2017 Negotiations Messages (#4)

So in my last two posts, I’ve looked at the first “Academic Bargaining Update” from the College Employer Council.  Specifically, my last post started thinking a bit about the relationship between form and content, as the CEC presented its primary bargaining posture (which I very loosely summarize as “College faculty should be grateful that we’ve done as great a job as we have so far, given that the Colleges are going broke”).

So, I’m now wondering if it’s simply bias that’s leading me to be concerned about the lack of developed, nuanced efforts at persuasion in that bulletin.  I recently got called a ‘dinosaur’ for the first time by a colleague (perhaps I should be surprised that it took this long), and maybe it’s simply unreasonable for me to hold anyone to the standard of actually trying to engage with ideas and context and reasoning in the medium of a bargaining newsletter.  (With that said, I do note that pages 7 and 8 of the OPSEU bargaining team’s March 2017 Newsletter contains a “Message from the Chair” that attempts to situate the current needs of the Ontario College system within the context of its history and original mandate, as well as the evolution of a current corporatist managerial culture).

Anyway, on that topic, I wanted to share some welcome feedback I received from our most dedicated correspondent:

A former boss – a Campus Dean to be precise – once told me that if I expected him to read any memo I sent on matters of college policy or procedure, it had better be no more than a single page. Anything that can’t be said in one page isn’t worth saying, he declared.

I foolishly assumed that he was merely displaying a bad case of AADD (Administrator’s Attention Deficit Disorder). I have now read enough “visioning” statements, “mandates,” “core competency” summaries and other glorifications of the next new big thing (purloined from decades-old business magazines and MBA exams) to know that a preference for bullet-points isn’t just a reflection of NRA politics.

I am now convinced that a studied indifference to authentic evidence, an inability to make or understand cogent arguments, and simple failures in common sense are not anomalies in the logic and rhetoric of managerial exposition, but an endemic feature of the current corporate culture.

Any half-way serious analysis of the structure and symbolism of both formal and informal communications from the authorities will immediately reveal that there is no intention to communicate, much less to deliberate, but just to intimidate, distract, obfuscate and misdirect.

And maybe that helps me to articulate my real issue.  I’m not concerned with the CEC’s relying on the language of marketing (“Investing in faculty”!) and techniques of marketing because I think that marketing is inherently evil: I’m concerned because the Employer’s exclusive reliance on marketing indicates that the  Council is currently unwilling to engage in a thoughtful discussion with faculty — with Ontarians — about the current needs facing the College system.

What’s working in our Colleges?  What’s not?  Is the status quo truly sufficient for the needs of Ontario’s economy and society?  How many students are prospering, and how many are merely getting a piece of paper at the end?  Does the College Employer Council believe that it’s actually desirable for over 70% of College faculty to work on one-semester-long contracts?  Desirable for faculty to lack ownership over the materials they create?  Desirable for faculty to lack the authority to decide whether students are evaluated using written work or multiple choice?  And if so, what’s the data behind that belief?

Now, one could certainly argue that there are better forums to have a discussion about how to best ensure that Colleges are able to accomplish their mandate than by trying to hash it out in partisan newsletters in the heat of bargaining.  But here’s the point: that debate doesn’t appear to be occurring in any meaningful, influential way anywhere else, at any other time.  And the fact that the College Employer Council so far appears unwilling to attempt to seriously engage with those issues (or, indeed, with reasoned principles at all) in its newsletters suggests that there is literally no place for such discussion to occur, in the opinion of College management.  It suggests that the College Employer Council appears confident that a serious, influential debate over the needs of an underfunded College system can be replaced with the repeated reassurance that “We have invested in faculty despite a challenging financial environment”.

(In truth, it’s probably premature for me to make that claim without first considering whether the above concerns are contradicted or upheld by the Employer Council’s second newsletter — one that was published on July 10, after three days of bargaining had been completed.  I invite you to weigh in on that issue, at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.)

Bargaining resumes this week.  It would be interesting to know to  what degree the dynamic of the bargaining table reflects the dynamic of messages that have been put forth for public consumption by both sides thus far.

2017 Negotiations Messages (#3)

So, I wanted to come back to the College Employer Council’s first Academic Bargaining Update (June 8, 2017). In my last post, I looked at the first half of the Update – the bios of the team members.

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 ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

2017 Negotiations Messages (#2)

So, the CAAT-A bargaining team appears to be putting out newsletters at a prodigious rate, having recently published the fourth Negotiations Update (also linked on the right-hand column), before I’d had a chance to read the third.

Of course, that fourth one was motivated by events, specifically the CAAT-A bargaining team’s request that the Ontario Labour Relations Board appoint a conciliator to help break through a perceived logjam in negotiations, when the two teams resume negotiations in August.  This request has a couple of implications, and I hope to have the chance to discuss them soon.

But I wanted to take a moment to turn my thoughts to the College Employer Council’s first Negotiations Update (June 8, 2017).CECBulletin1

If the OPSEU Bargaining Team’s newsletter was characterized by the themes of dynamism and diversity, the first management-side newsletter was conversely characterized by themes of professionalism and experience.

That tone of confident experience is, in fact, present from the first word of the College management’s first headline: “Experienced Colleges’ Bargaining Team Prepares for 2017 Negotiations”.

(Now, I had been under the impression that the team was in fact the College Employer Council’s bargaining team, but there’s every possibility that that I’m incorrect on that point, despite the fact that–in every Collective Agreement in the last 10 years–the pages where the two teams are listed as signatories does identify the members of the management-side bargaining team as signing “For the Council”, not “For the Colleges”.)






But I digress…

Experience.  Professionalism.

You can see it in the suit jackets featured in the cover page team photo (I count three blue, two black, one charcoal, and one tan, for those keeping score at home), as well as the graphs, which are (I must confess) an object of envy.

The theme also carries through the bios of the nine team members.  If my math is correct, I note that two of the bios list roles as college VPs; two as deans; three as Chairs; a whopping four with Human Resources backgrounds.

So, evidently, the field of Human Resources is the path to which high school guidance counsellors should direct aspiring future “College” bargaining team members, if the current bios are any indication.  A close second, seemingly, would be law: Three of the team members boast background as legal practitioners.

A less likely path to becoming one of the nine people representing the Colleges in bargaining that affects all 24 public Colleges in Ontario, and directly shapes the education of well over 200,000 full-time students each year?  College Professor.  Only two bios of the nine bargaining team members make any reference at all to teaching experience.

Granted, maybe all nine of them have College teaching experience and know what it’s like inside a College classroom, and know the difference in preparation required by an online course vs. one taught in-class, and know how long it takes to rewrite a midterm exam for the benefit of a student with a special needs accommodation.

Maybe all nine of them have that kind of knowledge, because those are precisely the kinds of workload issues that the College Employer Council has charged them with negotiating.  So it’s reasonable for Ontario taxpayers to expect that they have a first-hand knowledge of the kind of issues impacting students that they are currently negotiating.

But if all nine of them have that experience, that authority–well, only two of the bios made reference to it.  Maybe knowledge of how Ontario College students actually receive their education wasn’t considered as important as, say, law degrees or experience in HR departments.

And perhaps reasonable people can disagree on whether it’s important for the people who have been placed in a position to negotiate Article 11.01 E3 (which attributes time to faculty for evaluating and providing feedback to students) on behalf of the Colleges have any experience whatsoever in the task of evaluating and providing feedback to students.
In fact, I invite reasonable people to disagree about this issue on this very forum, by e-mailing their thoughts to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.

My next post will look at some of the claims in the Council Bargaining Team’s first newsletter.  In the meantime, I’ll sign off with a passage from Plato’s Ion that comes to mind.

Soc. Tell me then, what Nestor says to Antilochus, his son, where he bids him be careful of the turn at the horse-race in honour of Patroclus.
Ion. He says: “Bend gently in the polished chariot to the left of them, and urge the horse on the right hand with whip and voice; and slacken the rein. And when you are at the goal, let the left horse draw near, yet so that the nave of the well-wrought wheel may not even seem to touch the extremity; and avoid catching the stone.
Soc. Enough. Now, Ion, will the charioteer or the physician be the better judge of the propriety of these lines?
Ion. The charioteer, clearly.
Soc. And will the reason be that this is his art, or will there be any other reason?
Ion. No, that will be the reason.
Soc. And every art is appointed by God to have knowledge of a certain work; for that which we know by the art of the pilot we do not know by the art of medicine?
Ion. Certainly not.
Soc. Nor do we know by the art of the carpenter that which we know by the art of medicine?
Ion. Certainly not.
Soc. And this is true of all the arts;- that which we know with one art we do not know with the other? But let me ask a prior question: You admit that there are differences of arts?
Ion. Yes.
Soc. You would argue, as I should, that when one art is of one kind of knowledge and another of another, they are different?
Ion. Yes.
Soc. Yes, surely; for if the subject of knowledge were the same, there would be no meaning in saying that the arts were different,- if they both gave the same knowledge. For example, I know that here are five fingers, and you know the same. And if I were to ask whether I and you became acquainted with this fact by the help of the same art of arithmetic, you would acknowledge that we did?
Ion. Yes.
[. . . ]
Soc. Then he who has no knowledge of a particular art will have no right judgment of the sayings and doings of that art?
Ion. Very true.
Soc. Then which will be a better judge of the lines which you were reciting from Homer, you or the charioteer?
Ion. The charioteer.
Soc. Why, yes, because you are a rhapsode and not a charioteer.
Ion. Yes.
Soc. And the art of the rhapsode is different from that of the charioteer?
Ion. Yes.
Soc. And if a different knowledge, then a knowledge of different matters?
Ion. True.

Experience.  Professionalism.

But which experiences?  And which profession?

As ever, feel free to direct your thoughts, corrections, questions, and criticisms to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com

2017 Negotiations Messages (#1)

Goodness, dear reader – has it really been so long?

Where to begin?

Well… let’s just dive in, shall we?

So, it’s a bargaining summer.

The teams have assembled, and both sides have made a move, so I suppose that the game is underway, and it’s as good a time as any to start the play-by-play analysis.

White moves first, and first move was taken by the OPSEU College of Applied Arts and Technology – Academic (CAAT-A) Bargaining Team, who published their Negotiations Bulletin in March.


1. P-Kb4 …

Actually, I should back up – the first Negotiations Bulletin was actually published back last December (and is also linked to the right column of this page). But it’s a bit unorthodox for white to move twice in a row, so thank you, Union Bargaining Team, for messing up my conceit before the fourth paragraph.

Now, noting that no demands had been settled on in December, 2016, that Bulletin devotes a page to the (now-complete) process of demand-setting, and three pages to profiles of the Union’s bargaining team. There’s more, which I’ll return to in upcoming days (he says, optimistically).

The more recent Negotiations Update, published in March, gives a bit of a clearer idea NB-2of the Union Bargaining Team’s communications approach. The newsletter on the whole seems to focus on the themes of 1. The bargaining process, 2. Diversity, and 3. A “back to basics” overview of what’s at stake in college faculty negotiations.

More specifically, pages 1 and 6 of the newsletter include a summary of the bargaining process thus far, as well as bargaining developments that are unique to this round of bargaining (and designed to increase the role of different faculty groups in the bargaining process); the list of demands on page 2 continues that theme – it includes demands that reflect all members, as well as specific demands targeted to benefit Partial-Load faculty, Counsellors, and Librarians.

That’s a hat-tip to the diversity of faculty areas within the bargaining unit, and the theme of diversity is extended a bit more broadly on pages 4 and 5, with photos of CAAT-A delegates attending a March 4 counter-protest concerning the anti-Islamophobia Parliamentary Motion M-103. (If I understand correctly, this was a protest against a protest against a Motion designed to protest the protest against influence of Islam in Canada.) (“Confused? You won’t be after this week’s episode…”)

But I got distracted by the pretty pictures.

Anyway, the “back to basics” theme of the newsletter takes the form of a “Message from the Chair” of the Bargaining Team, which contemplates the status of the original College system’s mandate on its 50th anniversary.  There are also liKnight3nks to two videos (one English; one French) under the heading “What’s this round all about?”, which outline many of the large-scale issues that indicate misplaced priorities within the system.

The Message from the Chair points out that the Ontario college system is enjoying its 50th anniversary this year, and questions the system’s current direction and priorities, compared to the original vision that guided its founding in 1967:


From a mandate of a united, government-funded system that would increase access to education for all, we have drifted into a collection of disparate elements, fighting over an ever-shrinking supply of inadequate funding. As the government has promoted competition for resources and enrollment, colleges have competed with each other in efforts to build their own fiefdoms, rather than working together to build up the whole system.

I look around and I see a college system that has turned away from investing in faculty, developing expertise, and providing the frontline services that ensure student success. Instead, I see example after example of mismanaged funds, misallocated priorities, and efforts to divert money that should be going to the front lines into the pockets of senior administrators.

In upcoming days (he says, optimistically), I hope to look at the College Employer Council Bargaining Team’s Academic Bargaining Update, as well as rounding out my look at the Union Bargaining Team’s Negotiating Bulletins and also taking a peek at competing messages surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Ontario College system.

In the meantime, feel free to e-mail me at ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com with questions, comments, musings, or suggestions on how to bring this site up-to-date for the current round of bargaining and our current issues. As ever, letters may be edited and reprinted anonymously in future posts – it’s one way to communicate with your colleagues, provincewide.

How Working at a Community College Is Like Working Retail

The content of this article by Julie Garza Withers at Ethnography.com will come as news to absolutely none of the thousands of contract faculty at Ontario Colleges.  They know what it’s like to have to reapply for their own jobs every fourteen weeks, what it’s like to be treated as disposable or fungible by their employer, and what it’s like to know that their continued employment depends upon keeping their heads down, for fear of negative attention.

The article is significant for many things, but Withers reminds us of the fundamental injustice of the two-tiered employment structure so common in academia: Having two people side-by-side, boasting the same qualifications and experience, and offering equal value to the school, yet working under radically different conditions, for radically different rewards.  She writes:

At Barnes and Noble a low-ranked bookseller with limited responsibilities got paid accordingly; at the community college however, all of us faculty share the same level of responsibilities, but 70% of us are paid a pittance in comparison to our tenured peers.

While this article has a American bent, it applies all-too-well to Ontario Colleges.  The real question that people need to ask is this:  Do we want a Ontario College students to be taught by people to have the same working conditions and job security as retail employees?  Does that model promote the attention and commitment that Ontario’s students deserve?  Is that model appropriate to the function that Colleges serve for Ontario’s society and economy?


e duobus duo?

Well, yesterday’s post was probably the first time in a few years that one interesting tension in the Ontario College Faculty bargaining unit was mentioned in print – namely, the fact that our bargaining unit includes both Full-Time faculty and Partial-Load (contract) faculty. If memory serves, that fusion of groups in the bargaining unit was originally the result of a court ruling in the early days of the Bob Rae government (on the grounds of gender equity, I believe), but I’ll be happy to be corrected by somebody who might have more accurate, first-hand recollections.

In the past, where any grumbling had occurred regarding any difference in the needs of the two categories, I remember that it typically came from some of the more politically-committed full-timers, who at times expressed dissatisfaction that Partial-Load faculty were less inclined to vote in favour of a strike (since striking isn’t necessarily to the benefit of one who has no guarantee of teaching 15 weeks in the future) .

But judging from the e-mails that I’ve occasionally fielded as a Local President, and the occasional hallway conversation, it appears that more of the discontent is now coming from Partial-Load faculty, who increasingly question whether the current composition of the union can ensure that the interests of contract faculty can be adequately represented if yoked to the interests of Full-Time faculty.

It’s an interesting question, both on the level of principle and practice. I hadn’t really planned to open this particular can of worms, but I think that it’s an issue that’s probably best worked out in a respectful, mediated forum like this one, so . . .

* * *

We’ll devote today’s post to two opinions—both providing very different responses to yesterday’s reader contributions, which suggest that Seneca’s jettisoning of Partial-Load faculty positions is rooted in the new Collective Agreement and, more fundamentally, in the dynamics of bargaining that (according to at least one opinion yesterday) are rooted in the mixed FT/PL composition of the bargaining unit.

Our first contributor argues that the selfishness of Full-Time faculty ensures that contract faculty will be treated as . . . fungible.

You nail the elephant in the room munchin’ up the munch. I’m F/T but would be happy with 60K a year if EVERYONE made 60K, janitors, deans, P/T and F/T. Fat chance. Too many faculty think they get their salary because they are “special”–many feel hard done by if they don’t get a raise. When a raise is dangled, they grab it, to hell with other issues. The F/T bourgoisie’s interest ain’t that of the P/T precariat. But the incremental acceptance of crappier CA’s will get us all. The writing is on the digital wall: Pearson is applying to be a degree granting institution (surprise); we have given up the cap on sections… it’s going to be e-learning efficiencies innovating our jobs away. If it happens slowly, it’ll stay the selfish status quo. If done too quickly, some might fight back. We’re too busy now buying mutual funds, thinking we have earned and deserve the sunshine. Not much solidarity in that.

Speaking personally, I don’t think that I get my salary because I’m “special”; I think I get it because I’m a qualified expert and award-winning teacher who spent over 10 years as a full-time postsecondary student, accumulating student debt and opportunity costs, in order to obtain a credential that my current position requires. And I can’t speak much to mutual fund investments, seeing as my pre-tax annual salary is currently one-tenth of the average price of a detached house in the city in which I work.

I guess my question would be: Whose interests are best served by the notion of a “zero sum” economy – by the notion that gains to Full-Time faculty must necessarily come at the cost of contract faculty? I’m accustomed to that sort of rhetoric from politicians preaching austerity or “fiscal responsibility”; I’m less accustomed to it from people who bemoan a lack of solidarity.

Our second letter offers a different opinion, identifying Seneca’s decimation of Partial-Load positions as originating less in a Collective Agreement that was voted on by the membership, and more in legislation that was not.

It is depressing to read this. Especially when one considers that even if *all* of the union’s demands going into bargaining had been accepted, as the last three readers hint at, that would not have completely stopped Seneca management from doing what they are doing.

It is all thanks to the highly flawed Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) 2008. All of the tools are in the hands of management. Save for one tool. And that’s the ability to organize part-time and sessional faculty. It is not a perfect tool. It is not perfect because even if you were to “blow up” the union and start with a clean sheet of paper as the last reader suggests, you’d still have two separate and distinct bargaining units thanks to the CCBA. Save for a political miracle, I can’t see the CCBA being fixed anytime soon.

That leads to the only possible way out of this funk: have both faculty bargaining units represented by a union and working closely together.

As I said, it’s the only tool we have. It’s amazing what you can do with just one tool though. If you were to take away all of my tools and leave me with just a hammer, it is still a hammer. The old adage may be true that if all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail! But that’s OK, you can still build plenty of things with just a hammer and nails.

It’s about time we got that hammer.

So, this leaves us with a couple of questions:  Should we understand gains to Full-Time faculty as coming at the expense (or elimination) of Partial-Load faculty?  Just how inexpensive would Partial-Load faculty need to be, in order to convince Seneca management not to replace them with non-Unionized Part-Time faculty?  And who benefits by the fact that such are the questions that we are asking in Ontario, in 2014?

As ever, feel free to respond either to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com.