I hope that you all had a good reading week. As a collective, we have excelled at keeping the institution going in these Covidian times, and I want to take a moment to commend everyone on their outstanding work so far this term. It has not been easy, but it has been genuinely meaningful. We are engaged in important and sustaining work for Trent students, our research networks, and our communities.
Over reading break, Marcus and I (and Sue, of course, being OCUFA President) participated in OCUFA’s virtual AGM and Board of Directors meeting on October 23.
UOITFA strike mandate: After bargaining for six months, our neighbour in Oshawa, UOITFA (our sister union at Ontario Tech University), has voted 90% in favor of a strike mandate. UOITFA has been working to improve learning conditions and address workload issues, mental health, gender pay equity, and pension matters. The administration tabled removal of the no lay off clause, eliminating compassionate leave, and measures that would weaken tenure. In justifying their proposals, Ontario Tech’s administration pointed to the situation at Laurentian even though Ontario Tech reported a $2.5 million surplus last December. Significantly, UOITFA’s analysis shows that surplus to be the direct “result of drastic cuts that included layoffs, increased class sizes, reduced class choice, reduced TA support and increased workload for faculty and staff with no compensation.” TUFA members take note: Ontario Tech placed 18th out of 19 comparable institutions in the recent Maclean’s survey regarding faculty/student ratios. We were 19th.
UOITFA’s bargaining is taking place against the backdrop of the compensation restraint legislation (Bill 124) which TUFA experiences as a function of our comparator-derived salary formula. Considering that Ontario’s inflation rate just hit an 18 year high of 4.4%, it is apparent that 1% salary caps will leave faculty, and especially contract and junior faculty, behind. And this, at a time when housing prices have increased in the region between 25-30%, and higher in particularly desirable neighbourhoods. Living in Durham and Peterborough is becoming less affordable and, in addition to the other issues at play here, I am concerned about how new faculty will manage to purchase homes or find good rental apartments and housing in an increasingly difficult market.
Laurentian University bankruptcy: Matters at Laurentian continue to worsen. First year enrolments dropped 33% this fall (unsurprisingly), and the cost of restructuring continues to climb. LU has had 9.8 million in expenses and interest on debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing. The Board is refusing to provide financial documents to the Auditor General. And they are seeking an additional 10 million in loan extensions and 18 million in DIP. OCUFA and its member organizations continue to challenge the exclusion of public institutions from the toxic Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) process and encourage all members to advocate for CCAA exclusion with their local MPs (the relevant legislation is federal). As noted at the OCUFA meeting, any city could be the next Sudbury.
Privatization of Universities: OCUFA is developing a policy on the increasing privatization of universities in Ontario. Along with the accreditation of private entities, this trend is evident in new university relationships with private corporations such as NAVITAS to set up international programs thereby increasing international student complement (and fees); purpose-based, “teacherless” courses; courses taught by alumni and others outside of the faculty (Ontario Tech is implementing specialty courses taught by individuals who fall outside of either the staff or faculty bargaining units); microcredential courses approved outside of Senate processes and taught by non-faculty. Currently, the only new sources of funding in Ontario target virtual learning and microcredentials. Hiring has been well underway for microcredential courses for several years in colleges, and the shift is now being felt at universities. The current provincial government is framing microcredentials in terms of “accessibility,” so you may wish to attend to uses of this term. With regard to the rise in private university colleges themselves, this is the latest addition (of which I am aware).
And now, depending on your perspective, you may be ready for BETTER news:
NDTR: It was wonderful to see so much support for Indigenous students and colleagues, and so many important events put together by the Chanie Wenjack School of Indigenous Studies and broader community for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. There were also ceremonies for the Treaty Rock at Bata and the Williams Treaty Installation at Durham. TUFA will be participating in consultations about the future of NDTR and related activities at Trent with an eye to expanding our own role and participation where helpful.
University Pension Plan: OCUFA highlighted the success of the UPP, presently sitting at 35,000 members and 10.5 billion in assets, which is set to grow officially in January when Trent joins Queens, University of Guelph, and the University of Toronto as the fourth institutional member of the UPP. This success is the culmination of about a decade of hard work on the part of OCUFA members, and of one OCUFA member in particular. Gratitude.
Bargaining: Although we never really stop preparing for bargaining, TUFA will begin consulting with members in earnest in preparation for the coming round beginning in January. Stay tuned for updates, meetings and possibly a survey or two, to gain feedback and direction from the membership. Looking forward to working with everyone as we move into the 2022 round of bargaining!
EDI: Speaking of bargaining, we continue to work on several items flowing from our last round of negotiations. This includes our joint work exploring ways to enhance Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Trent. You will soon be invited to participate in a survey and facilitated discussion that will focus on the work of TUFA members. The goal here is to collect data and evidence of work already being done on campus along with evidence of the obstacles we face when trying to create a more inclusive workspace. This work will then feed into our upcoming round of bargaining. We encourage everyone to participate.
Senate action: At the Senate meeting just prior to reading week, there was an excellent discussion of the academic focus of one of the new programs tabled. Seeing Senate engage in ensuring the academic quality and integrity of programs going forward was a good reminder of how our world should work. I look forward to much more of this at Senate as we press for an academic plan that centres the needs, goals, and expectations of Trent’s faculty and librarians. We expect a considerable number of retirements in the next few years making this reflection on the kind of university we want and need, a very timely exercise.
TUFA Socials: Among the many benefits of union membership are the opportunities it affords to connect with colleagues and TUFA takes justifiable pride in our social events. With the pandemic easing its grip, however, we’re getting ready to shake off the scales and plan some events on the Symons and Durham campuses before the end of the semester. More on this soon.
Finally, we have added a discussion of Chrome River to the agenda for this Wednesday’s Joint Committee meeting with the Employer and would appreciate member feedback in advance of that discussion.
I hope the first week after break goes well. Not much longer now until the end of term. Keep well everyone!
Department of Philosophy