Negotiating a Contradiction

apo·ria (ə pôr′ē ə) [noun]

  1. a difficulty, as in a philosophical or literary text, caused by an indeterminacy of meaning for which no resolution seems possible

Webster’s New World College Dictionary

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So the last few posts have been discussing relations between managers and faculty members (which is, I maintain, a very different and much more interesting thing than management-union relations). I’m a bit surprised that this topic has so far received less feedback than any other recently discussed, mainly because a) it’s a topic that different people had specifically requested that I discuss, and b) because others have openly called for a change in that relationship, in the wake of the latest contract negotiations.

And yet, the simple question of “what is our proper relationship?” yields no reaction. There are, of course any number of possible reasons for that – understandably, there could be a reluctance to open this can of worms (even in the comfort of anonymity) in the torpor that follows heated negotiations; less charitably, one might hazard that it is easier to call for change than to do the hard work of defending a coherent vision. But, as I suggested at the end of the last post, it is simply unreasonable to expect productive and respectful negotiations between two parties whose relationship is not clearly, mutually defined and reasoned.

Let me put it this way: You can’t get to ‘Yes’, unless you get past ‘Why’? And management’s “because we said so” in response to that question is about as unsatisfying as the union’s “because we can”.

But above all, I think that my personal difficulty in articulating the faculty/management relationship stems from the unacknowledged aporia at the heart of that relationship – a constitutive contradiction that must be either reconciled or (as has been the case in contract negotiations since 1973) ignored.

That contradiction, as I said, is at the heart of the faculty/management relationship, although it’s most easily described in the perceived role of the manager, and the justification for that manager’s authority.

On the one hand, managers possess an expertise on which their authority over faculty is based. Managers alone possesses the wisdom (and therefore the power) to decide the vision for schools and programs, right down to wielding final approval over the content, textbooks, and evaluation methods of each class. Similarly, managers decide for which positions faculty do or do not need to be hired, or whether hires should be full-time or on contact.

According to this model, managers’ authority is rooted in their unique understanding of the appropriate direction of and standards for the program and its courses, to ensure that the program meets the needs of the school, the province, and the accrediting bodies of the profession in which training is delivered. This expertise and responsibility justify the managers’ compensation at a rate that is guaranteed to be higher than any of their inferiors (i.e., faculty members or lesser managers), plus bonuses.

On the other hand, managers do not need any special expertise or knowledge of the field that they are managing. It’s the faculty, not their managers, who are hired as subject experts—managers are hired as management experts. For this reason, it is perfectly satisfactory that managers have less experience or credentials in either teaching or a program’s field of study than the faculty they manage. They don’t need to know how to teach – they’re not teachers; they don’t need expertise in all the field(s) of study over which they have jurisdiction – their job is merely to implement policies handed down from above (i.e., accreditation bodies or the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities). This lack of expertise justifies the fact that managers can change positions or have (directly or indirectly) in their jurisdiction programs in fields in which they are not experts.

On the one hand, managers need to be experts, which justifies their authority over professors. On the other hand, managers need no special expertise, which justifies their (occasional) lack of expertise or credentials, compared to the people they manage.

As you have already realized, the aporia is mirrored in our understanding of the role of the professor:

On the one hand, the professor is an expert whose job and authority in the classroom depends upon a special, requisite knowledge and qualification. On the other hand, the professor lacks an understanding of educational needs, and can therefore not be trusted to make independent decisions regarding textbooks or modes of evaluation.

As I understand it, this aporia been at the heart of Ontario’s colleges from the start, and has remained formalized in Collective Agreements since 1973. But it is a contradiction, and until it is resolved, I cannot quite visualize College faculty and management sitting down at a negotiating table as equal, respectful partners who are committed to finding an equitable and mutually-rewarding agreement.

My suspicion is that thus far both sides were willing to overlook it by focusing instead on money offered/received for services. Now that that particular distraction seems to have disappeared for the next little while, we’ll see if the contradictions surface, and (if so) to what effect.

In short, in order to change the relations between management and faculty, I suspect that a changed understanding of the nature and basis of each party’s authority will be prerequisite.

Responses are welcomed at


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