Barely a month into the school year, and professors at the University of Western Ontario are already pondering a strike that could cancel classes for students. At a meeting of 200 members of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) last week, a motion was passed to give the union’s board authority to call a strike vote, which it will be doing. The ballot will take place between Sept 29 and Oct 1, it was announced today.
At issue is a proposal from the university that the union says threatens academic freedom by weakening tenure. In an effort to improve “performance management,” Western, the union says, has proposed that several related clauses be linked together in their contract. They include the linking of academic responsibilities, conflict of interest and conflict of commitment, annual performance evaluation, sabbatical leave, and discipline.
According to UWOFA president James Compton, the university wants to implement a centralized review committee for evaluating and reviewing faculty job performance. “It would be staffed by senior administrators and not peers in those fields, so that’s a problem,” he said. Compton added that the proposed language amounts to “a continual tenure review” for faculty, who, he says already have to go through a rigorous process to attain tenure, and who are already continually evaluated by their home department. He called the university’s proposal “a weakening of the tenure system.” He added that the university has yet to make any proposal regarding wages.
In a media release, Helen Connell, associate vice-president communications, did not address any of the faculty association’s specific concerns, but did note that even if the union is given a strike mandate after next week’s vote, that doesn’t mean professors will be heading to the picket line. “It is important to note that holding a strike vote is normal in the process of collective bargaining and does not necessarily mean there will be a strike,” she said.
A conciliator appointed by the province has met with both sides, and talks are set to resume Oct 5. The faculty association represents 1,400 academic staff who have been without a contract since the end of June.
A strike vote is also scheduled to be held at Carleton University.