of the hiring of a Nursing Clinical Facilitator”, it makes no such assurances regarding the indirect results of hiring a Nursing Clinical Facilitator —  one of which would be the reduced need for other professors.

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So there you have it, folks: All you have to do is take work currently being done by faculty, break it into pieces, create separate job categories for each of those pieces, create a new pay scale that ignores the expertise and experience of professors, take away benefits, and mandate a complete lack of job security.

And that’s how you turn an $80,000-a-year job into a $40,000-a-year job.

Get back to me with your thoughts or corrections, at

Nothing Ado about Much

Okay, sports fans, well, the current round of contract negotiations is well underway! And let me say that, from the broadcast booth, this game seems to have all the excitement of a soccer match between Iceland and Kazakhstan.

We’re nearing the end of the first half of regulation time in the match — if this schedule is accurate, then eight of the scheduled 22 scheduled days of bargaining have elapsed already, with three more scheduled for this week.

And, um, maybe something’s happening – I’m not sure. (My tickets are in the nosebleed section.)

So in the spirit of sports broadcasters everywhere, during a lull in the action I’m going to turn to a clip of highlights from the match thus far. Here we go!

The Union’s bargaining team adopted a “whole field” strategy from the outset, tabling initial proposals that covered (I believe) pretty much all of the changes that the team was charged with pursuing by each Local’s elected delegates. From what I can tell, the only proposals that weren’t fully developed at that point were the salary proposals, for which the Union issued a fairly broad claim that it would later present specific salary proposals that would be designed to keep College faculty salaries between those of Ontario’s high school teachers and its University professors.

In contrast, the management’s bargaining team elected to adopt a highly defensive strategy, keeping all of their strikers on the bench until some yet-to-be-determined time in the future. In other words, they presented only a fraction of their intended proposals, withholding any that were related to either salaries or benefits (you know, small things like sick leave). More specifically, the management team said that it was withholding all proposals which might end up costing (or saving) the Colleges money, so that would likely include workload issues, as well.

So: Salaries, benefits, workload. I think we could conclude that there’s a significant amount that the management’s bargaining team is holding back from the bargaining process at this time.

Now, I’m no expert on bargaining, but it seems to me that if the government legislation restricts the bargaining process to 90 days, then it might be a good idea to, you know, present your proposals at the outset.

It’s hard to say what’s motivating the College management team’s delay. And looking at the Colleges Employer Council’s latest press release, I’m still a bit confused. “The Council” reported only that, during the last days of negotations…

…the [College management's] team asked questions to clarify the union proposals and to assess the potential cost implications of those proposals. The costing exercise is very important to ensure that we achieve a negotiated settlement that respects the fiscal and budgetary realities facing the colleges.

Fair enough. And permit me to make only two small observations:

  1. I believe that provincial educational budgets are intended to accommodate negotiated settlements, not vice versa. And as I mentioned previously, the ability to recognize that priority might distinguish between public servants and political ones.
  2. Given that the College management’s bargaining team is (rightfully) taking its time to consider the monetary implications of the Union’s proposals, it would seem appropriate that the faculty (and their bargaining team) might enjoy the same luxury of a leisurely analysis of the implications of the management’s own monetary proposals

And (oh, what the heck) a third:

Armed with no legal or bargaining experience or insider’s knowledge (but with a passing familiarity with Google), I note that the Ontario Labour Relations Board argues that negotiations must be conducted in such a way as to facilitate agreement between both parties. More specifically, the OLRB has concluded that one side’s “refusal to supply the other side with information necessary to its decision-making capability” was found to be an instance of bad faith bargaining (Devilbiss Canada Limited  [1976] ). Similarly, “the unwillingness of one party to engage in a full discussion with the other was likewise found contrary” to the obligation to bargain in good faith (Canadian Industries Limited [1976]).

To sum up, the OLRB concludes that:

… the duty to bargain in good faith and make every reasonable effort to make a collective agreement is to foster rational and informed discussion. The duty requires parties to engage in full and honest discussion” (Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario, Applicant v. Crown in Right of Ontario [2012]).

So my sincere, non-rhetorical question to any better-informed people than me out there is this:

At what point in the bargaining process can we conclude that one party’s withholding of significant proposals from the bargaining table violates the legal obligation to engage in full and honest discussion?

Some Thoughts on Academic Freedom in Ontario’s Colleges (Part One)

Okay, well, sports fans, we’re getting ready for the puck to be dropped on this season’s round of Collective Agreement negotiations between the College Employer Council Wheat Kings and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology [Academic] Division) Dynamo.  Undoubtedly, I’ll have the chance to provide some colour commentary on the storied rivalry between these two teams before the final buzzer sounds, but for now, while the anthem-singer is sucking back one last G+T, let’s jump to a previously-filmed report on the state of the game.

Specifically, that report is a paper that I presented at the Symposium on Quality Education and Academic Freedom, last Friday.  It was an impressively-attended event, including faculty from about 17 Ontario colleges, plus representatives from at least two other provinces’ college systems.  And, well, let me just point out that I started as an Ontario college prof in 2005, and if anybody had told me at that time that within seven years OPSEU and the Canadian Association of University Teachers would be sponsoring conferences on academic freedom in Ontario colleges, well, let’s just say that it would have been quite a shock, albeit not an unpleasant one.

So anyway, for those few of you who missed my presentation, the following is Part One of it — Parts Two and possibly Three will follow soon thereafter (and may possibly end up as a fixed page on the site), at which point I’ll talk a bit about the process of negotiations and their context, if events haven’t already outstripped me.

As well, I’ll just drop a reminder that you can subscribe to this blog (and get e-mail notices of all updates) by clicking on the button on the right-hand column.  Don’t miss a single moment of unauthorized, uncensored negotiation punditry — a must for all of your contract negotiations office pools and rotisserie leagues!

On with the ponderous musings…

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Part One: What Does Academic Freedom Mean in the Context of Ontario’s Colleges?

Conventionally, academic freedom has been understood as an intellectual freedom – a freedom for faculty to think, and to introduce their thoughts into the classroom, without outside interference.  According to that understanding, it’s primarily understood as a function of the professor’s role as a researcher and knowledge-producer.  And largely, the role of academic freedom in the classroom is understood as being a byproduct of that model of professor as researcher – her consequent right to introduce the results of that research into the classroom.

We see that model informing The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Policy Statement on Academic Freedom, which argues that “Post-secondary educational institutions serve the common good of society through searching for, and disseminating, knowledge and understanding and through fostering independent thinking and expression in academic staff and students.”  I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment, particularly its extension of that right to students and academic staff, but I do believe that the primary model that underpins that underpins the sentiment is a concept of the professor as independent truth-seeker – it’s a model that sees the professor as an independent researcher first and foremost.

Well, whatever your opinion about what the role of Ontario college faculty ought to be, you might agree with me that college profs aren’t generally seen as independent researchers first and foremost.  Most of the research undertaken by the Colleges is founded upon the support of corporate partners; the independent research undertaken by faculty often falls under the category of professional development, for which faculty are allocated as few as 10 scheduled days in a year.

So applying the principles of academic freedom to Ontario’s college faculty would require either a radical change in the understanding of their role and labour, or a shift in the definition of academic freedom, to better reflect the actual work currently assigned to professors.  I’m here to discuss the latter – a way of understanding academic freedom that is rooted primarily in the college professor’s role as a teacher of students.

I think academic freedom is distinguished from other freedoms not simply because it is an intellectual freedom, but rather because it implies a very specific, corollary responsibility: A responsibility to the subject matter being taught; a responsibility to uphold the standards and principles of a discipline, whether it be an academic or a professional field.  In the context of the classroom, I’d add a second, essential responsibility: The responsibility to teach to teach these fields to students appropriately, focusing on the material that is essential to the field, communicating it to students in way that upholds disciplinary standards, and ultimately evaluating students according to standards that are upheld by the professional communities of that discipline

In short, I understand Academic Freedom to be, first and foremost, the freedom to be academics: To ensure the quality of education – not simply in the name of excellence, but in the name of necessity. If I were to define academic freedom personally, within the context of Ontario colleges, I would understand it as the freedom to determine appropriate subject matter and the means by which it is delivered and evaluated, according to the needs of our students.  And without that freedom, professors effectively have no power to ensure that academic decisions are made on academic reasons, as opposed to financial ones.

Academic freedom would therefore give college profs an effective voice in ensuring that course curriculum addresses the student needs that they identify.  In the fields of professional disciplines, this voice helps to ensure that students receive the training that they will need, to appropriately participate into the many fields into which our graduates enter – fields like medicine, law, journalism, engineering, and public health and safety.  (Remember: The simplest way to highlight the importance of the work that College professors do is to highlight the importance of the work that College graduates do.) 

Even in my own field of English and General Education, academic freedom would ensure professors’ right to address important topics that students may find controversial, when teaching such skills as critical thinking or cross-cultural communication to our diverse student population. Perhaps no less importantly, academic freedom would give faculty a measure of actual power to decide collectively what we mean when we talk about Critical Thinking or Cultural Awareness, and what is actually needed to teach – or to learn – those skills.



Sheridan University? (Two Responses)

Last week, I wrote a post c0mmenting upon Sheridan College President Jeff Zabudsky’s announcement that he intended to turn Sheridan into a university.  I followed it up with a post speculating about some of the reasons why university graduate schools may be shying away from admitting students who graduated with degrees from Ontario colleges.

I’m grateful to have received two responses to those posts, which I’m excerpting below.

The first is from our most frequent correspondent.  He ties the current credentialing muddle to the forces that — from practically the very start — diverted Ontario’s colleges from their original vision as a post-secondary institutions that stood alone from universities, but nevertheless provided and required a broad range of both vocational and avocational offerings.  He argues that the result of the government’s abandonment of this (or any) clearly-delineated role for Ontario colleges . . .

. . . has been predictable chaos. Most colleges are seeking new names, new identities and a new focus. Some are cementing their “articulation agreements” with universities. Some are going whole-hog for their own “degree” programs. Some are just flailing around, more or less directionless and increasingly panicky.

And, in the middle of the mess are the students and the educations they were promised. The real “market value” of college degrees is untested, but this much is certain: the last thing college students need to worry about is whether their college degrees will get them into M.Sc, M.A., M.F.A., M.S.W., M.Ed. or other fancy credentialed programs. The real problem is that college degrees are not even guaranteed to translate into any credits toward an ordinary B.A. (Never mind what employers think.)

There have been at least two fundamental problems with the colleges: (1) their failure to take their original mandate seriously; (2) their inability to negotiate transfer of credits to universities. There have been at least two accompanying failures by the various governments of Ontario: (1) their failure to give proper leadership and direction to the colleges; (2) their abrogation of responsibility when they abandoned the colleges by tossing them into the roiling academic waters and telling them to learn to swim. The universities, of course, are not blameless. For decades they have held themselves aloof and treated colleges with contempt. Now that they are struggling for funding in a society that no longer seems to care much about education, they are scrambling to maximize their profit potential by only making deals with colleges that are to their financial and market-share advantage. It is laissez-faire at very close to its worst.

The losers? First, the students; then, the teachers; and, in time, our society as a whole.

Our correspondent’s observation about the “real problem” facing holders of college degrees is neatly corroborated by this story — from a correspondent in southwestern Ontario:

[In] my niece’s experience (in 2012), Ontario Grad Schools do not recognize or even acknowledge an Ontario Post-Diploma Program. A requirement for admission into the college post-diploma was a BA (preferably Honours) in a related field. Upon applying to grad school this year, the four Ontario Universities to which she applied did not even want her College transcripts, as they were deemed irrelevant. She sent them in anyway, but questioned the validity and usefulness of her time spent in College, if the education achieved is of no value to the University system. One would think that more education is better; however that’s logic and common sense.

One would indeed think that more education is better, but I do personally think that if colleges want their offerings to be recognized as legitimate by universities, then they owe it to themselves — and their students — to take into account the universities’ own standards and principles.  One of those principles is academic freedom.  Another is the role of Academic Senates to establish and enforce academic policies.

And if the colleges are indeed interested in obtaining credibility among universities, then I think that these two principles might be an excellent starting-place for the representatives of both management and faculty at Ontario colleges to seek common ground this summer, as they begin to negotiate a new Collective Agreement.

As ever, please send your thoughts to  Your anonymity will be preserved.