the relationship between universities and professors is already “externally regulated” (to use his
terminology) by the common law of employment,
by minimum labour standards legislation and by
anti-discrimination statutes. Unionizing does not
grant professors employee status, it merely allows
them to negotiate their conditions of employment
collectively, rather than individually.
His screed against collective bargaining be-ween universities and professors is also misguided when it comes to protecting the autonomy
and effectiveness of mechanisms of university
self-governance and collegiality. Universities are
increasingly run by a managerial class of senior
administrators who would like nothing more
than to have the total “autonomy” necessary to
run their institutions like businesses. Collective
agreements allow professors to continue to play
an important role in collegial decision-making
on matters of central importance to the university, such as hiring, tenure and promotion. Professor MacKinnon says he would prefer that
these matters be left to academic senates; what he
doesn’t say is that senates are largely comprised
of professors, just as faculty unions are. The difference is that legislation generally empowers a
university’s board of governors to overrule the
institution’s senate, whereas a collective agreement
is binding on the board.
Collective agreements can also protect against
the increasing casualization of the academic
workforce, albeit imperfectly. Though an army
of adjuncts on short-term contracts may be just
the kind of flexible workforce that university
presidents would like to have at their disposal, I
think Professor MacKinnon would have difficulty
demonstrating that it is good for the mission of
Mr. Makela is an assistant professor in the faculty of law at
Université de Sherbrooke.
i’ve been a faculty member in Canada for over
45 years, and I’ve had a front row seat in the process Professor McKinnon describes. Contrary to
what he suggests, the main driver imposing the
industrial model on Canadian universities has not
been faculty unions but the universities themselves – somewhat blissfully unaware that the
industrial model entails unions. That may not
have been the best possible outcome, but it is
what we have. Deal with it.
Dr. Roy is professor emeritus of economics at Memorial University
and was president of the Memorial University of Newfoundland
Faculty Association between 1998 and 2001.
do faculty unions ever misbehave? Certainly.
Do they ever exercise power unreasonably, as
Professor MacKinnon suggests? Of course. Do they
sometimes confuse truth and goodness with their
own self-interest? What organization doesn’t?
However, my experience has been that, generally speaking, administrations and boards get
the unions they deserve. (During our union drive,
our motto was “The president is the best recruiter
for the union.”) If the faculty union – backed by
its membership (that is, the majority of faculty) –
is pressing to include governance structures in
collective agreements, then we should be asking
hard questions about the culture promoted by
the administration and board, as well as about
the motivations of the union.
I have not read Professor MacKinnon’s
University Leadership and Public Policy in the Twenty-First Century, and I do not know if he corrects this
one-sided model of university life on other pages.
I will reserve final judgment until I do. In the
meantime, this excerpt should inspire us all to
think about how best to protect the structures
and culture of self-governance at the modern
Canadian university in the face of a pervasive
corporate culture that neither well-intentioned
university administrators and boards nor faculty
unions can entirely resist. The first step is to resist
demonizing either side and defining the debate
as between truth-seekers and power-wielders.
Dr. Seljak is associate professor of religious studies at St. Jerome’s
University and past-president of the St. Jerome’s University
Academic Staff Association.
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