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.

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