Two different reactions…

Well, two more letters in the mailbag for today, providing rather different perspectives.

The first:

I’m not a blogger just the husband of a wife who appreciates her job teaching. She worked her way through the ranks part time contract then full time. God forbid others may have to do the same. It must be tough working for $60.00 to $100.00 per hour part time not knowing what the future holds. Oh wait a minute I work too. So lets get it straight you can get by just like you did when you started working. College courses change with the times so must the colleges. Stop expecting the unrealistic expectations. Set realistic goals for the union to achieve like a 5 percent increase in full time staff.

There’s much that I disagree with in the second letter (particularly its assumption that part-time faculty don’t work when preparing their classes or evaluating their students’ work), but I’m delighted that its author and I are in complete agreement about one thing: “College courses change with the times[, and] so must the colleges”.

Of course, in the current round of negotiations, I only see one side arguing that Colleges need to change with the times — a quick review of the offer presented by the Employer directly to the Union membership on August 8 indicates the Employer was rather clearly interested in maintaining the status quo.

And for an indication of what that status quo looks like to one informed observer, I turn to our second letter:

As a fairly recent retiree from CAAT-A, I was horrified when talking with a former colleague this past week, how much the system has deteriorated, just since the time I retired. The contract-to-full-time ratio is even worse than it was just a few years ago. So many full-time faculty have not been replaced, and I think the Union has to face the realization that management will continue on this path until there are no full-time faculty left, and the Union becomes redundant.(I’ve always thought this was management’s real goal). In a college-wide meeting, I heard one of our former college presidents describe his idea of the “perfect college” as one with no full-time faculty–and that was over 25 years ago!! Although management always pays lip-service to “the concerns of students”, lip- service is all that it is. They benefit greatly from strikes, and are the only ones who do (aside from the province). There is something wrong with that.

As ever, please feel free to leave your thoughts, photos, limericks by hitting the “comments” button, or by e-mailing me at  All messages will be kept anonymous.

One question I do have is how the thoughts or opinions (or fears?) of Partial-Load faculty might have changed over the past week.



Strike Vote: Reactions (IV)

A professor from the North writes.
I was trying to figure out a typographic font to denote the sarcastic parts, but I limited myself to editing the punctuation for clarity.
The author points out that underlying the Employer’s position is the sense that the College system is perfect the way it is, and needs no change.  Now, that’s not a terribly surprising position, since the system as it stands — with 82% of all teaching staff on precarious contracts; with qualified faculty having no power to determine whether students should be graded via individual exams or group projects — is almost entirely the product of management decisions.  Decisions that have been handed to management with our blessing, though successive Collective Agreements.
Successive Collective Agreements, not legislation.  It is the Collective Agreement, not legislation, that determines that faculty work only “under the direction of the senior academic officer of the College or designate”.  It is the Collective Agreement, not legislation, that excludes faculty from decision-making.  (Legislation excludes faculty from academic decision-making no more than it excludes senior managers.  To illustrate, please do a quick Ctrl-F search, to consider how the decision-making authority conferred to an Academic Vice-President by the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002) is greater than the decision-making authority granted to faculty.
But I digress.  On to our contributor of the day:
Thanks for the blogging.
I do not take strikes lightly having been part of all three in the college system. I thought you put it well in your [recent post] about the middle finger the Employer gave us with the insult of imposing a contract on us back in 2009. I lost my respect for them on that day.
I think that during this round of negotiations you also correctly noted that the Union has finally realized the impact of the CCBA and asked for a mandate before the end of the CA. This is one of the few tools it has and I am glad they did this. I am really mystified why the employer refuses to bargain. I guess they really think everything in the college system is just peachy. No need to address online learning. No need to look at counselor workloads. Forget librarians – who needs them anyway in education. Academic freedom – not needed. Addressing the needs of PL faculty – why bother – short term contracts are just fine. I guess the mini deans don’t mind spending endless hours managing the ever revolving door of the precariat. I can tell you from direct experience this was not always so. Imagine how much easier their work would be with a stable workforce. Faculty should just accept the modest increases in salary they are being offered – forget the years when we took 0% (the Staff never did this). Bargain? No way – after all, every other public sector union accepted contract extensions — why don’t we? After all, the college system is a fine- tuned machine. Nothing to see here – move along now.
Sigh. We may lose. I know that. But I am proud that at least we are trying. We need to stand up for important issues. The employer has one final tool at their disposal. They can bring the contract directly to us under the terms of the CCBA. What an interesting play that would be. They thought the union should have done this. I pray there is no strike. It is not good for anyone, least of all our students. None of us including Presidents with their fancy offices would have a job without students. Students are the party that suffers the most. I hope the employer goes back and actually bargains. Sonia, if you are reading this, please go and bargain. Academic freedom won’t cost you a dime and may actually give some meaning to college degrees and university partnerships.
Yup — I think that I’ve suggested earlier that the Employer will negotiate significant issues only when it has no other choice, and our contributor’s last paragraph does introduce at least one other choice.  I’ll try to look into this possibility later in the week.
In the meantime, please feel free to contribute (anonymously)  either via the Comment button below, or by e-mailing

Strike Vote: Reactions (I)

Here are some of my own thoughts in reaction to yesterday’s Strike Authorization Vote, in which 68% of voters gave the CAAT-A bargaining team a mandate to call a strike if management continues its steadfast refusal to negotiate the demands that have been presented by faculty.

In no particular order:

  • I have to assume that the result of the vote is a surprise to the College Employer Council.  Presumably, the Council’s rhetoric of “the Union should let the membership vote on our offer” was motivated by an opinion that management’s offer was sufficient for a majority of the membership, despite the complete lack of anything addressing staffing issues, workload issues, issues affecting counsellors, issues affecting librarians, issues affecting Partial-Load job security, and issues related to equal pay for equal work for Partial-Load faculty.  The Council’s August 16 Academic Bargaining Update reads, “it is expected that the offer will provide the foundation for an early settlement.”  I have no reason to believe that the Council was lying about that expectation, and the strike vote outcome indicates that those expectations and reality were considerably out of line.
  • The most recent strike vote, in January 2010, saw 57% of faculty voting yes, and that was after management had unilaterally imposed Terms and Conditions of employment, in an action that more or less gave the entire bargaining process the middle finger.  Thursday’s vote saw 10% more support for a strike mandate, in a less provocative context, suggesting a significant change in the opinions of the Union membership within the last seven years — one that I suspect the Employer is ill-equipped to address.
  • The primary issue around the 2010 strike vote was workload; the major issues in this round of bargaining are far more fundamental and structural.  The notion that Ontario’s public College system is in a state of fundamental crisis is clearly gaining more traction among faculty than in previous rounds.
  • Further evidence of an increased level of activism among the Union rank-and-file is the fact that this is the first time ever, I believe, that a strike mandate has been given prior to the expiry of the Collective Agreement.  By way of comparison, 2010’s strike mandate was given over four months after the expiry of the Collective Agreement, and some weeks after Terms & Conditions had been unilaterally imposed by the Employer.  It’s not simply that the current Union bargaining team is more proactive than previous ones (although a greater understanding of the practical impact of the changes to bargaining effected by 2008 legislation may be at work); also at work seems to be a dramatically reduced confidence on the part of the Union membership that the Employer will bargain constructively prior to the expiry of the Collective Agreement, if no strike mandate is in place.
  • Further to that last point, the Employer’s communications throughout the last six weeks has basically stated, “We stopped negotiating on August 1st when we presented our monetary offer.  It doesn’t matter which way you vote; we refuse to consider negotiating the Union’s top demands.”  It’s hard to imagine a position that could have better proven the Union bargaining team’s claim that a strike mandate was required to compel the Employer’s team to start an actual process of negotiations.

Next up, some responses and some from contributors (feel free to add yours, at


Strike Vote: 68% Yes

For the moment, I’ll stick to reprinting OPSEU’s press release — I’ll try to follow up later with some thoughts.  Feel free to pre-empt my ramblings by e-mailing or clicking “Leave a Comment”, below (all comments are moderated to ensure anonymity).

College Faculty Strike Vote Set Table for Talks

Toronto – The bargaining team for faculty at Ontario’s 24 public colleges has received a strike mandate from its members, setting the table for collective bargaining that is scheduled to resume next week.

Sixty-eight per cent of college faculty represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) entrusted their elected team with the ability to call a strike if the College Employer Council refuses to budge on key issues.

“College faculty from across the province debated and voted on 16 proposals to improve the quality and fairness of the college system in Ontario,” said union bargaining team chair JP Hornick. “Since bargaining started 10 weeks ago, management has ignored every single one of them.

“Hopefully this strike vote will be the incentive the colleges need to start negotiating for real.”

The collective agreement for 12,000 professors, instructors, counsellors, and librarians expires on September 30, 2017. No strike or lockout deadline has been set.

Key issues in the talks include the role of faculty in academic decision-making and fair treatment for contract faculty.

Eighty-one per cent of college teaching is done by contract faculty, all of whom have no job security and are paid significantly less than the negotiated rates for full-time permanent faculty. With the introduction of Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, “equal pay for equal work” has become a top issue not only for college faculty, but for college administration as well.

“With Bill 148 on the horizon, college management simply cannot ignore the rights of contract faculty,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “Equal pay for equal work is a fundamental feature of the new bargaining landscape, and it will be a key feature in any settlement.

“College faculty have the full support of their union in getting a fair collective agreement that addresses their issues,” he added. “And we have $72 million in the strike fund to back that up.”

Back-to-School (2017 Edition)

Okay, so — first day back…  Did you have fun?  Were the other profs nice to you?  Did you have lunch with anyone nice?

And your class sizes — let’s talk about those for a moment, shall we?  How were they?  Manageable?  Appropriate for an individualized student-centred learning experience?  Seriously — same as usual, better or worse?  Larger or smaller than 10 years ago?  And if larger, what steps have you taken (or been forced to take, depending upon the evaluations factors on your SWF if you’re full-time) to deal with the numbers?  Where have been able to adjust to deliver the same quality as before, or have there been elements where you have simply been unable to deliver the same quality?

Share your experiences anonymously at, if you’re so inclined.  Remember that we may be a LONG way from having ANY meaningful input on our class sizes, but the College Employer Council has made it abundantly clear that the long road towards that influence begins (but does not, I expect, end) with a strike authorization in the upcoming vote.  After all, the Employer has clearly stated that there are only two paths of negotiation: Either a) accept a status quo that leaves issues of academic freedom, college governance, and workload unaddressed in exchange for pay below the projected rate of inflation over the next four years, or b) authorize a strike.

Hey — if nothing else, I appreciate the clarity.

Anyway, yesterday’s post featured a new contributor speaking about the degree to which Ontario College professors have lost control of their profession.

That post elicited the following response from our most dedicated contributor:

While I share the sentiments and empathize with the passion of the writer of “Controlling Our Own Profession,” I think that the interests of accuracy can best be served if we do not mythologize the past. College teachers (and educators from pre-school to post-doc supervisors) have never been “professionals” in the sense that we controlled ingress, internal discipline, fee schedules and egress from our occupation. Accountants, architects, dentists, doctors and lawyers may share in such privileges; we do not and have not.

So, it is a mistake to claim that “management” has “managed to infiltrate our profession.” Going back to the beginning – before the Union – management had unrestrained powers and, of course, management retains virtually unfettered powers today.

This is not to deny the claim that we ought to have such powers. Nor is it to speak against making every effort to gain them. It is only to say that this would be moving into wholly new ground and any such movement would be something that not only management, but the Government of Ontario – regardless of party – would fight (almost) to the death to prevent.

If, however, we entertain aspirations of becoming a profession at some point (or even achieving the kind of co-management that the Union is endorsing), then we had better understand what we’re up against. As Canada’s most beloved philosopher once intoned: “Moral outrage is too precious a commodity to be spent in the service of anything but reality.” (Varsity Arena, October, 1965)

And while I’m opening up the mailbag, permit me to add the following reply from the same contributor to this post — my original reply to the Employer’s “Two Paths: Strike or Settlement” publication.  I notice that he does provide a comparison of class sizes “then and now”:

When I came aboard the Good Ship CAAT in August, 1969, there were no contract faculty at my college. Every one of us “Teaching Masters” (we weren’t called “professors” at the time) was full-time. True, individuals might occasionally ask to be put temporarily on a reduced load for any number of personal reasons (and were paid a proportionately reduced salary during that period), but cases of that sort were few and always initiated by the faculty member.

Now, in an era when the number of administrators/managers has ballooned by 50% and more, we are told that paying for full-time employees (both faculty and support staff) is no longer possible. The employer insists that up to 80% of the teaching must be done by overworked, underpaid and systematically intimidated precarious faculty who dare not complain lest they be “terminated without cause.”

How come? Tuition fees are way up, and salaries have barely kept pace with inflation over the past 50 years. Is the alleged fiscal crisis of the colleges to be blamed on hideously incompetent management? Or is something else going on.

One place to look might be the funding strategies adopted by the provincial governments (over decades and by all political parties). The success of the colleges and the “productivity” of professors are obvious. In my department, for example, average class sizes have more than doubled from 15 to about 35, and we now teach almost twice as many classes as we did “in the olden days” – 14 over three semesters rather than 8 over two. So, how come we never seem to benefit from “economies of scale”?

It seems plain either that the colleges are being short-changed or that the colleges are being mismanaged (or maybe both). In any case, the so-called “stalemate” is about more than employee demands and employer recalcitrance. Ultimately, the problem is political.

Voting overwhelmingly to give the Bargaining Team a strike mandate is the only way to show that we are serious about change in the way the colleges work is the first step to solving that political problem. Giving thought to who best represents workers’ rights and education and who deserves another kind of vote when the next provincial election come up less than a year from now is another.

Unlike an increasing number of managers, I may not have an MBA from some digital diploma mill far, far away … but I know this much: this ain’t no way to run a railway, nor an Ontario college system.




Labour Day Edition

The following is from a new contributor whom I’m delighted to welcome to the discussion.  I’m reprinting this submission in the interests of fostering a broad conversation about the factors impacting Ontario College education, but cannot attest to the accuracy of any claims therein.

Controlling Our Own Profession

The recent Academic Bargaining Update provided by the College [Employer] Council illustrates why it is necessary for faculty to finally control their own profession.

The Council frames the dilemma falsely as a choice between strike or settlement while ignoring the third option, which is an overhaul of the college system for the sake of justice; for the sake of better education for our students and our communities.

The Union proposals do focus on changing the structure of Colleges. This change is long overdue. Colleges are places where training, education and mentorship are provided. They are not institutions where incompetent managers should be allowed to dictate a vicious financial policy of austerity that only furthers the financial health of its elite while gutting the very people who provide education and training to students.

The current College system, which is overburdened with management, is no longer sustainable. Take the example of the Georgian College President who was awarded a $200,000 increase in salary this year while her College is millions of dollars in debt. Her response has been to cut faculty while promoting the same managers whose incompetence lead to the College’s financial difficulties. These examples can be multiplied across the College system.

If Legislation makes the College Board of Governors responsible for the governance of the College, it is time to change the legislation. It is clear that the legislation is unjust. The College Board of Governors should consist of faculty and not managers who fail to even have terminal degrees in their field and virtually no experience being educators. The University model where chairs are chosen among faculty professors and where accountants do the accounting is one that should be considered as a viable alternative to the current unjust method of “governance.”

If Collective Bargaining addresses the terms and conditions of employment then it is clear that the terms and conditions of employment need to be changed so that educators control the fruits of their labours. Administrators should be serving Professors in their efforts to educate students. The current inversion that has been in place for over fifty years is medieval in scope and unjust in practice.

The Council is upset that “the union demands control over academic delivery.” Professors are best at knowing what students require. The current system to use an analogy is like a butcher telling a brain surgeon how to perform surgery. This would not be tolerated in any hospital, yet it is exactly what management is doing in the College system. In fact it is even worse than the analogy because management has no clue of what is required to deliver proper education and yet they have managed to infiltrate our profession. Management has no business telling professors how to teach. They have no business being in an educational institution when they should be elsewhere such as the financial sector. Education is not fast food. Students are not clients. Professors are not frying up burgers in the marketplace.

How is it that professors have allowed their own house to be taken over by bureaucratic incompetence? Management through a number of clauses have given themselves the power to destroy lives and careers while relying on a part time work force that receives a course here and a course there. Management stuffs their pockets with government funds while telling us that there is no more money for full time hires.

The problem with the College system is the over-bloated and incompetent bureaucracy that needs to be transformed so that professors can once again control their own profession for the sake of their students and the communities in which they live and work.

If nothing else, this letter did inspire me to dig up my copy of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002, to find out precisely what powers are given to Boards of Governors, and whether the Council is correct that the existence of Boards of Governors with duties prescribed by law somehow legislatively renders it impossible for me to determine, for example, whether students should be graded individually or through group assignments (something that faculty currently have no authority over, and something that the Employer seems to be arguing that current law utterly precludes our ever having authority over).

Anyway, a review of that legislation is indeed thought-provoking, and may become the topic of a future post.

Please submit your thoughts, either in response to today’s submission or on another issue, to

A Tale of Two Narratives…

Howdy, sports fans.

When I resumed blogging over the summer, I had originally intended to try to accompany my posts about this round of negotiations with the notation of an unfolding game of chess.

Looking back at it, I’m pretty happy that that conceit got dropped quickly, because it’s awfully hard to construct a chess game in which there’s a stalemate in under six moves.

But that’s apparently where we are: The Union’s bargaining is unwilling to abandon virtually all of its members’ demands for the sake of a settlement at the table; the Employer’s bargaining team is currently unwilling to negotiate any of the Union’s demands, opting instead to stand pat with an offer that offers a salary increase averaging less than 1.9% annually over the next four years.

And so, both teams’ latest bulletins share a strange agreement that the situation has been reduced to a binary: If the Union membership wishes to see any changes other than the offered salary increase, then authorizing a strike is the only way to accomplish that.

One would assume, then, that the obligation attending both sides’ communications would be to defend their current positions, and seeming intransigence. For the Union, it would be an obligation to explain why the demands are significant enough to justify seeking a strike mandate; for management it would be an obligation to explain why it cannot further negotiate any remaining demands.

You can find the latest messages from each side on the right-hand column, and you can decide for yourself which bulletin best manages to meet that standard.

Personally, I’m struck by both the similarity of the newsletters’ respective headlines, but also to the significance of how they diverge.

The Union’s newsletter is entitled “Two visions for a system in crisis”.  It situates the current stalemate between the two sides in their radically different notion about the fundamentals of staffing and academic decision-making in Ontario colleges, and whether the status quo (which is fundamentally unchanged since the system’s founding in 1967) is sufficient for the current and future needs of the system’s students, and by extension Ontario’s society and economy.

The Employer’s newsletter is entitled “Two paths: Strike or settlement”. It features a rhetorical return to what I earlier described as “the paternal tone of a benevolent, sweater-vest-clad figure whose job it is to make difficult choices in the face of scarce resources”.  That voice tells us that having an established minimum ratio of Full-Time faculty is just too darn expensive, so management should be able to have complete, unfettered control over staffing, with no obligation to hire a single full-time faculty member for the next four years.  Because the Employer knows best what the system needs.

That voice also drops in regret, to warn us that it would be far, far too risky to entrust the education of Ontario College students to… the people who actually provide that education. But rest assured that it thinks that faculty are really, really special – we’re even “critical to academic decision making”.

This, in an explanation about why the Collective Agreement cannot possibly be changed in a way that would make faculty . . . critical to academic decision-making.

“So look, Union members,” the sweater vest tells us, “Why this windmill-chasing and why the dreams of stepping somewhere you don’t belong?  Know your place, and tell your team to stop this foolishness, so that we can come to a settlement that doesn’t… disrupt anything. And everything can go back to exactly the way it was in the good old days. We know that you have needs, so we’ve left some money on the table for you – you can take it as you leave. Get yourself something nice with it.  And hey — You’re really special to me.  Let’s meet up again soon.”

•                    •                    •

In the end, we’re presented with binaries, but the intersections exist on different planes: The Employer is discussing what is needed for a successful, effective round of negotiations, and making arguments about how to best achieve it. The Union is discussing what is needed for a successful, effective College system, and making arguments about how to achieve it.

What’s missing, in my opinion, from the Employer’s messaging – and has been missing this entire round of negotiations – is any positive defense of the status quo of the Ontario College system. Any positive explanation of how the system benefits from having 80% of faculty on short-term contracts; how the system benefits from explicitly taking academic decisions out of the hands of academic experts; how the system benefits from the lack of a workload formula for counsellors and librarians, or the lack of a workload formula that takes into account the unique workload associated with online or hybrid teaching.

These are all elements of the current Ontario college system – of the status quo that is the product of our past Collective Agreements and the Employer’s decisions.  The Employer has made no effort to defend those decisions, or make a persuasive argument about the superiority of the education provided by the current system over that proposed by the Union.

Ultimately, I interpret this to mean that the Employer believes that it doesn’t need to justify the current state of the College system to the faculty, who are actually performing the Colleges’ raison d’etre.  More importantly, it indicates that the Employer believes that faculty share that opinion.