A History Lesson on Early Intra-University Relations

This in from a regular correspondent:

You might find this useful for your discussion. It is copied from Wilder Penfield’s address to the alumni of Princeton University in 1937.


“In the twelfth century the hidden streams of scholarship came to the surface and swelled into a great current that swept through the towns of Europe. In Bologna, student guilds or “universities” formed a permanent organization; in Paris a guild of masters did the same.; and toward the end of the century a university began to emerge from the mists of the Thames valley at Oxford …”Those were the days when students were men (if not always scholars). How different from the anaemic academic youths of today! At Bologna the undergraduates ranged in age from seventeen to forty years. They came from all the awakened world, filled with longing to learn and also to fight. They formed their own guilds or universities which gave them rights of citizenship in that foreign city.”A professor was any man whom these independent gentlemen would hire to teach them. The professors also formed guilds, called “colleges.” A struggle but the students quite properly subdued the masters to an incredible servitude. The masters retained one right only and that was to judge who had passed his examinations so as to be admitted to the profession of law … The masters did issue a few disregarded statutes, such as that scholars should sit “as quietly as girls” and should not shout during lectures. In the fifteenth century at Leipzig, masters even ventured so far as to set down the following energetic list of penalties:1. Fine of ten new groschen for lifting a stone or other missile with a view to throwing it at a master but not actually throwing.

2. For throwing and missing, eight florins.

3. For wounding without mutilating, eighteen florins and compensation to master.

4. For actual mutilation, expulsion.”

So, it seems that “unions” (i.e., “colleges”) have been with us from the beginning. It also seems that “classroom behaviour” has been a problem from the outset. And, it seems that it was perfectly possible to have structural conflict even in the absence of administrators.

Now, I have no doubt that management could . . . use this information as a justification of its [role, i.e., as] a dispassionate organizer bringing rationality to a chaotic system in the interests of all. This, of course, is [debatable].

I’ll leave you to speculate which choice words I replaced — let me simply apologize to the correspondent for diluting some of his more pointed claims.

And one reason that I did this is because I don’t really intend for the topic to concern primarily the proper role of managers in Ontario colleges — I’m really trying to come to some understanding of the proper role of professors therein — one that will be as clear at the bargaining table as it is in the staff meeting as it is in the classroom.

Management’s role becomes relevant in this conversation simply because it is management’s own bargaining team with whom we must negotiate our needs, it is management’s needs with which a previous correspondent advises us to reconcile our own.

So, as a quick thought-experiment, let’s set up an analogy-style question, to help us arrive at some conclusions, or at least weed out some faulty dynamics:

According to the Terms of our (nominally) Collective Agreement — the relationship of Ontario’s i) college professors to ii) college managers to iii) the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities best resembles… (pick one)

a) The relationship of baseball players to the team manager to the team owner (or to the league, if you prefer)

b) The relationship of McDonald’s fry cooks to shift supervisors to “Head Office”

c) The relationship of enlisted soldiers to officers to the Ministry of Defense

d) The relationship of doctors to the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons to the Ministry of Health

e)  The relationship of construction workers to the site foreman (sexist language notwithstanding) or the contracting company to the property owner

 Or, better yet, e-mail me with your own.  But, above all, consider whether you think this is an essential question — whether it’s vital for professors and managers to have a clear, agreed-upon understanding of the nature and basis of their respective authority, if they are to negotiate as respectful counterparts?

How might negotiations look different if these things were mutually agreed-upon?  What might be effect on negotiations if they were — if they are — not?

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