“So What’s So Bad About the Offer?”

Firstly, thank you all so very much for your comments.  They are instructive and enlightening and worthy of our status as professors.

One theme that I’m seeing — phrased as either a question or statement — concerns the fundamental adequacy of the college bargaining team’s offer.

To leave it in the words of the original comments:

A vote in favour of the offer results in a clear outcome that we can live with (it is not the best but we sure as hell won’t get a best case scenario from an arbitrator).

or, more simply,

[A]s a package, what is it that I just can’t live with?

And, from the Department of Damning with Faint Praise,

An increasing competitive market, less benefits, downsizing, outsourcing, lower wages, and additional workload is the reality in the world that we are in.

Sigh.  Once again, it’s nice to know that Ontario colleges are keeping up-to-date with cutting-edge global economic trends.  Unfortunately, both inferior products and the rise of a management caste that has less experience or expertise in the field of production than their employees are also global economic trends.  But I digress.

So, the question stands: What’s so bad about the offer?

Well, if you ignore (and God help us if you do) the fact that  the proposed Modified Workload Arrangments permitted in the offer would cause up to 20% of us to stop receiving credit for class prep, evaluation factors, or class sizes (which would obviously increase workload, meaning an increase the amount of work being done by those 20%, which would result in fewer full-time hires or partial-load hires, and which might lead to employees in those  programs being declared redundant, since the work is being completed by the others in the program) — if you ignore that…

…then what’s so bad about the offer are the exact same things that were bad about our last Collective Agreement.  a) Academic decisions are not made by academics; they’re made by managers.  And those decisions cannot be grieved.  b) The offer permits — and practically even invites — the abuse of partial-load faculty.

For a more detailed answer, let me turn to an excerpt from a letter floating around Seneca College.  You might find it worth sharing.

*                    *                    *

[. . . W]e might want to keep in mind some of the reasons why the bargaining team has rejected [the college management’s offer], which are similar to the reasons why we collectively made workload, salary, and academic freedom our priorities at the demand-setting meeting, previously.

Specifically, if the college’s current offer were to be ratified, then between now and August 31, 2012:

  • Partial-load faculty who teach an online class could be given an infinite number of students in it, while still being paid for only the three teaching hours a week, if that
  • Instead of a SWF to monitor and limit workload, up to 20% of full-time faculty could have “modified workload arrangements” in which evaluation factors and student enrolment would not be factored in when calculating workload.  Their omission could lead to a virtually unlimited workload
  • Colleges could continue the growing practice of giving high-workload classes to partial-load faculty, to avoid paying them for the added work involved
  • Specific [. . .]  classes could be reduced from three hours weekly to two.  Were this to happen (as it has already happened in [a college]), a full-time SWF could see a professor forced to teach seven [. . .] classes with up to 273 students total, while still remaining under the 44-hour threshold
  • Professors could be ordered [. . .] to evaluate students using group-work or multiple-choice tests, even when such assignments are an inappropriate and inadequate form of evaluation
  • Ontario colleges would continue to lack academic freedom, despite its presence in other provinces’ college systems, and despite the fact that it would not cost the colleges one dime
  • Professors teaching up to 260 students would receive no additional time for out-of-class contact
  • Partial-load faculty would still be unable to grieve their workloads in the Workload Monitoring Group
  • Professors would continue to receive credit for no more than six years of postsecondary education in step calculations, despite the fact that degree programs are increasingly requesting Ph.D.s
  • The salary gap between college faculty and university professors would become more pronounced, given that recent University professor contracts (including those signed after the recession began) give them annual salary increases of 3% to 5%

These are the issues that we’ve lived with before—they were at the heart of our last strike, they were the reason why we ended that strike with the formation of a Workload Task Force, and they were the reason why we collectively charged our negotiators with the task of obtaining a contract that implemented the recommendations of that Task Force.

*                    *                    *

So yes, if academic freedom, time to do your job professionally, respect for your own authority as a professor and subject expert, and abuse of the most vulnerable among us are not especially significant to you, then I can certainly understand why you might think that the current offer is something that you can live with.

But if they’re not significant to you — not significant enough for you to value and treasure and demand and fight for them — then it’s also true that there’s no reason why we should expect them to be significant to anybody else, whether it be our students or our employers.


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