Carleton profs prepare for strike vote

Dispute over tenure has left faculty without a contract since April

A plan to more closely scrutinize the tenure process could lead to a strike, and the cancellation of classes at Carleton University. Faculty will vote whether to give its union a strike mandate on Oct 4 and 5. The Carleton University Academic Staff Association (CUASA), representing around 830 professors and librarians, has been in negotiations with the administration since the end of April when their contract expired.

Related: Western profs ponder striking

At the centre of the dispute is the process of tenure and promotion, and negotiations haven’t even begun to touch on wages, according to CUASA president Johannes Wolfart. “Nobody wants to be bargaining this hard on tenure procedures,” he said.

Earlier this Month, Carleton released a proposal to revamp its tenure process in an effort to bring it inline with other Canadian universities. Among the recommendations are to seek external peer review for candidates, whereas now all peer reviews are internal. The length of tenure-track positions would increase from three years to six years, and a more standardized tenure process would be established across the university, as opposed to the wide variation that currently exists between departments. Candidates for tenure would also be assessed “within the context of the university’s reputation and status.”

The report indicated a failure to reach consensus, between faculty and the university, on at least three points. They include proposals to strengthen the authority of an appeal committee to make final “binding” decisions, a role for an arbitrator to award tenure, and the ability for the president to overturn tenure decisions. In the case of the president, a tenure recommendation would be overturned in the event of a procedural error, not for “substantive” reasons related to the quality of the applicant.

When asked to clarify which items the faculty union is disputing and why, Wolfart said he would not speak to anything specific in the report. “That document is actually verbatim their bargaining proposal,” he said. Wolfart did say that the administration is implying “that the reputational problems at Carleton are somehow to be laid at the feet of the faculty.”

Jason MacDonald, Carleton’s director of public relations, disagrees. “Carleton’s an outstanding university, we’ve got outstanding faculty doing groundbreaking work, doing headline grabbing research,” he said. “This is about making sure that the processes we have in place around tenure and promotion . . . reflect the standards that are being applied at other leading institutions right across Canada.”

There is some disagreement over exactly what the collective agreement permits in terms of work stoppage. While the faculty association has called for a strike vote, MacDonald says striking is not allowed within the contract. “Our view on the issue is that they aren’t actually in a position to strike, that the collective agreement would require the parties to submit to binding arbitration,” he said.

Both sides point to the fact that Carleton has never had a faculty strike. There are approximately 19,000 full and part undergraduate students attending the university.

UPDATE: Carleton profs vote for strike mandate

Photo of picket line at York University during the 2008-09 strike




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Carleton profs prepare for strike vote

  1. WHAT?

  2. Fantastic. And out of all of this, it’s us the students that get hurt the most.

  3. Actually, it looks like the profs are getting hurt the most with the erosion of tenure, especially the bit about “within the context of the university’s reputation and status” leaves the administration with a lot of leeway to deny tenure to people who have political views which rock the boat a little.

  4. If they do this the students will be hurt most. We’ve paid for tuition,we have exams coming up and projects too. I doubt the university will want to give us our money back – and if the school year is just extended it will ruin students summer breaks which are used to work and make money for the upcoming year. Why couldn’t this have been addressed during the summer holidays? It doesn’t seem to be a new thing, it seems this has been an issue for a while. I’m sick of strikes. First the bus strike and now this…just in general things need to be sorted out at better times.

  5. So, university administration is trying to erode tenure rights resulting in a likely strike, and university administration won’t compensate you for it?

    Sounds like the university administration is the one causing your problems, not the faculty association for refusing to bend over.

  6. I’m a student at carleton, and I was just wondering if any body knows when we will find out if this will happen or not. I know 83% of people voted yes that they wanted a strike, so because the number is so high does that mean it will take place? I just don’t understand the details so if someone can please clear it up it would be greatly appreciated !
    Thank you!
    Amanda

  7. The vote on whether or not to give the union a strike mandate will take place Oct 4 and 5 as stated in the article

  8. Hey Bill. listen it screws students over more, i am supposed to co-op next summer and if our semesters get pushed back, I can’t and them i’m ultra screwed.
    were all screwed..

  9. I’m sure that faculty members appreciate that a strike hurts students. Heck, any strike in a service related industry hurts whoever uses that service – and it’s never entirely fair or convenient. I’m just not sure what students mean to say when they keep repeating that fact in reply to any point raised about who happens to be at fault in this case.

    Are students simply trying to say that they don’t care who’s most responsible for a situation that’s screwing them? Are they saying they have no interest in blaming the right person causing the problem, for crediting anyone who solves the problem, or even in understanding it? They just want to yell when they’re upset and forget about it as soon as their lives improve again?

    I really hope that isn’t the case. Because honestly, that’s the worldview of small children. For the rest of us – even when it doesn’t change what we’re going through in the moment – it is important to properly ascribe blame and assign credit where due.

    It’s important to know and remember that a strike hurts students. It’s also important to know more about what’s going on too, and it does make me sad whenever students seem to argue against this point.

  10. @Jeff: As a student at Carleton, I feel that no matter who is at fault, I am being screwed. In simple terms, the administration took my money (tuition and fees) in exchange for a service (classes and labs) rendered by employees (professors). If anything in that chain is broken, I am not getting what I paid an arm and a leg for. Furthermore, unlike other services, there is no refund, and there is no exchange. Given what the last strike looked like at York University, I am fearing the worst.

  11. @Matt: I appreciate you are being screwed. I never denied as much. The point I was making, and which so many students seem to miss, is that even people who are getting screwed need to be interested in more than the fact that they are getting screwed. You honestly think that a bad thing happening in your life (or threatening to happen) means that you should stop caring about every other question in the world?

    Sorry, but I repeat my essential point. This “stop talking about anything else and pay attention to how much this sucks for ME!” attitude is childish. No on is suggesting that your concerns aren’t due some attention. They’re just suggesting that understanding more about the situation other than just the fact that students’ face complications is important.

    Seriously, if you were negotiating for either side here, do you think it would be productive to sit down and only talk about how much this sucks for students? That might be an important preliminary topic, to focus people on the topic at hand, but once that’s done there’s still an agreement to negotiate. And that requires, you know, talking about other things.

    I can’t say it any more plainly. For all that students care about politics in the Middle East, whether Joaquin Phoenix was really faking or not, and the price of a medium double double, you’d think they’d at least be interested in knowing why their lives just got complicated, rather than just trying to reorient every discussion back to the simplest and most obvious point that no one ever tried to deny.

  12. I think it’s entirely appropriate for students to keep the discussion oriented on the simplest and obvious result. Why should students have to bother with this at all? When someone puts on their student hat, their business is to learn. Let the activism to activists, the price of coffee to the individual’s budget, the celebrity gossip to… whoever. If the faculty decides to make their problem the students problem, of course the students will be pissed.

    You call people childish for reducing it to that, yet offer no opinion of your own. You seem to be looking for who to blame, who do you blame? I’m just wondering if your point has some substance behind it or if you’re just shaking your fist at selfishness in general.

    Selfishness is certainly no virtue, I believe our own lives are much better when we take consideration of the world around us. The pianist Bill Evans once commented on injustice in the world, saying how he would be up at night wondering what he could do about things. He felt most direct action he could take was ineffectual and instead decided that the best he could do in this world was make the best music he could. Perhaps it would be the best way he could reach the most people and inspire them towards something they love rather than hate. In that sense, I think students could be better members of society if they could just get on with their learning and not have to be used as pawns in a negotiation that shouldn’t have anything to do with them.

  13. Students should also understand that the problem goes beyond a simple possibility of a strike. The tenure issue is one facet of the problem facing professors, but the rest of the package proposed by the University is an erosion of the basics of academic freedom. The University system is supposed to be about the free and frank exchange of ideas, and the ability for professors to challenge students in the classroom, and help them see new ways of understanding the world around them. Now, in a situation where the Administration has more of a grip on what its teachers can and can’t do, students will also be the net losers. Students may lose the professor who speaks out. Who has strange views. Who challenges the system. Also, the proposed partnership with Navitas, an Australian for-profit educational company, will hurt students. Do students want to be taught be committed professors who bring their love of subject and research expertise to the classroom, who have been through the system and earned a PhD, or by someone much younger who may only have a BA or MA and is teaching you because he or she is the cheaper contract option? What is not in this article is that the whole set of proposed changes will hurt students and faculty far more than a strike will. I for one support the right of the faculty to stand up for the integrity of the system and, far from only thinking of themselves, they are thinking of students, too.

    Bear in mind as well that this is part of a wider problem. UWO, as linked in the article; problems at UofT, and elsewhere. We are seeing the ‘corporatisation’ of the university system; it is being transformed into a business with faculty as content providers and students as clients. Who loses then? Everyone.

  14. Students, this might screw up your year. For profs, this is about their entire career. Get over yourselves.

  15. It’s very frustrating for Carleton students. Our support staff went on strike for the first 6 weeks (Sept-Oct) of the 2007-2008 school year. And then our bus system in Ottawa was on strike for 3 months in the middle of winter (Dec 2008-Feb 2009), causing students to miss exams or drop out of classes.

    I realize that we have to look outside of our own lives, but when our school years are consistently ruined, year after year, due to strikes, it can be aggravating, and I admit that I do look at how this affects me first. Again, as someone mentioned above, why could this not have been negotiated over the summer semester when the student population affected would have been lowered?

  16. Reply to Leah:
    Leah, from what I understand, the Union began negotiating with the Management in April. Normally these things don’t take too long, but the Management proposed significant changes to the collective agreement which fundamentally changed working practices at the university and have been stubborn about accepting any form of compromise. I am also told that proposals submitted by the Union to Management were either rejected outright or not responded to.

    It is instructive that the admin/tech union (CUPE2424) and the TA/Contract union (CUPE4600) have had similar problems negotiating; you may have heard that CUPE2424 voted for a strike mandate this week. In short, then, negotiations did take place this summer with a view to renewing the collective agreements of all three unions, but without any progress. Compare the situation to UofT where, I believe, faculty have not had a contract for even longer, and negotiations are still going. And of course, you should be aware of the fact that the Management is not terribly concerned about students; if they were, they would not be interested in outsourcing your education to companies like Navitas. They will be worried if there is any kind of disruption or strike, but only in as much as it affects the reputation of the university and their bottom line, not in that it may be difficult for any of their employees or students. Some in the Union likely feel the same way, too.

    It’s a very ugly situation.

  17. Do you think that people on strike aren’t also inconvenienced for going without pay (unless they have strike pay, paid for by their dues, which is generally much less than regular pay)?

  18. It’s important for students to understand that the professors are actually standing up for thier rights. Why should they stand back and watch the essence of thier chosen profession be erroded by those that are only interested in the bottom line. Case in point, the Univeristy will not offer any form of reinburse to the students for lost classes, or for some of us, extending our graduation date. The University has not even proposed alternate solution to the students. In fact, the University is holding students as negotion tool, with the end aim of getting the students to speak up against the strike. We should support our professors and extend our understanding an support. After all our we not interested in equality and the right to stand up for our rights? Worst comes to worse, we still have the syllabuses from our classes and some of us will get together and study on our own. Some of use will continue to be responsible for our own education, and as such show our support.

  19. UWO profs have voted to give a strike mandate: and over the same erosion of academic freedom and basic job issues.
    http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2010/10/01/strike-vote-at-western-today/
    I will not at all be surprised if Carleton profs follow suit this week.
    Students, please support your professors. As Scott writes, if you believe in equality and the right for all people to be employed in fair and constructive environments, then this is also in your interest.

  20. Scott, I agree that students should not allow themselves to be played as pawns in a labour dispute. At the same time, in what other profession does anybody get a guaranteed job for life regardless of how poorly they perform? We students get stuck with the results of tenure decisions for years to come — sometimes in the form of incompetent professors who have long since given up caring or updating their knowledge or teaching skills. Where is the professor’s union when it comes to policing their own? Do they refund student tuition when a tenured professor fails to provide value for our money? Nope!

    In the absence of getting rid of tenure all together — which seems unlikely — I see no reason why Universities shouldn’t be free to set whatever criteria they want short of blatant discrimination.

    So while I agree that we should hold the university solely accountable for any decision it makes not to reimburse students for lost classes, it does not follow that we need to support the position of the professors.

  21. Mature Student – yes – we’ve all had those rubbish profs who have given up. I can think of one or two who made things tiresome when I did my degrees. But for every one of those, you have 10 who do brilliant research, care deeply about their students, and love what they do and bring that to the classroom. The tenure system is designed to weed out the former and promote the latter, but like any system, sometimes it fails.

    And perhaps you should reconsider your position in your final paragraph, if only because supporting your professors means supporting the 10 brilliant ones, too, and also because the rest of Carleton management’s ideas are less than attractive to the students, as well.

  22. Alex, out here in the real world where the rest of us work, nobody gets to laze around all day and hang on to their job. Nobody.

    I’d be genuinely curious to know what other aspects of Carleton’s management ideas you feel students should be concerned about. However, you won’t ever convince me to support a system where there is no recourse against professors who rip off students.

  23. “However, you won’t ever convince me to support a system where there is no recourse against professors who rip off students”

    No recourse? Don’t take classes…

    You sure bitch about a lot of things on this forum. I bet you’re a real joy in the classroom.

  24. Hi Mature Student,

    Well, to answer both parts of your note.

    In general, professors do not laze. Course prep and marking takes about 5-8 hours per 1 1/2 hour class; a full course load is 3-3, so 9 hours per week of teaching, 45-72 hours of prep. Professors write references, they adjudicate on grant applications for governments federal and provincial, they do a lot of pro-bono work for the public sector, they see students and mentor them, and they teach. On top of that, the dedicated ones write articles and books and conduct ongoing research, competing for grants and awards. It takes about 5-10 years in the humanities to complete a book project. When you add on to that the fact that many professors take until their mid-30s to complete academic training without any salary or pension benefits, tenure may actually seem fair. But the actual purpose of tenure is not a free lunch: it is to protect professors from management and to ensure academic freedom. Imagine, for example, that the management of university xyz condemned (for e.g.) the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006. Suppose some profs opposed it and spoke out against it in class, and offered new viewpoints. Untenured professors can be fired for going against management. Tenured professors cannot. Do you want a university environment where your profs have to toe the management line?

    I fully understand that there are terrible profs out there who have received tenure, and who shouldn’t have. I had some of them. But again, you miss the many who provide great education for students. Those profs are certainly not ripping off students.

    And to answer your second question. Students should be concerned, as I have mentioned, about Navitas. As a student (I assume), would you want your courses taught by people with a love for the subject and a PhD, or someone with a BA who works for peanuts for a contract agency like Navitas? Professors don’t enter teaching for the money. The reason they respond to e-mails from students on WebCT at 9pm on a Sunday or on Saturday afternoon is because they genuinely care about their subject. Many also care about students. The other main aspect you should care about is that management is trying to turn university into a business. Is this right? In a business scenario, humanities will be axed, as will most other things deemed ‘useless’ by management that have no revenue potential. I don’t know what program you are studying, but surely you can see that this will be detrimental.

    Anyway, there are many views out there on this topic. This is just one set of views. We can agree to disagree. But I hope I have shown that the good profs – the ones that deserve and benefit from tenure – have earned the right, through peer review, external review, teaching assessments from students, community service, and publications, to that position. And they don’t even do it for the money, which is far less than is usually assumed. The Ottawa Citizen stated that the average professorial salary at Carleton is in six figures, but that is only because the business school salaries are 3x what Humanities professors make, and they skew the average.

    Cordially – Alex.

  25. Ahh, Mature Student — the “real world” argument. Because professors’ mortgages, and children, and health issues, are not at all real.

    Tenure is not about a “job for life”, it’s about academic freedom: the freedom to ask unpopular and inconvenient questions. Professors at every university in Canada are subject to annual review of performance, and there are consequences for failing to live up to standards.

  26. Alex, your point about academic freedom is well-taken, but I think we need to be clear about what is freedom and what is privilege.

    Everybody in this country has the freedom to ask unpopular questions and pursue unpopular fields of research to the extent that their resources allow. This is not the exclusive domain of tenured professors by any means. Many people including untenured professors, journalists, authors and documentarians willingly do these things at times, knowing full well that they could suffer consequences or lose their jobs as a result.

    What we are talking about when it comes to tenure, is the opportunity to do these things while earning a salary for life.

    This, in my opinion, is a privilege, and one that comes with some responsibilities that professors’ unions have been unwilling to accept.

    I agree with you that professors should not be dismissed for taking possitions their universities disapprove of. However, they certainly should be dismissed for writing poorly-researched work or failing to adhere to professional teaching standards, correct problems or update their skills as needed.

    If professors had a governing body that worked vigourously to weed out its bad apples and to adjudicate grievances from students, you would have my support.

    However, more often than not, what I hear from professors is a sense of entitlement with no sense of responsibility whatsoever.

    GK above is a classic example. According to him, students should just bail out of the classes they need to complete their education so that the bad professors can continue to remain employed. What kind of solution is that?

  27. Non-refunding tuition is shameless scam. There must be criminal charges agains who is involved with stealing other people’s hard earned money.

  28. Why shouldn’t students be upset by this? Yes the profs may have issues with their contracts, but that’s not our fault, so why should we be the ones to lose thousands of dollars (that we don’t even have) because they think negotiations aren’t going their way and the best way to deal with it is to strike.

  29. Mature Student – you won’t get any argument from me that tenure carries with it privileges and responsibilities. It differs from the other jobs you mention though as a very old form of employment which goes back to the early days of university education and reflects the mission of the university to challenge institutional thinking and promote the fair and frank exchange of ideas. I would perhaps best respond to you by again saying that the majority of tenured profs are not ‘bad apples’ and actually fulfill the requirements of their profession: this is simply because the majority or people go through the rigours of graduate school because they want to teach and research and getting tenure is not going to switch off that drive.

    I also agree with you that the tenure system needs to be more rigorous. This is something that Carleton management wants, and the Union is not in principle opposed to. They are opposed to the little things that are being slipped through with the tenure proposals, which have been mentioned above.

    Claire: no-one is suggesting that students should not be upset. If I was still a student I would be angry too. But by being a student in university you presumably have a stake in the system and so I think the point is to keep an open mind about what the problems are. The problems are not that the ‘profs have issues with their contracts.’ It is not that simple: the management are trying to make fundamental changes to the way that the university operates in a manner where students and faculty all lose. Your professors could actually do with your support and far from being selfish and useless as seems to be the conception of some, many are hard-working dedicated teachers who work six or seven days a week for substandard pay (based on qualifications and experience) to ensure that you get the best instruction possible. Be upset, by all means, but keep an open mind as to the wider problems in the university system. If the management gets their way, your education will become more expensive, be of a lesser quality, and then we all lose.

  30. I am of the belief that this is a no-win situation. To say that students should simply stand behind their professors with reckless abandon is foolhearty. To ignore the rights and legitimate concerns of members of the CUASA is equally irresponsible. The bottom line is that everyone gets hurt.

    What frustrates me is that the looming potential for a strike is nothing new at Carleton, and indeed for other universities and organizations across the world. While I claim little to no understanding of business affairs, I find it odd that working without a contract for extended periods of time is even legal. Why aren’t there safeguards in place to protect both union members, and the people they serve? I’m not saying union members should not have the right to strike. I believe wholeheartedly in the institutions of unionization and am 100% supportive of CUASA and their reasonable demands. However, being a student (who left a full-time job to continue my academic studies), it is frustrating that my education is being used as a bargaining tool. Students at Carleton are at a particular disadvantage considering the CUPE and OC Transpo strikes of recent years.

    Ultimately, I hope that cooler heads can prevail in the negotiation process, and students (and professors alike) can continue to learn in an environment that is fair, safe and responsible for all.

    Does anyone know how the voting went yesterday? I know it is a continuing process into today, but I am curious to know how the voting is progressing? If a strike does occur, what happens?

  31. I am hoping as well that cooler heads prevail. Ontario is strike-weary after York and OC Transpo and I hope it gets negotiated out. Last time in 2006 this very same thing happened, it went to a strike vote, and it was averted at the last minute.
    Unfortunately the people who are involved in negotiations probably don’t care about the anxiety this is all causing!

    Labour law states that the old contract remains in force while a new one is negotiated. It is extended if there negotiations take a while. A strike breaks the old contract and requires a new one to be sorted out.

    Voting results should come out at the end of the week. I would expect a result similar to that at Western. And unfortunately with three unions voting on strikes at Carleton, the odds of at least one going on strike look favourable.

    If there is a strike by faculty then classes will be cancelled until it is over. If the TA union goes on strike, no TAs – will have less of an effect. If CUPE go on strike again then things will slow down but still get done. If I was management, I would work hardest to avert a faculty strike as it will bring the core mission of the university to a grinding halt.

  32. If they go on strike for an extended period, Carleton University is essentially taking away $10000 from me. That’s not fair.

  33. There has been an updated version of this article. It states that the results are in from the voting that took place yesterday and today. 88.5% voted in favour of a strike mandate. What does this mean for students? They haven’t actually gone on strike-the union has just voted in favour of it, right? There was something in the article about a 17 day waiting period. This is all so overwhelming and confusing.

  34. Just my opinion – but after talking with some people at the University it seems that there is a relatively widespread belief that the management is out to break the power of the union. I stress that there is no hard evidence for this and it is speculation, but it would not surprise me in the least if it were true. If that isn’t a reason to strike, I don’t know what is.

  35. Amy – yes, there will now be conciliation with a government mediator. By law there has to be at least one meeting, but there are usually more. If the conciliator finds that the two sides do not agree and can’t agree, then he/she files what is called a ‘no board’ report with the government. Then there is a mandatory 17 day waiting period where negotiations continue. If there is still no agreement, the employer can lock out the union members and/or the union can legally go on strike.

    It is overwhelming and causing a lot of anxiety. I fervently hope this gets negotiated out and a strike is avoided.

  36. This whole situation is ridiculous. There are many, many, people that don’t even have jobs right now. I say hire people who want to work and go from there. This is a recession everyone, its not fair, and nobody really is having an easy time financially. But at the end of the day, if you have a job, be grateful, and stop your complaining. Unions make sense for people who do back-breaking labor, as for everyone else… get to work.

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