Power struggles are very different from debates about competing
claims to truth, but the latter is at the heart of the academic mission.
Whether in the context of commercial opportunities or other temptations, universities rightly claim that the integrity of the academy must
be protected. Universities require trust and respect, and if they are seen
to bend in their mission before the influence of money or other extraneous factors, they risk losing both, because they have compromised the
evidence-based search for truth for which they claim a unique status in
our society. But what of institutional behaviours that favour power over
truth? In labour strife, as in war, the first casualty is truth, and there is no
exception for universities. Slogans, spin, and often the demonization of
opponents move to centre stage, and the performance is public. In the early days of any faculty strike in the country, and regardless of local issues,
the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and its faculty
union members can be counted on to issue statements of solidarity with
the striking union. Careful observers can see that adherence to the values
of truth, reason, and evidence-based debate has yielded to a greater interest
in winning a power struggle. This is seen as hypocrisy, and rightly so.
The problem for Canadian universities is that the power struggle is
expanding in scope. CAUT challenges historical governance arrangements
on the basis that collective bargaining should be the process by which
governance bodies are regulated. Its policy statement on the subject states,
“The Board and Senate should operate within the context of procedures
and rules set out in legislation constituting the institution and in collective
agreements negotiated between the institution and its academic staff”
(CAUT Policy Statement on Governance, 2008).
Legislation does little more than provide for a board and senate and
assign financial and academic oversight to them. According to this policy
statement, the process for deciding how this oversight would be exercised
should be collective bargaining. It is to draw a very long bow to suggest
that the terms and conditions of employment, which are the normal business of collective bargaining, include how boards and senates should do
the jobs assigned to them by the legislature. The policy statement is clearly
a claim for faculty unions to have a role that extends beyond terms of
employment to governance. And the role for which the claim is made is
not a modest one. In the first instance it would subject the bylaws, rules
and regulations now made by boards and senates themselves to review
through the collective bargaining process. It has the potential to go further
and to advance a superintending role for faculty unions in governance
generally. The origins of this claim lie in the CAUT view that senates have
failed, not simply that they have weaknesses or are not living up to their
potential, and the way forward is to recognize that collective bargaining
is, and has proven to be, the best and most reliable way to secure the proper
“Collective bargaining is about working out anemployment contract.It is not about identifyingthe best interests of the university.”
academic staff role in academic decision making.
This means that for CAUT the role for collective bargaining in aca-
demic matters is potentially without limit. “Because academic staff are
the effective agents for the execution of the research and educational
functions of the academy our working environment and our terms and
conditions of employment are inseparable from academic policies and
objectives. Academic staff have a legal entitlement to engage in the collec-
tive bargaining of all their terms and conditions of employment.”
On this view, terms and conditions of employment include what leg-
islatures have expressly entrusted to senates. The line in the sand is clear.
A struggle of fundamental importance to the future of our universities is
Collective bargaining is about working out an employment contract.
It is not about identifying the best interests of the university; nor is it the
relative truth about the claims of either union or management. It is about
the give and take, the push and pull, and the concessions sought and made
to reach an agreement. This is not a forum in which to introduce the ad-
ditional task of negotiating governance. The opposite is the case: it is a
forum to be avoided in the interest of good governance.
Governments should make it clear to public universities with faculty
unions that they will not tolerate encroachment through collective bargaining upon governance arrangements set out in legislation or charters.
These universities should be reminded that their self-governance is in
the public interest, and that governments will intervene to protect that
interest if legislative authority is undermined or compromised by collective bargaining. Indeed the time may have come for governments to
consider a legislative framework that delineates the boundaries between
the two. This framework would emphasize that “terms and conditions of
employment” open to collective bargaining must be construed so as to
leave unhindered the legislature’s prerogative to provide for the statutory
authority of boards, senates and their responsible officers. Such a framework should pay particular attention to the definition of academic matters
that ought to be within the purview of academic senates. In addition to
approval and oversight of academic programs, oversight of the standards,
rules and procedures for awarding tenure and promotion should remain
squarely in the purview of the governing bodies.
This is a shortened version of the original text, excerpted from University Leadership and
Public Policy in the Twenty-First Century: A President’s Perspective, reprinted by permission of University of Toronto Press, 2014. Professor MacKinnon is president emeritus of
the University of Saskatchewan and served as chair of the Association of Universities and
Colleges of Canada from 2003 to 2005.