Thanks to both of you for reading it, by the way.
So, moving on to the second half of the CEC’s Bargaining Update. Now, I note that this newsletter came out almost one month before the first scheduled day of negotiations (on July 4). As such, the Update would be expected to set out the broadest general themes that the Council’s bargaining team brings to the table.
In the last post I pointed out that the newsletter was marked by overall tone of experience and professionalism. It’s the rhetorical embodiment of Stephen Harper’s sweater-vest, and it’s quite effective at communicating an ethos as custodian of the public purse. That’s even clearer in the last two pages, where the essential opening strategic position is presented.
Now, since I work in words, I’m kind of struck that this issue of the Update has surprisingly few of them. In a four-page newsletter, the body of pages 3 and 4 consists of thirteen sentences (by my count), which fall under under one heading and five subheadings. That’s an average of less than just over two sentences per sub/heading, with a large banner on the right-hand third of the page that restates or summarizes the sentences of the body.
In short, for roughly every two sentences, there’s a heading and a large-print summary on the right. Of the nine paragraphs on these pages, I count six that have only one sentence.
So, why does that matter? Well, firstly it would seem to confirm my Chair’s wisdom in never assigning me to teach a Business Communications class, so there’s that. You see, I’ve always taught my students that any kind of persuasive writing depends upon a structure that includes claims, evidence, and analysis. The one- or two-sentence paragraph has the effect of removing the analysis altogether, leaving one sentence of claim, and (possibly) a second sentence summarizing one of the three charts introduced as evidence.
In the end, it turns an argument into a bullet-point list of claims — no context, no developed relationships between ideas, just a parade of assertions, with occasional sentences telling readers what to look for in the next colourful graph.
The overall thesis can be found in sentence 3: “We have invested in faculty despite a challenging financial environment”. Just in case you missed it, that claim is repeated again in the very next sentence: “Ontario colleges have consciously invested in our faculty despite a very challenging economic environment.” (Seriously: was the word ‘consciously’ added merely to distinguish the two sentences, or is it designed to inspire confidence in the CEC’s responsible stewardship, by reassuring readers that there was no unconsicous investment in faculty? That all investment was influenced by neither reflex nor Freudian impulse?)
But I digress.
Now, just in case you missed the theme of “investing in faculty” in sentences 3 and/or 4, the newsletter helpfully includes that phrase an additional five times, all in 20 point font.
I am not making this up.
* * *
So, “Times are tough, but we’ve invested in faculty”. That’s the message, and it’s presented authoritatively and effectively, in the paternal tone of a benevolent, sweater-vest-clad figure whose job it is to make difficult choices in the face of scarce resources. Presented authoritatively and effectively. . . in virtually every single sentence of the Update’s second half.
Now, I note that this was the first Bargaining Update from the CEC, so perhaps extensive messenging is too much to expect, particularly given that it was published prior to the first day of bargaining. With that said, it was published roughly three months after the bargaining demands from the CAAT-A Union members had been published in the Union’s 2nd Negotiations Bulletin, in March – demands that include issues like job security for contract faculty, academic freedom, intellectual property rights, the recognition of all workload performed, and workload metrics for counsellors and librarians.
In short, there are many different demands put forth by the Union – some of which can logically be answered by saying “we’ve invested in faculty despite tough economic times”, and some of which rather clearly cannot.
One possibility is that the CEC never seriously considered responding to the Union’s demands in the public arena, and instead opted for (what I am now learning is) a classic marketing principle, known as the “Rule of Seven”, which states that “a prospective buyer likely won’t see or hear a marketing message, or seriously consider buying, until they’ve been exposed to the message at least seven times“.
The question that remains is: Does the College Employer Council’s repeating the “investing in faculty despite tough economic times” theme reinforce that message (per the principles of marketing), or instead underscore the lack of a second message?
Time, perhaps, will tell. In the meantime, I hope to look at some of the evidence provided by the CEC in my next post.
As ever, I invite you to send your thoughts, prayers, corrections and objections to firstname.lastname@example.org.