On Community and Management

Local 237’s April Fool’s day prank returned to the fore the issue of college managers’ (and college presidents’ in particular).

This was opportune, not because I regard it as an especially compelling issue (The letters on the issue that I’ve received suggest to me 50% of faculty really do care what college presidents are making, and the other 50%  consider it a red herring, and perhaps an unseemly one at that.)

The topic, however, does give me a chance to segue back to one that’s more dear to my heart — that of academic community — thanks to the following letter that never got the publicity that it deserved.  I received it from one of the more loyal members of my personal opposition in February, at the time when I was developing some ideas about community-building among professors.  It reads as follows:

Members and the union would be missing the point and an opportunity if they did not include the colleges in your community.
Members and the union will have to better understand the colleges and make attempts to merge common goals. The colleges, of course, will have to do the same.

Later, the same correspondent wrote:

Having faculty across the province become more of a community is good, but it will do nothing to improve collective bargaining unless management is part of the process.

Now, on the surface, I can tell you that I like the wording of the second letter more than the first.  Why?  Because it doesn’t equate the colleges with their managers.

As Laura Holt used to say over the opening credits, “Follow”:

I don’t love binarisms to begin with, but discussing the position of “the union” versus those of “the colleges” strikes me as logically invalid — OPSEU CAAT-A represents 9,000 profs, librarians, and counsellors, who seem very solidly part of the colleges, rather than opposed to them.  For this reason (and because of my reluctance to use obscure acronyms), I was often obliged to discuss the differing negotiating positions of “the union’s bargaining team” vs. “the college management’s bargaining team”.  It was awkward — being able to say “union vs. colleges” would have been much easier to type, and much easier to understand.

Or, perhaps, to misunderstand.

You see, what does it mean to say that we need to include the colleges in a community of college professors?  Or that professors, librarians and counsellors “will have to better understand the colleges”?   Does it imply that the institutions have or are some entity outside of us? (Certainly it seems to, if we are encouraged to merge “common goals”.)  Does this imply that deans and vice-presidents represent colleges in a way that professors do not?  That colleges are, therefore, playthings of the Minister of the day?  That the needs of the colleges are perhaps different than the needs of the students or the province?

To answer this question, of course, one would need to do the hard work of determining whether (and why) managers embody “the colleges” more or differently than professors do, or students do.

In short, who gets to speak for “the colleges”?  And on what authority?  (To stimulate the conversation — do students get to decide what “the colleges” need?  Why or why not?)

But, to return to our correspondent’s worthy concern: What is the legitimate role of managers (whether Chairs, V.P.s, Presidents, Academic Senates, or Boards of Governors) within an academic community?  And what is the appropriate relationship of a community of professors to them?

Are our differences (and needs) legitimate and significant enough to warrant a separate entity, like a union?  Or, alternately, are our interests so commingled that we would be better off viewing ourselves as “partners” rather than “employees”?  And do the colleges themselves embrace a notion of partnership, with the power-sharing that it entails?  Lastly, for those who are disappointed by the dynamic of the last round of negotiations, What level of autonomy and authority would we as professors need, in order to negotiate with the college management as their respectful equals, brought together by shared interests?

Regardless of your place on the political spectrum, I invite you to offer your musings on the topic to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com .   Responses from managers would be especially valued and kept anonymous — one can send anonymous e-mail using the sites listed at here.

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